Saturday 24 January 2015


So many emotions flit across my mind when I think about memory boxes, thoughts awakened by once again picking up my copy of ‘The Memory Box’ by Margaret Forster.  In this story, our heroine Catherine, on clearing out the attic of the family home discovers the memory box created by her mother who died when she was a baby.  As a growing child and now adult, Catherine has been surrounded by people keen to illustrate her mother’s life to her and throughout this period she has made every attempt not to be interested. Now she is confronted with a box full of memories and this is what the author writes:

  ‘I wished passionately she had not done this. Who had thought of it, was it her own idea? And what had she imagined was the purpose of her legacy? To tell me about herself?  To make some kind of statement?  To try to share in my unknown future?’ (1999)

Of course this is fiction, Catherine is angry and wishes to deny the existence of her birth mother but then on working through the memory box discovers a complex and wonderful person and with this redefines her own identity.The concept of the memory box or even scrap book brings up lots of questions. Who should do them? When should they be done? Why would you make one?  website actually has a very comprehensive page answering all of these questions and makes a very good case advocating this method for use by people who know they are dying and wish to share memories with a child. Unlike the fictionalised Catherine the process of putting together the items in the box is a mutual experience, a time of storytelling, and a time accepted not only of happy memories but also sad.  This process in itself is also laying down cherished memories for the child of their parent. 

William Worden in his book on Grief Counselling and Therapy for Mental Health Practitioners (2001) also talks about the important part memory scrapbooks can have in helping children find ways to remember a dead person, completed if possible with family members but if not with the help of a therapist. As the child matures the box or scrapbook serves to remind them of who that person was and in some ways to provide a life affirming anchor about whom they are, especially important if this has been a close relative.

Personally I find it very difficult to put myself in the position of having to put together something like a memory box. If like Catherine’s mother I put the memories together in isolation, I can’t help thinking it might end up as a rather self- indulgent and biased set of items. What words would you write to a loved one? Your own view of your life is just that, your own view. How could you give a rounded and honest picture? Do you give clues to a murky past at the risk of besmirching your loved ones memory of you? I simply don’t have the answers to these questions and I leave them for you to ponder. I do know however that in my own experience that some of my most treasured memories of my own mother who died when I was 18 are linked to the casual things she left behind.  When I was 15 I spent the summer away and my mother wrote me a letter, I have kept this and sometimes look at it to remind myself of how she was and how she spoke without the cloud of impending death hanging over her. I also wear her wedding ring and have a small picture of my mother as a young woman framed and next to my bed.  These are small tokens, I have chosen them, they don’t affect me in a negative way and I don’t really notice them day to day but occasionally I will make a note and use them as an anchor. They are my own way of remembering a complex human being and my relationship to her as my mother, the good and not so good.

Maybe then there is some value in having concrete items that link you to memories of a loved one (without attaching too much emotion that this then becomes an issue)but also that can be just be part of the story.  If we have been close to someone for any length of time we also have memories we keep in our head; a gesture they used to make, the feel of their hands, the way they used to get angry or the food they loved to eat, these are all ways of remembering. Again I leave you to ponder this thought.

If you would like to share your views on this subject I would love to hear them.

Thanks to:  Accessed 22nd/01/2015
Forster,Margaret (1999). Memory box. London: Chatto and Windus. p13.
Worden, J.William (2001). Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy; a handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner,Susex:Routledge. P235.

Sunday 11 January 2015

Bereavement - a Psychotherapist's Perspective.

Now you might find this statement rather bizarre but as a Therapist I actually find working with grief as the result of death one of the most rewarding parts of my vocation. Let me begin to explain. When I decided to become a Therapist it was set against a number of life experiences; in particular the death of my mother when I was just 18 and at a natural crossroads in my life. The circumstances of that death completely altered my life’s path; my views of the world around me, my relationships with other people and having a detrimental effect on my mental health causing bouts of depression in my early 20’s. When I reflect back on that period in my life, there seemed to be very few people close to me offering that ‘listening ear’ and that was just what I needed a ‘listening ear’. I needed to rage, to wonder and be angry, to feel supported and above all be told that my views and thoughts were valid and human, no matter how many times I repeated those same feelings.

Death and grief are all integral to being human but how often do we draw away from discussing the process with one another?  Each death is different and each of us reacts to the deaths we experience on an individual basis. No matter how you anticipate the way you may feel and behave on the death of someone or something you care about, almost always the actual event and your reaction is not what you may have anticipated.  This is tricky to illustrate; but imagine the death of your husband or wife of the last 50 years which you may have thought devastating, but actually although you are extremely sad you seem to be coping and adjusting.  Perhaps that spouse had been extremely ill and in pain over a long period and some small part of you rejoices that they are released.  However on top of this your cat or dog has just been killed in a car accident and although other people may see this as trivial, you are devastated and feel you can’t carry on, becoming deeply depressed. These then are two very different deaths; one expected one sudden, the trauma compounded, where you can cope with the first maybe the second brings up unexpected feelings e.g. loneliness, loss of purpose.  The difficulty can then be sometimes being able to express this grief openly, you may feel other people (even those closest to you) don’t want to listen or even understand or simply just don’t have the time.

This is where a good Therapist can step in providing complete non- judgmental support, someone who recognizes that the nature of grief is based upon many interweaving factors, processes, themes and emotions.  As a Therapist myself I feel privileged to have shared with my client’s important moments of intense emotion working in an intense therapeutic atmosphere.  There are moments of anger, guilt, anguish, flashes of insight and realization as well as the recognition of love, thankfulness, joy and yes we do also share laughter. This for me constitutes true congruence with a client; knowing the moment, being with, knowing exactly what to say at the right point and recognizing important insights, sharing their journey. 

Having now, in my middle years experienced a number of deaths myself both family and friends and indeed my own father died suddenly just recently, I always find the process of grief a time when people experience in its purest form what it is to be human. Each death strangely perhaps can help us to grow, find new things in life but also learn to appreciate and value with new eyes, life.  It is a time of re- evaluation. These reasons and much more are why I find working with death so rewarding as a Therapist.

If you would like to contribute to the discussion I would love to hear from you.


Just recently I took the momentous step of deciding to go full time with my Counselling, Psychotherapy and Hypnotherapy practice in Chelmsford having worked for some years now just working part time. Now some would say this was a foolhardy thing to do in the current economic climate but there are some times in life when you just need to take your courage in your hands and leap regardless. It has been very much a case of me finally stating to the world ‘this is who I am and this is what I want to be.’ As I am now in my 50’s it’s been quite a journey stumbling towards self knowledge.

 By writing this blog I hope to not only appeal to those people interested in different aspects of Counselling and Hypnotherapy but also those of you who are just trying to find the right path to follow in this confusing and fascinating world of ours.

These are then the musings of a Therapist, living in Essex, yes I did say Essex.