2,803 days later. Living and growing with grief.

Herein lies an update on my journey with the grief imposed on me by the loss of my beloved parents in 2015.

I’ve meant to write this for a while, and I’m unsure what the roadblock was. Maybe the nature of grief itself?

Either way, I wanted to write this because people have said the blog has helped.

I hope this helps.

The recent loss of our friend and neighbor, Hunter Dilley, just over a week ago reminded me of those fresh days of grief—the abject torture. My wife and I are friends with his parents, and his family is neighbors. His brother is friends with our kids. Hunter used to take care of our plants when we were away—starting back when he was 12! He was only 17. It is awful and tragic. I feel deeply for his family and friends. I hope everyone can be supportive of them in this extraordinarily difficult time. You can contribute to a GoFundme “Hunter’s charitable giving idea was to ensure youth in need had at least one nice piece of name-brand clothing they could feel good about wearing, a portion of the funds raised will go to this cause. All other donations will be allocated to social and/or counseling services in the West Seattle area.Full details here.

Maybe it was just that I didn’t want to plumb those depths if I didn’t have to.

It’s all still there. In its entirety. All the emotion. But it’s manageable now. It’s manageable because of what I have built around it. Building that was hard work, and it took a long time.

It’s so hard it can kill you. A friend of a close friend of ours who went through a very similar experience to my sisters and I met that fate. He died from complications from alcohol poisoning a few years in. 

I have to admit without the support I received, from my wife in particular, I fear that fate may not have been out of the realm of possibility for me.

What do I mean by “it’s still there?” 

As I worked on my grief, I built a new life, new coping methods, and new perspectives around my grief. My grief, through my experiences before it and handling it, became the foundation for the rest of my life.

One of the visual descriptions of grief I appreciated the most was Lois Tonkin’s. Thanks to Growing Around Grief – What’s your grief for the graphic.

I can report back that, in my case, this is very much the case.

What does this look like? In a nutshell, I’m a fully functioning human being again. And I wasn’t for the longest time.

There are different levels of grief. I feel differently about unknown people who die in far-off lands than my parents. And everything in between. I haven’t experienced the worst of it, either. Losing a spouse, one worse. A child, worse again – by order of magnitude. I was very close with my parents. What I experienced was in the upper echelons.

I can joke now that my wife had three boys to care for, for quite some time afterward.

Without rehashing my prior blogs (too much) and going into excruciating detail, I thought sharing the general timeline I experienced could be useful. 

I hope this can be of use to someone, anyone. Even if it can help one person, I have done my job. A surprising story for you. I was getting my car repaired, and the woman behind the counter asked, “Are you a photographer?” Yes, I replied. Curious as to where this was going. I didn’t know her. Yet she was local to my neighborhood. “I read your blog about grief. And I just wanted to let you know it helped. It really helped.”

It was at that moment I committed to doing this blog. It’s just taken a while.

My general timeline. The beginning will contain many points for a relativelly short time frame. Then it levels out. The first 12 cover those early phases. Jump to 13 to see how things start to pan out. By 27, we’re at the point of the last blog. While I do not want to rehash everything, I think there is value in providing my perspective now on those first 100 weeks.

  1. July 19, 2015. I get the phone call. Over 4,500 miles away, my parents have been in a horrific and violent car crash. Later my cousin will tell me that one of his friends was an EMT first on the scene and said he had never seen an accident as bad. My father is dead, and my mother is in critical condition.
  2. I pass out.
  3. I came back to consciousness, and I’d fallen over and knocked over our stools. My family and my wife’s father are looking down at me
  4. I can’t breathe, and I have to tell myself to breathe. It’s as if I am learning to breathe again. Learning to live again. I get up and go upstairs to the bedroom. I’m writhing in pain. The grief is tearing at me. Calling them sobs does them an injustice. My body was convulsing and contorting as if it was turning inside out.
  5. My wife books the flights. I don’t even know how long it’s been. I’m in and out of consciousness and a sort of sleep. But not sleep as I’ve ever known it. I’m learning to live again. First seconds, then minutes. Then hours.
  6. We’re at SEATAC. I only found out about 4 hours or so ago. A stranger comes up to me. “I don’t know what you are going through, but I just wanted to say I’m sorry.” [side note: as I write this, a wave of emotion hits me. My body tenses, and my neck and face shake. Tears fill my eyes. Such kindness.
  7. It’s a 9-hour flight. The British Airways staff were awful. Zero compassion. I won’t get into it, but in hindsight, how they acted toward me was flabbergasting. That flight was sheer hell. Not knowing how my mum was. Not being able to sleep. Being sick to the stomach. Not being able to eat or drink. Hell.
  8. We land. I call my brother-in-law as we are on the tarmac. He breaks the next awful piece of news. My mum is dead. The woman who raised me. Who did everything for her family and her children? The woman who lost her own sister in a car crash some 40 years previously. A woman of great compassion and love. Not to undersell how much dad meant to me, but at that moment, finding out mum was dead. It was unbearable in ways I can’t express. I cried out, wailing in agony. In my pain I was incapable of giving a f*ck what those around me thought.
  9. The first 24 hours in England continued their torture. Returning to mum and dad’s home. Seeing it as they left it. My heart broke over and over and over again.
  10. As a few days passed, I found myself numb. Oscillating back and forth between that and the visceral, searing hot pain. I realize now that I was in shock. I went through the bargaining, the denial, and all of the stages you hear about.
  11. We spent the next two weeks (my sisters and I) and a procession of family and close friends working through complicated emotions. We were both supportive of each other yet also in our grief. It’s personal, you see, and everyone processes it differently. True, there are some ‘meta’ aspects, but it is personal.
  12. We bury mum and dad. My god. That walk to the village cemetery. My eulogy that I’d spent the prior week writing, practicing, and practicing. In part to process, and a part of MY process of grief. The ceremony. The two wicker coffins. They were laid side by side. A quantum of solace was the outpouring of love and friendship from the number of lives they touched. It’s hard to understate the pain of these first few weeks. Getting through the day was almost impossible.
  13. It was just after this that I returned stateside. Work. Ugh. Each day it was a challenge just getting out of bed. I started going back into the office. Working from home as much as I could. “Did Granny & Granddad bring you to the airport?” The children didn’t understand, they couldn’t process. They knew enough to smother me with hugs.
  14. In general, my team and the broader organization were very supportive. Unfortunately, after about two weeks back in person, I had a scheduled one on one with my manager. “I know you are going through some things, but you need to leave that at home.” I bit my tongue. So hard it bled. I can still taste the iron as the lesion let flow across and under my tongue, down my throat.
  15. The first few months were raw. The pain was constant. I drank a lot. I put on a lot of weight. I was 45 pounds heavier than now. “The weight of grief.” It’s heavy in many ways. I was able to go out into the world. But I was scared all the time. Scared of the possibility of a mass shooter at the Sunday market. Scared of loud sounds. Scared of crowds. It was always a considerable effort. One day our three-year-old (now 10) got lost in a crowd. I almost died from stress.
  16. A few months in, I got some counseling. It helped for a session or two, but the therapist wasn’t equipped to deal with the depth or complexity of my grief. Nihilistic 17-year-old Matthew was back. My wife and boys gave me a reason to live. But apart from that, I couldn’t much see the point. Grief did that to me. Made me question the point of everything. My wife helped me so much. I credit her in large part with the fact I made it through.
  17. We did have a bump in November. I got back from the inquest, and the bandaid had been ripped off. In grief, jetlagged, booze-fueled anger, I punched a hole in a wall and destroyed a door. Totally destroyed it. Luckily it was a hollow core. It still hurt like hell. Bloody knuckles. The whole kit and kaboodle. But it wasn’t her fault. It was me and my grief and all the factors. She truly was my guardian angel.
  18. My three-year-old was too young to understand. But he knew something was wrong. My five-year-old was close to my parents. My dad, in particular. He felt it. He provided me with such warmth. The hugs, the look in his eyes. He continues to be an extraordinarily compassionate human being. When he hugs me if I’m sad, to this day, his brother also follows suit. They are both so kind, such empathy. Nature? For sure. Nurture? This experience forged them both.
  19. So the months passed by. Seven months in, I quit Microsoft. I had to. Not only had I been seeking counsel from my parents on my next move, but I needed change. I realize now that no matter where I was, I’d have to leave unless that place had infinite patience. 
  20. By this point, I was able to fake being normal. My old Microsoft manager finally got what he wanted “Leave it at home.” By in large. It still colored me. I was jaded. Worried. Scared. But it was complicated. I was starting to feel like living again. It was around this point I started group counseling at Virginia Mason. Natural Death Services (vmfh.org). It was extraordinarily helpful for me. I had to leave work early on Tuesdays to get to the session, and the people I worked with were not tolerant of this. In general, there was little to zero empathy demonstrated. If you are reading this and you know someone going through it, please be patient and respectful, especially of the work they must do to move forward.
  21. The remainder of the first year continued much like this. Learning to live again. Framing and managing my emotions and being kind to myself. I was reading and seeking out any advice or ideas about the process. The first anniversary was, as I’m sure you can imagine, painful, to say the least. My eldest started kindergarten—usually a happy time for families. Parenting reminded me of my parents. Ugh.
  22. Year two was much of the same. Much hard work. It was rocky for us siblings. That “grief is personal” was never more apparent. We are a tight-knit family. We had great relationships. And it was still hard. Unsurprisingly, families get torn apart by this stuff. And it’s not just the subject of inheritance – I always thought that was the reason it destroyed families. And I can see how it can be. But just as if not more important is the communication and interaction on such choppy seas.
  23. Halfway through year two, I decided to part ways with the company I had landed at post-Microsoft. And I started my own company, Go Narrative. My energy was returning, and a view of the future. Hope. But boy, oh boy! First, quit the cushy corporate gig for smaller pastures, then start your own business. What was I thinking!?
  24. Between my wife and children and Go Narrative, I had a lot to keep me busy and work on. We traveled. My father retired in January 2015. You can’t wait to live. My parents did live, and they did make the most of life. But they did have plans. Dreams. Hopes. All gone. 
  25. Two years in. After six weeks of a big trip that summer, I was starting to see things differently. I appreciated things again. I was beginning to have enough capacity to empathize more with others. 
  26. Two years in really marked a seachange for me. I worked for over a hundred weeks to build scaffolding around my grief. With that scaffolding, I would be able to build beyond. 
  27. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention my friends. My framily. There are so many of you. From old school pals to best mates from university. Lots of people. Some made big, brief gestures, and some continuously checked in—a whole kaleidoscope. People did what they could. We found new friends out of acquaintances—people who really stood up. We also lost some friends. People who didn’t get it and didn’t make an effort to get it. Those who were incapable of providing support for some reason. And I’m sure some just were not equipped. A few people have stood out and gone far, far beyond. These are people who have stayed the course. Steve and Ian. From airport taxi services to constant visits. Friends like Nick. Joe and Amy. Adam. John and Diane. Again, made an effort to visit over time. People who, unprompted, are always there. Every month, Brenda sends me a message on the 19th celebrating mum and dad and checking in on me. And then just amazing friends like Andrei, Timur, Alistair, Pardeep, Dave, Ollie and Ben have stuck by me and tried to connect whenever possible. You all made a huge difference. And if you don’t see your name there and you know what you have done to support us, please be safe knowing that I appreciate you. You helped.
  28. One of the reasons I haven’t blogged on the topic since June of 2017 is that it is difficult to describe, or pin down, what the process has been like. That scaffolding is see-through to start with. You see, you feel the raw pain quite frequently. I’ve never used the word Triggering so much in my life. The fact that my kids don’t have their grandparents brings deep sadness and pain to this day.
  29. And it’s not linear. I did slip back on occasion. Having to take my time with myself. Spend time in my diary with my loved ones.
  30. But gradually, I built up the first façade of the new building. Then I’d renovate. I can still go inside. I can still rest with and be with my grief. Sometimes it catches me by surprise. Storytelling. Movies. Music. Sometimes they cut right to the core. I’ve never cried so much at movies as you can imagine anything about parents and children. But “silly” stuff too. Happy stuff.
  31. We honor them. We put pictures up. We do the day of the dead. Every night at dinner, we ask each other, “What was your favorite thing today that you’d tell granny and grandad.” And while I cried just now writing those words, it’s usually a celebration. We are keeping them involved in my children’s lives. We look at photos. We tell stories. I take every opportunity to speak with my mother’s sister Aunty Pat because she always has a rich flood of stories of the family. She has he own OneNote notebook where I save it all.
  32. As for documentation, there is something else I ascribe to a vital role in my journey. My diary. I started this handwritten document sporadically as an eight and three-quarter-year-old in 1986, and in February of 1990 went daily. There have been days when I would write for hours, especially early on. Page after page of my feelings and thoughts. Hours on end! My own personal paper therapist. I’m lucky I had the habit ingrained already. I would highly recommend it. Reading back through those first few weeks the pain is almost unbearable to read, even now. Mixed in with the state of mind are memories. So many memories. As if I was trying to document things from before my regular diary writing. I wrote about the chaos in my mind. The slipping gears. How time itself seemed to break.
  33. Something that still cuts to my core is that of the lessons lost. As a young parent, I remember the stories my parents would tell me. “Matthew, you used to do the same!” or “Matthew, let me tell you about what you were like at five!” But that stream of invaluable knowledge is gone. Their stories have gone. No longer sharable. Lost to time. Their perspectives. The lessons they learned. All gone. Only three people left in my gene line are older than me. I’m a family elder now. And it feels wrong. I so want to hear the stories of when we lived in the USA in the early 80s. There are so many things I wish I could ask them.

So, after that first 100 weeks, things got more stable. Choppy to start. More and more durable as time passed. The floods of emotion are still there. But it’s more about me letting them be there. OK, so a movie can get me bawling my eyes out. But in general, I’m now the gatekeeper. I can choose or not to “go there.” To open the door of that façade, so haphazardly built with so much blood, sweat, and tears, and take a step inside. To the past. To those early days of grief when it seemed impossible. And was, in many ways. To touch the love lost when they died. I am no longer permitted to express my love to those I have loved and lost.

It took much work. But life now is about the moment, the now. Investing enough in the future to have a now in the future to enjoy. And there will be pain and death. Every day my children leave for school, I have butterflies in my tummy. A heightened sense of anxiety bubbles up. Will I ever see them again?

When I say “Goodbye” now, when I say “Take care.” It means something more than you may realize. When I hug you, it might seem like it is tighter than other people do. It is. I’m truly hugging you. I am with you. There. At that moment. In the now. I understand, with dark irony, how my mother truly meant it when she said “Drive safe” to me as a young man. She knew. She had lost her sister in a car crash. She told it with all her being.

And without life, grief is nothing if we don’t live. If we don’t love. If we don’t invest in ourselves and each other, then we have nothing to grieve. But we do. No matter how rough life can be, we have each other.

Be kind to each other. Life is challenging. You never know what someone is going through. I know that better now. I hope people can feel it. I don’t need them to recognize it. Or acknowledge it. It’s not the customer service rep’s fault. They are just doing their best. And maybe they just lost someone.

Grief takes time and hard work. It’s never truly gone. Grief is unique, but it is also a shared experience. We will all feel it one day. Sooner or later, we will all navigate its depths. We will feel different levels of grief for our acquaintances, friends, loved ones, parents, and, god forbid, our children. The latter is honestly a massive one for me. As bright and hopeful as I can be about building a new life after grief, I honestly don’t know if I could survive the loss of a child. If you have lost a child, please know you have a special place in my heart. While I have not lost a child and hope beyond hope never to experience such loss, I understand the gravity. I might not be able to feel exactly what you are feeling, but I empathize more than I ever thought possible.

Be kind to each other. We are all in this together, and none of us are getting out alive.

Life is not a dress rehearsal. I understand that now. It will all end one day. No matter what you believe in. No matter how confident you are in an afterlife. Or reincarnation. No matter what, we know one thing. That we have now, we have this moment. And at this moment, we have a choice.

Be kind to each other. Choose love. Choose compassion.

Be kind to yourself. Charity, as they say, starts at home. And the home of the heart is our own being.

Be kind to yourself. It’s not easy. It’s hard. It can get easier. I promise it’s possible.

I miss mum and dad terribly, but I cherish my children. My wife. My sisters. My aunts and uncle. My friends. And I know they love me.

People cherish you too. You are important.

Be kind to yourself and others; with enough blood, sweat, and tears, you can find a way through grief. There is no way around it, no way over it, and no way under it.

You have to go through it. But on the other side is a new life. A life with all the lessons and memories of the old one. But a new one that you get to build yourself. It won’t be overnight. And the more profound the grief, the longer it will take. But you will get there. You will get back to living again.

I hope these words can help in some small way, that my journey can offer ideas and resources. But your journey is yours.

If you happen to see me out and about or check my car in for a service, don’t hesitate to stop me and chat about grief. Society could do a better job of that, and I’m here to play my part.

Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others.

Everything is going to be OK. Eventually.

100 Weeks With Death


photo by thesucess at Morguefile.com


I’ve been trying to write a follow up blog since November. Between being a dad of two small boys and the fact I made another career change early in 2017. I set up my own marketing consultancy (Go Narrative). Things have been crazy. I’ve always put great thought and feeling into these blogs and I wanted to keep doing so.

As it happens I believe this will actually be a very interesting blog. By its nature, being published such a long time after my initial stream of mourning blogs, it has afforded me much time for reflection. This blog will cover what it’s like to live with grief. After the dust settles, so to speak. I will share how it has affected relationships and what group therapy was like. I share what daily life with grief is like, and how it rears its head. Importantly I talk about what my relationship with Mum and Dad is like now, it’s still there. I explain how grief can change your sense of self and make you feel like a teenager again. You’ll read about the changing sense of ‘home’ and what it means to truly be present in the moment. What I have gratitude for. What it feels like. We’ll even touch on a little neuroscience.

I’ve always been very open and public in my grief, not least of which because those of us who have been on the road for a while can offer a hand to those who are fresh into the hell of loss.

I hope this blog can bring comfort to some and awareness and improved empathy for others.

100 weeks since the accident – Sunday 18th June 2017

That first year was impossibly hard. The first six months were hell and the initial three were just unbearable. So, what of the second year? Which we are fast approaching the anniversary of.

One thing is certain – you start to understand, deeply, what it’s like to live in a post-loss world. There was life before, and there is life after. As time goes on, after those hellish periods, you are forced to face a simple fact: life goes on.

“Keep calm and carry on”

Horrific attacks “close to home” and the Grenfell fire… I’ve found it hard to allow loss, knowledge of death into my conscious… Maybe this is similar to how we as humans tend to be naturally not understand grief until we’ve lived it? Is it something to do with survival? “Keep calm and carry on”. The world doesn’t, it can’t care… we all have limited bandwidth. I don’t hold this against the world. If you are not close to the person who was lost its really hard to empathize. Every bombing on the news, every car crash I see, I think of the survivors and what they are going through. It’s impossible for me to maintain that focus for long. In most cases I don’t even know who the people even are.

A friend of mine who also lost her father on the 19th sees the 19th each month as a stinging milestone. Honestly for me it’s been every Sunday. Still. Possibly forever? In the Pacific time zone it happened as the day is getting going. I look at the clock. Ten to nine in the summer. Ten to eight in the winter.

There are times when grief surges. When I’ve been ill. Over tired. High stress situations. When something damages Mum and Dads artifacts, even just a coffee table. For stressful moments I’m getting better and it takes more to rattle me now that in used to – it’s odd to have an awareness of when the walls start crumbling and the black water of grief rises up over the pontoons and spills into my mind. It ends up triggering all sorts of other emotions, frustration, anger, not just sadness. As I’ve become more aware of it I’ve become better at managing it when it surfaces. Most people will never see or know it’s happening.

Resources and Support

About a year in my wife started researching group therapy options. Eventually we found one, conveniently located (most were not) in the downtown Seattle area. The separation and loss services at Virginia Mason proved to be one of the most positive components to my relationship with my grief. I cannot lay enough praise on this service and the team. They offer 1:1 services for a fee but the group sessions have no cost.

Group therapy has a structured program

It’s not a support group (think Fight Club). A support group is a self-managed collective who share their experiences. Group therapy has a structured program (10 weeks in this case) with a curriculum that leads you through the pain. From the negative and into positive constructive tools. The death imagery component was being followed by the celebration of life, for an example. Another key aspect is that it is managed by therapists. In our case there were four participants and two therapists. Another benefit of the program was the ability to have two hours per week of camaraderie and people who just ‘got it’. It was a safe and welcoming environment. If you or anyone in your friends or family have been through loss and live in Seattle I cannot recommend it enough and would be happy to discuss it in more detail 1:1 (reach out in the comments, twitter, email etc.).

“Be kind to yourself”

In the cold light of day we get a new view, a new understanding of grief. To start off with it is all consuming. Eventually it becomes more manageable, but still dominates. Then as time goes on the need to operate in the world increases so much so whole days can be tackled without collapse into a teary heap. It’s then that the new view of grief starts to form. It’s always there. Reflected in songs, memories, smells, photographs… It’s there but it isn’t all consuming all the time like it once was. It is hard to describe. It’s like a companion. A pet almost. It nudges into you. It needs to be tended to. Cared for. Sometimes it wanders off into another room only to spring out at you later on.

“Be kind to yourself” is something my wife has said many times to me, and it is so true. My wife has been a rock. From the beginning when she quit her job to take care of me and the boys and focus on the moment and family and life. To running with that role with her career on hold so that she can be the foundation for her three boys. She has felt their loss very deeply and it has affected and changed her profoundly. Not only was she very close to my parents, she truly loved them and had said only days before their deaths how lucky she was to have my family. And that she felt a part of my family. She has also felt the sting of other loss, and let downs from people close to her. Knowing I have her and we have each other has been at times the only thing that keeps me sane.

The depth of grief is directly proportional to the depth of attachment

After a while it becomes clear that managing grief is a lifelong project. It is a part of life now. Death is. Those in the club are now more complete as humans. They have experienced more of the human experience. They are wiser having been dragged down into the depths of pain and had to figure out the long and torturous journey back to the light. They bring something back from the depths. An awareness, knowledge.

Something that has become apparent to me as I consider my own grief and loss vs. the loss of those around me, or of terror attacks or accidents. I have come to understand that the depth of grief is directly proportional to the depth of attachment. Traumatic loss brings a whole new level to this. When the Grenfell tower burned I could see the family members screaming out as life and love was torn from their souls.

When we started in the traumatic loss group they asked us what we wanted to get out of it and this forced me to rationalize a goal to all of this suffering. How I characterized it was that I hope to get to a place where I’m at peace with the fact they are not here anymore. That doesn’t mean I’m over them. It doesn’t mean I’ve found some abstract form of “Closure” – which is bullshit by the way. I’ve read a lot during my healing process and Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What it Costs Us was good. I felt it was a bit light. The general message of the book however is a good one: that we, in the west particularly, treat grief like it’s something to be dealt with and moved on from. Which may be the case if you have very little attachment and/or the death was expected and natural. This article here also explores the topic. It covers many of the expectations people have about grief and what the reality is. Here is an excerpt:

Expectation: The grieving need about a year to heal.

Reality: Sometimes grief does not even get started till after the first year. I’ve heard countless grieving people say year two is harder than year one. There is the shock, end of life arrangements and other business matters that often consume the first year and the grieving do not have the time actually to sit back and take the time to grieve. The reality is there is no acceptable time frame associated with grief.

Those friends who have shown up and been there. Travelled over oceans to see me, multiple times. Those who have gone out for beers with me and been a sympathetic ear. To those who have pinged on occasion but always with a sense of regularity and great genuine care and interest and showing me they are thinking about me. I’d start listing names but I’m lucky to have a long list and I’d worry I’d accidently leave one of you off.

His voice waivered then cracked

Then there are my boys. I never in a million years would have expected a then 3 and 5 year old to be as supportive as they have been. It took our 3 year old (now 5) a year or so to start to more overtly manifest their memory in words and discussion. But he was just so young before. He now empathizes deeply and talks about them and includes them in his life. It is bitterly sweet. And our now 7 year old has been, since day one, the most amazing nurturing and loving soul when it comes to his late grandparents. Just tonight he said “I miss him so much” as we talked about Granddad (with it being Fathers-day tomorrow). His voice waivered then cracked. He looked down tears filed his eyes and he thrust his face into the nape of my neck and hugged me with all his might. I am so very lucky to have them.

A New Relationship

Something that I’ve learned to develop is a relationship with the memory of Mum and Dad. Yes, this sometimes manifests with me having conversations in an empty room. It’s deeper than that but the concept is helpful to convey what it feels like. Asking for advice. Hearing advice un-prompted. When I was growing up and I’d get in trouble my Mum would say “Imagine a mini version of me is sitting on one shoulder and a mini version of your Father is sitting on the other and we are watching you, what would we say?” Generally, it didn’t stop me from getting into mischief but oddly now I remember it clearly and while they not be on my shoulders I do imagine that they are there. I used to speak to them so much…

Identity and purpose

It very much feels like my sense of self has changed. We come to view ourselves in a certain way (incidentally this is always different to how others view us) and when we lose someone so close to us it literally changes how we feel about ourselves. Our loved ones are actually a part of who we are. Our interactions with them fuel our ideas and feelings. We anticipate sharing things with them. We enjoy life more when we are with them. We know they will be mentors to us – I’ve even felt that way with my two young sons! For me having that ripped away so violently and suddenly, with two of my family, has left me feeling adrift. In many ways, I feel like a teenager again. Additionally, when we lose a family member, or a close friend, that loss is felt throughout the family or group. It changes the dynamic between those left in the group. For us a simple example was our Mother was the connector to each other and the extended family. While my sisters and I have kept lines of communications very much open and talk/message all the time the relationship web is forever changed. No longer do we have our oracle, our confidant, out advisor… our mother to interject her thoughts and perspective. Often, she and my father, also played a mediating influence between the siblings.

I’ve thought a lot about how I left the UK and moved to the USA. How I missed out on time with my parents. As much as we all visited and travelled across the Atlantic Living in America… the times I missed. I’ve thought of the trips “home”. Before they died I felt like I had two homes. Mum and Dads and mine, here in Seattle. That home has gone now. As much as I love my sisters and visit and think of the past and how I used to live there. It’s just not the same any more.

I think of the times they’d come and visit or when we’d pile the whole family into a plane to go back to England. No more times like that… gone…

Living in the Moment

All of this has made me realize more than ever how I have to make the most of life. It’s not easy! I’ve found myself getting wrapped up with work or frustrated with minutia even though I’ve been dragged kicking and screaming to this ‘bigger perspective’. What I’m saying is: you can do your best to live in the moment and still not manage to do it all the time. It’s OK. You are not alone. I can however also report back that when you do live in the moment it does really make things much better. I’ve always loved my children deeply and now I feel like I’m able to be even more present, in the moment. I understand that I have to admit that it is this that is the silver lining of their deaths. And in so much proof that no matter how dark or terrible things are there is always a silver lining.

The Big Let Downs

Hello! I’m grieving, I can’t articulate what I need for help right now.

The flip side to this is I have very, very little tolerance for douche bags. I have been able to rise above things more than I was before but I still find myself getting to frustration quicker than perhaps I did before grief began. Pro tip: rising above is a byproduct, not a thing in itself, the thing itself if choosing what you care about and what you prioritize. In other words choosing peace and calm and growth and whatever other positive things you are after – through that you will find “rising above”.

Another thing I have very low tolerance for is people who should know better. I’m not going to publicly name and shame any specific friends or family members but I can tell you that there are an unfortunate group of people who we considered close who never stepped up. People who literally just ran away. Then there are those who claimed to be there for us and were not. I’m not talking about acquaintances or well-wishers who said “tell me if there is anything you need” – Hello! I’m grieving, I can’t articulate what I need for help right now, my whole world has collapsed… just show up, act. Those people were mildly annoying but I understood that they were not that close and how hard is for many people to ‘get it’. I’ve heard the ’maybe they just didn’t know how to engage you’. To which I say “I’m sorry, why are you defending them?”. Back on topic: I’m talking about the real let downs. People we expected much more from. For example, there is someone who was in one of our more inner circles that never, EVER, muttered so much as a word, nor a pat on the shoulder and a sullen look, or an email or a card. No communication regarding my loss whatsoever. When you act like that to someone who is grieving you are making a bold statement: I no longer wish to be in your life. And I tell you what, if you make that statement to me now I have no patience to test you on it – I will immediately accept. I will drop you like a hot potato and never look back. It’s hard to overstate how let down we have felt by some people. I say we because this has deeply affect me, my wife and my children. Both my wife and I have felt this when it comes to relationships. I know my sisters have had similar experiences.

That last paragraph had a whole lot of negativity in it. So, I’ll move swiftly on. I’m grateful that now I have the ability to feel happy again. Enjoying time with my boys, and gazing upon a beautiful view are just two examples of joy. It’s true that many times such things are soon followed by the deep pang of loss – not being able to share that thing with Mum and Dad. The end of the school year had plenty of those feelings. But I am grateful to be able to feel happiness again. Even if just a little. The frequency and duration of that happiness is gradually getting longer.

Neuroscience and the Evolution of Grief

In short, my grief is much more manageable now. I’ve come to realize it is a part of who I am. I will, for the rest of my days, have moments and wish I could pick up the phone or shoot a message to Mum or Dad or both of them to tell them. Likewise, there are times when all I want is to call them for some counsel. They were such good listeners.

I’m on my own now, so to speak. I have my wife and my boys. I have my sisters. But the unconditional love of my parents has gone. I’m on my own. I’m where the buck stops. There is no Mum or Dad to help any more, literally or figuratively. This in itself has also feeds into the new sense of self.

Have you heard of the Jennifer Aniston neuron?

There are memories. So many memories. They catch me at all sorts of odd times. I’ll be looking at the furniture (some of which was horribly damaged by Pickfords) and I think of them so clearly. Maybe commenting on how the furniture looks in our house (which of course they’d never have done). Maybe it’s just a random memory. The visions are very clear, very fresh. Yet it’s 100 weeks. That coffee table traveled half way around the world and through the Panama Canal to get to me. It seems time just breaks down and it feels like they were here yesterday, or even today.

As time has gone on grief itself has become increasing abstract and complex. That’s much of what I’ve been attempting to share with you here.

It’s not surprising with how the brain works (have you ever heard of the Jennifer Aniston Neuron?) – all interconnected neurons. Any relationship in your mind between one thing and another means there is a neural pathway connecting the two. So, if you think of a certain house and your mother then every time you think of that house the pathway to your mother will light up. In my brain now there is the pain and loss of death collection of neurons which connect to Mum and Dad. Then when a memory is triggered which connects to Mum or Dad it also lights up the grief center. The deeper your relationship the more of these connections. The more triggers there are. As time has gone on and I’ve built up the coping mechanisms to manage the grief center and in turn that has added whole new sets of neural capabilities. A simple example would be: how do I channel my feelings when I’m in public? Or: who do I allow myself to mention my loss to? These are all new structures that add complexity to the times the Mum or Dad neurons are triggered. On the flip side my coping mechanisms (both those I had before, and the ones I’ve developed since) are also now connected to my grief neurons. I’ve found myself dealing with a petty issue and suddenly I’m thinking about Mum and Dad. Up pops up grief again. Like I said, increasingly abstract and complex.

Closing Thoughts

What I’ve been trying to do in this blog is give a sense for what it’s like to be living with such a deep, wrecking grief, such as mine, 100 weeks on.

It’s still there. It always will be – because it is a part of me. It’s more manageable and it’s more complex. My memories of Mum and Dad are as fresh as ever. There are moments of debilitating grief –that is far less often but the full, raw power is there. Our relationships have changed. People who were main characters before have now left the show and bit players are now major characters who have brought immense value to the stage of our lives.

I’m more compelled than ever to throw myself forwards into life

It’ll keep shifting and changing. I’ll keep writing my journal but we’ll see about this blog. With the understanding that grief will always be with me I’m more compelled than ever to throw myself forwards into life. They’ll stick around. I know that. I know I’ll spend time with them. I know I’ll miss them. I know I’ll cry. So in the meantime it’s time to focus on this moment. Enjoy this one life we have and do our best to bring some joy into the lives of others while we are at it.

You are not alone and if you ever wish to talk about your loss I’m here. Reach out to me and I’d be happy to chat.

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).