How to live before you die

In a slight deviation from my recent grief blogging I’d like to share this amazing Steve Jobs talk with you. Seems rather relevant.

And some key things to take away;

    1. On the concept of connecting the dots
      1. Follow your heart
      2. You can’t connect dots in advance
    2. On Love and loss
      1. Took Jobs 10 years to create Apple from garage to billions of $
      2. Fired – but didn’t run away from industry, vision, dreams
      3. Didn’t realize them but getting fired was best thing that ever happened
      4. Don’t settle
    3. On Death and thus Life
      1. If you live each day as if it’s your last someday almost certainly you will be right
      2. Pride, fear of embarrassment or failure… avoid the trap of feeling there is anything to lose
      3. Death is life’s change agent, makes way for the new
      4. You are the new now but will one day be cleared away
      5. Don’t waste time living someone else’s life
      6. Don’t be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other peoples thinking
      7. Don’t let the noise of other people’s opinions drown out your own inner voice
      8. Courage to follow your own heart and intuition . They somehow already know what you want to become. Everything else is secondary.

And as Steve adopted from the “Whole  Earth Catalog” (was printed on back)

Stay hungry, stay foolish.

Harnessing Grief

Photo © Marisa Woodget 2015 (edited by Matthew Woodget)– in this photo, on my mothers first birthday since her death, I hold a message to her, in a bottle, preparing to launch it into the Pacific Ocean.

This post is aspirational.

It’s been three months. A quarter of a year. Everyone says it’s a long road and I can safely say that the past three months have been the longest of my life. I feel like I have aged. I know I’ve put on weight. I call it my ‘grief weight’. Everyone says "Take care of yourself". If that means being healthy then I’ve been doing so sporadically. I feel it must also mean other things – mental as well as physical. Escapism in movies or computer games can also qualify. I have told myself.

Time is a fickle mistress and I’m prone to prioritizing a nap vs. stretching my legs. Naps are important. Taking naps qualify as taking care of oneself as far as I’m concerned. I certainly seek them out at the weekends. Once I took a tactical, vertical nap on the sofa. My eldest who is six and I were playing some Forza Motorsport for a reward- he was taking a turn racing and I managed to get a lap-nap in. He was going around laps a little bit slower than I.

I used to love showing my dad the latest version of Forza. We had a shared love for cars and auto sport.

Three months ago yesterday I had been playing Forza with my boys and my American Nephew (I also have two British Nephew’s). I went to great pains to reinforce that in real life there is no ‘rewind’ button. You can’t hit the ‘Y’ button and undo an automobile accident. I didn’t realize at the time that my father had been killed and my mother was on her deathbed resulting from a car crash. Sufficed to say that now I have mixed emotions about cars and speed. In both games and real life.

I was subjected to some road rage on the drive in to work yesterday. I was then exposed to a rather nasty crash minutes later. Experiences like that can really shake me. When I got to work I needed time to center myself before getting out of the car. It is beginning to dawn on me that I may have PTSD.

In my last blog I observed what it’s like as normality starts to encroach. I’ve been living with that for some time now and it’s led to a realization that I need to "do something" with my grief. I don’t mean therapy, or this blog or time with friends. True, tackling of your grief is important. What I mean is what to do with life now that I has lived through this experience.

Everything that happens to us leaves us with tools and different ways to view the world.

What does grief give us?

Grief Super Heroes

I said in a prior post how messy grief is. It’s all over the map. For me it began with the experience of shear horror and shock that would eventually give way to numbness only then to switch back to soul tearing sadness. It was pretty much "all grief" in those early days… my shiny new grief. The thing is the world doesn’t stand still. The kids need to be taken care of. The mortgage needs to be paid. Chores must be done. I found myself living this sort of parallel life. It’s always there, they are always there. They can interrupt me at any time. During the day I "do life" and in the evenings I’m this sort of grief super hero. Batman was an orphan, he comes to mind a lot. My boys are very much into super heroes, maybe that’s why this analogy resonates so. Sometimes life dominates consciousness; running the gauntlet of dinner and bedtime for the boys, for example, forces my grief persona to be put to the side, for a while. I’m pretty sure I’ve made it a whole hour without thinking about them. And there they are, waiting for me when I get back.

The super hero analogy is good for another reason; my life is changed. I am changed. I’ve seen and felt things I never thought I would. Everything is different now. Mornings feel different. Hugs feel different. The passing of the moment feels different and I’m even more apt to focus on living in it than I was before. Yet I’m still holding back. I’m still trying to understand the scope of how I have changed.

Those familiar with Star Wars will know what Anakin went through on his journey to become Darth Vader. He suffered great loss. His mother. His wife… and as far as he was concerned his children. We know the later to be a lie. In part perpetrated by the Jedi (the good guys!!) to protect the babies from Anakin. And more importantly by Darth Sidious (The Emperor) who used their ‘death’ to push Anakin completely into the clutches of the Dark Side.

I don’t want to be Darth Vader. Apart from for Halloween… Maybe I’ll be him for Halloween. You know, in a costume.

And this is my point, the journey of torturous loss and grief can lead one to lash out at the world. There are the soldiers who return from war who end up committing violent crimes and ending up in prison. I’m not saying that what I’ve gone through is the same as experiencing the horror of war. I may not be in that club. I am however in a club that shares the same postal code.

The world does looks different after loss, and when the loss is tragic the contrast and saturation are turned up even further.

Things can go one of three ways…

The good

One of the things that is good that can come out of grief is that we realize now more than ever how transient life is. "The page is out of print, we are not permanent" The Pretender, Foo Fighters. I was always fond of focusing on the moment "Unplug the future, unplug the past, and plug them both into the present" was a phrase I coined in 2003 at a music festival in an effort to console a friend who was having a rough time in a relationship. I was seeking to encourage him to make the most of life as "this" was what it was all about. Being together and enjoying life with those you care about.

Take that insight, that understanding, and amplify it. Sort of like what happens to Marty McFly with Doc Brown’s Amp in Back to The Future (clip).

It is because of this that we have a power to live even more in the moment. The promise of this fact is great. It is a promise that we can eventually get to a place in life where the grief isn’t holding us back. Rather that we can actually realize strength in it – I’m not saying that getting there is easy. It isn’t, it’s tough. I do, however, see it as the silver lining in all of this. The shear fact that if my parents died that they died for one thing and one thing alone; that those left behind could live the rest of their lives more fully, more completely than they would have otherwise. Is it a hard pill to swallow? You bet. Feeling like there is anything positive because of their deaths is very hard to imagine. Let alone to live.

The bad

Look, let’s just get this out of the way; there is a lot of bad in this experience. And ugly. It is as far from fun and enjoyment in life that you can get. I’m sure my earlier blogs covered that in quite some detail.

What I’m talking about here is ‘the bad’ in the context of forward motion. It’s the corruption of life, the electrical burn that can cut through the toughest metal. The risk is that if you never make it "through" your grief. That you become trapped in sadness and potentially PTSD if you experience that as well.

Would Mum and Dad want that for me, for my sisters, for anyone? Of course not. The fact is this experience is really truly deeply sad. It’s soul crushing. It’s waking in tears in the middle of night and not being able to get back to sleep. It’s "that song" coming on the radio as you drive bringing waves of emotion and floods of tears that you feverishly wipe away as you find a safe place to pull the car over and recover. The salt of sorrow dripping into your mouth.

It’s also true that if you stay there forever you can’t ever turn the sorrow into something positive. I truly believe that it is possible to experience something bad and to use it to do good in the world.

To do that you need to tackle it head on.

The Ugly

The biggest risk is that a tragedy consumes one so completely that the trauma is taken out on the world. This is where those veterans ‘snap’ because of their experience both on the battle field and when they try return to the world. I simply can’t understand a society that will happily send a nations children to war yet not support the funding for the appropriate medical and mental care that those warriors require when they come back from the horror of armed conflict.

I’m not saying that everyone who goes through a tragic loss will end up in a situation where they are attacking and hurting others. Neither is that the case for all veterans with PTSD. It is however a real risk. And it does happen.

The example of violent outbursts is an extreme. The Ugly can manifest in much more mundane ways. When I first started to grapple with this experience and how it was changing me I wondered; will I take people’s crap anymore? Will I call bullshit every time I see it? Will my political (and political correctness) filter be thrown out? "Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater" Mum and Dad used to say. Oh Mum, oh Dad… you were so fond of saying that. It served me and my sisters well growing up. So many lovely aspects of your coaching.

I decided to give myself a pass. For a while. Maybe I would be more frank and "less political" moving forwards. Or maybe more political! Perhaps I would speak my mind a little more. The latter is starting to happen. However I have actively held back in the interests of giving myself time to go through the grief process.

It doesn’t have to result in ‘ugly’. You can harness it for good. It’s OK to be outspoken and passionate about what you believe in. It’s not what you say it’s how you say it. Kind of like the ‘joke’. "An Jew, an Atheist, A Muslim and a Vegan all go into a coffee shop… and they all laugh and joke and have a good time. Because they are not assholes".

I really don’t want to be an asshole. Mum and Dad wouldn’t have wanted me to be, either.

Channeling your power

This is where the super hero analogy comes back into play. All loss isn’t going to turn one into a crime fighting caped crusader. However like all good storytelling Batman works because it appeals to something in all of us. Those who have tragedy in our lives are given access to the full-blown directors cut. We have seen something, learned something, felt something and it is powerful. Very powerful.

We first started to experience that power in how it would bring us to our knees. Literally. In those early days I did find myself stopping and collapsing. In the first minutes of finding out I couldn’t even breath. I was curled up on the floor, screaming. My life had been shattered. Torn. Ripped apart. Grief is powerful.

The following question then comes; how can I channel, then harness that power for good?

Step 1 – Channel for healing

Focus on yourself. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself time, and space. Allow yourself to grieve fully. They are not platitudes, they are real. They are clichés because they are REAL.

This is no mean feat. It takes time. It also takes effort and focus. And patience. It is a road and it needs to be traveled. I went for a walk today and it was tough. One of those walks where you really don’t want to. But you force yourself to. And after a while you start to pick up a pace. It takes a while yet eventually you are just doing it. You are in the motion and you are fully present.

It’s like that on the dusty, dirty road of grief. And the wind will kick up and knock you back and blind your eyes and you won’t always be able to see where you are doing. That’s OK. Right now all you need to do is keep going down the road. Everyone’s road is different and there isn’t a destination, per say. What there is eventually however is a clearing from the dust.

The road terminates not in a place but at the beginning of a new journey. A new landscape. You find yourself in a glade at the edge of a forest, with views of beautiful mountains and canyons. That is the rest of your life out there. One of most beautiful analogies I heard with the ‘recovery’ from grief was how your lost loved one would eventually be ‘walking beside you’. It’s when the dust settles and you leave the rocky, tough road behind that you meet them in that glade.

Step 2 – Channeling for purpose

You will start to consider as you trudge through the dust in step one. That when you make it to the clear blue skies and crisp green rolling fields of life and love and opportunity that you will be able to tackle this a new.

Are you going to the mountains, to the coast?

Purpose is a uniquely personal journey. My favorite process for doing this to date is this resource from Steve Pavlina. It’s about what YOU bring to this world. When you have gone through a tragic loss you are left with this great power. What you can bring to the world is enhanced, amplified.

Whatever you chose for your purpose is what it all boils down to; what meaning can you draw from life? In your actions what meaning can you bring to life? It could be something ambitious which brings large scale benefits to the whole of humanity. Curing cancer. Sending us to Mars. Eliminating hunger in a region, or the world! Or it could be supporting such a mission – being a foot soldier who throws oneself at an existing mission and pours energy and life into helping it succeed. Or you could invest in the micro, the small scale. Living a good, loving life. Investing in your family. Your local community. Maybe it’s a mix of the two. Only you will know.

Step 3 – Channeling your new self

You are different now. You are forever changed. You were a warrior who trudged the road of grief. You sought all the help you could. You did the things you needed to heal. To grow. You integrated the grief into who you are. I read, and appreciated "The Courage to Grieve" by Judy Tatelbaum although I’m not 100% sold on her concept of "finishing" with grief. I get it, and understand how the process she talks about can help. I would just rather see it as a process that is whole and results in the integration of emotions and experience into who one is rather than moving beyond it. Nothing that ever happens to us ever leaves us. It makes us who we are. It defines us. And that is the problem I have with ‘finishing’. On the other hand if she really means "finishing" as per the phase, ‘the act of grieving’ and that all of the learning’s and experiences still accrue to one being ‘more’ at the end of it (despite the massive loss) then I could be sold on that. It makes sense not to be ‘stuck’ in the process of grieving for the rest of one’s life. That is where you can end up at "bad" or "ugly".

Having been down the road. Integrated the experiences, the emotions, the learning’s and come out the other side you are equipped to channel this powerful thing. Once you have channeled it you are able to harness it, to use it.

It is then that you are able to turn your life into a monument for those you have lost. The concept of ‘making them proud’ by who you are and your actions. We find ourselves back to that silver lining. I have to believe that is at the ‘end’ of this. Without that goal it seems to me that one could easily get lost in the dusty, dark landscape of Step 1. Never to emerge from the other side. Slipping into The Bad and The Ugly.

Final thoughts… for today

This has been the hardest of my grief blogs. In the beginning it was all so clear; I had lost, I was in pain. I could share that. I could address that. As I look to focus my mind so I can heal and subsequently share it is much harder now. Life is busy, complicated, and it dances a difficult dance with grief.

How did your journey go? How did you harness the new found power you discovered in grief? What did you do with it? What was the journey like for you – how long did it take? I’d love to hear your stories and thoughts. Do you disagree?

Remember – we are all in this together. None of us get out alive and the more we prioritize thinking and focusing on this subject the better prepared we will all be when it inevitably happens to us. Even for those of us who have lived through this it will happen again.

Like I said at the beginning, this post is aspirational. I will, I must, give myself time and space, permission to throw a glass at the wall and watch it smash (as long as no one is standing there!). Yet I can aspire for more. I can hope for more. I can strive for more. Thanks for joining me on this journey. Let’s keep at it… together!

Let’s discuss in the comments – that’s what blogs are for!

When Grief meets Normality

"Grief is more complicated than I had any idea of" – My wife, Marisa.

There are so many wonderful analogies for grief; the waves, the roads with switch backs, the messiness. It is complicated. It is very human. It is as individual in it’s nature for you as you are an individual in the world. In grief we find our true humanity. The good and the bad. The layers of life, the facades we put in place to operate. The masks we wear. The roles we play. They are all brought out into the open for us as we grieve.


Sometimes to great comfort, other times to deep harrowing sadness. Who are we?


What is the meaning of life? How do I seek meaning from life?


These age old questions of humanity find themselves on the tip of our tongue, constantly. We are forced to truly realize how very temporary life is. I write this on the eve of September 11th and think of the thousands of families that shared a final night together. Of all the bags packed and trips planned that would never see journey’s end. I think of my conversation with my mum, in England, that horrible evening and I’m reminded of how fleeting this all is.


Snow flakes are born in the stormy sky, they float down to the earth, settle for a while, and melt. Some are caught in downdrafts and land on warm roofs. Hastening their departure. Others find themselves in thick piles of cool white fluff surrounded by many others for a beautifully long winter.


Then spring happens. The cycle of life, of the earth, the universe, goes on.

Stir the soup

I’ve been back at work for a few, for several (?) weeks now. Time isn’t what it used to be. It’s a blur. It’s certainly going much more slowly, as an overarching trend. I’ve been "getting on with things" I’ve been doing chores around the house. I’ve been lucky enough to connect with some wonderful friends who have reached out to me and insisted on spending time with me. I’ve nothing but thanks to you. When people ask what they can do I tell them that, time, attention, care. Talking about what happened, what I’m going through. I need that. Oh and I, we, still need people to cook for us. It’s the biggest everyday chore, and the most outsourcable.


I started to feel different. The initial shock and pain of those first weeks had changed, shifted. Had it gone?! I was terrified to move forwards, away from them. Every moment I grow older I’m further from them and their love. I know, I know, they are "with me". In my DNA, walking beside me, watching over me. Whatever gets you through the night. These are all perfectly reasonable and nice thoughts and no doubt one day I will feel good thinking about them. Yet now, now I feel like I’m in some netherworld between the initial, constant, gut wrenching pain and that future. And I have no idea how long it will take me to get there.


I found myself being "normal". Participating in meetings. Processing emails. Cooking. Cleaning the kitchen. I felt numb. Then a particularly painful poignant evening with some people who I expected more from quite frankly brought it all into stark focus.


I was living on the surface of a cooling soup. A nice thick potato leek soup. As it cooled the surface grew taught and tense. A skin formed. And it was that evening that I pushed down through the skin into the searing heat of the soup below. I stirred it up. Pushing that "odd normal" down into the hot depths where it could melt and reform with the excited atoms in the turmoil below.


The next day it happened again. The surface cooled and congealed and I operated in the "real world". Yet now I had empowered myself to stir the soup. A chat with a good friend confirmed that which I had subconsciously realized. My job was to prevent the congealing happening. I needed to keep myself and my feelings and my emotions fresh and current. I could do this by continuing to expose them to the world and over time the entire mass of the soup would cool, together, as one. And rather than the formation of a separate, alien layer on top of the turmoil that remained beneath. If I could achieve that then my soup would come to a consistent, peaceful equilibrium with the world.


We can’t get around, or over, or under grief. We have to go through it. We have to stir the soup. If we feel like we are in a "numb normal" we are not making forward progress. We need to ensure that through the process of grieving that we allow it to be fed by and interact with the world . Only then can we find a balance and peace over time.


As we stir the soup we consume vast amounts of energy. And we need to make sure that we take care of ourselves. That we sleep. Rest. Exercise. Read. Watch TV. Whatever it is that gives us a chance to invest in ourselves. You must fulfil our needs.


Everyone’s flavor of soup is different, is cooked at different temperatures and is in a unique room that imparts its own affects on the soup. But it is all soup.


The Rewriting of History Paradox

Prior to my awareness of the crazy assed soup that I was swimming in I was going through a very strange, dark, odd experience with my grief. It felt poignant, and raw and I was somewhat aware of what was happening yet I couldn’t quite place my finger on it. It was in the corner of my mental eye and for weeks I couldn’t quite bring it into focus. Then one day with loving warmth of a tight knit group of friends and my wife it crystalized for me.


Unsurprisingly I have found myself thinking about the past, a lot. Of growing up. Of my parents at different ages and the things we did together and the lessons I learned from them. As I was experiencing these memories I would encounter a dark feeling that I couldn’t define. I was thinking about the past yet the present was creeping into it like an insidious darkness, infecting loving memories with the pain of today.


I would stop myself short. Cutting off this horrible turn of thought. I realize now that by cutting myself off I was preventing my ability to understand what was going on in my mind. As I would stop thinking about it, stop trying to understand it. It needed to stir the soup. If I hadn’t allowed myself to go back into these thoughts I’d never have been able to realize what they meant. I’d not have been able to rationalize it or integrate it into who I am.


So what on earth was happening?! It was dreadfully simple actually. In my mind I was imagining Matthew at four, five, nine, twelve years old. And that Matthew was also losing his parents. As I experienced this a darkness made me feel like I had lost my parents at those ages. It hurt. A lot. Yet there was a nuance, and a complexity as to why I was feeling this was; it was the fact I am a father. The thought of losing my father was being projected into my children, I was then imagining how they felt in their loss and then I was transposing myself into the mind of my children and subsequently imagining I was their age and I was losing a parent… at that age. It started by thinking about my children as 3 and 5 year olds. Then being a human I couldn’t help but model that out to other ages. Before I knew it anytime I was thinking of a childhood memory the same affect would happen. My parents would die in the past.


It. Was. Horrible.


And then I stirred the soup.


And it stopped.


Everyone experiences, and handles, grief differently. We all have our own weirdness’s. We are all fucked up. We are all human. We all have a unique path and experience in this world and all of that affects how we see, feel and interact with our own reality. So when we are faced with the most devastating grief we have ever experienced we will all handle it differently.


And if we don’t stir the soup we will congeal with a false normality, we will get stuck in our dark thoughts and we will not integrate those thoughts into our experience and we will never truly heal.


Stir the soup.

Grief is….

In some ways It’s amazing how little I feel I’ve come since my last post. Oh how many things still feel the same. Grief is, as it happens, turning out to be far more complicated than I imagined. The blog I wrote shortly after my parents deaths "When those you love are killed" just poured out of me. Almost un-fettered virtually no editing (save for a few typos). When it comes to collecting my thoughts on how I feel now, it is much harder. Things are much messier.

It’s just turned August the 19th. They died on July the 19th. Officially a month. Technically Mum passed in the wee small hours of the 20th. But to all intents and purposes her life came to a screeching halt along side Dad on July the 19th at 5pm British Summer Time in a layby on the A303.

As my mother and fathers lives ended the lives of many, many people changed. Jolted, these lives shot off in other directions. For my sisters and our spouses it was particularly pronounced. As it was for our aunts and uncles and my paternal grandmother.

Grief is complicated

As you work through the experience of grief it evolves, shifts, changes, it grows. It’s like a thought virus that is taking over your entire system, and changing it. This is why it’s so important to tackle it, head on. It’s a long road and if you don’t travel it you can do irreparable damage.

You have sorrow, the pain and the loss. There are your memories of what was. There is the future that is stolen away from you. There is the extraordinary kindness and compassion shown by other people. There is fear and guilt and bucket loads of "What Ifs". Behind all of these things lies a deep pool of thought, ideas and feelings. With grief you are juggling all of this. And more.

Then of course there is this slow dawning realization… Long after you logically "get" that your loved one(s) have gone (trust me, to begin with you’ll settle for it all being some sort of sick joke). The realization is that you get to a place where you start to understand that because they are gone that the relationship is gone. If you are religious you can image them watching over you, of being with them at some point in the future. And you don’t need religion to talk to them, as if they were there. Then there is the decades of advice and ideas and memories of them speaking to you – and you can hear much of that when you close your eyes. But at the end of they day they are gone and it is no longer a two way street. It’s all in the past.

I’ve been going through that this week. It’s things like this which are a constant wake up call for the length of this road. This process. This experience. This grief.

Grief is Pain, Grief is Loss

It’s a "pass the parcel" of deep darkness and tears. You keep on chugging until the music stops and then you are forced to open your package of grief and confront what is inside. You cry until you can’t breath. You have "moments" and find yourself on the front porch, not knowing what you had been doing or how you got there. Your wife had wondered where you were. She found you breathless, aching, exhausted. These moments still happen. They no longer happen literally every five minutes, like they did in the first week. But they happen none-the-less. When they do happen they are just as arresting and just as effective at bringing you to grinding grinding halt.

When I "have a moment" I’m not breaking down. I’m lighting up, with grief. My tears are gifts of grief and if you are with me when I experience this it is my way of sharing with you what I am going through. Thank you for the hugs, they help. They really do.

We are all in this together. None of us get out alive. (I’m mashing up Gabby Young and Foo Fighters lyrics with that one).

We are all going to go through this in some way shape or form. I understand it’s not selfish to recognize that this has forced me into the membership of a particularly horrible, painful club; losing two parents, two WONDERFUL grandparents to four little boys, people that formed the heart of a very close, loving family, losing them both at once, in a tragic accident, so soon after they were embarking on a fantastic new phase of their lives. I’d never wish this on anyone.

We all lose those we love and we all die. It’s the immutable commonality that we share as humans.

Maybe the fact we all share this is what brings us together to share tears when loss happens. Tapping into the reservoir of our common humanity.

We really are all in this one this together.

Photos. Music. Videos. Tonight I watched my mum sing me happy birthday for the very last time. When my parents visited last October I captured some poignant moments on film. Including my birthday. Replete with singing and cake. My father had grabbed the camera and I was able to see myself and my mother share a happy, carefree moment. One which we thought we would have another 10, 20 or even more of.

Sufficed to say… I had a moment.

Grief is Love

People. Oh my goodness. You are awesome. Every last one of you. You are beautiful, kind, generous, giving and loving. Some of you are close to me and are able to swim deep with me into my pain. Others only paddle with me in the surf for a few moments. You might hold my hand for hours as we plumb the depths or you might simply stop by and touch my palm as we feel the spray of the surf splashed upon us.

All of it is love. All of it is appreciated. All of it helps.

I want to say; Thank You. From the bottom of my heart. I feel lucky, touched, moved, to be a part of a species that is capable of such tender emotion and care.

No matter how hard your day gets, or how dark your night. Please know that if you have interacted with me in this journey you have shed at least a little light on me. You helped me, a fellow human being. You are important. You are meaningful and you have purpose. I love you and I appreciate you and I hope we can both always recognize the importance of the human connection.

Grief is the Future

The moment this happened I knew things would never be the same. OK, that’s not entirely true. The moment this happened I was a wreck. I literally couldn’t breath. I wouldn’t breath until I so desperately needed oxygen I wretched and sucked in air. There was a void because the screaming and crying had pushed out all that was in my lungs.

I digress…

Shortly after this happened I knew things would never be the same again. I had experienced a shift in my world. It was tectonic. The great irony is that after reading that blasted New Yorker article on the destruction of Seattle due to a mega quake I had finally put our family emergency plan together. Sufficed to say my life’s real emergency evaded planning. And being your average human I also hadn’t thought, or wanted to think, that deeply about the possibility of my parents untimely demise. Heck, they flew so much I was far more worried about them perishing in a plane crash! Either way the tectonic shift I experienced ended up being in my heart and it was long and drawn out, a sustained 9.5 on the Richter scale of my being.

I know things will be different. How much so I have no idea. It could be a simple different approach to life. I’ve already resolve that I will Question more and do so with Compassion and Kindness. I work in a corporation, the politics are rife. Life is short. We need to work hard and have fun and do the right thing collectively. Alternatively, and as my manager said "You might decide you want to quit and go full time as a photographer". He has been and continues to be immensely supportive. It’s also worth noting the culture (which is driven by people and purpose) at Microsoft has been warm, kind and patient. I’m very grateful for this. And I’m grateful that I don’t work at, for example, Amazon, based on what I saw in this article and what I’ve heard from friends who work there. For the record I have friends who work there who enjoy what that culture demands. All I can say is I feel grateful to work for a company that has a culture that highly values the human "assets" that make it up. Like Mr. Price my headmaster said at our first assembly at St. Johns in 1989 – "Look around you. The people sitting next to you. The teachers up here and all around. That is the school. You are the school. It’s not the building or the bricks or the play fields. It is you, it is the people." I’m grateful to work in a culture that values people. That values humanity.

It is people who have given me strength through all of this.

When I try look at it the future looks bleak. A world without two of the most important, staring "roles" in my life’s movie. Their lives cut so tragically short. It forces me to appreciate the moment we inhabit even more. And it makes me passionate about pursuing a sustainable moment. To fight for things that maintain an ongoing appreciation of everything we have in the now in a way that will give us and our children in the future a continual and beautifully sustainable moment.

Because quite frankly it could all be over in an instant.

Grief is finding your purpose

Over the years I’ve worked hard to try and crystalize my purpose. I’ve done it as a way to help guide me on this journey. Here is a very powerful way to do so. Suffice to say going through all this has brought this pursuit back into stark focus.

My updated purpose in life is as follows; Family man. Creator. Helps people connect, collaborate and grow. Challenges the status quo. Questions with compassion and kindness.

I believe most of us half choose, half stumble through and into where we are in life. We can feel like we "sort of ended up here by mistake". I’m learning that this is a common feeling. You know, it’s OK. We are messy, complicated, screwed up animals. But we are beautiful, caring, and compassionate too. This experience has drawn into focus the sheer volume of feelings which I’d once thought were just me and how they are in fact very common indeed. I’m grateful for that. It make me feel more connected with all of the lovely people I come across, every day. I have no regrets. Everything I’ve done has led me to this point. As far as moving forwards is concerned; being intentional, pursuing my values and being true to myself, all of this will become critical as I move through and on and past this grieving process – I have no illusions on the length of this journey.

And as my grief councilor said "all you have to worry about now is driving home". I’ll worry about the big stuff later. One thing however is for sure, I will be giving it, and myself, the attention it deserves.

P.S. Here are the photos that we showed at the ‘party’ after the funeral (missing a few from my sisters).

When those you love are killed

It’s been five days since they died. Since they were killed. Both of them. My loving parents who I was very close with. As were my sisters. As were our spouses. They adored and were worshiped by their grandchildren. They are gone forever. There will be no new memories made. They are now in the past.

It’s unbearably painful.

Floods of emotion

At first even breathing was impossible. I learned to do that again. It’s like that with everything now.

They say time heals all wounds. It’s hard to believe that at this moment.

What is it like to learn to cope with such a tragic loss? It is as if all my sadness and fear and tears are kept shut behind a door. The problem is that all of my memories of my parents are also behind that door. I crouch down and peak through the key hole. Sometimes I see sadness. Sometimes I remember. Sometimes I smile.

Smiling seemed impossible a few days ago.

Sometimes the door get’s kicked open.

Sometimes it’s mum. Sometimes it’s dad. Sometimes both together.

They come bursting from behind the door in a flood of emotion.

The thought of dealing with reality right now is unbearable. I’ve become intimately aware that whilst grieving one has to manage things like a funeral and the execution of a will and estate.

It’s exhausting. Literally.

Walking beside us

Wise people have said to me that you never get over the loss of a loved one. In this case two loved ones, lost in a tragic accident. They say that you learn to integrate the loss into your life. That it becomes a part of you. Once I heard it described that as your heart heals you will have them walk beside you.

They will live on through us; in our DNA and in what we know about them “Dad would totally say that”, “Mum would not be happy with that!” In this future they are there, with us. Living on through our memories of them. There are glimpses of this comfort. Then we slip back into sorrow.

Grief is a journey we must take. Whilst seeking to celebrate their lives.


If I could be half of what either my Mother or Father were then I will have achieved a great thing.

Their love knew no bounds. The community and beyond benefited from their warmth and generosity. The outpouring of grief and support has been a chorus of broken hearts. We deeply appreciate everything everyone has done from simple “I’m sorry” to hugs to friends going above and beyond to help with everything from driving, cars, airport runs, food, cooking. I honestly don’t know what we would do without you.

For those kind enough to make a gift we would be honored if you could make it to the charity my father was chairperson of, The Wiltshire Community Foundation – and specifically to the  “John and Judith Woodget Fund“. They would have been “tickled pink” by any donations that helped them help others despite them not being around to explicitly help any more. A fitting tribute to their lives.


I love you mum and dad. I will forever.

Below is a picture of my beloved parents on their 40th Wedding Anniversary in 2013. Mum is wearing her wedding dress.

This image is from my personal collection and is copyright © Matthew Woodget 2013  all rights reserved and reproduction completely prohibited. Family and friends of course can contact me for a copy.


Are you prepared for the destruction of Seattle?

earthquakeLast night I read the New Yorker article entitled “The Quake That Will Devastate Seattle”. I made the mistake of reading this about 15 minutes before I planned to go to bed. Three hours later I had taken our rather anemic to-do list of an emergency plan and pimped it beyond all recognition.

First and foremost and if you take nothing else away from this conversation is WATER, WATER, WATER. Even after a small event nowhere near the scale of a Cascadian Fault Full Margin Rip will see cut off water supplies. My brother-in-law, a firefighter advises that; we go through 2 gallons a day. Have enough for 5 days. That’s 20 gallons for a family of four. And it’s best to be on the safe side. They are a family of 3 and keep 30 gallons just in case. They change it with the seasons, and the fire alarm batteries. You can also get long term storage and simple chemical treatment to enable that. Some emergency planning experts even recommend planning for as much as 7-10 days.

The article is very well written, considering it’s shock value. It’s not the only resource. In Full-Rip 9.0: The Next Big Earthquake in the Pacific Northwest more detail and insights are provided far beyond what an op-ed piece can muster.

As I read through the FEMA emergency list (and their additional emergency supplies list) I browsed through Amazon adding items to a ‘wish list’. Additionally I searched for ‘emergency kit’ and looked at a variety of items from kits and other useful things. I have some wish-list trimming to do…

In regards to kits; there are pre-built options out there that often come in a handy bag. However much of the contents of these is perishable so if you purchase them you will need to plan to replenish some items. Or you can build your own. A friend tipped me off to Costco’s options, these are mind blowing. After some research and recommendations I also discovered USA Emergency Supply which has a comprehensive set of resources.

At the end of the day it’ll all boil down to personal preference.

The FEMA advice is sound; not least of which it goes beyond the consumables, gadgets and commodities being sold under the ‘emergency kit’ banner. The basics are also important; from tooth brushes, garbage bags (and zip ties), to wipes, sun block, plates/utensils and so forth.

Communications plans are also very important. Having an out of town contact that your whole family can contact is useful as communication in the area is often challenging.

The science is sound. The reality is that something really big can and will happen. We just never know when. We are much more likely to have a “big one” vs. a “really big one”. I.E. an 8.2 magnitude vs. 9.0. for the latter we may want to consider more extreme planning; multiple locations in your home of emergency food/water, additional equipment (shovels, knives, portable wood burning stoves) and so forth. For a “big one” we still need to make sure we secure the basics.

Other matters considering is tying down tall furniture and retrofitting your foundation for earthquakes.

The spectrum goes from completely unprepared to survivalist. We are working on figuring out exactly what we need and have accelerated our planning.

Good luck – and please do share your thoughts and advice on emergency planning!

Personal at Scale

I recently posted two blogs on LinkedIn all about the importance of both automation in marketing and the human element.

In  Machine Learning Magic & the Intelligent app Revolution I covered the amazing power of targeting and interaction that can be unleashed by Machine Learning “ML” and provide some commentary on the state of that industry and what companies who want to knock it out of the park will need to do.

In You Can’t Automate Trust (aka “Personal Marketing at Scale”) I dig into the importance of the human factor in the Customer Action equation. There are unique and brilliant aspects of the human mind that are not being commoditized… not just yet, and by all measures not for some considerable time.

Customer Action = (Authenticity + Engagement + Relevance) * Trust

What do you think about the future of marketing? Where does automation and technology win and where do humans add irrevocable value?