the grief gravy group

I have been part of an online therapeutic group with two young women and a therapist, for the past few weekends.

At our final session we were asked to creatively reflect on our journey and how the group has helped. Here’s my feeble effort.

The detail in this rich picture will be shared by the end of our story. Yes, I’m writing and it’s far from complete but it is progressing: at the pace of a snail slithering along on the shell of a tortoise that’s travelling backwards.

Please do feel free to guess what the different images represent. There maybe a prize.

The group been an incredible support and very productive to help me swim along the grief gravy river and keep my head above liquid.

I know you’ve seen it before but I had to post the drawing of Manjula again as today’s attempt is so baaaaad.

Monisha Srichand, the group therapist is a skilled facilitator. She got the balance just right, providing enough structure, guidance and professional input so everyone felt comfortable and confident to share their own challenges whilst enabling us to provide insightful support to other members of the group. Highly recommended.

I’ve also posted details of the empty chair technique used in one of the sessions where you will also find contact details for Monashi and a network of therapists.

A great representation of the group by one of its members. Spot the dog!

If you or anyone you know is dealing with grief and need help. I can recommend books, have a chat or recommend the therapist who facilitated our group.


“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”
― Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

Serendipity?

What do you think of this?

What does it make you think of? Where might it be from? Made of what?

My very good friend Jill, from England, emailed me today.

“I have been decluttering my ‘office’ now a junk room and found this among my treasures. It was in a box with my mother’s velvet evening bag”

“But what was even more surprising was what I saw when I turned it over and read what was underneath. How extraordinary! Who would have thought all that time ago – a link to somewhere that was to become so significant in your life.”

Jill and I used to work for a local council, in England, jointly managing part of social services. It was a great time in my life. There’s more info here

This was in the early 1990’s and we used all sorts of different techniques to help us innovate and develop a responsive service. I think this elephant was one of the awards we gave to thank our staff for their tremendous work. Jill and I had dressed up as a ringmaster and clown to give out the awards. No prizes for guessing who was who….

The significance of the elephant is the analogy we used and delivered in a workshop to all our staff. ‘Teaching the Elephant to Dance’ was about change and being sensitive to the individual needs of those who used our services.

There wasn’t any connection with India and it would be another fifteen years before I first visited the country and twenty before I moved here to live in Mysore.

Here’s what was underneath.

It’s history, not

In the late 80’s and early 90’s

I was proud to be part of a bold experiment.

The Level Best campaign invited disabled people, carers, professionals to get involved. To explain what they wanted to see from council services in Kirklees in West Yorkshire, taking in the conurbations of Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Batley and the surrounding rural areas.

It was small scale, focused on a specific community of interest and primarily about local welfare services.

It involved a reference group, not unlike an assembly, public meetings, focus groups, research questionnaires a range of techniques drawn from different professional and community approaches.

It resulted in significant local changes and showed how engaging people effectively brings real and lasting results.

There are many examples of how measures to promote people’s active participation can make a real difference in governance and the quality of our lives. We need to take these lessons to change the way our societies and their institutions work.

One such idea is presented here.

The constructive pressure from Extinction Rebellion (XR) and the opportunities afforded by adopting ideas such as citizens’ assembly and localised practical responses to our challenges will help us develop a more sustainable approach to life that can arise from the people themselves and provide opportunities that are different from traditional work models.

We need to think and act differently.

The route is clear

Not……

It’s an update.

To reiterate. I’m required to leave India within 180 days of arriving every visit. Due to the virus that has been extended but I’m likely to have to leave in August. I hope they’ll let me back in

There are three obvious options: Sri Lanka, Canada and UK.

I’m openly discussing this with friends and family who might be affected or kind enough to let me stay, so that we’re as informed as we can be. I wouldn’t want to be someone who came to stay at the house or next door and not be open and honest about the risks and consequences. God forbid.

The first challenge (assuming there are flights) is getting health insurance. It’s available but there is the risk that if there are COVID 19 restrictions it might invalidate the insurance. I don’t need it for the U.K.

Sri Lanka might initially seem the best option. Shortest distance, clear polices and systems, no need for quarantine/self-isolation, open to tourists in August. BUT it might mean a domestic flight in India which I’d prefer not to do. I’ll be required to travel with a negative test result taken within 72 hours of the flight, which might not be obtainable. I’d have to stay in a government sanctioned hotel. Yuk?. I could pay any health costs directly but I wouldn’t get to see any family or friends.

Canada is a stronger contender. Means double the distance to travel than the UK, I’d have to remember how to cook, and I wouldn’t want Oll my youngest son to be tried for murder. Insurance maybe a problem and I couldn’t afford to pay health costs directly.

U.K. well clearly….
It’s a well managed place, no problems with the virus, competent leadership, no idiot behaviour and the country isn’t disintegrating. A safe haven.

I jest, of course, it provides the opportunity to catch up and be with friends and family which I feel that I need due to fragility, I would have to be 14 days in isolation so that and the risk puts a lot onto whoever is kind enough to take me in. I don’t need travel insurance and hope the Health service can cope. It does involve risky travel to and within the country.

I think you can see which way I’m leaning.

I’ve had a beard trim but no hair cut for quite a few months

New beginnings are disguised as painful ends

It’s late at night and the page is blank so I turn to Laozi and Pooh bear.

Actually that’s not true. I turn to you…… to help me get the ball rolling, to create and share my and Manjula’s story. It’s the age old writer’s conundrum. As you see I have a pile of full notebooks but how to get the blank page filled to begin to start the actual story. Can you help?

If you know Manjula and I or even if you don’t 🙃 what’s the key ingredients of our story that might interest you or a wider audience. What are the main themes that will interest people?

Finding Meaning

I’m reading the book about finding meaning: the sixth stage of grief. I’m writing notes as Kessler talks about “the secret to remembering with love begins with accepting the pain not trying to deny it or ignore it….. love is on the other side of pain”

I’m reflecting on how I’ve managed this over the last year. As I write this I’m gently crying, sniffling just a little bit. Lucie looks up, stares with her sad brown eyes and squeals as if to draw my attention. I think she knows what’s happening and wants to comfort me. So we have a stroke for support.

At that very moment a black and orange butterfly flies into the balcony with a message: Manjula did feel my love and would have always known it was present.

Virus 4

I’m sitting on the balcony with the early morning sun shining through.

Lucie and I are back from our first walk of the day. We stopped and chatted to one of our neighbours who has husband and son at home. They’re not bored, using the time constructively connecting via the net and playing music.

As with anything else the level of awareness and understanding makes such a big difference. People just don’t understand the situation and what to do. I could fall into an easy trap and say eduction helps people understand and act. But we know it’s only partially true. Manjula was a great example of someone who was incredibly aware, in my terms. …’together’ with little if any education. She couldn’t read or write but was so clever, witty, linguist, who was a great connector, wise and SMART. Am I showing my bias again?

I have my breakfast of fruit, muesli and tea here waiting I’d just nipped out to give a poor older woman walking past a small token. I do sometimes amend my own rules. I notice a group of men having a chat on a street corner having parked their two wheelers. They have absolutely no idea of what it means to maintain distance. One has a mask on so it’s alright then, not much use by the way. Education? Awareness? Haven’t the first idea? How in any situation can we engage people’s hearts and minds? Enable them to make good decisions with their own and everyone’s interests at heart? Tall order

The city corporation have sealed off one of the parks, we have three close by. Here’s the sign notifying people.

The announcement of the lockdown was on the 23rd and came into effect on the 24th (the one day curfew was the 22nd). The sign posted on the 25th closed the park on the 21st….. doh.

Breakfast. I’m desperate Dan…..

Next, maybe managing Lucie’s boredom and my hypochondria

an open letter 

 

to our extended family, our friends from around the world, the community that grew around sharing our home

27th March 2020

Dear family,

thank you for your patience, kindness and support.

It’s been an awful twelve months since Manjula died, a pot-holed, rocky roller-coaster ride. Being able to speak to you directly, through my writing and sharing my feelings has been tremendously helpful. Your direct responses and visits have helped me through these difficult times. Thank you for those who’ve also been here to provide direct practical and emotional support, you know who you are and have made an impossible situation manageable.

Thank you for being a witness as Kessler writes:

“Each person’s grief is as unique as their fingerprint. But what everyone has in common is no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed……… they need to feel their grief acknowledged and reflected by others.”

As you know, I’ve shared and its helped. Thank you for letting me share with you, gain your support and help me to manage this tragic loss. I’ve most definitely been through the five stages (Kubler-Ross) of loss: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance, often all at the same time and what I hadn’t realised was the anticipatory grief years before Manjula actually died that we also had to experience. 

Loss of a lover, loss of a life, loss of control, loss of the opportunity to do things differently, loss and the grief that results from it, is for me the hardest thing in life.

I also know now that: Grief unites us.

“You will never forget that person, never be able to fill the unique hole that has been left in your heart,” 

I’m so pleased you met and go to know my beautiful smiling brilliant wife directly through visiting us, or introduced through these pages. She leaves a wonderful legacy in what she created and leaves part of her in all of our hearts.

It goes without saying that she will always be with me and I know the grieving will never be over but I look forward to finding the right balance in Manjula continuing to be part of me and me finding meaning and growing beyond that loss, then ……….  “the time will come when memory will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eyes” (Kessler)

We’ve now recognised Manjula’s death anniversary with a Hindu Pooja ceremony and lunch for immediate friends on the 12th March (the official Hindu anniversary), shared the BIG photo album (a copy is on this site) then on the 23rd I cycled Manjula through the city, sponsored meals for older people at a local ashram, and had a few drinks here at home. We still have Manjula’s shoes carefully positioned around the house in case she returns and needs them. (Didion) 

Over the year I’ve been careful to do the Hindu rituals, placed flowers at her two main photos in our living rooms monthly, some times weekly, sited benches in our park and at a city museum. I’ve printed t shirts in her memory, hoisted bunting made from her clothing, created a memory tree (Teckentrup) (please ask how you can add a memory or wish) and given gifts of Manjula’s pens. 

We plan to celebrate Manjula’s life in August, around her birthday, please do join us in person or virtually, that’s when we’ll also re-open Mysore Bed and Breakfast, if we’re through these challenging virus times. I plan to keep this place going for at least a few more years (our first season without Manjula was bitter sweet but worked OK)  and so invite you to continue to share our home.

Manjula will always be here.

I have been trying to write to Manjula for months and failed, I need to share my remorse for things I feel I could have done better and more, to ask for her forgiveness and to thank her for our wonderful, funny, life enhancing nine years together. It will be posted soon.

I’ll continue to post on www.meandmycycle.com which is the best place to follow. Writings will be varied: about life in India, more factly fiction stories and I promise there will be a lot less of the grief. I’ve committed to Manjula to write our story.  I’ve verbally shared bits and people have liked it, I just need to write better to do it justice. Who knows when that gets finished and released, we’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime there’s many of our times together and challenges of living in India already featured here and I’ll add more, including her funny videos.

Thanks for becoming Manjula and my family and I look forward to travelling together on the next chapter of our journey.

Your loving friend

Stephen

and Lucie

PS

Manjula would joke that I as I was bringing so many books into the house it would become a library when I was 75 and no longer leading cycle tours. Well, the quantity and variety of books have grown and grown and now include sections on grief and writing (guess why?)  and so Manjula’s library is now at our house. 😉 and no I’m not 75 yet. Do pay a visit or ask for recommendations.

The one’s referred to in the letter are:

On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the five stages of loss by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler

Finding Meaning: the Sixth stage of grieving by David Kessler

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion 

The Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup

 

roaring mouse

 

There was a quiet mouse who came to check whether it was worth the risk working for a strange foreign man. Thankfully she agreed to give me a chance. That was ten years ago. It’s not always been easy partly because of her illness and dealing with life in India but this small bundle of beauty, of strength, of fun…. changed my life. For that I’m eternally grateful. We had a wonderful life together.

Today is the anniversary of celebrating our weddings two years ago, in a field on Srirangaptnam Island. Please follow the links to find out more.

getting ready

our real wedding

the other one

20170301-DSC02072

Get off me……..

20170304-DSC02577

As we approach the anniversary of Manjula slipping through my fingers and leaving for her next life, I’ll post a mix or memories and reminiscences and continue to share with you what a wonderful strong, caring woman we’ve lost.