Friday, 26 December 2014

Following in Mum's footsteps - life modelling.

Last academic year all the life modelling courses I did were arranged via the university so clients would approach them and the university would scuttle around trying to find models prepared to do what the customer wanted. Then everything got moved over to a newly created outside agency whose first move was to cut the pay rate for the actual modelling by 17.5% and the mileage allowance paid for travelling to the venue by 10%. 

Then in December they contacted me again claiming that they needed to make their business "more competitive" by cutting both the modelling and travel pay rates still further AND removing their obligation to provide models with a chaperone.

I did some quick sums and this is how it worked out. A three hour modelling contact typically takes 4.5 hours out of my day once I had allowed for the travel time and the unpaid break in mid-session. If I divided the amount I was paid by the 4.5 hours I was earning less than the minimum wage per hour. For life-modelling! No thank you very much!

So I didn't even bother returning the contract. Ten days later a second copy appeared with a note explaining that the first batch of contracts must have got lost somewhere as none had been returned to them!  The truth was of course that nobody in their right mind was going to sign a "zero hours" plus "minimum wage when work is available" agreement.   

I think expecting a life model to operate without a chaperone is the worst aspect of the proposed contract. In effect I am expected to arrive at a venue that I might never have seen before, to meet a group of artists that I have never seen before and then take off all my clothes regardless of the gender balance of the group. Well I for one am not going to work on that basis.  

It didn't take me long to find anther agency who, unlike the first, is run entirely by ladies. I will be meeting with the boss just after the New Year. Every few months she runs courses at half price for regular clients and in exchange for that she is allowed to use the discount course to both train and access the suitability of new recruits for her operation. I will let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

It is that cultural tradition again!

Although we come to the same conclusion from different directions (one religious and one secular) the views expressed within the article "Appropriate and Excessive Mourning" by Rabbi Bernie Fox pretty much agree with my own.

"The Talmud explains that it is prohibited for a person to engage in excessive mourning. The Torah has established standards for mourning. It is appropriate to cry within the first three days of the burial. For the first seven days it is fitting to eulogize the departed. Some elements of mourning are observed for thirty days. A person who loses a parent engages in some elements of mourning for twelve months. However, each element of the mourning process should be limited to the time allotted to it by the Torah."

"... there are two aspects to mourning. First mourning is an expression of personal loss. The mourner grieves the loss of his or her loved one and experiences the sorrow intrinsic in bidding farewell to the departed. Second, the mourning process acknowledges the departed and honors his or her memory."

"Life and death are part of a natural cycle. All living things experience stages beginning with birth, progressing through growth into maturity, and then decline and death. Is death of a loved one ever timely? Does a son or daughter ever welcome the death of even an aged beloved parent? If one’s death evokes deep and painful grief, it is because the departed brought to those who grieve intense happiness and joy. To not grieve is to not have loved."

"We cannot judge Hashem’s wisdom. It is not our place to question why He created the universe as He did. We certainly cannot expect to understand the reason for a person passing at a particular moment and not at some other time. Certainly, some deaths seem untimely to us – for example, the death of a young child. Is this death part of some cosmic plan according to which Hashem guides His universe? Is this tragedy part of some specific and detailed story that is in the process of unfolding? Who is haughty enough to claim that he knows the answers to these mysteries? We only know that Hashem is the Creator. He does not drowse or sleep. All that happens is a result of His unfathomable will."

I know that my Mum and Dad loved me and that I loved them. They wouldn’t have wanted me to be sad and if excessive mourning for them had made a difference to what university I qualified for they would have been furious! They are inside me via my genetics and my upbringing and that will have to be enough. And that pretty much is what all the students in the university bereavement group will tell you that they want to do, “suck it up and move on as best you can”. It is that UK cultural tradition again! 

People are free to make their own choices but surely they need to think what impact their choices are having on people around them? It must be enormously difficult to the married to somebody who is still in deep mourning for their Mother 10, 20 or even 30 years after she had died. 

It makes me sad that even on a bereavement group it is possible to find intolerant bullies who shout down any thoughts or views that are different from their own. They claim it their "freedom of speech right" to say anything that that want - then in the same paragraph they want to censor views they don't agree with. So it is freedom of speech for them but not for the rest of us. 

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Why and when you sometimes need to "run like hell"!

A grown-up friend of mine shared this thought with me this week – “People can be divided into two groups, those who divide people into two groups and those who don’t.” 

And his observation made me look at the world around me with a different perspective. On my teacher training course (a Post Graduate Certificate in Education or PGCE) his homily can be rewritten as, “Course members can be divided into two groups, those with one or more parents who were teachers and those that don’t have this advantage.” My Mum and Dad were both working as Head of Science (in different schools) when they were killed and this meant that I was brought up surrounded by the jargon and professional ethics of the teaching profession. I never considered any career other than teaching and in a strange sort of way that worked to my advantage when I was orphaned. 

When my happy and secure world was blown apart I still knew what I wanted to do and what I needed to do to reach my goal. Hiding away under the duvet and not bothering with school work was never really an option that I considered because doing that would have meant that I was letting myself and, more importantly, Mum and Dad down. 

Through all the trauma of emotional, financial and physical abuse that I received from the demon spawn know as my Granddad I had the image of becoming a teacher in my mind and that helped me survive. 

When I started on my PGCE I wasn’t surprised to find that some of the trainee teachers came from teaching families. What did surprise me was the size of this group – far greater than you would get by chance. In the first few weeks of teaching lots of teaching jargon is introduced and you could see the cohort sub-dividing into two groups, pretty much based on their family background. My boy-friend is fiendishly intelligent but he is a first generation teacher and he really struggled for most of the first teaching block because the lecturers used specialist terminology without explaining it properly. It seemed ironic that teacher trainers would do this because it is exactly the opposite of what “proper” teachers would do in their daily work. 

This subdivision into two groups is also something I have noticed in the assorted bereavement groups I have attended over the years. Attendees can be divided into two groups, “those who attend in order to get better and those who attend in order to get worse.” Even the students I meet at the monthly group organised by the university demonstrate this division. Some want to know about survival strategies and they look towards old-timers like me as examples of the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel”. Other are content to share their sadness but nothing more – now this is understandable in the early days after a death of a parent but some don’t seem to have moved on in several years and I find that so sad. 

In the adult focussed group this division is even more marked. There will be people who seem to wear their sadness and their mourning almost as a badge of honour and loyalty to their dear departed. Getting better and being able to move on is almost regarded as being disloyal and I have met a few who have never recovered from a death that happened 30+ years ago. The most extreme example I can remember is a lady who was the dominant personality in a Worcestershire based support group. She acted as if she was newly bereaved and it was only later I found out that she had lost her Mother ten years previously when she was 40 and when her Mum was 76! 

If you find yourself in a group like this then in the words of the famous group Pink Floyd you should “Run like Hell”!


Sunday, 16 November 2014

You don't know how strong you are until the only choice you have is to be strong.

This weekend I collected another entry in my new experiences collection – I visited my Granddad in prison.

I did say, not so long ago, that as far as I was concerned he could rot there and that I would never visit the man who abused me emotionally, financially and physically after the death of my parents. So what made me change my mind? 

Money is the answer. Before I can sue him I have to be able to show that I tried to “settle out of court” and the quickest and easiest way of doing this is to come up with a number of proposals and then present them to him. Of course I didn’t go on my own, my “no win no fee” attorney (USA) / solicitor (UK) went with me and she did most of the talking. 

There is lots of paperwork involved in a prison visit to say nothing of all the waiting around and being searched once we arrived at the prison. But the prison staff were pleasant enough and I think they appreciate that the visitors haven’t done anything wrong and so they try to make the business as painless as possible. 

My solicitor gave me some advice before we spoke to Granddad, “You cannot change somebody else's behaviour; you can only change your response to it.” Granddad hates me but he hates being ignored even more and he hates “not being treated with respect” worst of all. So the advice I was given was not to respond to any provocation from him and to remain calm and focussed on getting him to sign at least one of the settlement documents. Granddad had been told in writing prior to the visit that if we could not agree on any of the possible settlement proposals then a court case would be the next stage “without any further communication between the parties.” 

I don’t Granddad has learned anything from his time in prison. He is just as bossy as ever and still in denial that he did anything wrong. He doesn’t deny what he did to me just that he thinks he was entitled to do it. He is a very strange man and I think he is very dangerous. 

Within the first 30 seconds he refused any proposal that involved paying me any money from his many bank accounts and I thought the whole visit had been a waste of time! But suddenly he did agree to pay me all his monthly work pension for the “entire time he is in prison”. I couldn’t believe he agreed to this because it will cost him far more than the other alternatives would have cost him. The solicitor gave me a gentle tap with her foot to warn me to keep quiet while he was ranting on – so she had also worked out that I was getting a good deal.  

Once it was all signed and witnessed we left and I will not be visiting him again. We think that he is planning an appeal against his conviction and so he thinks that he will not be paying the monthly payments to me for very long. He is so stupid if he believes this because he entered a guilty plea at the trial and so how is now going to claim he is innocent after all! That will teach him to sack his own solicitor and represent himself.  

You don't know how strong you are until the only choice you have is to be strong.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Some thoughts on getting married!

My boyfriend and I went to the wedding of mutual friends of ours last weekend. It was a wonderfully happy occasion and as far as we could tell everything went exactly according to plan. We had a good time, we met lots of friends and we both ate and drank rather too much!

Somehow though the whole event has left me feeling a bit sad. So much of what goes on a wedding is either done by or organised by the bride’s parents. Every key stage of the event involves them – from sending out the invitations, to escorting the bride down the aisle, to the speeches at the reception and to then paying the bill it is the bride’s parents who are very much “front and centre”.  But when you are an orphan none of these wedding traditions can be done. Dad’s brother has offered to take over my Dad’s role when it is my turn to get married but it just isn’t going to be the same. My Mum and Dad not being at my wedding is always going to be the “elephant in the corner” and I worry that it is going to spoil the day if I simply ignore their absence. If you have watched the film Gladiator you might remember the scene right at the end where Juba says goodbye to his dead friend.  At some point I might paraphrase what he says, perhaps as a part of the toast to “absent friends”, “Mum and Dad if you are looking down at us today remember what Juba says in Gladiator "I will see you again... but not yet... not yet!"
On a happier note I did learn a couple of useful things for when (if?) my turn comes.  Never check the suitability of a venue for the wedding reception when the room to be used is empty of furniture! The room will look much larger and what might seem OK could well turn out to be almost impossibly crowded once tables, chairs and guests have been included. It is perfectly possible to have a lovely wedding without spending a fortune. The happy couple should keep asking themselves, “Are my guests really going to care?” Each and every decision should come down to whether the guests like it, appreciate it, or will notice it at all.

There is still no progress with either set of Grand Parents. As everybody expected Mum's Dad is being mega difficult. He is pretending that he hasn’t got any money to pay me and that “… seeing him in prison should be more than enough compensation.”  I’ve been told that he expected to be sent to a Category D (open) prison and he is furious that this isn’t going to happen. He claims that I have “poisoned people” against him. He can rot where he is a far as I am concerned. Dad's parents are perfectly nice but are hopeless at making decisions - they still don't know where they want to live so they haven't even started "house-hunting"!

Friday, 17 October 2014

What I inherited from Mum and Dad

My Mum and Dad were both Heads of Science (in different schools of course) and people that didn’t know them well might have thought that they were rather “nerdy”. The truth is that they were both frugal and organised and above all sensible. 

Like all normal people neither of them expected to die in an accident – certainly they never imagined dying together and leaving me on my own! But because they were sensible they arranged their financial affairs so that if the worst did happen I wouldn’t be left destitute. They both had life insurance and any spare money they had was put into tax-free investments (ISAs). When they died the mortgage on the house was automatically paid off which meant that it became mine without anybody else having a financial claim on it and when things all went wrong with Nan and Granddad the house was a bolt hole for me to escape to. A place of refuge, that nobody could make me leave once I was 18. 

Yes I did have some financial problems but as readers of my blog will remember they were mainly due to Nan and Granddad stealing from me or were due to my own financial inexperience. As an example I didn’t know I was allowed to sell the stocks and shares I had been left as an alternative to using them to generate income. Once somebody explained that to me it made a big difference: problems like 4 new tires for the car needed a lump sum of capital rather than a monthly cheque and selling a few company stocks and shares enabled me to cope better.  

But this month I found that I had also received a different kind of inheritance from them! 

I’ve been doing the first school block in my PGCE (teacher training) course. I have been allowed to teach small sections of lessons at the 3 different key stages – so the youngest group I taught was year 7 and the oldest was year 13. Most student teachers prefer to teach the younger pupils but I must take after my Mum and Dad because I found working with the older groups both easier and more fun. I think my biggest success was doing some physics calculations with a triple science group. The classroom teacher gave me a couple of worked examples to use with the group but once they had finished these I made up some examples of my own and demonstrated how to work out the answers on the white-board without using a calculator. Mum and Dad were always good at mental arithmetic and I seem to be as well. 

I didn’t have any problems with classroom control. I think being so tall and having quite a loud voice makes them feel that mucking the new teacher around might not be a good idea. Several times each day I found myself using behavioural techniques that I had heard Mum and Dad talking about at home. My mentor seemed impressed that I knew these and he guessed that I had come from a family of teachers. 

I seem to have a lot of “electronic paperwork” to look at and even some to create for myself. What with schemes of work, lesson plans, pupil worksheets and class registers there always seemed to be something that needed to be done. I have all Mum and Dad’s teaching resources in folders so I look through what they used when they were still alive and pinch the best bits. It is almost like a legacy from them to me isn’t it!

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Bereavement and friendship groups

When Mum and Dad were killed I was 17 and I was in year 12 at school. I was a fairly typical teenager in that I had four really close friends and a much larger number of casual friends. During term time the five of us would go out almost every Saturday evening and during the school holidays we would usually also meet up at least one time during the week.

After the accident all this changed and it is only now, nearly five years later, that I feel comfortable writing about what went wrong.  I'm not going to name names - it would be petty and hurtful and wouldn't change anything.

Person A - Five can be a rather awkward number in social situations - especially when the five is made up of two pairs and a singleton. Four of us were studying A Level science but "A" wasn't and this meant I saw less of her than the other members of what I saw as "my group". In the horrible first few weeks after the accident "A" totally blanked me at every opportunity and we never had a proper conversation again. Quite literally never. I found out somewhat later that she had been bad-mouthing me as an "attention seeking prima donna" from the day I returned to school and that she had been warned semi-officially about her behaviour by the Head of the Sixth Form. In fairness to my other friends they never joined in this nastiness and "A" soon stopped being part of their group.

"A" started a degree course at Warwick - dropped out in the first term and re-started on a different degree course at Coventry the following year. She is currently a third year - so one year behind me. We have a few friends in common but never communicate directly.

"B" and "C" had been friends since starting primary school. So by the time I got to know them they had been best friends for nearly ten years. They both helped me, as best they could, when my disaster struck but like most folk they were very uncomfortable dealing with death. I pretty much withdrew from social life for 8 or 9 months after the accident and it took a while to re-establish the really close friendship we had had previously. When I moved out of Granddad's house and back into the family home they - and their parents - were lovely and supported me in all sorts of ways.

They both graduated the same time as me, summer 2014, and both seem to have found jobs without too much trouble working in the manufacturing sector. We are still in regular contact.

"D" was probably my best friend in years 9, 10, 11 and 12. But we gradually drifted apart towards the end of our time at school. She discovered the wonderful world of boys and spent almost all her free time outside lessons draped around him. She then dropped out of the Saturday night trips with the girls, preferring his company, and so apart from sitting next to her in lessons we didn't have much of a friendship left. She isn't on any social media group that I use so I don't know much about what happened next. I have seen her in town twice in the last few months, just to say "Hi" to, so she is still around.

What I never managed to do after the accident was to make any new friends at school. I felt I was constantly battling just to carry on and so I didn't have much time or inclination to go looking for new friends. Others in my year group were rather wary of getting involved with my problems so none of them made the first move. This meant that I had a fairly lonely time until I went off to university.

Then of course things got much, much better! :)

Friday, 26 September 2014

Sally helps in the Bereavement Support Group!

The university staff have been so kind to me that I didn’t feel that I could say no when I was asked to attend the first meeting of the new season of the Bereavement Support Group. Not as a client but as one of the experts!  

There were supposed to be 5 first years coming along as part of their induction offer but only 4 of them arrived so I don’t know anything about one lad. Two of the other four had been raised by a single parent who then had died when the student was still at school.  The other 2 had lost one parent each but still had one left – the parents had died through illness or accident. 

It sounds rather disloyal to say this but I didn’t think that the University Chaplain who hosted this first meeting had given enough (any?) thought as to what the students were thinking or feeling. I don’t imagine that he had the slightest idea if any or all of them were active, or even passive, Christians before launching into an opening prayer. You get one chance to make a first impression and I think he flopped fairly spectacularly. 

Most of the meeting was quite informal. My only solo contribution was telling the new under graduates a little bit about my history. So now they all know that I have something in common with them and that I am talking from first-hand experience about losing a parent – or in my case losing both! The two boys found it harder to express their emotions than the girls and I think that stupid belief that “real men don’t cry” does so much damage in cases like this. 

One of the girls reminded me of how I must have been three years ago. Rather battered around the edges and still having to struggle to get through the dark days that used to arrive without warning. It was something in her eyes that was the most poignant part of how she looked. I could tell that she was looking for friendship with a “like minded” person but I know, believe me I know, that she needs to find her day-to-day support and companionship with people on her course or people who share her outside interests. A post-graduate PGCE student isn’t really what she needs at the moment. 

After the meeting had ended and the students had left the volunteers and the group co-ordinator had a 15 minute de-brief. We all agreed that we would not want the Chaplain, who had already left, to attend future meetings. I’m pleased that I did agree to take part in the group and I think I will continue to attend the regular sessions.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Two voices from the past.

I have been told by lots of different people that on the phone I sound like my (deceased) Mother so I wasn’t altogether surprised when having said nothing apart from my phone number a lady called Sian launched into a “its been far too long conversation” thinking that she was talking to my Mum who had been on the same course as her at university.

It was quite embarrassing to have to stop her in mid-flow to say, “No this is Sally, her daughter” followed by, “I’m afraid she died 4 years ago.” Of course it was difficult for Sian as well partly because it showed how long it had been since she had last been in touch and partly because, like most people, she found talking to a bereaved person to be an uncomfortable experience.

Despite this awkward start we had a 20 minute chat and I learned a few things about Mum’s university days that I didn’t know before. It seems as if the last time Sian and my Mum spoke was about three months before the accident. Sian was surprised that there hadn’t been any mention of the accident in the old student’s newsletter but the reason for this was simple – I hadn’t thought to send any notification to the editor. Sian has now offered to do this.

When people die there is an almost unending list of people and organisations that have to be told and so the less urgent or less important ones tend to get overlooked.

Two days later I got a phone call from my former lodger. We shared the house when I was still at school (yes, that long ago!) so I was very surprised to hear from her. At first having her living in my house had worked really well but she didn’t live to the promises she made when she moved in. She had long spells of working away and she didn’t give me much notice when she moved to Belfast. She paid all the money she owed me so that wasn’t the problem but it was only a few days between her telling me the sad news and her leaving me for good. She sent me a three line note when she started her new job and that was the last time I ever heard from her until this week. I did feel that I had been rather exploited by her and that perhaps she wasn’t always totally candid with me so I wasn’t altogether sorry that I didn’t have a spare room for her to rent!

It has felt strange looking backwards twice in quick succession. When bereavement strikes you have to discipline yourself to keep looking forward – you would never get through the nastiness otherwise – so interacting with people from the past still feels rather strange.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Doing a good deed - in a cemetery!

I went across town to clean Mum and Dad's grave this morning (Sunday). It is supposed to be summer at the moment but it was really cold and also thinking about raining. Most unusually there were other cars in the car park and at least four other groups of people either tending or just looking at graves. I wonder if this was because this is a Bank Holiday weekend?

What surprised me the most was that there was somebody tidying the grave next to my Mum and Dad's. In all the many times I have visited the cemetery over the last 4+ years I have never seen anybody doing this to my "next door neighbour's" grave. The old man - perhaps late 70s - introduced himself as Edward. The deceased was his wife but since he moved away to be nearer to his children he doesn't visit her very often. He has decided that he is too old to drive so he came by train, visited the grave on Saturday then stayed at a local guest house before making a second visit to the cemetery on the Sunday. He looked sad and very tired and as it is quite a walk to the station I did my good deed for the day and offered him a lift in my car. He seemed very grateful so I was glad I had thought to do this.

I didn't get much of a look at the other visitors but I did notice a lady in her 20s in the newest section of the cemetery. From the back it looked like the shape of a child's grave so that was upsetting.

One mixed emotion event that happened this week was the effective “closure of the file” on Granddad by the Crown Prosecution Service. I’m happy that the legal side is finished but I did rely on them for free advice and support.

I now owe my solicitor a fantastic sum – which I haven’t got – so I am going to have sell some of the shares that Mum and Dad left me. I don’t really understand why I as the victim should end up out of pocket and I will have to double check if the solicitor was joking when she said I could claim the money back off Nan and Granddad. 

Since Mum and Dad died so many people seem to have assumed that I already knew things that no normal teenager would ever need to know. It has been quite annoying and frustrating when legal and financial people imply that I’m stupid not knowing things that they regard as really obvious or really simple.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

I hope the horrid feeling of restlessness will go away

Last week Granddad was sentenced to 10 years and 9 months in prison. The judge seemed to take a long time to announce the sentence but I noticed that there was a whole list of aggravating factors and not one mitigating one which is why he got almost the maximum sentence allowed. It was so strange being there hearing Granddad’s character being destroyed piece by piece and knowing that my Mum (from Heaven) and I were finally getting justice. I didn’t take in all the details so I hope that somebody was taking notes.  

The last few weeks leading up to the trial have been very difficult which is why I haven’t been blogging or visiting Facebook. Now Granddad’s trial is out of the way I hope that my life will become less complicated and less stressful and the horrid feeling of restlessness I have been battling against for so long will go away.  

After the trial I had a few days away but when I got home we found out that both my Nan (in person) and my Granddad (via his solicitor) had been causing problems. Nan went round to my aunt trying, according to my aunt, to re-write history. When my aunt wouldn’t listen to what she had to say Nan got very, very angry. Granddad’s solicitor has tried to pass on a message from Granddad to me but I refused to open the letter and I got my boyfriend to take it back to the solicitor’s office unopened. I didn’t think I had any interest in anything Granddad had to say!  

Other members of the family then decided that there were “things that needed to be said” so they said them to anybody who would listen just to make themselves feel better, or less guilty. Top of the fairly long naughty list are my Dad’s parents. They have suddenly decided to move back to the UK full time instead of splitting time between the USA and UK. I remember how little they did to help me when Mum and Dad were killed so it is rude and silly of them to complain to my Mum’s side of the family about how I must have felt abandoned after the accident. Dad’s parents are not nasty people, not at all. If you met them socially you would think that they are very pleasant. But they never seemed to mourn the death of my Dad and they didn’t feel able (or didn’t feel willing?) to offer me any decent level of emotional support after the funeral and in the years that followed. They had their lives mapped out and having a grand-daughter in their lives wasn’t part of their master plan.  

I am very short of close family members. I don’t have any brothers or sisters, my Mum and Dad are dead, Granddad is in prison and the other 3 Grandparents are busy re-writing history. All I can say is that it is a good job that I have my friends and my aunts and uncles!! I never thought that my life was going to work out like this – it seems like a lifetime ago since the accident but it isn’t even five years.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Another lesson learned!

OK - I have to admit from the start that I am unfamiliar with how this is supposed to work. I responded via a Facebook group to five requests for Email penpals with a private message and a few details about me.

One new friendship seems to be working well, three people never responded at all but it the fourth one that raises the most questions. We did an initial exchange of emails but then it all went quiet. It was her turn to contact me so I waited patiently but eventually I sent a short note asking her if she had received my letter - still silence.

Then I received what - on skim reading - seemed to be a "thanks but no thanks"  email ending our new friendship. Basically cultural and religious barriers were going to be a too much of a problem. I was fine with that because I agree 100%  that it is best not to start exchanging confidences if one partner feels incompatible with the other.

It was only when I re-read her letter when I noticed that she was critical of almost every aspect of my life. My blog, my hobbies, my lifestyle, my friends and even my deceased Mother seemed to displease or concern her. I have no idea why she wrote this letter. A simple, "I don't think we have enough in common" email would have been an honest and kind way of dealing with the situation. A thinly veiled attack on almost everything that makes me who I am is a different matter!

With hindsight the warning signs were there - ending her first contact with "God Bless" being #1 on the list. This is the third, or is it the fourth, time in the four years since Mum and Dad were killed that a religious person has extended the hand of friendship to me knowing that I was an orphan. Every single time, sooner rather than later, they would try to make me "see the error of my ways".

I am not religious myself but I accept that some of the kindest people I have ever met have been religious so in no way am I automatically "anti religious people". But, and it is a big but, it seems to me that some religious groups see it as their mission to target the lonely, the sad or the vulnerable in an attempt to achieve their quota of converts.

I attempted to find common ground with a 40 year old Malaysian stay-at-home Mother thinking it would be a valuable experience for both of us - I was wrong.

So now I move on with another entry in my hard lessons learned file. :)


Tuesday, 24 June 2014

I'm starting a "post-bereavement blog".

Mum came to see me in a dream this week. What made it both special and unusual was that she wasn't with Dad. Now all through my childhood is was always Mum and Dad as a team, a united loving team so to be with Mum but not with Dad seemed strange. In the dream I knew that she was dead but I wasn't quite sure if I was dreaming or if I had also died and this was the longed for reunion.

It turned into one of the "special talks" we had sometimes as I was growing up. Always loving, always frank and always remembered. The first one was when a girl in the year above me at primary school died. Mum talked to me about dying, carefully choosing words and concepts that I would understand. I stopped being scared and confused so when Dad asked me about what had happened I could tell him how I was feeling. Parental team work!  We had other talks before and after my periods started and from 13 to 16 a whole series of non-stressful talks about sex, relationships and even female masturbation.

This time she told me - "I will wait for you, do you understand? No matter how long. I will watch from inside your head to make sure you live every year you have to its full. Then we’ll have so much to talk about when Dad and I see you again". 

Which all leads me rather neatly to my blog. Writing my bereavement blog has been helpful to me and from the feedback I have received it has also been helpful to other people. But times change, priorities change and in my case I have changed as well. 

I want to keep blogging but not hammering away about and around the same few topics. I would like to start a "post-bereavement blog" so once I get my exam results and once Granddad's trial is over that is what I am going to do.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Finding closure - at last!

The last few years have not been kind to me! But, finally, I think I have reached “closure” the point where I can move on into adulthood almost, but not quite, as if the bereavement hadn't happened. 

For me closure came quite suddenly as I was visiting Mum and Dad’s grave. When I turned away to walk back to the car park it came over me like a warm blanket wrapped around my shoulders. That sad part of my life was over. The twin demons of survivor guilt and “Sally the Victim” had been exorcised and placed where they belonged, in the past. 

Of course closure doesn’t mean forgetting. I will not forget my Mum and Dad and will never forget the kindness and compassion shown to me by the people who walked with me during my long journey. Neither will I forgive and forget the people who tried to exploit my emotional, financial and physical vulnerability. Will 10+ years in prison teach the two people concerned a lesson? Somehow I doubt it.  

I know that many people have read this blog and more than a few have found it useful as they faced the horrors of sibling or parental death. I just wish we had been able to meet under happier circumstances. So where now with the blog? If I stop posting new material to the blog and, even more so if I stop promoting it, experience shows that the number of hits per week starts to drop off quite rapidly. Relying on people finding the blog via a search engine just doesn’t work.  

So publication is going to continue but with a slightly different emphasis. Instead of just telling my story of how I coped with parental bereavement I’m going to broaden the scope of the blog a bit. I’m going to include more positive stories about my life – particularly my nude modelling and my running. 

It’s now going to be more a “life after bereavement blog” rather than a “coping with bereavement blog”.  

This is one of the reasons why I’ve started looking for a new E-pal. I have exchanged emails with a lovely lady for over 4 years but she is very much linked in my mind with my dark and sad past rather than the future. I’ve realised over the last couple of months that it suited both of us to part – her life was becoming more complicated and mine was becoming less – and we were moving in different directions if that makes sense? 

In a perfect world I would hope to exchange news and thoughts with an E-pal every 2 to 3 weeks. If either of us ever feels that things are just not working out we should not feel guilty about waving goodbye but I think we should say that rather than just not replying again. I was **very** badly hurt by somebody who did that to me a few years back! To this day I still wonder what I did wrong? 

Despite everything I have lots of happiness in my life. I am in a long term relationship and I have 2 particularly close friends who also share my house. I love my life modelling (nude modelling) that I do for art groups and schools/colleges and I love my running. I’m a county level cross-country runner and I compete in events most weekends. My musical tastes come from my Dad: Pink Floyd, Enya, Enigma and Gregorian. My height (5 feet 11 inches) and my fairly extreme skinniness comes from both sides of the family. 

If you would be interested get in touch!

Saturday, 31 May 2014

It has been said, 'time heals all wounds.' I wonder?.

In those early days after the accident I used to feel restless and sad almost all the time and when Granddad’s grumbling got unendurable I would jump into my car and seek solace by sitting on a conveniently placed wooden bench just a few yards from where Mum and Dad were buried. I would just sit there – not crying - but feeling totally overwhelmed by all that had happened. It is probably a good thing that the cemetery wasn’t on a road that I would normally use because I would have found it too difficult to just drive past without stopping. It wasn’t on the direct route between Granddad’s house and my school or the shops so unless I chose to make a special trip I wouldn’t usually get within 400 yards of the cemetery gates.

For the first few months after the accident I used to visit their grave several times a week. It was about a year before the permanent granite headstone was put into position so in those early days all there was to mark the spot was a small wooden cross with an engraved brass tablet. The cemetery has a small car park at the entrance that rarely had more than a couple of council trucks in it. I would park my car there and I would then walk down the “Official Vehicles Only” path that ran the length of the site. The older graves were all near the entrance and it was rather creepy to walk past the rows of badly maintained stones inscribed “Gone but not forgotten”.

Just being near Mum and Dad was quite therapeutic. Sometimes it would only take a few minutes for me to calm down but my record time was well over an hour. The worst part of the visit was always walking away from the grave to go back to my car – it felt as if I was leaving them behind when all I really wanted to do was to be with them.

It has been said, 'time heals all wounds.' I'm not sure I agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never quite gone. As the months and years went by the frequency of my visits to the cemetery declined and it was quite a shock the first time I realised that I hadn’t visited the grave for a month!

Now – some 4 years after the accident – I am finally comfortable driving past the cemetery gates without pulling into the car park. As I pass by, providing I am on my own, I will always say something like, “Hello you two. I’m just off to Laura’s house to do some coursework.” or “I’ve got an athletics event today and I’m running a bit late.” If somebody else is with me in the car I have to make do with thinking the same message.

Perhaps one day I will need to move away from my current home town and my visits to their grave will become even less frequent. I am calm enough about that because I’m sure my Mum and Dad wouldn’t expect me to base my career plans on the proximity of my chosen place of work to the municipal cemetery where they “rest in peace”.

I like to think that a more sensible Sally has taken over. Mum and Dad are not in any cemetery: they are in every cell in my body and memories of them live on inside my head. They loved me far too much to want me to fill my life with sadness or regrets or thoughts of what might have been. They would have wanted me to live my life to the full spending time on my studies, my athletics and my modelling not sitting in a graveyard feeling sad.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Time for a change - from undergraduate to post graduate

I didn't like the first version of this blog entry but because I was so busy with revising for my final exams at university that I posted it anyway. I was rather cross with myself at the time so now exams are over - rah! - I am reposting the entry.

All the changes and all the new material is in red so people can find it more easily. Some other material has been deleted.

Now that I am coming to the end of my time at university my mind is occupied with positive and forward looking thoughts. I think I am now starting on the third stage of mourning for Mum and Dad. The first stage was the nightmare stage where every day was a struggle, the second stage, at least for me, was the stage where the pain had diminished enough for normal life to resume and the third stage is where you feel you can "move on with your life" almost, but not quite, as if the bereavement hadn't happened.

My university exams started on the 19th May and the torture went on for five days. I had been revising pretty well flat out for the previous six weeks and I went into the exams thinking that I knew about as much as I ever would know! I had done lots of old papers, gone to all the revision seminars and spent hours and hours in the university library so I felt that if I didn’t get the result I wanted at least I knew that I have done my best. If things go to plan from September 2014 onwards I am going to be studying for a Post Graduate Certificate in Education with the intention of becoming a science teacher in an 11 to 18 school.

It was rather sad having the final lecture on the course because I suspected that it might never happen again that all the familiar faces would be in one place at the same time. I knew a couple of the overseas students were going back home and that they will not be coming to the graduation ceremony in November. I don’t suppose I will see either of them again.

On the last day we each nominated a member of the group who we felt we didn’t know to talk to for at least 30 minutes. It was good fun talking to Lucy. I don’t think I had ever had a meaningful conversation with her before and I think she and I could have been good friends if things had just worked out a bit differently. Her surname was at the opposite end of the alphabet to mine so when “practical partners” were allocated she was never in the same group as me. Such are the blind workings of fate. We hope to keep in touch via social media.

Graduating from university is an important “rite of passage” and for most of my friends it marks the point where they (finally!) leave their family home to live a more autonomous life than they have done previously. They will be treading the same path that I was forced down when Mum and Dad were killed – except that they will be doing the journey without so much of the ghastly trauma that fate imposed on me. I am pleased to be moving on - I enjoyed university but real life was still intruding rather a lot so perhaps I didn't get quite as much out of the student experience as I could have done.

Do I have any regrets about my time at university? On the positive side I think I did a degree course that I really enjoyed at a university that felt right for me given my fragile emotional state when these key decisions had to be made. I also think I got the work/play balance about right: I enjoyed all the athletics (and I will be keeping that up) and the regular life-modelling helped pay the bills.

Four of us shared a house for the last two years and that worked spectacularly well. I am pleased and relieved in equally measure that all four of us will have at least one more year together. My long-term boyfriend and I will be doing a PGCE and the other two will be studying for their Doctorate. So no major regrets then except perhaps the feeling that there were other course members who might have turned into good friends if I had been able to live in Halls.

The four of us are going to have to sort out what we are going to do between the end of the exams and results day and also what we do between results day and starting the next stage of our lives in September. I think we all need a holiday.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Will I ever see my parents again?

Bereavement Support Groups are a good example of something that most people hope they never have to join and it is certainly true that before the accident in which Mum and Dad were killed I was like most teenagers in knowing virtually nothing about them.

Looking back I shouldn’t have allowed myself to be pressurised into attending the local group before I felt ready. I was still in the totally frantic and stressed stage of mourning and the last thing I wanted to hear was other peoples’ problems! Perhaps it would have been better if I hadn’t been the youngest person there by over 20 years or if the most talkative person in the group hadn’t still been in deep mourning for her Mother who had died nearly 30 years before. I was still in the middle of the “battling through one day at a time” phase and the thought of years more of the same was just too horrible to contemplate.

Each week I used to be practically kidnapped by my Nan and Granddad who would drive me into town and deliver me to the meeting room door. They would then be lurking around outside at the advertised time for the end of the meeting. After a couple of weeks I decided my best tactic was to march in, wait for Nan and Granddad to drive off and then walk along to the local pub.

It was at my first or second meeting that the organiser asked me if I expected to see my Mum and Dad again and this it is a question that still pops into my brain from time to time even after 4 years.

My Mum and Dad were scientists and were not religious. But they were kind, hard-working, honest, and truthful - all things that Christians aspire to demonstrate in their daily lives. I would like to think that my parents deserved something better than being killed by a speeding driver who was on the wrong side of the road!

There is one thing about which I have no doubt whatsoever. Several times – usually at some crisis point in my life – Mum and Dad have been “with me” in my house. I will never believe that it was just coincidence that there was a thunder storm on the anniversary of the accident or that when I had a life-changing decision to make that a feather flow against the window. They had always said that was the ways they would let me know that they were still watching over me.

Mum and Dad are inside me. Parts of them are inside every cell in my body and surprisingly often I find myself saying or doing something in just the way that they would have done it. So although they are dead they also live on in me.

This leads me neatly to the final point I would like to make.  My Mum and Dad loved me far too much to want me to keep on being sad about them dying. I absolutely know that above all they would want me to have a long, happy and fulfilled life making the best of every opportunity that comes along. They would be so cross if the accident that killed them both also ruined my life.

By battling on I think I honour my Mum and Dad’s memory far more effectively than wallowing in misery as some bereaved people I meet seem to do. I will not allow myself to be labelled as “that girl who never really got over the death of her parents.”!

Friday, 18 April 2014

What not to say to a bereaved student - plus what you can say and do to help them.

As somebody who lost both parents while I was still at school I am not ashamed to say that it was only the help of other people – those people who were prepared to share my stress and sadness and figuratively or actually hold my hand - that got me through the last 4 years.

Please don’t say, “It was God’s will” or “You must think positive thoughts” or “I’ve no idea how you must be feeling” or “They are in a better place now” or “Everything happens for a reason”.

What you can say is “Would you like to talk about your Mum and Dad”. Or you could give me a hug or invite me round for tea or do your very best not to look uncomfortable if I suddenly start crying in the middle of a lesson.

I have had a small handful of deliberately hurtful and quite a lot of thoughtless things said and done to me and I’m sorry but I cannot find it in me to forgive and forget all of them.

In no particular order –

There are the people at the funeral who went on and on to everyone who would listen about how upset they were at my Mum and Dad being killed.
There the people, mainly Mum and Dad’s former friends, who still avoid me.
There are the people who look shifty and uncomfortable when I say my Mum and Dad’s names.
The teacher who said “I will never understand when people go on and on about things like this for years” when I was clearly upset on the anniversary of the accident.

I also get people saying "I hope you are feeling better now". Actually I haven’t had a cold or toothache. My Mum and Dad died and I will never feel better about my parents dying so please don't say that.  

The awful thing is, is that even in the most desperate of circumstances, school work needed to be done, food needed to be brought, lawns needed to be mown and clothes needed to be washed and ironed. When you can hardly manage to get out of the bed someone coming over to do a chore or to drive you to school means a lot.

The best people – and I will love them all and I will be grateful to them for ever – are those who ask me questions about Mum and Dad. What were they like, what funny things did they do or what characteristics of theirs have I inherited? 

Sooner or later we all have to deal with death. It might be a parent or a sibling or a close friend but eventually the Grim Reaper will come knocking on your door. How you cope with it will be up to you and those you chose to have around you during the dark days. Those people who currently cross the road to avoid having to speak to a bereaved person or who act as if the deceased person never existed are in line for the most horrible of surprises when grief and mourning happens first-hand to them!

Friday, 4 April 2014

What happens now - my #1 source of support is leaving?

As readers will know by now I am currently a final year university student. The university has been wonderful in the way they have supported me through a number of crises. Right from the start I was identified as a vulnerable student because I was an orphan – I hate that word so much, but it was the category that they used. Mum and Dad had died about 18 months before I went up to university and I was still very “raw” emotionally. In those crucial first few months, before firm friendship groups had formed, having a trained counsellor to talk to about all the jumbled emotions that used to come visiting me was wonderful.

I reckon I have had four different counsellors. One was highly skilled and highly experienced but we never clicked. I didn’t like her, so I didn’t trust her as much as I should have, so I didn’t always tell her the whole story. This pretty much invalidated the entire process. There was a male counsellor I saw a couple of times in my first year. He was nice but some of the abuse I suffered from my Granddad after Mum and Dad were killed was rather “gender specific” and I didn’t want to talk to another man about it. He passed me to a female colleague who was equally good – until she left after only three sessions. So I ended up with J**** who has been a total star.

I have moved on such a long way since those early days at university. I have been so lucky with the people who have come into my life. J****, my boyfriend, my house-mates, my Dad’s brother and my Mum’s sister have all been lifesavers at different times and in different ways.

But now J**** is moving on. She has been promoted to a senior position in the National Health Service and she is leaving her current job at the end of April. I am overwhelming pleased for her but sad for myself. I don’t want to start with another counsellor for my final term as an undergraduate or for my year doing the PGSE. But I guess I don’t have a choice!

I would love to be able to buy her a present as some tiny thank-you for all she has done for me. Have you any helpful thoughts as to what might be a suitable gift?

In all the meetings J**** and I had the only time I can remember a disagreement between us was on the value of bereavement groups. I attended a local group she used to run a few times but never found it to be even slightly useful to me. We laugh about it now but back then I thought I was going to “get into trouble” for not attending!    

Saturday, 22 March 2014

When my dead parents come to “visit” me!

The problem with death and the associated trauma is that the sadness and stress doesn’t ever go away. Not completely. It gets easier to cope as time passes and sometimes you can fool yourself that you are “better” or “over it now” but then some quite minor event brings the unhappiness flooding back.

The other side of this is that something as trivial as a dream can help reduce the sense of isolation and I’ve been so lucky that at a number of real crisis points since Mum and Dad were killed I have felt their loving presence around me.

The most recent of their “visits” was in the last few weeks. I had had a very stressful two weeks preparing for the Granddad’s court case (he is accused of abusing me emotionally, financially and physically in the months after the fatal accident) and I was missing Mum and Dad such a lot that it had been keeping me awake at night. I would lie in bed with my head churning away and that made the night seem about 2 weeks long. Then on Wednesday Mum and Dad came to me in the night. I suppose it was a dream but I felt as if I was awake. Mum stroked my head like she used to do when I was little - she called it her magic stroke - and quite suddenly all my fears and uncertainties just vanished like a cloud. I have felt fine ever since!

Mum and Dad were not religious – they were both scientists – but not too long before they were killed we talked about what happened when people die. Dad said he would try to contact me from wherever he had gone during a thunderstorm because he so loved them. On the anniversary of his and mum's death what happened? We had a short sharp thunderstorm at breakfast time! Thunderstorms in January don't happen often so it was really spooky that one should happen on such a special day. As soon as I heard the thunder I just knew that Dad had kept his word and was letting me know that he will be watching over me until the time comes for me to join him and Mum again. It is hard to explain why a simple co-incidence made such a difference to my moral – but it did! The rest of the day was a bit of an anti-climax after that. I was mega busy with course work so I didn't have much time for thinking about what might have been and I suspect that my mum and dad would have wanted it that way.

Mum and Dad also found me at Christmas. I was staying with my aunt and uncle and they had spent ages putting all the family photos of my dad on a DVD plus all the bits of film of Dad and Mum at family events after they had got married. It must have taken my uncle (Dad’s brother) ages to do the work. It was only the last few bits of film that made me cry, one bit was taken six weeks before Mum and Dad got killed and that was very painful to watch. My reward was a long involved dream in which I spent ages talking to the two of them about my life at university and my boyfriend.

But the most important “visit” of all was when the two of them persuaded me to move on with my life. I had another lengthy dream in which Mum and Dad sat with me in an enormous sunny park full of benches. On every bench there are just three people and I just knew that this was the special place where all the teenagers who had been left behind come to see their dead parents. I have had a similar dream before where I talked to them both and they had promised that we could meet at the park again and again until I was ready to let go. This final time – and I have never had this dream again - I told them that I thought I was ready. They seemed really pleased and reminded me that they would always be inside my head if I needed them. I knew it was time to stop the full-on mourning for them and to move on with my life. I will ever stop loving them or wishing that we could have had lots more years together but you only get one life and I didn’t want to waste it in mire of self-pity.


Friday, 7 March 2014

The never-ending cycle of "having to cope".

I don’t know if Neighbourhood Watch exists in other countries or if it is just a UK group.

Back in early 2013 the local Neighbourhood Watch Co-ordinator called at my house to have a good grumble about how having students renting a property attracts crime to an area. I was cooking tea at the time so I just took his literature and didn’t think too much about it.

A few months later a new Co-Ordinator called round and like a good hostess I invited him in for a coffee. After a few minutes he asked, "I really need to speak to the owners about my concerns".  According to his records Mum and Dad live elsewhere and I was just some random student living in the house. I explained the true situation – that I had inherited the house when Mum and Dad were killed - but I don't think he believed me for a minute! H claimed his records were very reliable.

Fast forward another few months. One Friday I found a note had been put through the door while all four of us were out. The note was in rather flowery and old-fashioned language but the message was clear. I was to make myself available to meet with him the next day at 10AM, or else! I tried to give him the benefit of every possible doubt about what he had written but even after doing that the note left me feeling angry. It was obvious that he thought I was some irresponsible student playing some stupid game with him. He seemed to think that I was lying about Mum and Dad and about owning the house.

Saturday 10AM came, but he didn’t.  Saturday 11AM came, but he didn’t. He finally arrived 80 minutes late. He was quite frosty with me from the start and almost the first thing he said was, “I don’t want to seem difficult but I really do need to speak to your parents rather than to you.”

I explained again that the house was mine but he didn’t accept that. Next, although it wasn’t any business of his, I explained how the house came to be mine. But he still didn’t believe me so in the end I had to show the stupid man their death certificates and the massive file of financial and legal papers. It seemed like the only way of getting rid of him.

Finally he accepted that the house was mine. I waited for his grovelling apology but no, he then started having a good grumble about students. And then I lost my temper! I now know what they mean when they talk about a “red mist descending”.

Not long afterwards  I saw there was a Police-Community Forum meeting just down the road so I went along. And who should be there but a senior person from Neighbourhood Watch! So I asked her about what had happened to me and she promised to "look into it". But the audience were not satisfied and people kept asking her more questions and she got more and more flustered. Even the Community Policeman joined in against her.

I now know that Neighbourhood Watch people have "no statutory right of access" to my house and I am under no obligation to provide them with any information unless I chose to do so. She has now got to go back to her people to remind them about how the scheme is supposed to work. It was brilliant!

Is it all sorted out now? Actually it isn’t because I have had another note put through the door from yet another new co-ordinator. So the whole cycle is starting again!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Why was the school so disrespectful to my Dad's memory?

My Mum and Dad were both science teachers. At the time they were both killed they were employed as Head of Science in two different schools. Not long after he died the school where Dad had worked named the largest science laboratory after him. There was a notice by the door with his name on it plus a comment "a much loved and respected teacher and colleague" plus the date he died. In June 2013 I found out from one of his former work-mates that the newish Head Teacher was going to remove the notice because she wanted to rename the room after another member of the science department who has just died from breast cancer. I realised that it was over 3 years since Dad had died and that the Head Teacher had never known him but I found what was going to happen quite upsetting.

In the end I sent a polite note to the Head Teacher saying what I had heard and asking if it was true.  In the letter I said that it has meant such a lot to me to know that my father was remembered and honoured and that I would be sad if his memorial was taken down.

I didn’t get any reply to this letter but a few days later when I got home I found that somebody had been to my house and had just left Dad's memorial propped up against the front door. No note, not even in a bag, just the memorial on its own.

I wasn't 100% surprised because when the Head Teacher didn't bother to get in touch with me I guessed that the decision had already been made and that she wouldn't think she needed to justify it to an outsider like me. But I was sad and Stewart and my other housemates were sad for me.  I have a support package from the university and if I have a crisis I have a phone number that I can ring - so I did. I think the first person I spoke to was quite shocked at what has happened so he passed me on to his own boss. She was very unimpressed with the school and, with my permission, approached the school on my behalf.

I knew that Dad would be laughing at all of this. He never had a very high opinion of some Head Teachers and I didn't think he would have been even a little bit shocked at how things had worked out. But I knew that he would be cross that they upset me because he would think they were acting like bullies and he hated bullies!

Eventually the Head Teacher agreed to meet with me. I didn’t go alone!

The absolute boss of the legal section of the university came with me. Before we went in he told me that every single person in his department had wanted to come along to sort out the Head so he had exercised "bosses rights" to choose the best job for himself. It made me happy and sad at the same time that a busy and important person like him wanted to help me.

I don't think the HT was expecting me to come with a legal expert and she wasn't very pleased. She started off trying to be all bossy and to make herself seem so important and to make my Dad and I sound as if we didn't matter at all. But my legal helper wasn't having any of it. He was very firm with her and made her seem rude, insensitive, ignorant and all sorts of other nasty things in front of her PA who was taking notes. But the clincher was when he made it clear that unless everything was sorted out at the meeting our next appointment was with the local paper and the one after that with the local radio station.

He pointed out how much advertising the university puts in the paper and how the editor would "just love" a human history story like this. He came up with some headlines - all designed to make the HT look like some kind of monster. It was brilliant to watch him in action and my Dad would have been so proud!

Between us we drew up a list of all the things that needed to be done and the Head Teacher signed both copies. I've kept one copy so she couln't wriggle out of anything.
I very nearly had a little cry when I got back to my car because I was happy and I knew that I had done the right thing by my Dad.