Angel Wings and Herb Tea

Life after loss; healing through creativity, writing and art


Two swans between the houses

Room to breathe and connect.

That’s what I need.

Each day seems a breathless scuttling of doing, rushing, half doing, kicking things under the sofa just so  I don’t have to deal with them in that moment, squeezing things in squeezing things out. I have developed a strange, scurrying scuffle, brought on in part by the slightly too big faded lilac slippers I wear around the house, partly by the gasping need to be beyond my next destination, five minutes ago. Too many gaping loads of laundry to process, too many loaves of bread to cook, vats of soup to produce, and tantalising sticks of charcoal waiting on the side, tubes of delicious paint luring my gaze from the latest batch of flapjack in progress.

This afternoon I drove home in the cold shivering rain from a particularly nurturing mother’s group I belong to. Our children are cared for in a creche for two hours, and  and  we sit in circle, in silence and in deep listening, and our tears and heartfelt connection and support are like a true balm, for us harried struggling 21st century mothers living in our isolation and overwhelm.

I felt particularly soothed and connected to the women in the group today, and usually as I drive home after my group I feel resourced to cope with another week.

But as I drove today  I realised I was progressing more and more slowly, I DIDN’T WANT TO GO HOME.

I was dreading walking into mess and disorder, jobs shouting at me from every corner…Me Me Me, and poor little Finch dragged around trying to half complete them all, never ending. Stuff, detritus, things to sort, things to clean, things to make. I wanted none of it. I wanted still, peace, calm, silence solitude.

And then I saw them. Maybe for ten seconds, on the river, a glimpse between to houses. In the rain against the unappealing mud brown of the river Dart in flood.

Two swans.

Nothing special, just two swans, stretching their necks and doing their thing in the rain, in the cold, in the mud. And I wanted to be there, with them, heck I even wanted to be them.

Simple calm beautiful wild and free.

I felt as if I was in chains.

But who has the key to the padlock?

I could have got out of the car and walked through the mud and rain and sat with them, the wind beating in my ears like a wild thing playing its mournful song.

But I had three children in the car and I didn’t. I came home and got a bit frustrated, tried to paint. Got cross with everyone. Tried to remember the swans. Forgot them.

But now, late at night I remember them.

Remember their grace and simplicity.
How they must feel, down there on the mud, not thinking, stressing and flustering around in baggy lilac slippers.

I want to be a swan.

I don’t really want to be  swan, but I want to learn from them.

Learn to use my thoughts less, my head less, listen from my heart, my belly, sniff the air, sharpen my ears, soften my gaze. Sit by the waters edge with nothing to do but BE.

Just Be.
Be like a swan.



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Today, Finch is 4 weeks old.
Day by day uncurling, stretching, opening just a tiny bit more; emerging from his dreamy otherwordly newborn realm into our world. Each day his eyes open a little bit more, dark, wide and bottomless as they gaze up at me when he nurses…and nurses…and nurses! And then they shift, imperceptibly to a point just beside my head….what are they seeing? What does he know?
Newborns are so fascinating; fresh and pure, like tiny nuzzling animals, uttering little sighs and moans, like ancient laments from a time before time. His soft silken head nestles so beauifully on all our chests, dreaming, drooling, sucking, shuddering. Doing newborn things. He’s arriving.

Despite the fact that we decided, perhaps foolishly, perhaps wisely, to take Finch (and everyone else) to the wonderful Buddhafield Festival when he was a week old…..neither me or my new born baby had really emerged. Emerged from the quiet dreamy world of home and bed and milk. We winced in the bright sun; loud music made our ears curl, and somehow walking to the toilets seemed like quite a bit of exercise. We did manage two gentle workshops  on womb wisdom and conscious communication but the best places semed to be cushioned shady locations with plenty of chai on offer. No shamanic trance dance this year!

I need time to arrive back in the world. And  living in a community makes it very easy to not go out. There are people, there’s space, gardens, children; folks have made me a few meals and even done my washing up a few times!! Why would I want to go out?

But of course I have to….sit in a major shoe chain nursing while Freddie buys trainers, dash into convenient cafes to quickly feed on a grocery shopping trip,when there are other children to care for, life has to expand beyond the babymoon quite quickly!

And yet, and yet, there was something missing, something narrowed, constrained, that I hardly realised until I took the kids to a firelit storyelling evening with Tom Hirons and Rima Staines. Before the spellbinding rendition of ‘The Sun Princess and the 40th door’, a Lithuanian folk tale; we wandered down a little green lane on the edge of Darmoor, full of piskies and fairies, and tripped across stepping stones to gather honey scented lime blossom.

As we trod the little winding track among moss covered boulders, and trees that whispered old forgotten stories and half finished tales for our times; I suddenly felt something expand inside me, soar to the tree tops, sink down among the soil and twisting roots, fly away on the wings of the mewing buzzard beyond the green. I felt fully emerged from the confines of domesticity and nappy buckets, inspired excited and nourished all at the same time.
I hadn’t been on a  walk for weeks.

Somehow I felt more able to sink into the present moment and be fully aware with all my senses, away from home distractions. even away from the very beautiful and productive gardens which always seem to want me to harvest or weed them!

There is something about being out in the wild world that makes me feel free and happy…is it the same for you?
I guess with practice I can bring the mindfulness and freedom into daily life too.
Has anyone managed to mindfully and joyfully tidy clutter or empty the washing machine?

It’s so effortless in a sun dappled Dartmmor lane…..

Ps I haven’t yet managed to pack both camera and nappies for outings….that will come…so its a dearth of pics for now! Nappies take priority……


Lily and the mobile phone guy

What do you do on the anniversary of your daughter’s death? It’s not the sort of question I imagined I’d have to deal with when I held my 4 newborns in my arms. But it is something I have to think about every year now.

June approaches with stealthy feet, all blossomy with foaming elder trees and blowsy roses, tangled hedgerows of campion and stitchwort and budding honeysuckle, and I get the same feeling of strange dread and an opening heart.

The weeks before have been tumultuous emotionally, flare ups and misunderstandings, journalling and outpourings, private tears and heart connections, jagged, raw poems that can never be seen…realisations and illuminations.

But today, the anniversary of the day 4 years ago that they did the brain stem test in Frenchay Hospital, Bristol, to see if they should turn the life support machine off, well it seemed strangely normal and so so hard to feel any connection with deeper emotions.

Its hard to feel and connect when I’m busy. Doing not being.

We were up early to rush back from a mini break in time for Hugh to go to work, so sweeping caravans and packing at seven instead of a quiet reflective time.
Shopping with the kids for groceries….trying to have a moment of thought over pancakes in a cafe …..jarring with children who were slightly hysterical and tired….
And then for God’s sake, meeting the mobile phone repair guy in the supermarket carpark at 4.30. My date with normality. Drawing me into its web with its dulled ravening claws….rushing away from a painting hour where we created angels and doves for Lily’s grave…to meet the mobile phone guy, and buy loo roll.

But maybe that’s ok. Maybe I don’t have to create a perfect hallowed day on June 11th and feel like I’ve let Lily down if I don’t. I did need my phone, we did need loo roll. We did connect over the painting and we did visit Lily’s grave…..and we do have spontaneous moments where we feel.

Curled up in a little grassy place we go to sometimes where the younger kids feel safe and relaxed, and say how they miss her.
A moment alone to pick flowers for her table where each blossom seem to glow with the essence of her love for it. Where the world swelled and condensed to a tiny distilled fragment holding Lily and me in its tender embrace.

A chance conversation sitting in the car in the rain with all of my children, remembering, crying, little forgotten details recalled, healing tears…..soothing our struggles alone.
Messages from friends, a kind word which helps grief to flow.

And that is the challenge. To create the space to let the grief move how it will, without dams or blockages or  avoidance tactics, or just the practical demands of daily life. To let Lily into everything. To allow the joy and grief to weave and flow around our lives, the tears sparkling among the breakfast dishes as the laughter ripples into a walk to the garden. No separation. No compartmentalisation.

It is a challenge.

When I meditate, or spend a moment seeking a connection with nature or myself, the tears and emotions are very close to the surface, waiting for a chance to escape the rigid confines of my busy hours where I rush without feeling. I know that the more I do this, the more emotion can flow naturally in my life and become more balanced and help me and my family to heal. I’ve made a commitment to do this more.

Spending time in nature, in this beauiful place that is our home now,  sitting with a flower, a tree, being quiet and receptive to the spirit that is in everything and in us, makes my heart much bigger and makes me feel that anything is possible. Spending time connecting with friends old and new, in deeper ways, more nurturing ways, makes me not feel alone. Makes me feel the beauty of life, the endless possibilities that are always there.

I guess Lily would just laugh about meeting the mobile phone guy, she just needs us to love her, remember her, connect wih her, just like always. It’s another day, like yesterday, like tomorrow.

A day for us all to connect with something more than our mind driven rushing, to open our hearts to a deeper level. Its a huge tapestry of glowing, luminous threads we’re part of, all interwoven with the practical homespun browns and greys, the vibrant reds and pinks of daily activity, the soft iridescent violets of our connection to the spirit which is in everything, the subtle greens of nature unfolding….we never stop weaving…

Do you manage to hold all the threads of the loom together… it easy for you?



Life is so fast. I’ve really started to think about this recently.
On Friday I was sitting in a lay-by on the edge of the A38, a busy dual carriageway in Devon at peak time..around 6pm.
While I waited for Hugh to fiddle around with the surfboard he had strapped on to the roof, I just kind of gazed out at the traffic in an unfocussed sort of way and suddenly I felt as if I was in some sort of Dr Who style parallel universe. Its hard to explain. When I glanced at the road ahead and the cars moving away from me, everything seemed pretty normal, but when I looked out the side window at the cars moving directly past, things started to get scarey. Maybe its because I live in a wood where things are kinda slow, but suddenly the speed was terrifying. Try it sometime. Stand at the edge of a busy road and don’t look left or right, just let the vehicles run past your eyes, and you get a true impression of just how quickly we drive.

Humans aren’t actually meant to move that fast.

I knew that already, but I hadn’t felt it before. We’re really not. We can run, and walk and stroll and creep and swim and skip and dance, but cars, they just make us go faster than we should. It makes us do things we don’t need to, just because we can. Like just nipping somewhere unnecessary, like taking a job with a long commute just because we can….
Sitting there in the lay-by, it didn’t seem possible that there were living, breathing, feeling human beings in these metal boxes shooting past. Of course, five minutes later when Hugh had finally finished adjusting his surfboard, we launched ourselves back onto the road at 70 miles an hour dashing down to Cornwall, and we were still feeling sentient beings, and yet…..There is something very dehumanising and frankly odd about this daily strapping ourselves into fast, isolating containers and hurtling around. The thing is, it’s so easy not to think about it because it’s just become part of our daily routine
Our lives are so fast and each day we cram more and more in until we feel burnt out, stressed, irritable and conscious of an uneasy feeling that things were not really meant to be that way.
Are we happy with them being that way?
Are you happy? I know I’m not.
For thousands of years horses have been as fast as we’ve moved .

The wind on our skin, the scents of spring on the air, the colour of a butterfly’s wing and the voice of our friends on the path, the blood pumping through our hearts.
Not in a car.
When I was 15 a friend pointed out that once you get behind a car window it feels ok to stare at people, to criticise people we see, to shout at them for some perceived driving weakness. The glass screen makes it ok. Them and us.
Oh dear I’m about to run out of battery and I’m rushing to finish this post..rush rush rush rush.

I feel a bit odd writing this as we have a car, which one or both of us uses most days. I guess we’re all on a journey `to do the best we can and awareness of the problem is the first step.
We’re moving towards the second step…….but that involves some information I can’t divulge for a little while longer.
Until then I’m planning to walk when I can.
Stop when I can.
Breathe when I can….well actually all the time.
Be still when I can.

How about you? Do you thrive on speed or yearn for slow?



Last Saturday, I took a day out from my life, a whole day, from ten until five in a cosy studio with seven other adults and two enormous dogs. There were no children, and no packing and cleaning, there was no insulating or painting or dashing around holding ten things in my head, while I just quickly text someone and stir the onions and pull Leo out of the fridge. For six hours (one hour was devoted to a sumptuous bring and share lunch) we wrote and shared and reflected, and felt our way into this still new year of 2012. I feel this day may become an annual occurence, compassionately and creatively held by the wonderful Roselle Angwin of Fire in the Head.

I rarely have the time and space to step back and reflect on my life from the outside. Especially at the moment, with our build nearing completion and our next house move looming, it has become very important to remember just exactly why we are doing this. And to remember that we have chosen this path, and we will continue to influence the direction it takes through life by our decisions and motivations. How I needed to know this.
Prompted by Roselle’s exercises and questions we worked in pairs, alone and as a group to dredge the gold and the slime from our lives.. …with a grand finale of verbally releasing (and writing and burning in the fire) the things which had not served us in 2011, and welcoming those we wished to embrace for the new year.

As always I found the power of free writing  without pausing or censorship to be revealing, insightful and surprising. A trust in the process of following where the pen leads, without pausing to edit, uncovers the treasures which are always there when we stop thinking! I was surprised for example when in answer to the question, ‘what would you do if you had only a year to live?’, I wrote, ‘stop cooking’.

‘Well that’s ridiculous,’ my censoring mind immediately thought, ‘wouldn’t you get rid of all your things and travel the world or some other traditional only-one-year-to-live activity?’ So I dutifully and limply wrote, ‘travel the world and give away my belongings’, but fortunately came back to the cooking.
Yes, I realised I had let cooking dominate my life. Feelings of guilt at not being a wage earner gnaw at my fragile sense of self worth, so I cook copious amounts of nutritious, delicious, fresh, home baked goodness each and every day. From slow cooked millet or oatmeal in the morning to raw energy balls or sugar free muffins for mid morning snacks to carefully planned vegetable grain dishes at dinner time I pride myself on being the paragon of wholesome food. Which is great, apart from the fact its got a bit obsessive. Of course, I really do believe freshly prepared organic food is important for my family, but do I have to take it to extremes which prevent me from doing something more meditative, creative, social or physically active?

It’s a useful avoidance tactic, being feverishly busy with a seemingly necessary task. Finish editing the children’s book I am writing.?…No can’t possibly I’m up to my ears in making sauerkraut and being good and looking after my family. So I sidestep my fear of failure in writing, but at least I’ve got a few jars of preserves on my shelves.
And I can justify my existence by being visibly useful instead of doing something self indulgent like writing or meditating or dancing. Grrr…I’ve got to stop being so good all the time.

We can and do create our own reality, and I left the Thresholds workshop with several poignant and compelling affirmations which I will copy out and pin liberally around our new home.


  • I breathe love and acceptance into every moment,  and I remember that the pain I feel is caused by my own aversion to misfortune.
  • I release my attachment to the outcome
  • I am living in this moment. (that’s a big one)
  • I am connected to everything.

And others still brewing….

Thanks so much to Roselle for facilitating the process of  reflection and intention setting, I’ll be back next year!

Watch the quiet opalescence of dawn,
Listen to their sleeping breath,
and the cat’s stealthy paw.
Smell the smoke of early morning
Feel the night drifting from my limbs.
I am here.

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Today was different to yesterday. Yeterday was a mizzling understimulated mopy day with low level feelings of guilt hovering above me in grey wraith like wisps all day. Guilt that I was not helping to build our new home, guilt that I had not initiated any inspiring activities with the children and we didn’t get out of our pyjamas until lunch time, guilt that I could be a better mother… etc. Sometimes I just need to step out of the suffocating web of expectation and disapproval I build for myself, walk away from the intense enclave of my home life and be free to just be,  to think or not think, to nip to the loo without three children immediately needing my assistance with a burning project.

But then, today, the clouds cleared, the ones in my head anyway. Despite interrupted sleep again, (Leo lost his wolf twice in the night, Tansy lost her duvet, the cat brought a mouse in) we had fun. Decorating gingerbread for Granpa’s present we sloshed chocolate and icing around in a sticky relaxed mess, without any uptight concern from me about how much sugar had gone into Leo’s tummy instead of onto the gingerbread moomins.

Then I was left alone, am alone, in the house, for the first time in many weeks, to do exactly what I please. The last time I had two kid free hours I had all my Christmas shopping to do!) Hugh very lovingly suggested that I didn’t need to come to his parents house today and they would quite understand my need for rest and peace.
I do need rest and peace.
When I am not surrounded by the details of my life there is space for other things.
When I don’t have to wash up the fourth load of dishes that day and simultaneously solve an animation  software problem, find Leo’s wolf and help Tansy cast on twelve stitches please, I can look at my life with softer eyes, see myself with more tenderness and love, and feel immense gratitude for what I have.
I can feel things that are usually brushed away and sealed under a welter of practical tasks.

When I am not enmeshed in domestic minutiae, I can physically walk out and feel the wind colour my cheeks and notice and remember things I wouldn’t at home.

  • The excitement and love in my kids eyes when I forget about chores and dance and sing with them.
  • How good it feels to move, to run along the cycle path, to dance on Boxing day evening, to cycle up Castle hill into town…my body doesn’t do sedentary well.
  • The slender egret, hunched like a white shadow by the weir as I walked to town this afternoon, balanced on one delicate, black leg. The pair of swans, serene and fierce drifting below the rapids.
  • The feeling that some emotions are so deep, swirling dark blue fear trapped far, far down under thick layers of ice that I only catch a tiny fleeting glimpse as a shaft of sun pierces the gloom, for one moment eughh no… a shudder, and the ice forms again and down goes the memory.
  • The realisation that I am not being selfish or indulgent by wanting to spend time alone, meditatively, or writing or creating in some way, that it is necessary to me for my spiritual and emotional well being, and hence my physical well being and hence my family’s.
  • Three children with severe disabilities on my path to town which could have been Lily if she had survived.
  • The memory of the feeling in me and the noise I made when the hospital consultant said losing her eye was the least of his concerns. I don’t remember this very often.

Space for Lily that’s what’s hard when I’m at home. I passed the funeral director on my walk today too. Last night Fred and I realised the card game I had bought for him for Christmas was for three players. Hugh was out. Where was Lily? We looked at each other, Lily would have loved it, we said, and played it anyway, it was fun.

Time for me, time for Lily, time for love, time to be. Time for my living family. There is enough time really when I realise how important we are. And enough love for everyone else too,

I wish you all a New Year filled with love and beauty and the realisation that there is always time for what we need to do in our wonderful lives. Can you remind me sometime?