Sporadic travel themed rambles form the basis of Wander with Coffee, started in 2011 as a way to count down the remaining days of backpacking life in the glorious continent that is South America.
Subsequent posts have taken the form of post trip reflection or in the moment diary entries.
Following a mentally (and physically) significant trip hiking in the Himalayas and a number of successive solo trips, Wander with Coffee became a place to record solo travel achievements and the challenges that come when travelling alone as a woman (a privileged white woman that is).
More recently grief and loss have featured in amongst travel anecdotes about white sandy beaches and volcanoes, and more specifically in a new series (series – ha if only all those drafts were complete) that found its way to this keyboard in amongst much pain and confusion following the cancer diagnosis and sudden death of my dad, as well as through the experience of living abroad while illness consumed my original home in the UK.
‘Crying in my Coffee’ – a side espresso to your regular black coffee perhaps? (Too much?! I’m laughing.) Grief like an espresso (ok, I’m just going with it), strong, instant jolts that suddenly hit your attention then retreat but remain somewhere just under the surface.
Anyway, once you’re in grief, that’s it, it’s part of your life, you’re riding it’s waves, people can be loud or quiet about it – for me I’m leaning towards the loud end; sharing by writing (and not just here but lengthy Instagram captions wahey) has been a welcome release, a way to organise muddled thoughts, it brings some clarity too.
Recently, I read Elizabeth Day’s eloquent explanation of why she writes about difficult things, it’s the most beautiful explanation and it really resonated (she wrote this after her third miscarriage when she was looking for a poem that reflected what she was going through yet none seemed to exist):
‘When difficult things happen to me, I have a profound desire to write about them. I know this makes me a little odd (!) and I’ve thought a lot about why I have this need. I think it’s because when terrible things occur for no reason, I cannot live with the idea that they continue to have no meaning. So I seek to grow my own meaning from their bitter roots. And meaning for me has always been about forging connection with others, about sharing an experience that otherwise gets cast into shadow by shame. It’s about attacking the concept that there is nobility in invisibility. The act of writing, of telling my truth, is also a way of ensuring my story exists in the way that I experienced it. It’s a reclamation of sorts.’– Elizabeth Day, Instagram 07/05/20
This section of the blog is a mini shelter to record difficult moments, to share what’s helped or hindered, a place to store hardships but also progress, it’s for all the reasons Elizabeth so effectively wrote in her Instagram caption.
It’s a work/life in progress.
(Maybe an obvious caveat but worth noting – grief is individual and different for all, no one experience is the same. Therefore these words relate to my experience and might be the absolute opposite of yours or your friend’s/mum’s/cat’s experience. I’m never telling anyone what to do, or how to feel ever, but at the same time reading about the experiences of others has often been a comfort and a help, so if this can be that for even just one person, I’m going with it!)
ONLINE GRIEF COMMUNITY
Sometimes all that is needed is validation – your feelings are normal and expected. Cry and be sad don’t hide it. You’re right life is hard and also just absolutely bizarre.
That validation, acknowledgement and acceptance from others can make a huge difference to your experience of grief and for me can lead to some calmness.
When people share that they feel the same as you do or accept your tears instead of just dismissing them in panic this can help a lot. When people respond to upset with ‘arhh don’t cry’, ‘arh you need a counsellor‘ that can be counter productive; (counselling is of course fantastic but sometimes people shove it in your face immediately instead of just initially acknowledging your emotions and your experience).
The following list are places where my grief is validated, relatable stories are heard, support is given and some new ideas are shared on how to live life during/following a huge life change and also with grief.
I don’t want to tell anyone what to do but this podcast has REALLY helped me especially in the beginning. If you’ve been affected by a death or if you’re experiencing dying right now and want to actually know what happens, in particular the very first episode with Adam Buxton does just that. Trigger warning – it’s an honest, clear explanation of someone dying from illness, it’s difficult but dealt with care, honesty and much needed humour. This is a fantastic, groundbreaking podcast. I really wished I had known about this podcast before my dad died as no guidance was given from the doctors, nurses or carers we dealt with in our experience (this is something the palliative care physician Kathryn Mannix discusses often and she is in one episode too). For a start I would’ve learnt what a ‘death rattle’ is, something normal & expected, awful but normal.
You, Me and the Big C (podcast)
Incredibly helpful when understanding what a person diagnosed with cancer is going through (from the actual science, everyday symptoms, thoughts to the emotion) and also what the people connected to the cancer patient are going through too. Lots of advice, tips, humour, tears, real-life emotional honesty. It is excellent.
A friend got me on to this following the end of a long relationship, I think it works for any huge life change, new direction or ‘option B’ you’re having to take. Understanding, accepting and celebrating the ‘small wins’ were a very useful takeaway.
The Blurt Foundation (Instagram account, website)
Specifically their 54 self care cards are fantastic as well as beautiful. I bought them for my dad who didn’t really embrace them but my mum used them for a bit and they are laid on my desk right now, on a day when I can’t think, I draw a card and do the activity.
With the End in Mind by Kathryn Mannix (book)
She does an amazing job of normalising death – we are all dying therefore we should prepare for it as we do for birth. There’s definitely a void of honest and clear explanations and conversations when it comes to death from doctors, nurses and carers, NOT everyone of course but some. Kathryn is changing that which is a huge positive. Being part of a family who definitely felt let down in the months and weeks leading up to my dad’s death by a lack of information and direction about the process of death from healthcare professionals, this book would have been devoured if only we’d known about it. Add it to your coffee table, request it at your local library, share it with your friends (again I wish I knew of it before dad died, still a worthwhile read after his death though, it helped me understand what had happened).
Cruse Bereavement Care (charity)
Action for Happiness (a happy movement)
There’s an incredibly supportive grief community to be found on Instagram. The following accounts often provide detailed, emotive captions; relatable or affirming quotes; excellent images that often define grief far clearer than words; support through comments under posts or privately in direct messages; stories that are just like yours (relatable content!); just a wonderful resource connecting you to other people living with grief.
- There’s a fantastic Instagram account which features people sharing ‘5 things I’ve learnt since the death of…’ BUT I cannot remember the handle & for some daft reason have never saved their posts grrr. When I do find it, I’ll update this very bullet point.
Dragon fruit, blueberries, melon, some salad, focus on the list, don’t think about it, concentrate, just pick up the fruit get to the till and get out of there. Hold your breathe, pause the podcast, you’re not listening to it anyway, and focus.
Too late, I’m crying in the cucumbers.
Grief will hit you everywhere. It doesn’t care that you’re in the middle of the fruit and veg aisle trying your absolute best with what little energy you have to do a mini shop on your way home from work.
Squinting at the baggage reclaim board… belt number 4. My feet moved but my brain was following about a minute behind. Eugh I felt foggy.
Have you ever travelled long haul?
The plane journey I blimin love, honestly, unlimited films, booze delivered to my seat, just me in my noise cancelling zone.
Yes, the bathrooms can be wet and well used and these days the meals seem to be a permanent let down but once i’ve settled into my aisle seat in a trusty and very comfortable travelling outfit (sports bra and leggings essential, plus hoody, cozy socks and my own blankets) I’m well away!
It’s the arrival that’s the issue, when the tiredness cloud descends and you suddenly have to follow immigration and baggage instructions.
There’s also the added stress when you touch down into a world where your dad has pancreatic cancer.Click to read more…
Diving did wonders for my grieving mind (yes, this is a luxury, a privileged form of self-help and not an option for all but perhaps a similar stillness and focus can be found in meditation via Headspace – another resource which has been a huge help clearing grief from my mind so I can sleep).
The underwater world around Menjangan Island off the north coast of Bali had been just awesome. The few days spent in this national park did absolute wonders for my grieving mind and general health. The bark of a few deer may have caused some surprise , but seeing these creatures sunning themselves on perfect beaches and cooling off in South-East Asia’s sparkling seas was a marvel and a something new to focus on.
This trip highlighted the power of diving for dealing with grief and stress. The meditative feel of floating so slowly through the sea and only focusing on what’s right in my eye-line brought complete calm, something which has been a struggle following the death of my dad. (a more detailed, reflective post will follow regarding this because diving had such a surprising effect on my ability to deal with grief that I think it’s worth sharing or at least just recording).