~ Written by Nick Hammond, Deputy Chair of Trustees at the Mindfulness Network. This piece was originally posted on The Compassionate Friends Blog – a charitable organisation supporting bereaved parents and their families – and has been republished here with Nick’s permission. ~
Our eldest son, Rory, died some time on the afternoon of the 12th of June 2018, at home in his bedroom after ingesting poison he bought on the internet. He was 20 years old.
His two younger brothers were at school, his mother was travelling, and I was in London. I had agreed to meet him that evening and had spoken to him around lunchtime when he seemed very upbeat and positive. However, at some point late afternoon I received a call from one of his brothers saying he had found him upon returning home, unresponsive.
The journey home in a taxi from London was a blur, as was walking into his bedroom finding his body surrounded by paramedics; and the days, weeks and months that followed.
Rory was lively and charming as boy and before adolescence, but had always struggled a little bit with this world. He had started therapy sessions when he was 11 or 12 and saw a number of therapists and medical practitioners in succeeding years. He had talked openly about ending his life in his late teens, but despite this I felt that he had turned a corner at the beginning of 2018, only to find out his silence was just a cover for making his plans.
I think we take some comfort from the fact that he died relatively peacefully in the family home. He made a decision with which we can never agree, but at least he did it in a place where there has always been a lot of love. I think we felt that creating this environment would be enough to stop him taking this step, but unfortunately this was not to be the case.
In the weeks following his death I busied myself with work, not with any real sense of commitment or energy, just looking for things to distract me.
I was also angry. Angry when I was driving, angry with other people, angry with myself. My mind endlessly wandering and wondering. If only, if only……………
I can’t remember quite how it started, but I imagine it was my wife, Jo, who suggested it. Why don’t you try meditating? she said.
I’d never done this before, although I had been involved in mindfulness projects as part of my business activities. Like so many of us, I had a mindfulness app on my phone but had never opened it.
Starting with the beginners package on Headspace, I began sessions during our family holiday to Italy in the August after Rory’s death. He should have been there of course, but as it was, the four of us went and tried to get through as best we could. As we travelled I found surprising, if short-lived, comfort doing short meditation practices in the gardens of Airbnb’s, in Venice and Florence.
As I progressed through the course over the following weeks, I found the process of sitting or lying down for 10,15 or 20 minutes, a huge release. Of course painful thoughts would come up, but I found the invitation in the guidance to focus on the breath and let thoughts go (as much as I could) hugely liberating and relaxing. From this small start and across the last four years I have found meditation and mindfulness to be a massive support.
My mindfulness journey continuing, I took part in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course, with the Mindfulness Network in 2019. I also attended a few wonderful short retreats in 2019 and early 2020 and when the pandemic hit, which greatly impacted my business, I set out on a path (initially online) to become a mindfulness teacher. I am now qualified to teach mindfulness and also a trustee of the Mindfulness Network charity itself. As I move forward with my life, I want to spend more of my time in this world, working mindfully in the community and with businesses.
Most importantly, as I have developed my understanding of mindfulness, not only do I benefit from a sense of relaxation and calm as I meditate and in everyday life, but I also understand that the process helps in dealing with painful thoughts and includes techniques that can productively assist in turning towards (rather than away) from difficulty.
What has become apparent is, that before the death of my son I wasn’t really aware of the world that I was living in. It has taken suffering the trauma of his death, to really make me notice the present moment, the world around me in any given moment and the things that really matter.
In the months following Rory’s death, I started to notice thoughts and words related to this new sense of awareness. Firstly saying them inwardly, then whispering quietly and then, with great trepidation, saying them out loud to selected people. Finally, I put the words down in verse, which has greatly helped me to process what happened. Also helping me to understand how I feel, how I feel about him, my beautiful family and the world around me.
Even now it feels somehow unacceptable to think this way or to say these words. However, the unavoidable fact is this great sadness I am facing and borne out of this, perhaps, the offer of a new way of living, and a new way to live.
This is what I wrote:
The knitted socks
Handkerchiefs given one year and received the next
The cardigan that didn’t quite fit
I worried about the gifts that I didn’t want and couldn’t return
How trivial this all seems now
With my son’s death, I have come to the painful understanding that he has given me a gift. More than any other I have received, I didn’t expect it and didn’t want it. But I have it now and cannot return it. It is beholden upon me, for my sake as well as his, to use it as well as I can.
This gift, is an awareness of mindfulness, the gift of living in the present and, as best as I can, appreciating life (and death) for what it really is.
Through this gift, his gift, my overriding intention over the last four years has to been to hold my son in my intention, attention, and attitudes.
His life, his death, and his memory.
Rory Hammond. Born 21st April 1998.