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.

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!

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.