Since our son Joshua died in 2011, we have learnt so much about the nature of grief, the way it can change our relationships, the way we think and behave towards others, the way we identify with or relate to other social or cultural groups, and how we understand and appreciate generosity, gratefulness and compassion, all things that have made us better human beings (hopefully!).
Some of this we’ve tried to put into practice. You may have seen the films we’ve made or the books we’ve produced. These are all expressions of our own grief but they are also an attempt to share our ideas as they have developed over the last twelve years or so. We like to think they add some insights to what is an increasingly lively general conversation around death, dying and bereavement.
We like to think our Active Grief Weekend retreats are a good example of a ‘shared’ grief, one that does not hide in the shadows, a grief that is active, intentional and collaborative. READ MORE HERE.
Header photo: Joshua’s niece Elsie (5) with photo of her uncle
October this year marks the second part of the Good Grief Kilimanjaro Challenge in which ten very intrepid Good Grief supporters will attempt to summit Africa’s highest mountain (5895 metres).
Joining them (this is a recent decision) are our founders Jimmy and Joe Edmonds, Joshua’s dad (73) and brother (44). Note the ages!!! While the mountain is not a technical climb, extreme temperatures and altitude sickness are the main reason why people don’t reach the top. We don’t expect Joe to have a problem but for Jimmy… well we’ll see.
The whole team is fundraising for The Good Grief Project which is massive. We are so grateful. Without their efforts and your donations we wouldn’t be able to do the work we do, supporting other bereaved parents and siblings with our Active Grief programme. The tragedy of a child’s death is every family’s worst nightmare and healing through grief is a long and protracted process. Joining one of our retreats and finding new and creative ways to integrate their loss can be a crucial moment on that journey. Please help us to help them. Every donation however large or small is truly appreciated.
Active Grief – Dartmoor May 2023
Do you share your grief? Freely or with caution?
How do you speak about your dead child? How do you give voice to their memory, talk about the love you still have and the way they continue to have an ongoing presence in your life. For many this is a daunting prospect. We live in a society where the outward display of grief is generally confined to the funeral. For many this will be the last public event they can talk about their loved one.
To continue to grieve openly is not becoming of a rational, well-ordered mind. Breaking out from the silence, that haunts any conversation about the dead, especially if it’s a son or daughter can be an uphill struggle. Even if your audience hasn’t immediately turned away or hastily changed the subject, you can sense an awkwardness, an averted gaze, a fear perhaps that they will be forced to confront a deep and unending sadness, to be called upon to fix what can’t be fixed, or to be reminded maybe of their own mortality. But the censorship that society quietly imposes, is often made worse by our own self-censorship. If you don’t want to hear, then I’m not going to tell.
Reframing Grief workshop May 2023 – Image by Karen Golding
It doesn’t have to be this way. We have learnt from our own experience that being more open about our grief, not only does it help us to better come to terms with our loss, it also provides evidence to the fact that no damage has been done either to us or to our listeners. At the same time, we have to be alert to those who may feel threatened by such disclosure:
“So how many children do you have?
Three – two are living, one has died”.
No one is actually hurt by this exchange but as a conversation it can be short lived. And for those who have known us (or have known who we were) before our child died, the change they see in us can be equally disturbing. For both parties an attempt to revert to things as they were is fruitless (we will know that – they may not) so adjusting to change and accommodating our loss begins with a recognition that the death of our child can also fracture many of our closest relationships, particularly with those who themselves have not been bereaved. No wonder grief gets suppressed. And we must find ways to give it some freedom, to find ways to honour our loved ones and to live our lives as “carriers of their unfinished stories”. (Francis Weller: The wild Edge of Sorrow). If we find it hard to share those stories with those who cannot listen, then we can start with an audience who will. As we have found it’s a lot easier to be an active griever with others who are also bereaved.
Reframing Grief workshop May 2023 – Image by Sandie Ash
An active, creative and energetic grief We like the idea of an ‘active grief’ – a concept that has informed our weekend retreats. Run exclusively by and for bereaved parents and siblings, our Active Grief Weekend retreats provide a unique opportunity for us to practice sharing our grief, and to tend to those broken relationships. While being physically active is a significant component of the weekends programme, it’s the proactive or intentional approach to the way we engage with our grief (and all the difficult emotions that come with grief) that is really important.
Active Grief workshop May 2018
If grief is energy, as Maria Mascarucci (above) the mother of three still born children told us, if it’s a life force of its own with potentially positive as well as negative outcomes, then that energy needs be harnessed purposefully and with intent. Theories about how people heal after a significant trauma or the death of a loved one have advanced considerably over the last decades and our own experience of a need to keep Joshua as a very real presence in our lives (moving forward rather than moving on or letting go) bears out what we understand to be a healthy, energetic and proactive grief. This idea and our view of grief as almost by definition a creative process is central to our work on the Active Grief Weekends.
Ribbons to remember – September 2022
A kind of bubble safe from that ‘other’ world We have now held 8 such weekend retreats. They are intimate affairs, with a maximum of 18 people joining us. Everyone, including the team, is bereaved of a son or daughter, or a brother or sister. Over two days our guests are invited to join three different two-hour workshops in which we share the skills we’ve developed since Joshua died. Jimmy leads the photography session, sometimes with Jane sometimes with Gill Mann, mother of Sam who died in 2014. Theatre director and bereaved mother Jo Bousfield runs the creative writing workshop and Josh’s brother (a personal trainer) delivers the physical exercise sessions. Josh’s sister Rosa is responsible for delivering delicious meals to the dining table, the epicentre of the weekend and backdrop to many conversations, memories and new friendships.
What we’ve discovered is that more than anything it’s the opportunity to share our stories in a kind of ‘bubble’ safe from that other world where life goes on as normal, that is so liberating. We learn from each other and go away feeling we understand our own grief better. This allows us to grieve outside the box, to lament without shame, to find meaning in our sorrow, even to take pride in the way we have survived the worst thing that could befall us – the death of a child.
If playing with words ‘unleashed my sadness’ one mother told us, the boxing ‘unleashed my anger’
Reframing Grief workshop May 2023 – Image by Hans Eric Destree
ONLY A FEW PLACES LEFT ON OUR SEPTEMBER RETREAT
Open to all bereaved parents and siblings, irrespective of how old your child was when they died, how long ago or from whatever cause. Registrations for the September retreat are now open but places are going fast. Book now if you want to join us.
BUY WHEN WORDS ARE NOT ENOUGH – a deeply personal and beautiful reflection on grief
‘Groundbreaking … a beautiful book full hope, insight and invention’. Marina Cantacuzino, The Forgiveness Project
‘I have not read a better book on grief’. Annalisa Barbieri, The Guardian
Buy WHEN WORDS ARE NOT ENOUGH in the UK Buy WHEN WORDSS ARE NOT ENOUGH in the USA We are, as always, so very grateful for your kind donations. Without your support we would not be able to run our Active Grief Weekend retreats, to make films like ‘Beyond The Mask’, to produce books like our recently published ‘When Words are not Enough’ and to support families after the untimely death of a loved one – especially that of a child.