Monday, 4 September 2017

Learning to dance in the rain

Its now just over six months since Jan, the love of my life, suddenly passed away as a result of sepsis, brought on by inoperable, incurable cancer. Truly the worst event in my life and I'm writing this blog as a cathartic exercise and as an attempt to make sense of and share my experience.

What I have learnt during this confusing, sad and muddled time, when in the depth of your grief you have to deal with the funeral, death certificate, will and probate. You still have to cook, clean, wash, iron and garden, when all you really want to do is curl up in a corner. Yet 'having to do things' somehow prevents you from slipping into abbess. You soon  learn that you don't get through, get over, move on from grief, you just learn to endure/live with it. Jan will be with me for the rest of my days and quite honesty I don't want to ban her from my life!

Thanks to the actions below, I am in quite a good place having more happy days than sad ones as I develop the next stage of my life. However I have found grief comes at you in waves and so often when you least expect it. On Saturday I was happily driving to a friends daughters wedding and Engelbert Humperdinck came on singing The last Waltz and I was back in my youth dancing the endless waltz with Jan. There I was driving along the A3 with tears streaming down my cheeks. I continued on my journey and had a wonderful time at the wedding, but the lovely speeches, so filled with emotion just drew more tears from me, but it all ended well. Which is not always the case as my cousin who lost the love of her life, summed it up for me, that some days you just need to give yourself permission to be utterly miserable.

Using that wonderful organisation Action for Happiness  (click on link to download 28 page booklet explaining the model) - ten keys for happier living to summarise everything that we have done over the last six months:-

  • Giving - I created Grandma's Kindness Challenge for my granddaughters (but it was a project for the whole family) as a summer happiness project to, as a team, raise £400 for charity. I gave each of them £25 as seed money that they could use to create something they could sell for their charity - Cancer Research. These four girls have just blown me away with their enthusiasm and the entrepreneurial spirit this has unleashed. They have picked blackberries and turned them into jam, have cooked South African style fudge and baked donuts which sold out while still warm. Two of the girls went through their treasured toys in the loft to identify cast offs that they then sold at a car boot sale raising £76.62. In addition I gave them notebooks to record acts of kindness they do and I will pay them £5 for every 10 acts and the books are filling up fast. Four awesome girls and I love them to bits! 
  • Relating - Your support comes from your family and close friends and what you need to understand is they too have experienced loss. You need to receive and give support to one another. Having my daughter and her family 10 minutes away and my son and his family 30 minutes away has been a massive life saver for me. They are so loving, kind but also challenging and Jan lives on through them as they would not allow me to wallow in self pity! I have found over this time that good relationships have gone on to become even better. I'm about to embark on the North Coast 500 with three very dear friends and I know that we will be laughing almost non-stop for the entire journey through the highlands of Scotland and that is before we go whisky tasting! I have used Skype and WhatsApp to stay connected with my distant family and friends and in addition I am growing new friendships through the new activities that I am now doing.  
  • Exercising - I walk Thandi my lovely German Shepherd every day and also use a static exercise bike to strengthen my legs. I have almost completed the 99 miles of the South Downs walking with my son and son in law. Next we will go on to walk the Sussex border path, plus I have recently joined a lovely warm group of Ramblers so plenty of 6 to 10 mile walks coming up.
  • Awareness - doing an 8 week 'Mindfulness for Stress' course was one of the best things I did shortly after Jan's passing and at a time when I was struggling to find meaning and deal with my disrupted sleep pattern. Mindfulness gave me a wonderful new way of life that pretty much saved me and during the course we were going into spring which I saw in the present moment, through new eyes, appreciating the beauty of the English countryside. I now try to live my life in a mindful way, meditating every day, appreciating all the good things around me and I feel much calmer with a real sense of well-being.
  • Trying Out - I also did, at the same time, a 10 week course on improving my D-SLR photography and loved learning new and different things. Through Meet Up I have joined various photographic groups which give me the opportunity of going on photographic field trips and learning from others. I recently bought three online training courses from Udemy to learn post production techniques using Affinity Photo. Trying out new things and learning just makes life more interesting and a lot more fun.

  • Direction - Initially I went through a period of feeling that I was like an ocean going yacht that had lost its rudder and mast. My son told me he understood, but reminded me that I was still floating. Then over the months I started to rekindle my sense of direction and now have lots of events and goals that I am looking forward to and it feels good!
  • Resilience - I think the most important message is that you have a choice, do you 'feed' your miserable self-pity or do you invest in joy, peace, love and hope. Thanks to the plasticity of the brain, creating new positive approaches and activities effectively re-programmes your brain, but you have got to make that choice.
  • Emotions - A friend told me that once you lose someone special you go through a year of firsts. As in first wedding anniversary without Jan, so right from the start we made it very clear that we were going to create new happy neural pathways that reminded us of the lovely Jan and we are sticking to our plan.
  • Acceptance - possibly one of the most important keys for me was to stop being so hard on myself and to learn to be kind and supportive to myself. Irrational I know, but soon after Jan's passing I kept thinking that I could have detected the sepsis and saved her. Even when my doctor explained that Jan was too sick  to have survived, my self flagellation continued. I'm ok now, I know I did everything possible and I have accepted that it was out of my control. 
  • Meaning - when you open your mind and heart to life, I have found good things come your way. Out of the blue a good ex-NestlĂ© friend who has set up a learning super highway that operates in 110 countries and in 12 languages has asked me to develop learning modules on developing Inspiring Leaders and High Performing Teams. A wonderful challenge to be a part of! Then an ex Purina buddy has given me an opportunity to run a year long Inspiring Leader Programme for a small business in Cornwall. I have always wanted to create an affordable programme for small to medium sized businesses that just don't have the resources of the big guys. I know that something good will come out of these two, very different, projects and that gives me real meaning in my life!
I now know that 'life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it is about learning to dance in the rain' and that's what we are doing as a family!!! 


  1. This literally blew me away Ian. So insightful, honest and inspirational at the same time. I have worked in many big Corporate organisations where literally millions of £ are spent on Inspiring their employees but I think you seem to have nailed it!! Cannot wait to have you down in Cornwall, not only inspiring our Team at ES but also enjoying all that Cornwall has to offer which seems very much in synch with the values above!!!! It has also given me much needed direction and advice with my own loss this year. Thank you.

  2. Wonderful insight. Thank you for sharing. I'm sure Jan would be proud to see your achievements.

  3. I'm so grateful that I stumbled upon your blog today. This is fantastic!!!
    I'm so excited for you Ian, this is going to be an amazing journey and the best part is, you will have helped so many with their greif and suffering along the way.
    I developed a workshop out of my loss, and will be sharing it as well. Sounds like we've gone down a similar path and both discovered that giving, learning, and sharing what you've learned is in fact the answer. The answer to our purpose that is, at least this is what I discovered. Wishing you AMAZING success in your new endeavors. Stay in touch, if possible. I'd love to see how this journey evolves, and hear about the lives you've touched along the way.
    Cindy Rawlins
    Springboro, Ohio US

  4. Ian, thank you for sharing with those who are dear to you very openly how you have been feeling and the coping mechanisms that have worked for you through this heartbreaking time of your life. I am very grateful for your authenticity and resilience because it shows me and plenty of other people that life is a ride with highs and lows and what matters is how you decide to ride those lows and what you learn about you and the world around you in the process. I totally relate to that part as you know very well. Those breaks in transparency are extremely insightful. Its also important to cherish those highs and be mindful of what a blessing they are...and find ways to make them a bigger part of your life with time. And your Happiness Momento is a great reminder of ALL the little things I can do to help myself even more than I already am. I have also shared your post with 3 friends and work colleagues who have lost dear people around them and have been very grateful for your post, thank you. A skype is long overdue I believe. Take great care of yourself until we next speak xxx