The Great Storm 30 years on: Surfacing trapped memories from childhood

It’s 3:45pm on 16 October 2017, the sky is grey, the wind is really picking up and here I am back in Wealdstone, the town I grew up in, exactly 30 years on from the great storm of ’87.

I was only six, but I recall clearly how we were walking back home from school, just mum, my brother and I, and how the Great Storm of 1987 had hurricane-force winds that caused substantial damage and 18 deaths in southern England.

It was super windy and we were walking home unprotected from the elements. I was six and my brother was four and mum was there with us, so for us brothers, it was just a fun experience – what did we care?

Before we knew it, a loose roof slate flew past our heads, narrowly missing us, and smashed into pieces onto the ground in front of us. My brother and I thought it was cool but mum must have been petrified as we hurried home to get safely indoors before the weather got really bad.

So here I am back in Wealdstone, not far from the school or the route back home to our first house. I see mothers with their young children, the kids playing and skipping and their mothers encouraging them to get into the car or quickly get home.

It’s now 11 years since mum died and it fascinates me how the memories of my youth are starting to resurface, triggered by at times striking, at times mundane moments.

It’s been known that memories prior to a bereavement can sometimes get covered up, perhaps due to the mind wanting to protect me from the pain of recollection. As I continue to let go of the need for control and as the fears built up over the decades start to dissolve, the memories calmly, clearly and lovingly come to light… and they pass.

So here I am, observing these memories, these fond memories of my youth, arising and passing, arising and passing.

I observe the seemingly real protection of our parents, the subsequent realisation that there is no-one in this world who can ever truly provide protection, and the journey taken to identify and embrace the one place where solace, then calm, then stillness and then joy is progressively uncovered.

In the midst of the storm, it is this place that draws me in, humbled with the knowledge, protection and serenity that all is and will forever be well.

Death Café: my first experience

Friends talking over coffee

When you’re craving to talk with friends about death but don’t know whether those friends would welcome such a conversation, where do you go?

Founded in September 2011, Death Café is one of the world’s largest community engagement projects around death, where people, often strangers, gather to eat cake, drink tea and discuss death.

With the aim of increasing awareness of death and help people make the most of their (finite) lives, a Death Café is a group directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives or themes. It is a discussion group rather than a bereavement support or counselling session.

My very first experience of attending a Death Café

While I’d known about it for over five years and hadn’t yet managed to attend one of the many Death Cafés that take place in over 30 countries around the world, I happened to come across a poster for it in my local library this week – Wealdstone Death Café was taking place that very evening – I signed up immediately, not quite knowing whether it would be my cup of tea.

As my first ever Death Café, I found it to be an excellent experience, surrounded by new friends, all able to talk comfortably about death and topics closely related to death, in a safe environment.

The event helped to reaffirm and enrich my existing views and feelings about the inevitability of death and how to embrace the valuable gift of life.

It was a well facilitated event and we had a decent sized respectful group who felt comfortable delving into personal stories, challenges and possible shifts in perspective.

If someone told me they were thinking of attending a Death Café, I would say: “Absolutely consider attending if you are looking for a safe space to discuss and explore the topic of death and what it means to live. Be prepared to listen with an open heart, to ask questions thoughtfully and to refrain from giving advice or pushing your own views. You will probably even make some new friends!”

Find an event near you: Forthcoming Death Cafés

Hosting your own Death Café

Death Cafés are always offered:

  • On a not for profit basis
  • In an accessible, respectful and confidential space
  • With no intention of leading people to any conclusion, product or course of action
  • Alongside refreshing drinks and nourishing food – and cake!

The team at Death Café have produced an incredible easy-to-follow how-to guide on hosting your own Death Café. If you decide to set one up on the back of reading this article, I would love to hear how it goes – drop me a note!