‘Communitree’ – artwork created by young offenders at HMP Cookham Wood

Steve and I came across an exhibition of work by young offenders while we were in Anglesey in 2018 and this piece caught my eye.

One of the things that has surprised me the most over the last months is receiving the most wonderful, supportive messages and beautiful words from people who I hadn’t expected to hear from. Some are people that I hardly know, others who I have had a light relationship or friendship with, some who I have almost lost touch with, some who I have never met and only know virtually through online connections. Over and again, at moments when I have been feeling tearful and lonely, a message has arrived from someone or a phone call has come, completely out of the blue, and broken the spell of isolation by reminding me how connected we all are, even to those we don’t hold close to us.

It’s as if this enormous loss that I am experiencing has opened up channels of communication that I never knew were there before I woke up in this new existence. And somehow, I find myself feeling immensely close to a handful of people who have been there, just checking in, asking how I’m doing, reminding me that they’re thinking of me. Sending me a poem, a suggestion of a book to read, a link to a YouTube piece of beautiful music, a parcel, a gift, some flowers. Dropping me a message or an email with thoughtful, generous words of encouragement and kindness that lift my mood from the ebbing and flowing of sadness that underpins every day.

It’s beyond special, this instinctive reaching out that has been happening. It has come from people on the periphery of my life, but I think, without exception, all of the people who have been checking in regularly are people whose hearts have been broken, people who see a reflection of their own pain as they contemplate me and my grief. There’s a recognition that I am now one of them, one of the people who know the depths of sadness, deeper than anyone can describe or explain. Maybe each of these unexpected kindred souls are paying forward a kindness, a connection that they felt when they were at their bleakest and lowest. Maybe there is just a natural big-hearted impulse that comes over people who have learned to live with their pain and who want to help salve the pain that others are feeling.

To all of you, I want to say thank you. It means so much. It’s like having a soft touch on my hand, an arm put around my shoulders, a warm hug. There’s something about receiving such gentle reminders that I am being thought of that buoys my spirits. When the centre of gravity in your life has suddenly vanished, and you feel adrift and alone, knowing that people are sending you their thoughts and their kind wishes is like feeling a lifeline to the shore, it’s a new way of feeling your way back to safety and to solid ground.

Looking at the messages on my phone, there are some extraordinary, intimate conversations that have evolved between me and some of these lovely thoughtful people over the weeks since Steve was taken to hospital for the last days of his life. There’s a freedom in answering honestly about how I am truly feeling in response to someone asking me if I’m ok, and there are truths and raw emotions shared in the space that is opened up by someone pressing ‘send’ when they risked intruding or bothering me at a terrible time. To any of you who have worried that you might have intruded – you didn’t. You helped keep me steady.

I think what I’m trying to convey in this post is that, even if you think you might be being pushy or intrusive or over familiar with someone who is going through the worst of times, if your instinct is to reach out to them, do it. Your message might light up their phone at exactly the time they need to hear what you have written. Your words might be exactly what they need to straighten their back and keep going when they feel like curling into a ball and crying. Just knowing that you are thinking of them may be enough. It is for me.

I am beyond grateful to all of you who have taken the time to check in. Along with my close family and dearest friends, who have been constantly there and who have carried me through this, I have a new cohort of companions who I feel alongside me. They are the ones who keep gently calling my name, through their texts or their messages, the ones who keep reminding me I am not completely lost.  Thank you. You know who you are.