My story (“About me”)

Abi May

I’m Abi and I live with my husband John in Staffordshire, England.

I don’t really like writing about myself – and I’m definitely not a selfie-fan – but I realise that if you’ve found this page because you’re thinking about coming to a Living with Loss retreat or are otherwise interested in the Living with Loss Project, you’ll want to hear about me. So here I am, at least, in brief.

I’m a teacher, retreat leader and author with more than 35 years experience in the UK and overseas. My qualifications include a PGCE for Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector.

John May

What is most important in relation to grief support is the fact that I am a doubly bereaved mother, having lost both my son Pax in 1982 and daughter Catherine in 2011. I have no surviving children and no grandchildren.

I am a Christian, and although I attend a Methodist church I don’t have particular denominational links – partly due to my having converted to Christianity in my youth, after being brought up in a Jewish household.

(Continued below)


This is Pax. He was born on 3 January 1979. Sadly he had a genetic condition about which little was known in those days. It affected his blood and he died suddenly from acute hemolytic anaemia on 27 May 1982. 

This is Catherine, born on 19 June 1980. A smart young woman, clever and witty, generous and kind, but sadly struggled with mental illness. She died by suicide on 13 April 2011.

My journey into grief support

To say it is tough not having any surviving children is an understatement. It is not natural to bury your child; it is not natural to bury them both. I will always be a grieving mother; I will always love Pax and Catherine as long as I breathe and am conscious.

I survived the loss of Pax, but it didn’t seem like I was going to survive when Catherine died almost 30 years later. I was left childless, utterly bereft, and hopeless. – Although by then I did have John in my life (my second husband) and his kindness was a big part of my survival story.

I was having quite a bit of other support too, both grief counselling and from Christian friends. My own faith was in bad shape initially and eventually I came through with some quite different perspectives, which you can read about in my book or blog.

I had previously been a writer and editor – as well as an educator – and writing became one of my therapies. Words tumbled out onto the page – sometimes poems; sometimes reflections; sometimes desperately reaching out for hope. I was in a dark place, and some of my journal writings were too dark to see the light of day. But as time passed, I found writing was helping me to cope with the agony of my grief, and that the content itself had glimmers of hope.

It came to a point that I felt that these writings, with some adjustments, could be useful for others, and putting them together into a book would be a way forward. This is how my book “A Valley Journal” came to be published in 2014.  (Details on the Shop page).

Troubles multiplied

Rarely does grief happen in isolation. Life’s troubles can multiply – sometimes it seems we go through seasons of loss and that’s what I found.

It seemed in those first years after Catherine’s death that I was no sooner “getting back up on my feet”, than something else happened to knock me down. I hadn’t been able to continue my teaching job at the local college, but I had a bit of work with publishing contracts and some occasional teaching. John reached retirement age and started getting his pension, so we were managing, and also involved with quite a bit of volunteering.

But then in March 2014, my brother died suddenly. He had been the full-time carer for my infirm elderly mother. The shock and sorrow was too much for her, and she passed  away a month later.

Just a year later, in 2015, it was discovered I was suffering from Stage 3 kidney cancer. It was a shock as I didn’t have any of the risk factors you would associate with this disease, but there it was – and there it wasn’t, as within weeks I’d had surgery to remove the kidney. My physical strength was much diminished due to this and other health problems, but I did a lot of walking and gradually got back on my feet both literally and emotionally. (I still have regular check-ups but happily I am clear of a recurrence so far.)

During this time I learned more spiritually too, discovering what was new to me at the time – more reflective resources such as the beautiful songs of Taize. I was no longer in such turmoil – at least most of the time, as I still had/have my bad moments. What bereaved parent wouldn’t?

Putting it all together

Around then I started my blog  – initially as a way to express what I was going through and to advertise the book, but it took on a life of its own, as my own life gradually started on a new direction.

Up until this point I’d had decades of experience and training in adult education , in writing and publications, and in Christian work, and adding that to what I was experiencing and learning through my grief, it just seemed there was something more I could do. Loving God and loving or caring for others are the framework for the life I want to live.  Having walked through such dark valleys, could I now encourage other people who were in the midst of their own dark grief times?

And that’s how the “Living with Loss” retreats got started. I’m now supporting other people in their own journeys through grief, including leading events up and down the country almost every month.

Along the way, I noticed how often those who are grieving have a general idea of how they need to cope, but it is the words and actions of others that make their grieving harder to bear. So that led to the idea of helping people understand grief better and improve the way they support those around them – and this is the “Grief Companion Training” which is taking off slowly.

Putting it together, the retreats and support days, training events and blog are what I’m now calling the Living with Loss Project.

John helps with the project, and others have also  started to get involved which is great, as we would like to expand it.

Life continues

Besides the Living with Loss project, I’m also  involved with The Compassionate Friends, a national charity for bereaved parents and siblings. I lead the publications committee, producing informational leaflets on a range of grief-related topics.

Plus I have some hobbies I enjoy very much such as walking, gardening, photography (the majority of pictures on my websites are my own ) and dabbling in art and craft.

As we often talk about in the retreats, the life we’re living after our loss might not be the life we had anticipated or chosen, but it is still a life.

I carry my sorrows, but I also walk in joy. Life is a mixture isn’t it?

And it’s one step at a time. I don’t know how this Living with Loss project may yet develop, but it’s going right now, and I welcome those who would like to get involved in any way – whether supporting it or coming along to an event for their own support. Get in touch and explore my website to find out more.

In the Trossachs of Scotland, June 2018
Craft: Blue tits created from wet felting, needle felting and embroidery.  I love birds!

BlueTits - sold

Canoeing, not for me. Walking, yes and taking pictures of reflections, yes. This one is on the Three Loch Drive in Scotland.
Update January 2023: The Living with Loss project is founded and run by myself, Abi May and until recently, the main assistance has been from my husband John. Now Esther Birtwistle (formerly of Lee Abbey) is assisting in the running of retreats, workshops and day events. I’ll post more information about Esther in due course.