Life is an intriguing path
The Global Pandemic has certainly caused anxiety and trauma for many people. We know mental health problems have increased as a result of living with a constant uncertainty of how to manage lockdown with isolation and fear of catching Covid-19 because at the moment there is no vaccine available. Many people have died and a clear plan as to how the virus can be contained has not yet been found.
The plans we have had in past years to give a literary award, around the time Luke passed on, were not possible this year. I have been thinking about writing a book but never got further than some notes, thoughts, ideas. A long way from a book! Social distancing and the different way we are all having to live seemed a perfect time to start writing then something seemingly miraculous happened. I will now let Geale Peter Lawrence, a name you might well recognise, continue the story.
Elaine and I have been friends for a long time, before even Luke was born. When he was a young boy, I played soccer with him on a large lawn. He already had a young athlete's body and fluid movement but what really struck me was the intelligence with which he played. Most boys his age would have booted the ball hither and thither but there was thought behind his game, which made it all the more enjoyable for both of us.
I emigrated and Elaine and I lost touch although strangely enough we were both in each other's thoughts from time to time. All these years later, we have reconnected, ostensibly through the digital destiny of the internet. It has been a profound reconnection and we have agreed to write a book together whose main drive is to de-stigmatize the whole area of mental health, and to give a voice to those who find themselves in bleak and often friendless places. Places in which they may seem to have enough but lack the fundamental peace of mind without which none of us can live fulfilled lives.
Our book is an exhilarating collaboration of mental health professional and working writer but what's more important is that Luke is present in this work. Not simply 'in memoriam' or 'tribute to' but as a collaborator, adding his voice and his experience. Without his life, I very much doubt there would even be a book and if this work, eases the pain of so many who suffered as he did, then a blinding, revelatory light will be shone on mental health and, finally, it will move from the dark place which people fear to a place of hope and empathy.
I feel beyond fortunate to have surprisingly found a writing partner who happens to have had many years as a talented author, screenwriter and animation writer/producer/director and probably more things that I don’t yet know about. Our aim is to write this with clarity, good humour and compassion. Between us we have an interesting skill set which includes not only professional skills but life experience that means we have learnt how to communicate, displaying humanity, something that my personal experience with Luke’s treatment was shockingly lacking, in certain areas, whilst others were superb. As with Coronavirus we all need to play our part in caring for each other and the natural world.
This book will be enlightening, helping peoples understanding of how the brain functions and how each one of us can learn ways to care for our minds. With growing self -awareness we can discover how to take control of our situation rather than being its victim.
27th October is the 14th anniversary of Luke’s untimely death we continue to celebrate his life.
Thank you to all of you who have continued to support The Luke Bitmead Foundation.
My wish to you all is to stay safe during this unprecedented time and may we all discover ways to support each other.
13th MAY LUKE’S BIRTHDAY
In this time when we are all needing to limit our lives in many ways, we can also remember we are FREE TO FLY in our minds. Post Traumatic Growth describes the phenomenon by which traumatic events, struggling with adversity and being under pressure, can actually prove helpful in the long term for many people. It helps them develop new skills and draws on qualities they were perhaps unaware of. It can lead them to them to challenge the status quo, to appraise and evaluate their lives and make permanent changes. The lockdown has given us the opportunity to develop and grow differently.
It has been wonderful to hear more bird song with less traffic noise and cleaner air both in the skies, with less aircraft and on the ground with less exhaust pollution. Birds are demonstrating how to be free and nesting in all sorts of places. It reminded me of when Luke was born, three weeks prematurely, and I fed him every three hours sitting watching the swallows who had nested over his nursery window. It was a magical time in the early hours of the morning hearing the chattering of small chicks, while feeling the stillness and gentleness of feeding my new baby.
I heard from Andrew Blackman who was our first LUKE BITMEAD BURSARY WINNER with his book ON THE HOLLOWAY ROAD that had excellent reviews. Remembering a part of one “He writes beautifully, making the mundane extraordinary and the everyday fascinating.” Andrew is now in Bulgaria with his wife Genie having new adventures but at the moment lockdown means he is spending a little more time there than expected. He also has noticed the bird song. A family of starlings are nesting in the guttering by a window in his apartment. At home a blackbird has nested in the rungs of a ladder which means I will have dirty windows for a while! Three fledgling blackbirds hopping around the garden is a delight.
Ever since lockdown was imposed, we have needed to make sure our attitude to it was positive and creative. If we change our attitude everything changes. We need to allow ourselves to be entwined with the life force of nature which stimulates growth. The opposite of Covid-19 – death.
It’s inspiring to see the humanity, innovation and persistence that’s making us push ahead through the unknown. This innovation – from all corners of the globe – is what is working very well right now. The indomitable heart of people who understand what really matters.
Returning to the swallows, in ancient Greece, the swallow was associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of Love. I send you all good health and love.
Inevitably we are all having to change because of Covid-19 and the need for us all is to play an important part in preventing the coronavirus spreading further and causing more loss of life. To enable us to do this we need encouragement, and inspiration can certainly help as well. If anyone had asked me where to go for inspiration my thoughts would not have turned to a 99-year-old man. Captain Tom Moore proved to be the sort of person who hears about a problem and thinks, what can I do to help? Many people complain without thinking of something positive that they could do. What if we all thought of how we could do something to help ease the problem rather than expect others to solve it? Colonel Tom, as he now is, heard about Covid-19 beginning to besiege British hospitals and decided to set up a JustGiving fundraising page. What did this 99-year-old with a hip replacement decide to do to raise money? He thought walking up and down his garden with his walking frame 100 times asking for £10 for each completed lap. He said he hoped to raise a £1,000 but that was optimistic! Now the NHS will receive over £32 million. An absolutely phenomenal amount of money. The story doesn’t end here, Colonel Tom also found himself at number one in the pop charts with his charity rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone plus an RAF fly- past to celebrate his 100th Birthday.
This year we are unable to give a literary award in memory of Luke because of Covid-19 so I have sent a donation to Colonel Tom for his generosity of spirit that has inspired us all. The 130,000 birthday cards he received has demonstrated this and the card from the Queen took pride of place. I know Luke would have been delighted to hear this amazingly uplifting story and be completely in support of us contributing to this astoundingly vibrant man’s way of being a role model for us all.
On 13th May it will be Luke’s birthday and more news will be posted.
STAY SAFE AND STAY INSPIRED
PRESENTATION Of THE LUKE BITMEAD LITERARY AWARD 2019
In June I went to Southrop School to discuss with the co - head Mrs. McLellan how it would be best to link Luke’s Award with the work of the school this year. To give children support, so they are able to enjoy learning, has always been an important part of the ethos around our wish to remember Luke with great joy. Luke brought fun and laughter into many peoples lives so it was paramount that, in his memory, we should encompass a diverting way of learning that included merriment, jollity and laughter as well as some focused work.
Laughter sparks production of the ‘feel good’ brain chemical dopamine and cuts production of the stress hormone cortisol. Even the anticipation of a good laugh can boost levels of mood lifting endorphins. With this in mind, when I went to present the literary award in November, I started by saying to the children “I am going to say ‘good afternoon children of Southrop School’ and it would be lovely if you would say ‘good afternoon Elaine’ to me.” The children responded amazingly well so I suggested we didn’t need to do it again but that was greeted with a ripple of disappointment so I said “shall we do it again.” Oh my goodness I think most of Gloucestershire heard their enthusiastic response!!! And then everybody fell about with laughter. It was a great start.
The prizes were presented 1st - Bridget, - 2nd Jonty, - 3rd Niamh, - 4th Lucy, - Lexie 5th.
The winner wrote a clever story following the idea they had all been given “What if I fall? Oh but what if I fly? The story tells how a bunny escapes from danger, saves a squirrel by being brave, in a really creative way, from a badger who was a bully who lived in an orphanage. It ends with them all becoming friends. The story was charmingly told and very well conceived. The story had a satisfying completeness about it. I was delighted to give Luke’s Trophy to such a worthy winner.
This year we have been unable to show pictures of the children as not all parents wanted their children’s photograph to be posted on line. We must respect their request and hope in the future parents will have no fear of their children’s photographs being shown. It seems extremely sad. It is for all of us to strive to help the world become a safer place.
Thank you to everyone who remembers Luke. I really enjoy receiving your messages and wish you all a magical CHRISTMAS and may 2020 be a year where we all discover better ways to support each other and create the atmosphere for peace.
TOGETHER WE CAN FLY
This is a mantra used by Southrop C of E Primary School and is relevant for us all.
In June I went to Southrop School to discuss with Mrs. McLellan what we would give the children as this year’s challenge when writing a story to be entered for The Luke Bitmead Literary Award. This will be the third year we have given this award in honour of my son Luke Bitmead who was a published writer. Interestingly we both had in our minds, even before discussion, something enabling them to demonstrate resilience as this would not only be in tune with the work already being done at the school but also link with my work as a psychodynamic counsellor. I am fully aware that this is relevant for adults as well as children. We all have a child inside and every child needs to feel safe to thrive. As a child, if tension or dysfunction in the family means we’re in danger of being abandoned, neglected, unloved or even abused, we learn to hide parts of ourselves in order to survive or keep the family unit together. These diversionary tactics become habitual until in a safe and loving environment we can release them and no longer be a victim. Gaining resilience is empowering, enabling us to live enriched lives and unshackling us from the impotence of childhood.
We agreed the title for the story would be “What if I fall?........Oh, but what if you fly?” The story would be about a character who has taken the risk to put up their hand and volunteer for something they aren’t certain they can achieve. Along the way they will overcome challenges and develop as an individual.
Last year's winner
In July I went to the school and talked to the children explaining what we would like them to write about for their stories this year. I encouraged them to talk to me and give me their thoughts and ideas. It is a real pleasure to see hands shooting up to answer questions. We talked about birds and all the different breeds. I admired the large wings they had created by each child making a feather and then they were all stuck together forming a large pair of wings. Together we can fly is a wonderfully supportive statement and yes, if we all create a feather how strong the wings can become. It demonstrates how being part of something gives more strength to everyone.
Now I am enjoying reading the stories the children have written and will go to the school on Friday for the judging with Mrs. McLellan co head and Jennie Tipple English co-ordinator when I feel sure we will have lively debate as to who this year’s winner will be.
The prize giving will be 22nd November 2019.
The 13th of May is Luke's birthday. Fresh flowers are on his grave surrounded by forget-me-nots that seeded themselves from last summer. Luke is not forgotten.
Whatever we cultivate in times of ease, we gather as strength for times of change.
If you let cloudy water settle, it will become clear. If you let your upset mind settle, your course will also become clear.
This is the time when reawakening is being demonstrated all around us as nature so magnificently displays how the cycle of growth is there for us all to share and be inspired by. The white candles of the horse chestnut trees are more beautiful than ever for me this year, following a cataract operation that has given me clear long-distance vision. It is my own personal miracle given to me by a fellow human being. He is a talented, committed surgeon who uses his skills with energy and enthusiasm. This seems to be an inspiring analogy for how we can live our lives, seeking to use our own personal abilities to enrich the lives of others.
When we shift our attitude from a place of, what can I gain from this, to one of, what can I give to revive a society that needs reawakening as to how we can all be a part of increasing emotional richness for everybody. We can all be embraced by the warmth and appreciation that comes when we seek to give generosity of spirit to others.
All this links with the need for us to demonstrate our strengths rather than” fight for the right to be weak.” The new book by Stella O’Malley FRAGILE explores why fragility shouldn’t be a badge of honour. “If you tell your children: ‘You’re fragile, you can’t bear very much,’ of course they’ll be in a very weakened position when something does happen.” O’Malley says when a patient tells her, he or she “has anxiety” she asks them to reword it to “I feel anxious”; it is “too reductionist”, she believes, to imply that anxiety is a state so permanent that there’s no hope of exiting it. O’Malley’s message is, instead of being strong defending your fragility, use that powerfulness to take on schools, companies, politicians to improve things for everyone. I agree with her wholeheartedly and that is why I challenged the NHS failure of care when Luke died. We all need to learn to cope with all aspects of life, however challenging or dull. This is a key skill that is lacking in many of the digital generation. We need to teach children to cope with frustration and boredom and maybe remind ourselves as well.
Stress is the root of almost all our problems – cutting back stress could change your life says Dr. Rangan Chatterjee who has been a GP for more than seventeen years. As stress mounts you react to everything in a disproportionate way. You see problems where no problems exist, because stress causes you to use the emotional part of the brain, the amygdala. Your brain is on high alert to danger. It’s like you want to run away from your life. When you feel like this, it is time to realise you need to manage your life differently. Walk in a quiet place, meditate, play a musical instrument, be with people who you feel valued by, use less technology. It isn’t about eliminating all stress; the right amount can be energizing so you can show how good you are at something. Too much can burn you out.
“The heart is like a garden. It can grow compassion or fear, resentment or love. What seeds will you plant there?” Jack Kornfield
On Monday 13th May it will be Luke’s birthday; I will be posting more words and a photograph.
In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.
When we used Luke’s idea to give a bursary to fledgling writers whose mental health issues had made it particularly difficult to get published, we had no idea how much we would learn from the people who entered and shared their personal stories with us. It was an act of generosity on their part to be open and honest, allowing the dialogue about mental health issues to grow. Luke gave us a good foundation from which to work. This is paramount for growth in all relationships, to have a good honest foundation where openness and the wish to seek truthfulness, create an atmosphere enabling trust to thrive.
27th October was the 12th anniversary of Luke passing on. We took winter flowering cyclamen to his grave. The words on his grave stone ‘To live in the hearts of those you love is not to die’ seem as poignant now as they did 12 years ago. Luke remains securely in our hearts and we are so proud to know we remember him by finding ways to enrich the lives of others.
At the beginning of November we presented The Luke Bitmead Literary Award at Southrop C of E Primary School. This year I had asked the children to write about feelings. Also, to have awareness of the importance of feelings and not fear them, but use them as an important tool for life. It is a tool that helps create a strong foundation, like a spring board for developing confidence in your ability to explore life. Discovering how you feel is the most creative way for you to live. It is a privilege to present LBLA at Southrop School where Mrs McLellan and Miss Davies, co-heads, have set the challenge for children to take risks with their learning. To learn from mistakes and explore things they do not know or understand yet.
When I spoke to the children before we presented the prizes there was an air of enthusiasm and optimism. The atmosphere felt exciting. The winner was Izzy, Year 6 who wrote a very well constructed story called Bad Days, Good Days. The story tells of the life changing experience of a parent, who the doctors were unable to save, no longer being part of his child’s life. All the complex feelings of shock, sadness, anger and being unable to cope were very well described. And then, beginning to come to terms with the tragedy by keeping the parent as a continuing part of the child’s life. Visiting the place where he used to live, hearing new stories about him and the realisation he would always be there in her heart and mind. It was a story that was told with great honesty. Describing feelings with openness and optimism for the future.
2nd Prize Lucy Year 5, 3rd Prize Bridget Year 3, Runners up: Ted Year 5, Sammy Year 5, Jonty Year 4. Well done to all of them.
A special award for effort was given to James Year 3.
It is wonderful to know that the children go to Cheltenham Literature Festival and this helps inspire them to write their own stories. What a creative way to be educated!
My intention of posting more regularly on Luke’s website sadly failed due to various problems that had to be attended to. Everything was taking longer because my eye sight was getting worse and driving became difficult during the day and impossible after dark. Now thanks to the expertise of a talented surgeon I have what I call my ‘driving lens’ and in November I will be having a ‘reading lens.’ It seems like a miracle to be able to see so much more clearly and drive safely.
In July I went to Southrop C of E School and talked to the children about this year’s competition for The Luke Bitmead Literary Award. They were enthusiastic to join in a game I had invented using words and there was a great atmosphere of creativity.
The closing date for the Award is 28th September and I will be looking forward to reading the stories that children have written expressing their knowledge of ‘feelings’ and how to manage them. I’m sure it will be wonderfully interesting and I will learn much from the way they describe their perception of feelings.
The exceptional journalist,
Bryony Gordon, who I talked to about Luke’s death, continues to be a leading light in bringing new ideas as to how we talk about suicide. Bryony was asked by a woman she met at a charity walk organised by the suicide prevention charity CLASP if she and fellow journalists would stop using the phrase “committed suicide” as she and other people bereaved by suicide found it offensive because it implied suicide was a crime – which it was, in this country, until 1961. She explained that when people wrote or spoke about someone “committing” suicide it gave the impression that taking one’s own life is a selfish, cowardly, criminal or irreligious act, rather than the manifestation of extreme mental distress and unbearable pain that it is.
Research shows that responsible stories, such as hopeful journeys of recovery, can actually help to reduce suicide. Cross party MPs, the heads of mental health charities and leading mental health campaigners such as Stephen Fry and Professor Wendy Burn, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists are all signatories to a letter that Briony and Luciana Burger compiled to demonstrate to journalists how the power of their words could be part of reducing suicide. I hope that posting this on Luke’s website will reach more people who will remember to use the terminology “death by suicide” which helps reduce the feeling of stigma and shame that prevent people who experience suicidal thoughts from asking for help. Shame is sometimes felt by people who are grieving for a loved one who has died by suicide and so it is deemed not permissible to talk about the tragedy. When this happens, we are guilty of confirming the belief that it is shameful. In fact what is shameful is not talking about it and helping understanding to grow so we can all play our part in creating a society where our mental health is talked about freely. And that includes suicide.
I speak as a mother whose son died by suicide as had his Grandfather, Uncle and after Luke’s death, his Father. The Grandfather and Uncle were rarely mentioned and the reasons why these deaths had happened was not openly discussed. Trans generational trauma needs better understanding. This story clearly demonstrates how important it is to create a CHANGE IN THE WAY WE TALK ABOUT SUICIDE.
13th MAY Luke’s Birthday
We have taken time to consider how to take Luke’s website forward now his charity is called
THE LUKE BITMEAD FOUNDATION
We will be posting regularly, positive thoughts and ideas that people will hopefully find uplifting and informative. Anxiety, stress, depression and other mental states that inhibit the way we feel able to lead our lives can be changed. Discovering the way to change our attitude is paramount. If you change your attitude everything changes.
"The true voyage of discovery consists not of searching for new paths but of seeing with new eyes."
CHRISTMAS GREETINGS 2017
We feel very fortunate to have wonderful supporters of the new Luke Bitmead Foundation that was announced earlier this year. Following the change in the name of Luke’s Charity, it has been really encouraging to know that the first Luke Bitmead Literary Award that we presented in October has been enthusiastically received by Southrop School and will now become an annual event.
I was privileged to be invited to the school to meet The Bishop of Gloucestershire, the amazing Bishop Rachel, and to hear her bless the Cabin where children’s emotional needs are explored and attended to. This is a wonderful facility to have in a school and gives a clear message to children that how they feel matters, an excellent way to build confidence and self-esteem.
Thank you so much for the messages of congratulations, valuing how we are taking Luke’s Charity forward. Demonstrating how healing it is to have your feelings listened to and understood.
We also very much appreciate the donations we have received, validating how we are remembering Luke and celebrating his life. We hope you feel very much part of enabling us to be determined to continue to do this work and not be deterred by negative comments. You help us to remain strong.
We wish you all a very happy Christmas and a 2018 where the world will become a more peaceful place for us all.
Opportunities to learn from children are there all the time if we choose to seize them. It was a meaningful experience to spend time with the children of Southrop School. I came away feeling enriched by the experience of presenting the first Luke Bitmead Literary Award. After you have watched the short video you will understand when I say, I now know where to go if I need a drum roll!! Luke was a brilliant rock drummer so it felt a meaningful connection.
We have now had the judging panel meeting and we are unanimous as to who our winner should be.
The trophy has now been engraved with the winner’s name and we will be presenting this at Southrop School on Friday 3rd November along with book tokens for the five runners up.
We hope to have a short video posted after the event showing the children who wrote the imaginative stories for us to read.
On the 11th anniversary of Luke’s untimely death, 27th October, we placed flowers on his grave and feel proud in the knowledge that many people continue to remember him. Thank you so much to those people who sent compassionate messages.
Now a younger generation are helping us remember Luke as we give them a chance to develop their imagination and creativity. It is an opportunity to reach across the divide of death and allow the energy, the humour and the wonderful memories of Luke to continue to bring us joy.
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Here is the school where we will be presenting the Luke Bitmead Literary Award. It is a small school with a big intent.
The intent, under the leadership of
Allan Brown Head Teacher, is to provide a place of learning that embraces the understanding that the development of the brain determines future emotional wellbeing as well as academic learning. Early interactions with our parents start and continue this important process. School gives us further experience of interacting with adults, teachers who alongside helping us learn the tools of reading and writing also are part of us developing a social self.
At Southrop School exuberance, competitiveness on the sports field as well as in the classroom is experienced by the children. Discovering how to regulate your feelings and be aware of the feelings of others is part of the daily experience.
The judging panel will be meeting later this month. We will announce the results and post the story. Excitement is mounting!
THE LUKE BITMEAD LITERARY AWARD
13th MAY IS LUKE’S BIRTHDAY
Here is a photograph of Luke in Hong Kong. He was working as a roofer on the new airport and also doing research for his book The Body is a Temple. He then went on to Bangkok continuing his research. Then returning to England and started writing. He had absorbed the essence of these two countries and you can feel the humidity dripping down the walls.
Working Title was interested in buying this book to make a film, they wrote:
Luke’s novel has a great deal going for it. It’s fresh, stylish and atmospheric, with a gripping plot and finely drawn characters. Josh is a great everyman anti-hero and typifies the moral ambivalence – and human contradictions – of the central characters.
The Body is a Temple is available on Amazon. All royalties go into The Luke Bitmead Foundation that will be giving literary prizes in schools as well as supporting adult writers.
AT LAST !!!
Now we have been granted permission by HM REVENUE & CUSTOMS to change the name of Luke’s Charity. After many months of waiting we can now progress differently with a new name that we feel expresses our nine years of giving Luke’s Bursary. We have built a strong foundation that has supported fledgling writers, helping to progress their careers.
We are proud to now announce:
THE LUKE BITMEAD FOUNDATION
To have a strong foundation, secure attachment to our prime carer, gives a good opportunity for confidence and self-growth whilst having awareness of the feelings of others. There is no way of knowing how life will challenge us but to have been enabled to speak freely about anything that concerns you, immediately gives an opportunity for improved understanding and hopefully resolution. This path way, where you are assured that what you say is important is not always available so all those anxieties get internalised, creating the opportunity for mental health problems to develop.
This week has felt like an evolution hearing Prince Harry speaking openly about his trauma following the death of his Mother, Princess Diana and the fact he needed counselling. It was the amazing journalist, Bryony Gordon that I have been in touch with for a while, who spoke with Prince Harry and maybe he felt relaxed talking to her partly because she is delightful but also because she has been totally open about her own battle with mental health issues. Prince William said “No more stiff upper lip, our children must talk about their feelings.” It is truly heart- warming to hear words like this being spoken by people who are demonstrating clearly that wealth and privilege mean nothing if you have anxieties and nobody who will listen, giving you non- judgemental support. It leaves you feeling desperately alone.
BRYONY GORDON has written a book MAD GIRL available on Amazon. She speaks openly and with humour about her painful experiences discovering how to cope with the complexity of mental health issues that seem unmanageable and life destroying.
On Sunday it is the London Marathon and many people will be running to raise money and awareness of the charity HEADS TOGETHER set up by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. Mental health is now being addressed more openly. It is ten years since Luke’s suicide, when he was supposed to be in the care of the NHS. They sent me home saying don’t worry we’ll look after him. The doctor didn’t read his notes so allowed him to discharge and then kill himself. Now things are changing. Part of that is because talented people like Bryony talk about it, write about it, interview people about it and she is also running in the marathon. What a story! READ MAD GIRL. Learn more about how to keep your mind healthy.
We will soon be presenting two more people who have written important books following life changing trauma in their lives.
Elaine's speech and the 2016 Luke Bitmead Memorial Fund Bursary presentation to the Winners
LUKE REMEMBERED WITH LOVE AND PRIDE
On the 27th October 2016 it will be ten years since Luke’s tragic and untimely death. On the 28th October we will present the 9th LUKE BITMEAD WRITERS’ BURSARY.
We are greatly looking forward to meeting this year’s finalists and sharing a vibrant evening with them and some of the generous supporters of Luke’s Memorial Fund who will be with us.
Luke, we will always miss you and thank you for leaving us your inspiring idea that we have taken forward with Legend Press, enabling us to encourage other fledgling writers who needed support.
Luke in his first term at Radley
Luke Bitmead Memorial Fund, Sort code 40-05-26 A/c No 71543547