Dear Dad, I haven’t been well.

Dear Dad,

It’s been a while since we last talked.

In fact 2019 hasn’t started the way I would have liked. I’ve been really poorly since New Year with shingles. Although I’ve had them before, this time was worse. The pain has been excruciating. I have been completely wiped out and absolutely exhausted. The last three weeks have been a blur. I’ve battled with sleepless nights and then being so sleep deprived that I’ve slept and slept at odd times. Things I would usually get involved in have been on the back burner. In some ways this has been a good thing, especially in simply letting letting things happen around me rather than trying to keep up or make sense of everything. I’m not going to worry about what has already happened over the last three week. If it’s that urgent and important, then I’ll get to know it as and when I need to. Living in the present is important and you can’t simply try and relive three weeks whilst living in the here and now.

Only yesterday did I really take the time to look at the garden and see the changes. Our Christmas roses have been blooming and the snowdrops have erupted everywhere. I can see the shoots where tulips are making their way to the surface. There are still some areas that need a good tidy up where summer lilies have died back and the remnants of bedding plants a blowing round the garden like the balls of tumbleweed you see in westerns.

I received some GORRgeous flowers from colleagues. I’ve never had flowers arrive in a box so narrow it fits through the letterbox. It was amazing to watch the display change day by day.

I can’t get back the last three weeks of my life and that’s ok. 2019 starts today with recovery time, not trying to run before I can walk, and focusing on quality and and not quantity.

I have four singing engagements over the course of the year already in my diary. Some are specific occasions for the choirs where I am their guest. One will be recorded to commemorate a choir’s 50th anniversary. I’d better start thinking about the songs I’d like to perform.

It was three years ago today that we actually had our last Christmas Day together as neither you nor I had been well enough. Now that 2019 can officially start, time to take stock of what really matters. I still love the Dr Seuss quote, ‘Those who matter don’t mind. Thos who mind don’t matter.’ I know who matters to me and equally those whose presence does not enhance my life.

Look up, not down.

Look forward, not back.

The snow is set to fall today but I’ll find a moment to look at the snowdrops and tulip shoots growing in the garden of remembrance round the back of our church where your ashes are interred. It will be nice to get out for half an hour having not been out for three weeks. Better start the car, too, to make sure it kicks in.

Catch up soon, Dad.

With all my love as always.

Rachel xxx

Dear Dad, as 2018 ends and 2019 begins…..

Dear Dad,

It is New Year’s Day 2019. Where has the time gone? What a year it has been. A lot has happened over the year and I know you have been on that journey with me.

Mum and I have loved sharing fizz with you at every special occasion – Christmas, New Year, Father’s Day, Easter, your birthday and our birthdays. I love it all. We talk about you every day. Every time we share a glass of vino, we raise it to you.

I have several friends who have had bereavements recently and many have been their Dads. They now understand what deep grief is. Deep grief is deep love. It does make it harder when a friend loses their Dad and I do find it difficult. Grief is not about waiting for time to get over it. No-one can put a limit on that. Nor does there have to be a limit.

 

It’s hard to share with you the times when I have not been happy or when I have been hurt. You know these already but you also know that is is very cathartic to release these. Having a cathartic moment is not a rant and not reliving, but simply releasing, letting go and saying **** off to those and what made it happen. I always use to say to kids, ‘a joke is only funny if both parties find it funny’. Here’s NOT to those who mock us and say it’s only a joke.

There are moments I would love to relive and then there are others I want to fORRget but they are made harder because of what has happened. I can’t deny that there have been times where it’s been a huge struggle. There have been those whose actions have triggered major and unnecessary anxiety for me to the point where I can’t sleep and have severe agitation. My last few nights heading towards 2019 have been riddled with disrupted sleep, restlessness and feeling quite violently sick. They will know the strength of my voice in 2019 as lessons from those struggles have given me the courage to be stronger next year. I will use my voice. 

My life began to pick up again September 2017 when I started some home tuition, consultancy work and teaching back in the classroom. Nothing beats that. It was so wonderful to hear from colleagues in the school that they couldn’t believe what I did to engage the kids. This was the start of very happy times even though 2017 was coming to an end. So, I began 2018 without what some would call ‘a proper job’. I was still teaching two half days a week in a local school. I still miss that now. I taught music and singing to every class in the school and really had carte blanche to add in whatever personal and social skills were needed as well as language and maths through the medium of music. It has to be the highlight of 2018. I will never forget the day I told the children I was leaving to start a new venture. I’d only been there 6 months and saw the classes once a week. You forget the impact you have upon such young ones when they tell you how much they love you and will miss you. Saying goodbye is always the hardest part when leaving a school.

As well as teaching 2 half days a week prior to having ‘a proper job’ I also had 7 young folk for home tuition. I started with 2 and this grew quickly. It was lovely to hear from parents that they respected the fact I wasn’t there to teach to tests but to develop life long learning. It was also great that they didn’t mind my age and saw it as experience, quality and not just making extra cash. It was a fascinating insight into what parents understand and have been told about year 6 and the transition to secondary school.  Six of these pupils were year 6. However, in April times were changing and once I knew I had a permanent and regular income, I had to let my students know I couldn’t continue the home tuition. Although 6 pupils were in year 6, this was never about SATs. This was all about life long learning. There were tears from some families as we had built such a great relationship. I felt incredibly blessed and privileged to have met some ORRsome families who understand what it means to enjoy learning, and those whose homes I have been welcomed into. I stayed with the 6 year six pupils until SATs week and they all got in touch with afterwards.

A new chapter began in April where I began to support those embarking upon a career in teaching. I can’t deny that entering teaching right now isn’t a tough job. You really have to want it and understand what it means to commit to the profession. I did for 27 years. However, you know that my life had to move on, to change, to begin a new chapter in a different direction but without compromising my true beliefs where children are at the heart of everything.

At the moment I’m trying to balance a dual role. It’s hard and there are times I feel I am doing two 50% jobs 100% each because you want to give the best to everyone. I enjoy both. I left headship for many reasons. I always knew I wouldn’t retire as a head. I wanted to move on, shift the balance in my life and actually try to have a life. I didn’t need to be ‘in charge’, be the one leading others, be the one where the buck stopped with you, or be the one who had to make the decisions. I no longer needed to ‘lead’ but to enjoy the ‘doing’ at the chalk face. I still think some need to notice that. Having moved on from that, I know even more that it was the right decision to leave that behind and change direction. I sometime wish others would acknowledge and accept that. I want to enjoy what I do. I want to love what I do, do what I love and do it well. The day when I don’t feel that is the time for change.

I mentioned at the start there have been lessons learned from struggles and there is one major thing I will take into the New Year. My voice. No, not my singing voice, but the voice where I have the courage to speak up for myself and stand up to those whose beliefs, comments and actions do not fit with me.

Over the last year I have met with those who make disparaging comments. I can rise above those as they say more about the person speaking than myself. I have met with those who feel they have the right to be over familiar and pass comments just because they have known me since a child. I doubt they’d say what they said to me to their own child. And a final reason for using my voice in 2019 is to ensure my personal space is protected. For me, and no doubt anyone else, no bloody well means no. NO! Why don’t you get the message the first time! It is disappointing (that’s the polite word) that I have had to reiterate that message twice. No-one likes their personal space invaded. My voice will be so much stronger and if I have to scream at the top of my lungs, I will.

I love good company and Mum and I have experienced this a lot. We also share in good hospitality. We continue to open our homes and our hearts to others. It has bothered me of late when Mum has commented that I won’t be able to do certain things for her as I am ‘too busy’. That really bothers me and I want to change that. How that change happens, I am not too sure right now. I think I’m trying to find my feet balancing what I do, doing it well and not taking on too much. Perhaps I need to use my voice there too.

So, Dad, here’s to you. Mum and I will be sharing some fizz with you today for the third time without your human presence but we still feel you with us. I have some singing commitments for 2019 and look forward to those. One of them falls on your birthday and is for Shiney Row Male Voice Choir. It’s their 60th anniversary and they are having the entire evening recorded. Any special requests, Dad? I shall include Summertime as I know it’s a favourite for us both.

A new year ahead. My aim is to continue to look after Mum, as I promised, but to make sure I do it the way I want to and not governed by time being taken away. It’s us two. We get on and enjoy our times together and look fORRward to having many more ahead of us.

I am going to LOVE 2019 which means letting go of things that don’t fit. It’s about doing more of what makes you happy. Mum and I will be doing that.

All my love, Dad.

Rachel xx

 

 

Dear Dad, Two years ago you squeezed my hand for the last time.

Dear Dad,

It is two years since we were together. I held your hand as you lay sleeping. This wasn’t anything out of the ORRdinary. We’d often sit and watch films together my hand in yours and yours in mine and you would drift off to sleep. I always loved watching the Ghost and Mrs Muir with you. There was something so peaceful about the ending. Having since read the book we both noted how much different it was but that still didn’t take away from ur love of the film.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since we last talked mORR has changed and continues to day by day. All the lilies flowered again this year. I found a few others to plant this year because their names reminded me of you. I planted some called Boogie Woogie Piano as you loved the ragtime feel. I also planted a pink Calla lily called Pretty Woman. You always loved the scene in Pretty Women when Richard Gere took Julia Roberts to the opera to see Verdi’s La Traviata. Little did I know when the film were first released that I would get the opportunity to play the tragic role of Violetta. It was a wonderful experience and a life changing one too. I recall singing the role several nights in two different theatres. Opening night was the biggest surprise. At the end of the evening the producer knocked on my dressing room door and said someone was here to see me. You and Mum had been sitting at home with tickets for other performances when Mum had said she couldn’t bear to sit at home knowing it was opening night so you decided to come. I was totally unaware until the end of the performance. I remember Mum telling me she could hear sniffles round the audience during the death scene and she said you had been touched so much by it. She also says you commented that you saw your little girl die in the arms of Alfredo. It was an emotional rollercoaster portraying Violetta. When the opera run was over I had to let her go and there was a strange loss for a while.

Two year’s you squeezed my hand for the last time at 11.40am. I cradled your face, held your hand and at 11.55am you died in my arms and joined the angels for champagne. It was so peaceful, Dad, and I know you knew we were all there with you. Your life of 91 years is a life well lived and a life well loved. I do miss you dearly, Dad. I miss being able to nip upstairs to tell you something. I miss you ringing inviting me for a glass of wine. I miss our hugs and holding your hand. We never parted company without a hug. Hugs are never the same now.

So, what’s new? I’ve been in my new job for almost six months and since I first started the role, things have changed. Right now I spend half of my time working with NQTs and trainee teachers and the other half working with aspiring middle and senior leaders. Only just this last week I’ve been introducing myself to each of the 27 established teachers on my caseload. They are excited about their journey ahead. It has thrilled me when they have asked about my background and said how excited they are about working with me. Wait until they find out you were a head teacher along with your father and grandmother. It’s lovely to meet new people and invite them into your life through a new role.

May 1st 2017 was a liberating day. It was the day I embarked upon a new life and found there is life after headship. Mum and I have quality time together and enjoy each other’s company, especially when it involves vino, fizz and G&T. It worried you what would happen after you were no longer here with us. I promised you I’d look after Mum. Every time we have we raise it you and says cheers Dad. Mum says cheers darling heart. We miss you but talk with you daily.

My new role enables me to use the experiences, knowledge and skills I have learned over time with new teachers and aspiring leaders. When a first aid certificate expires a person doesn’t suddenly lose the ability to administer first aid. Similarly, just because I am no longer serving as a head in a school doesn’t mean I suddenly stop being a leader. I have discovered, sadly, there is a small group of people who were in and around my life during my time as a head teacher who no longer maintain any contact. It’s as though they were around for the status of Head teacher and not the person. However, I know I am not the one who has lost out. As I often say, those who mind, don’t matter. Those who matter, don’t mind.

On Saturday 6th October I get to spend the day without the most amazing group of people many of whom I am proud to say they are a great friend. #EduFootyAid takes place tomorrow with a fundraising football match between the nORRth and south raising money for Mind Charity for mental health. I know how much my grief has affected my mental health and still does daily.  I also have the privilege of singing Nessun Dorma World Cup style tomorrow and then leading the supporters in the National Anthem. It’s a time for everyone to mind their minds and the minds of others.

I have a busy day ahead but Mum and I have a bottle of fizz chilling and will join you with a glass later today, Dad.

In the words of St Julian of Norwich shared at your funeral service celebrating your life, “All shall be well. And all shall be well. All manner of thing shall be well.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s to you, Dad.

With all my love,

Rachel xxxx

 

Dear Dad, I hope you had a lovely 93rd birthday. I thought I’d give you another update.

Dear Dad,

Mum and I raised a glass of fizz for you on your 93rd birthday. I’m sure the champagne was flowing freely for you with the angels.

I came across this the other day and thought of you even more…

I spent quite a bit of time in London this last week. It was my official induction time with Teach First. My ORRiginal start day should have been May 29th but, as you already know, that was brought fORRward as well as my working pattern changing for part time to full time. The timing could not have been better.

My days working with new colleagues were amazing. I have the privilege of working with an ORRsome team in the north east. I have made some great friends. We look out for each other and help each other out. I couldn’t ask to be in a better place than I am right now. It really affirmed how much I love what I do and do what I love.

I know you would have loved to have met all my new colleagues and friends. I also know you are pleased with the changes I have made.

Mum and I have already started getting my garden ready for summer and we have had several BBQs to date.

I know you loved the Fireworks Clematis and this year it really has come into its own.

This week I head to Leeds with the wonderful team with whom I work. I know it’s going to be a busy time but it’s going to be such an exciting time.

 

I’m ready to fly, Dad, and begin that new chapter in my life.

New days and new beginnings are happening and I really am doing what I love.

 

I can’t deny that some days are still hard. Walking into a shop where Father’s Day cards are on display has been really difficult.

I sang last night for Shiney Row Male Voice Choir. It was a lovely evening. 12 songs and two joint pieces made for a really ORRsome my evening.

The flowers I received were beautiful.

The interval was a challenge when a lovely choir chap asked how you were. He didn’t know that you had died and I found that really hard to tell him and keep my composure. I can’t even keep it typing this letter to you without tears running down my face.

The choir sang one of my FavORRite pieces, “Softly, as I leave you.” and again, I struggled to keep it together.

“Softly, I will leave you softly
For my heart would break if you should wake and see me go
So I leave you softly, long before you miss me
Long before your arms can beg me stay
For one more hour or one more day
After all the years, I can’t bear the tears to fall
So, softly as I leave you there
(Softly, long before you kiss me)
(Long before your arms can beg me stay)
(For one more hour) or one more day
After all the years, I can’t bear the tears to fall
So, softly as I leave you there
As I leave I you there
As I leave I you there.”

Many past choir members were remembered during this song – many of whom we had both known.

So many songs I sang Dad, reminded me of you so much. I know you were listening and I hope sang each song to the best of my ability and did you proud.

My final song was “My Hero” and I dedicated it to you. I know my voice faltered when announcing it and letting everyone know it was just for you. However, I know you were with me when I opened my heart, my lungs and my mouth and let rip and sang with all my heart and love for you.

I miss you so much, Dad. I love you with all my heart.

With all my love,

Rachel xxxxxx

Dear Dad, the day has arrived!

Dear Dad,

The day has arrived!

Today is the start of a new life. My new life. A time to live and be alive again.

It’s a new dawn.

It’s a new day.

It’s a new life for me.

I’m feeling good.

I’m starting my new role with Teach First.

They say good things happen for those who wait. How right they are. It’s just under a year since I made the decision to reassess the direction I wanted my life to take. I know I shared this with you at your bedside whilst you were in hospital. I have always known I would not retire as a head teacher and upon making that life changing decision I have been patient. May the first last year saw a new journey begin. A journey into the unknown but nevertheless a journey that has enabled me to breathe, have space, ponder, potter about, write and start living rather than existing.

It hasn’t been an easy journey over the past year but it has certainly been a varied one. This past year has afforded me quality time with Mum keeping my promise to you to look after her. We even managed a couple of nights away visiting Geoff, Annabel and the boys as well as watching two Gilbert and Sullivan operettas in Harrogate from our own private box. Mum and I sneaked in some fizz with champagne flutes and quaffed it during the overture – and that was after my handbag hadn’t been searched!

God has been working his purpose out for me. He gave me the time and space to be me and rebuild a life; a new life; a life with you still in my heart even though not physically present. A love that never dies.

During the autumn and spring terms of this current academic year I have enjoyed teaching music and singing in a local school in a highly deprived area – not that dissimilar to Shotton. It’s never easy saying goodbye to the children especially when you see some fighting to hold back their tears. That’s when you know you have really made a difference in their lives no matter how small. I’ll never forget the day I first started at Shotton and Anne, the head teacher, said to me, ‘You’ve got to love these kids to want to work here.’ Mum still says I talk about my years at Shotton more than any other role I have had. I cut my teeth on being a champion for the vulnerable child at Shotton and that never leaves you.

I’ve had the privilege of delivering training on mental health, differentiation and improving writing with staff from over twenty schools across the country.

The mental health training day was very well received. I hadn’t really appreciated how much of myself would come out whilst training others. I have learned a lot about myself through grief and it has empowered me. It really tested me. My own mental health has been affected strongly by grief. I did not think I would end up sharing my own mental health matters during the training but it made it real for those staff who attended. It wasn’t a text book exercise. As well as the head of the school being present there were heads from visiting schools in attendance too. It was lovely to hear them say how inspirational the day had been and in particular because I had shared of my own personal challenges. Another head said those who know what it means to experience challenges in mental health are far better equipped to deliver training to others. I now know what that means. I’m living, not just surviving. I can do it. I am doing it. I have learned a lot more about myself and in particular the things that make me uncomfortable; things that make me withdraw, retreat and turn in on myself; things that make me want to scream and things that make me physically recoil, shiver and shudder because they are not for me. I know what I am comfortable with and very much so what I am not comfortable with. I have learned I like my own personal space very much and how uncomfortable I am when it is invaded. I get irritated, frustrated and annoyed when my space is invaded. Sometimes it feels like a violation and that makes anxiety levels rise.

Recognising how grief affects you is part of your journey and your recovery towards rebuilding your wellbeing. And as Terry Waite said when I had the privilege of meeting him, you live one day at a time and you know you will survive.

This is why I like my time alone as I am not lonely.

I love the peace. It’s cathartic. I love the quiet. It’s restful. I love the space. It’s liberating. I love the time. It’s soothing. I love being. Just being.

I’m taking control. My life. My thoughts.

Greta Garbo got it right that sometimes you just want to be let alone and there isn’t anything wrong about that.

It’s never easy writing my letters to you as I always have tears. However, there are times when simply saying what you think and how you feel makes you feel good. So good.

I’m off to Essex in May to work with a school. We have a Science morning developing a science learning challenge curriculum and an afternoon exploring creative ideas in writing. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed planning it. I take Pie Corbett everywhere I go when it comes to sharing writing with children and adults. He saw first hand at Shotton what it was like when he made three ORRsome visits to our school. He knows that every child got the best because they deserved the best no matter their background.

It is, therefore, so apt I should continue my education journey with Teach First who champion the vulnerable child and aim to give them the best.

Some journeys will come to an end. Some end with great sadness but equally knowing a difference has been made.

I’ve enjoyed working with 7 children individually through home tuition. It’s been a mixture of maths and English and some of their parents have said they don’t see it as ‘school type work’ which is lovely to hear. I have been blessed to have worked with such lovely families. After May (SATs! Urghhhhh!) home tuition will come to an end.

Bloomsbury have offered me another book contract and I will be spending time over the next ten months writing a bit each day.

When I qualified as a teacher in 1991 I knew back then I wanted to work within teacher training.

I now have over 26 years of teaching, learning, leadership and fifty years of living to share with the next generation of teachers who are going to make a difference.

I look forward to simply getting on with it because I love what I do and am doing what I love.

Today is the day!

Today is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

I shall rejoice for I have every reason to be glad.

I am what I am, Dad. You enabled me to be just that – ME.

What I do, what I think, what I say, what I feel comes from me. I don’t need affirmation or confirmation from anyone else. It’s not necessary. (It’s something I’d stick in room 101 if I had one.) It’s always about being yourself. You taught me that.

Thank you for making me ORRiginal and affording me extraORRinary oppORRtunities in my life.

By the time you get to the end of this letter, Dad, I shall be on the train to Newcastle and I shall be listening to Classic FM on a MORR Mozart Monday.

All my love,

Rachel xxx

Dear Dad, You’ll never guess with whom I was chatting the other day. They had such lovely things to say about you.

Dear Dad,

You will never guess with whom I was chatting the other day. Terry Deary!

It all started when a tweet by Bloomsbury Education shared Terry Deary’s new book, ‘The Silver Hand’. This sparked of several memories.

When Hetton school celebrated their centenary we went to visit and met Ivy, who had been your deputy when you were head there. I remember you telling the pupils that you had appointed Terry Deary to the English and Drama department and they were so amazed that an author of so many books had been a teacher at their school. I think the staff felt that too because it was a surprise to them.

You also told of how you used to pick him up every morning to go to school because his wife needed the car. I got in touch with him during that time and he remembered well and commented that in those days families were lucky to have one car. He shared some memories for us to take to the centenary celebrations.

We were in touch again recently as I was aware he had probably not heard that you had died at the ORRsome age of 91.

It was so lovely to hear from him, especially when he said such lovely things about you.

“Dear Rachel

So sad to hear about Geoff’s dying. I remember his kindness and he was the most laid-back head teacher I ever encountered; down to earth, competent and with an underlying sense of humour that made work easier. He gave me a lift from Chester-le-Street from where the cricket ground is today. I do the occasional Park Run across the road from there on a Saturday morning and always remember Geoff when I drive past that spot. I can understand why you still feel his loss.

I gave up working in the schooling system for exactly the same reasons you did. I had a series of books that allowed me to give up the day job and become a full-time writer. My first children’s book was published 40 years ago by A&C Black. That company has now been absorbed by Bloomsbury and I still write for them. My next novel ‘The Silver hand’ is released in May to complement the commemorations of the 1918 Armistice centenary and the book I’m working on now is set in WW2 to be released in time for the 8th anniversary of the start of WW2. So we share a publisher. Best of luck with your part-time Teach First work as well as with your publishing career.

A life well lived and a life well loved, sums it up permanently.

Lovely to hear from you although the circumstances were sad.

Take care

Terry”

It is quite exciting to share the same publisher. I know your Grandson Jacob thought it made me famous because I had the same publisher as J K Rowling. Made me laugh.

It is equally exciting for me to share with you that Bloomsbury have invited me to write a second book proposal called, ‘How to be an outstanding primary headteacher’. This has been submitted but I have added in the preface my definition of what it means to be outstanding. I felt I wanted to clarify this, especially when our profession is on the receiving end of so much negativity and OFSOD judgements cripple so many.

So, hopefully, this will be included at the beginning of my book:-
“Headship is a demanding and challenging role but one that is incredibly rewarding. The title of the book suggests you will be outstanding with a capital ‘O’. You may have heard the expression, ‘What’s the definition of a farmer? A person standing out in their field.’ So, this is not about you being outstanding but more importantly about having a vision that stands out; dynamic relationships that stand out; effective teams that stand out; partnerships that stand out; creative teaching, learning and assessment that stand out, as well as a drive, enthusiasm and determination to keep developing, maintaining, sustaining and improving practice that stands out.”

My editor and I have also talked about another book for the 100 Ideas series which would have a focus on 100 Ideas for supporting children’s mental health. I shall be writing a book proposal for that shortly.

On another note, next week I shall be saying au revoir to the children I teach two days each week in Stanley. They are such an amazing group of children and I will miss them very much. They even invited me to accompany them to Hall Hill Farm last week. We were frozen, soaked through but had a great day feeding lambs, goats, sheep and handling new born chicks. You would have been in your element talking with them.

The tulips are starting to raise their heads again this year where your ashes are interred. We shall be joining you again with fizz on resurrection Sunday at Easter time. Last year it seemed fitting that nine tulips were flowering as I liked to think they represented each of the nine decades through which you lived. The start to 2018 has been a very cold one and many flowers are behind compared to last year. I did plant two new tulip tubs in the garden for you this year. The names made me think of times we enjoyed together. One variety is called ‘Marguerite’ which is the name of the character in Gounod’s Faust which was the last opera you heard me sing the role of Marguerite. The second variety is called, ‘Champagne Flutes’ and I don’t think they need any explanation. They too are starting to poke their heads out into the fresh air.

It’s snowing again today and Mum and I are going to share some fizz and a homemade curry later on today.

À tout à l’heure, dear Dad.

Miss you.

All my love with an arms round squeeze,

Rachel x