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Gratitude

LIVE EVERY DAY AS IF IT IS YOUR LAST

            When gratitude has to have a hashtag and the Twitterati behave as if it’s an amazing new invention, I have to wonder what philosophy of life people are buying into. There’s a difference between wanting something from life and seeking something rewarding out of it. The former links to the material successes and comforts, the latter a sense of a life well lived.

            Gratitude lists have become the new affirmations or the latest ‘must-have’, ‘must-do’:- something else to mark off as completed on life’s ever-growing checklist of achievement. Surely there’s something wrong with this thinking.

            The Stoics suggested we should never underestimate or overlook the small things in life and paying attention to the micro details benefits our wellbeing; morning dew on a rose, tea warming in a beautiful pot, colouring with a child.

 I’ve talked to many people suffering from mental ill health who assured me that by reconnecting with the simplest of things and performing day to day actions with care and attention helped their recovery.

Gratitude for being in the world, for the experiences we’ve had so far, without putting a value or judgement on them – good or bad – reminds us that the world will keep spinning when we’ve gone, like the billions before and after us. Those fields we tramped with the dog in the pouring rain, moaning about sodden socks and miserable fellow walkers, will still be there. Maybe it’s time to enjoy sodden socks and wet dogs before the chance trickles down the drain to join the stream of all past lives.

If we release control and treat each day as it comes as a gift, accepting that all experience is beneficial even if it’s not what we want – in fact, it’s those negative experiences that help us grow -  we free ourselves from a craving for more that can never be satisfied.

I’m sometimes criticised for being a pessimist when in fact I’m a realist.  Planning for the worst possible scenario is good business practice as I found during my career. Today this translates into accepting whatever comes my way and knowing that it doesn’t really matter either way. Accept the worst and move on. If you lose your job, you’ll be in good company and if your relationship breaks down – ditto.

There’s an old saying, What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. That’s not universally true. Many people are broken by tragedy and bad luck but the strength comes from accepting that this is how things are until death, the great leveller, brings release from the suffering. It amazes me how many people behave as if they are going to go on forever -  as if death doesn’t have their card marked. 

I am drawn to the philosophy of Seneca.  We get caught up in the inessentials, the stuff that doesn’t matter and in so doing, spend no time in exploring our minds and hearts, ( instead of watching Love Island J )  He said,

‘It is inevitable that life will be not just very short but very miserable for those who acquire by great toil what they must keep by greater toil. They achieve what they want laboriously; they possess what they have achieved anxiously; and meanwhile, they take no account of time that will never more return.’

The future is uncertain and always has been. That’s the nature of it so living in the now is the way to keep a sense of perspective.

Letting go of all expectations is not the mark of a loser or a failure. On the contrary, when we reach this point of releasing the ego and merging into the true self, we gain awareness of what we want from life. It maybe acceptance that you did your best, that you find joy in day to day things or if you’re like me, you found a calm spot under an oak tree from where you could watch the birds, simply being.

For a short read on Seneca, this book is worthwhile.

https://amzn.to/2vytquZ

My new novel, Edna’s Death Café is out with Matador on September 8th 2018

https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/contemporary/ednas-death-cafe/

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Edna's Death Cafe

As in life, death is not without its agenda. This is something seventy-nine year old Edna Reid finds out when her partner, Ted, suddenly dies.

To cope with her loss, she sets up a Death Café to break down the taboo around death and to encourage other members of the community to discuss it openly. Over tea and cake, the participants hide their fears behind a veil of dark humour.

Religious fanaticism clashes with Victorian spiritualism as Edna’s meetings trigger lively conversations on the fragility of life, anxiety over dying, cost of funerals, and making sure long-lost greedy relatives don’t benefit from inheritances. 

Soon, a series of events begin to unfold which threaten to undermine Edna’s livelihood and the Death Café meetings. These events just happen to coincide with the arrival of a mysterious stranger into the village.

Who is she and why is she so hostile to Edna?

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Talking About Death, Celebrating Life

YODO! No, it’s not a new greeting. It’s shorthand for You Only Die Once, so why not make it a good death? There has never been a better time to get talking about those “face behind a cushion” topics we’d all rather pretend weren’t going to happen. At least, not to us.

The international Death Cafe movement has been encouraging us to share what’s on our mind about death, dying and bereavement since 2011 when Jon Underwood set up the first Death Cafe meeting in Hackney, washed down with tea and sweetened with a bit of cake. Over 6000 meetings in 56 countries have been held to date but you won’t find negativity on the menu.

It’s a safe space run with no agenda, no aim to convert to a belief or sign up to a philosophy of life (or death). No one is under pressure to do or say anything. No long lectures or guest speakers pontificating, no funeral services representatives trying to sell you a plan. Just you, others like you and the facilitator wanting to share what’s on their mind. To find out about a meeting in your area or to see what’s involved should you want to set one up, visit www.deathcafe.org Follow them on Twitter @DeathCafe

Let’s get back to YODO. Being near Birmingham, I shall be attending A Matter of Life and Death Festival (May 10th – 26th), an arts of cultural programme of events with death as a core theme. BrumYODO is a local collective set up with the aim of helping the people of Birmingham have more open and honest conversations about death and dying. The collective describes themselves as “a growing group of artists, undertakers, food artists, hospices, palliative care professionals and generally all-round interesting folk. http://brumyodo.org.uk/matter-life-death/

So why am I so passionate about the need to talk about all things mortal?

As someone who has suffered from death anxiety (thanatophobia) ever since my Grandad died when I was ten (fifty years ago), I discovered that I wasn’t alone. Part of any fear is driven by not owning it. Bringing it out into the open is one way of disempowering that fear and empowering ourselves. In doing so, we add more value and quality into our daily lives by making every moment count.

            I’ve attended a number of Death Cafe meetings which have provided the inspiration for my latest novel, EDNA’S DEATH CAFE, set in the Derbyshire Peak District, my childhood stomping ground. Fiction can often reach parts that other communication channels cannot. We can be alone with a book, argue with the characters, ponder on their words and reflect on their lives, hopefully to find resonance with ours.

            I’ll be writing more about the book, about bereavement and my work as a newly trained funeral celebrant. I’ll leave you with my favourite bit of philosophy. Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside is while we live. Norman Cousins.

Edna’s Death Cafe will be published by Matador in September 2018. Keep up to date with the news on Twitter. Follow @Angelena Boden @matadorbooks

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Flash Fiction - Remembering Mothers

Gordon crept into his mother’s room which had been darkened by the partially closed curtains. A knot of anxiety tightened in the depths of his stomach. He’d seen sheep die and lambs but never a family member. It was the process of it that bothered him. As he inched closer to her bed, he felt a sense of calm around her as if her essence had gone on before her body had finished its final shutting down. As he talked gently to her, telling her for the first time since he was a child how proud he was to have her for a mother and how much he loved her. Her shrivelled hand felt cool to the touch but he was too scared to give it more than the lightest of squeezes.

‘Being with your Mum now is the greatest act of love you can offer her, ‘ said Sadie, handing him a tissue.  ‘I’ll leave you for a few minutes then take you to our staff lounge where you can have your lunch. It’s important to keep up your strength.’

He heard the door close softly behind her, giving him permission to release the tears of a small boy losing his mother. Despite his sixty years he didn’t want to be a grown up. He dreamt of being back on the farm, weaning his pet lamb onto a bottle and being chased up to the bathroom to have a wash. He wanted to taste his mother’s famous cottage pies, packed with beef and carrots and to lick the mixing bowl after her Monday baking marathon. Above all, he didn’t want his mother to die.

Picking up his plastic bag, he went into the grounds and found a bench under a cherry blossom tree. The petals floated down around his feet and he bent to pick up a handful. He sat for several minutes, enjoying the silky feel beneath his fingers, his mind wandering on the moors amongst his new lambs. He didn’t hear Sadie at first.

‘Gordon.’ She sat next to him.

‘She’s gone. I can feel it.’

‘Very peaceful. Sometimes people need permission to leave us. You gave her that. Do you want to say goodbye?’

He shook his head.

‘I’ve said it all.  Where ever she is, she knows what I’m about. She had ears like a bat, eyes like a hawk and a memory of an elephant. She was a pain in the backside sometimes but she was me Mam.’ With that he wept on Sadie’s shoulder.

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It Started with a Cold

   Tara sneezed her way through a box of tissues until Mark insisted she took a couple of sick days.

   ‘I can’t. I’ve got clients all day and…’

   ‘And they will have to wait. ‘Tara’s husband urged her back into bed and put a mug of hot water and lemon into her hands. ‘You’re over doing it and it’s not good for the baby. ‘I will ring Curtis Lamb and say you’ve got the flu.’

      Tara tried to protest but the scratchiness in her throat made it painful to talk. She smiled and stroked his fingers. ‘You’re good to me,’ she said, leaning back into the squashy pillows and closing her eyes.

   She heard him  leave for work and reached out for the new crime novel she was reading on her commute to work.  Travelling  into London every day was getting her down she and couldn’t wait for their big move to  South Wales for a simpler life.

 Mark had been offered the transfer as a partner in the firm so, Tara didn’t need to work full time.  She could do anything she wanted. It was her time now.

   As the day wore on, her  coughing turned into something more than just an annoyance. Ribs sore and aching from the effort of dispelling whatever was inflaming her lungs, she struggled out of bed, pulled on a dressing gown and hobbled to the bathroom. Groping through the medicine cabinet, she found an old bottle of linctus, the top of which was bunged up with gunge. When she finally released it, she took a long swig along with some pain killers.

   ‘I’m home. You feeling any better?’

   Mark hung his pin-stripe jacket over the newel post and leapt up the stairs. Horrified at the sweat pouring down his wife’s face, he called the emergency doctor.

   ‘It’s alright love,’ he said softly, running a flannel under the cold water top, wringing it out and applying it to her burning forehead. ‘Someone’s coming to see you.’  Within minutes of him speaking, the door- bell chimed.

  Mark escorted the doctor to the bedroom. ‘She’s 3 months pregnant,’ said Mark, as a deep frown almost buried the doctor’s eyes.

   Pulse, temperature, blood pressure and other tests were conducted at speed before Dr. Rahamtullah said, ‘Your wife has a form of pneumonia. I’m calling for an ambulance. Pack a small bag for her please.’

  That evening, Mark sat at his wife’s bedside in a private room of the Royal. The words bounced around his ears. ‘I’m so sorry about the baby.’

   He wanted to run outside to tear at his hair and howl. How could this be happening? He’d just been made partner for God’s sake.

  As Tara’s breathing became more laboured, he watched the colour drain from her face. Her lips twitched with unspoken words.

Mark ran out into the corridor. Nurse? Doctor? Quickly.’

 But it was too late.

‘It was only a cold,’ whispered Mark. ‘ Just a stinking, rotten, common cold.’

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