About My Blog

This blog has evolved over time into a rather eclectic collection of my thoughts, experiences, poetry, photographs, music I enjoy and moments of appreciation. It began, however, from emails I sent out to family and friends in the weeks after the death of my amazing mother, Tessa Cousins, on the 31st May 2011, following a rockfall whilst climbing on the Cioch Direct ascent in the Isle of Skye’s Cuillin hills. Tessa and her partner of 15 years, Dirk Versfeld, had travelled from South Africa for a holiday exploration of Scotland with my family and I, but we had separated the morning before the accident – we were to travel to Angus to research the roots of my husband Clive’s family, and Tessa and Dirk to Skye to indulge their passion for climbing, if the weather improved, and enjoy some time alone. We were due to meet up again in Edinburgh on Wednesday, to travel together by train back to London on Thursday 2nd June.

A phone call on Tuesday night from my sister Elin in South Africa informed us of the most basic outline of what had happened – Tessa was dead, and Dirk was in Broadford hospital, near Skye, with a broken leg. As he was due to be transferred to Inverness during the night, we decided to head up to Raigmore hospital in Inverness early in the morning to meet him as he arrived by ambulance.

I began sending out email updates to keep all those anxiously awaiting news in South Africa informed, and with time these slowly began to include more of my reflections on death, life, and living with and without my mother. I was amazed at the hugely warm response I received from those who had read the emails, some of whom were family, friends and colleagues of Tessa and Dirk that I had never met. I began to receive an increasing number of messages from people saying that not only having the news, but hearing about my own grieving process, was immensely helpful for them within their own journey of coming to terms with the loss of Tessa – either because they were struggling to connect to their own sense of loss, or because hearing that I was experiencing the same things as they had normalised the experience and made them more able to accept their own emotions.

It was then suggested that I put my emails into a blog. One of my mother’s best friends wrote to me recently saying, “I know you’ve thought about this and I’ve said I think it’s a brilliant idea but really, do think about blogging all this writing. It’s such an amazing discussion of living, dying, mourning, and reflections on being a mother and daughter. It would be good to share it more widely, I think.”

And so the blog was born!

A note on the photographs: all the photographs in the top banner on my blog page (you will notice they change at regular intervals) were taken by me with a Canon 450D. The initial photographs I used were taken while we were in Scotland – either during the holiday, or just after my mother’s death – but with time I have gradually started to incorporate photographs I have taken subsequently as well. You will find some of them hidden within my blog posts, which will explain their origins.

20 thoughts on “About My Blog

  1. I am sad for you all over again having read the circumstances of your mum’s death today. It is never easy but I only imagine what a huge shock her death must have been to you. My dad died just 3 days before but I had been braced for the blow for some time by then. Keep writing, looking forward to reading more and I’m working on the special handshake! 😉

    1. I think there are positives and negatives to be found on both sides, and I’ve been trying to focus on the positives as much as possible. We’re signed up to each other’s blogs now so will share something of each other’s journey…

  2. What a shock you have had, your mother sounds like quite an adventurous person she seemed to live life to the fullest and most of all you reflect that , you are her greatest creation I am sure.

  3. Hello Laurel, I have come via timethief’s blog where you are referred to by ‘becoming herself’ another blogger I’m guessing. Anyway I stayed to read a while and am very moved by what you write. Maybe people don’t comment because they are not very good at knowing what to say under such circumstances and especially not to someone they don’t ‘know’. Giving sorrow words is not something I have ever learnt to do, but I would like to learn to be able to do that better. I am sorry for your loss and humbled by your blog and its eloquence. Joanna

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by, and sharing your words. It is always wonderful to hear from others, and feel connected – to wider experiences, to new people, and different words. I couldn’t find timethief’s blog, though becoming herself and I have been following each other’s blogs regularly, and she writes beautifully. Your bread is most inspiring – I am going to enjoy your posts!

  4. I’ve just found your blog via Becoming Herself, and am so sorry you lost your mother. I know the experience though mine passed over twenty years ago. I still think about her and miss her.

    It’s a brilliant thing to be able to blog about your feelings – by publishing emails or any other way – and I do wish I’d had access to this medium when I lost my own mother. I wish you all the best with your journey, for that is what it is. Your mother sounds, from what little I’ve so far read, to have been a strong person and I’m sure you’ll have that part of her inside yourself to draw upon.

  5. Hello Laurel,

    I lost my mom two years ago (Jan 3, 2010) after a 10 month battle with metastatic melanoma. She lived near me, and I was the only on my sibs in town, so I took care of her, went to all of her appts with her, listened and talked with her, held her, and ultimately was there at her beside holding her hand as she breathed her last breath.

    I’m not sure how I came upon your blog, but I did. And I wanted to let you know that I feel your pain. I see it especially in my sister; daughters losing their mothers (or fathers) — it just seems to be even more devastating.

    I did fairly well with the loss of my mom (I think). Thanks to Buddhism, and certain authors, philosophers, and poets (Rilke especially – “Be ahead of all parting, as if partings we most fear have already taken place, like a long winter, which even now is passing. For beneath this winter, lies a winter so endless, that to survive it at all will take a complete metamorphosis of heart”), I had done a lot of inner work in the many years prior dealing with my own fears of death, and I suppose life (I think the two are connected). It allowed me to be very present for my mom and to remain very present for her. I cried several times during those ten months, felt my heart breaking frequently, and, ironically, opening more.

    I hope you are well, Laurel. Kindest regards,

    John

    1. Hi John,
      Thank you so much for your message. Condolences on the loss of your mom. It astounds me time and again how moving it is to hear other people’s stories of loss, quite as much when they can see the positive aspects of their loss as when they cannot. I have read and re-read the Rilke quote above, and reading it aloud now I feel my eyes brim with tears. But I have been particularly missing my mom today, so I suppose that is not surprising! I feel it is time to speak to and write of my grief again, perhaps today…

      What you say about your heart breaking, and opening more, echoes my experience following my mom’s death, but for you of course the experience was also found in the months preceding your mother’s death. That is something I have of course not experienced, but while I previously thought grieving for someone who had a long illness must be very different to grieving for someone who died suddenly, I have come to believe differently through sharing experiences with others here in blogland. It seems to me now that the time spent with someone who is knowingly dying is different to any other experience, and has particular joys and pains, but you don’t truly start mourning someone until they are gone, and then grief is grief: it is not hugely altered by knowing that death is coming. I am somewhat curious to know if, from your perspective, you would agree?

      Sending you a hug,
      Laurel

  6. Hello Laurel,

    Ah, thank you very kindly for the hug and the condolences. And I’m sorry to hear that you are missing your mom today. How are you feeling now?

    And I have a friend, Laurel, one of my assts who works for me, he’s about 21, and he lost his mom very suddenly a couple of months ago (she was probably only 50 years old), and I realize that I was very fortunate to have had so much quality time with my mom before she passed.

    Which is what I wish for everyone. I wish we could all go through life with expiration dates stamped on our heads. I think it would make us more humane; let us better calibrate how to treat another person. If I knew someone only had a year to live, versus 5 years to live, I would like to think that it would dramatically affect how I treated another person if, say, he or she was rude to me, or cut in front of me. Oh, you only have a year left, please go in front of me, my friend. Oh, you have 10 years left, not a chance, buddy, that was my place, you can please wait your turn behind me and maybe read a decent book while you’re at it.

    So I suppose this leads into what you asked me about whether grief is altered by knowing that it’s coming.

    I can say that for me, without a doubt, it most certainly was. One of things I did when I found out that my mom had stage-IV metastatic melanoma was to go online and research the heck out of it in terms of prognosis and how it generally progresses. What I recall learning was that it was 95% lethal within a year (pretty much like pancreatic cancer), and that melanoma kills by eventually invading the liver, lungs and brain.

    So learning all that gave me a lot of perspective; it gave me a fairly decent timeline to go off of. My mom found the cancer in mid-Feb of ’09, I came across all of those online (and reputable) articles by mid-to late March of ’09, by early April my mom had had the three spots they found either surgically removed or precision-radiated (stereotactic radiation). By mid-May she was in pain again, a week or two later we discovered via a PET/CT scan that the cancer had exploded in her (something like 30 fast-growing tumors). And so at that point I began drilling it through my head that unless there was a miracle drug in a clinical trial, my mom would be dead in 6 months. And so I really, really tried to love her differently at that point, be there for her more, comfort her, spend more and more of my free time with her, listen to her, sit with her, help her out more (she was still working at this point! She worked up until the end of Sept in order to keep her insurance!), etc.

    So whether I was the way I was able to be with my mom because of things I done within myself over the years in advance of this, or whether it was because I had a timeline and my mom’s decline was so sequential and without anything really unexpected happening, or whether it was a combination of both, I am not sure.

    What I can tell you, Laurel, is that in many ways I’m an old soul, my ex- called me a “mutant” because of how differently I think and look at the world in relation to anyone she’s ever met or known or read. (And I do think she was correct in that assessment! lol) I’ve been steeping my mind (and not morbidly or in a depressing way, but in a life-affirming and empowering way) in death, dying, loss, suffering, Buddhism, Earnest Becker’s “The Denial of Death,” and similarly themed stuff for years; so it’s been part of my ongoing reading and writing and contemplating for the past 15 or so years. So in a way my mind has been somewhat prepared. Yet in other ways, death and loss are still shocking, (i.e. my ex- essentially unexpectedly disappearing on me out of the blue was devastating and horrific to go through again. Worse by far than my mom dying. I recounted a bit of what the last two years of my life with her has been like in a couple of comments on two of risingontheroad’s blog posts and on my last post on my http://theplacesthatscareyou.wordpress.com blog)

    But the biggest change I’m trying to make because of what I’ve experienced the last three years of my life is to let go of the railing and really get over the expectation that I can or ought count on anything or anyone anymore. And I don’t mean that I’m trying to live in some jaded or bitter way; far from it; I want to be very stable and trustworthy for another; but—but—I also have to recognize that things can turn on a dime in life, and so I want to live much more cognizant of that, much more mindful (there’s that word again) and respectful of that. In other words I’m trying to wrap my brain more and more around the idea of expecting sudden losses, of loving and cherishing those I love like there’s no tomorrow, or as if like tomorrow’s not promised. It’s such a difficult thing though to wrap our permanency- and security-seeking/wired brains around!

    As for the grief, I grieved a lot for my mom the last six months of her life, when it became more and more apparent that she wasn’t going to get a reprieve from the cancer. And I grieved for her afterwards as well, but I had a lot of peace as well—peace that came from having really been able to be there for her and really be present. I didn’t have any regrets, Laurel, and I got to say everything I needed to. So there was a lot of closure. So that’s definitely one thing you can get if there’s warning: closure. And that’s what makes an unexpected death so different, I imagine . . . things left unsaid, a lack of closure. My ex-‘s husband died out of the blue on her in Jan of ’09. Of course I know her shock and loss had to have been compounded by how brutally she had treated (mistreated) him. (But she didn’t learn anything, because she treated me even worse, gave it to me in spades.)

    So anyways, I’m rambling, Laurel. There’s more I probably want to say, but I think this is enough for now. Hopefully I somewhat answered your question.

    I really do hope you are well, Laurel, and I do appreciate your kind words and the hug 🙂 And a very heartfelt hug back to you as well

    Kindest regards to you,

    John

    1. Hi John,
      I am sorry it has taken me so long to respond; I have finally started catching up on blog comments. I am still in a haze, and the road to recovery will be long and slow, but hopefully I will be here more often again soon.

      Thank you so much for your open sharing. I suppose I was lucky in that while I will miss conversation with her for the rest of my life, there was nothing left unsaid between my mother and I that I would have said had I had warning of her death. She taught me to always make time for the important people in my life, and say what needs to be said, and while I have not always achieved this perfectly, striving towards it has been rewarding.

      Best of luck on the journey.

      More hugs,
      Laurel

  7. I just read how the Blog was born and its both wretched and humbling to imagine what you went through, but also how you responded to it. All has been quiet on the Laura front recently and I very much hope your quill will start moving over the pages soon.

    1. Hi Peter, one of my theories on life is better late than never: so thank you for this comment, even though it has taken me a year and a half to respond! It’s great to be writing again, and still be connected! Your ongoing support has always elicited enormous gratitude in me 🙂

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