Grief: Human and Humane

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I haven’t blogged for ages. My brain hasn’t had the blue sky space to breathe. Give me a week or so and my mercurial flow will resume. For now, I wanted to share this with you. It was the anniversary of my mum’s death last Saturday (15 years) and with so many sad stories of loss pervading timelines and heart strings, I hope this brings comfort to some… I wrote it back in 2005, after my dad died.

No-one likes to talk about death yet it is the only part of life that is guaranteed (apart from Rich Tea biscuits falling into your tea and your phone running out of juice just when you need it). I have had loads of therapy during my lifetime. As a teenager who had seen more of life than any 14 year old should, I sat in The Tavistock Clinic four lunchtimes out of five for five years during senior school. It was hellish. And then Freud, Jung, CBT et al all got mashed up in my brain for the following 20 years or so via more transference from therapists and psychologists than you could possibly imagine.

The ONLY counselling or therapy that I genuinely benefitted from in all these years was bereavement counselling. And I would recommend it to anyone grieving right now. I went to see someone from Jewish Care (they offer Bereavement Counselling). My Counsellor, Helen, (I have changed her name) was a very Frum (religious) Jewish lady who wore a Sheitl (wig) and lived in a very nice part of NW London. To this day, I have so much respect for what this lady shared with me and how much she helped me move forward after I lost my parents. Had I met her in the street I would never have imagined the wisdom she might have shared or inspired.

Grief IS a process. It has phases and stages. For those hurling themselves through the high seas after loss it CAN help to acknowledge this. It doesn’t change or minimise the pain but it may help you realise that what you are feeling and experiencing is quite normal. You are not going mad. And talking about  death is not morbid. It is both human and humane.

Miranda Leslau considers the topic of grief and how you can help mourners with the recovery process…

As children we rarely envisage that life will change as we get older, that our parents will get wrinkles and that humans of any age get sick and die, unless of course you experience loss at a young age.  

However old or young you are when you lose someone close to you, you, the mourner, feels different to the rest of the world, that sound somehow increases to stereo while life carries on in slow motion. You feel that nothing will ever be the same again, that eating your breakfast will always taste slightly different and that no-one will ever understand what you are going through.

I don’t just say this from my own personal experience of having lost both my parents at the age of 30 (my mum, of pneumonia of all things) and 34 respectively (my dad, of a violent and short-lived secondary cancer) but also based on the experiences of my nearest and dearest who have lost parents, children and partners. All of whom have lost people they truly loved.

Whilst not all of us will be parents in our lifetime, every one of us is or has been someone’s child, regardless of the calibre of the parent-child relationship, whether you have been adopted or abandoned. And losing those close to you can take you back to being a vulnerable child, standing at the school gates on the first day of nursery school with no friends. Regardless of whether you are eight or 80 at the time of your loss, you may feel utterly alone.

When my parents died I allowed myself to accept their passing. I wasn’t angry and didn’t ask “Why?” which is what is often asked to many a bereavement counsellor and/or therapist. I accepted that their death granted me a new lease of life – one that was short and of my own making. I chose to accept less nonsense, to experience what I wanted to experience and to live life to the full.  

The last thing my late mother said to me was “Don’t do anything stupid”. She meant kill myself I think and that I did not do although at times I did want the earth to swallow me whole. But it didn’t and time passed and I am getting on with my life. For their sakes if nothing else. However much we earn, however much beauty the gods have bestowed upon us, if it is our time, it is our time. No questions asked and no forgiveness.

When I saw my parents bodies after they had stopped breathing, they were both smiling, which was a comfort to me. I don’t know if all corpses smile but the strangest part for me was that when I touched their arm they didn’t react. I spoke their name while the tears rolled down my exhausted cheeks and they didn’t respond. My dad didn’t call me “Bubelah” and comment on what I was wearing and my mum didn’t share one of her loving glances. And then I never saw them again outside of a wooden box and, later on, a designated space in a graveyard.

Generally speaking, mourners remain in a state of shock for some time after the initial death, will rarely remember a funeral clearly and only come to terms with the harsh reality of loss some months later, when those around them who may not have experienced loss think that they may be well on the way to recovery. Not the case.

It is then and only then that the grieving process begins, the heart-wrenching trauma of being on a roller coaster ride at any time of day or night, the hysteria and desperation that constitutes a healthy bereavement process.

As some retreat into their shells, for others, keeping busy is a lifeline. But for the people around the bereaved, it is imperative that you just let mourners just ‘be’. Unless you have experienced the loss of a loved one it is very hard to appreciate a mourner’s fragility. You may think your grieving friend or relative is rude not returning phone calls. Don’t take it personally, they are trying to come to terms with the difficulty of getting up in the morning, let alone how to engage in social rituals.

And there are no hard or fast rules with grief. It is very personal and individually life-changing. Undoubtedly, we all change through loss. Some of us for the better and some become hard and emotionally disengaged. I have known people at both ends of the spectrum and am finding myself drawn to both ends from time to time.

Your loss manifests itself into every new and existing relationship. For me, I am still trying to manage myself having met a man I care about and how I deal with those feelings. Whether that derives parental loss and fear of losing again or life experiences from way back, these feelings stay with me. Hopefully, they will dissipate over time, with support and understanding.  

For those of us who bring new life into the world where other lives have passed on, this unearths a whole series of issues and questions. But none of what I am talking about has not been experienced before, by others all over the world and by generations past, present and future.

It is important to talk to other people that have experienced loss, whether they are loved ones, Counsellors, online help groups or similar. Whatever helps, go with it, regardless of how strange and diverse your choice of tool might be. You never get over a loss but you do learn to manage and re-build your life again. The sadness will always be there, it will just become less raw and overwhelming in nature. I miss my parents more than I can explain in words – who do you go and talk to when things go right or wrong? And who can comfort you more than a parent?

Sadly I can’t really remember what my mum looked like, in spite of her glorious photographic representation. Knowing her seems like a very long time ago even thought she was my bestest friend for 30 years. I still imagine my father shuffling down my Highgate hallway calling for me: “Pidulka” (strange but true!) “How are you my baby?” expecting him to give me a great big “knuffle” (hug, in Yiddish) and almost squeeze me, dare I say it, to death. My dad would have made a great Jewish ‘Bubba’ (Grandmother). Before my eyes well up I should stop typing.  In my personal book of grief “…til death do us part” is not the end. It is the only the beginning as I carry them everywhere I go… and for me personally, that is what gets me through the day. 

Why good PR is like making cupcakes #sweet

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I don’t want to go to sleep just yet as I am fearful about my six-month Cancer scan tomorrow. So I thought I would share with all you lovely readers a few insights into the wonderful of world of PR: to help re-define this often misunderstood business.

For all intents and purposes, PR is the abbreviated version of Public Relations. I actually think this definition should change to Professional Relations, Personal Relations, Private Relations or even Professional Reputation – just not PUBLIC RELATIONS. It is very passé and means sweet FA! Ignore the text books. In PR, you never have time to refer to a text book in a crisis.

The number of secrets I have held back over the years is great and the number of people I have protected in a professional manner, even greater. PR is ALL about reputation and trust, particularly today where everyone is a social media expert or an opinionated pain in the proverbial – we are all exposed. If you trust a brand, you will be loyal to this very brand. Trusted brands on a global scale are companies like Apple, Virgin and innocent drinks… you get my drift. The Big Apple is definitely the order of the day in relation to a consistent theme.

The title of PR has had some pretty poor PR over the years (ironically) and I think the industry needs a re-brand. Particularly when some of the most recognised faces in “PR” are not actually PR’s at all. I shall mention no names but you can guess, as a starter for 10! Many PR’s will over-promise and under-deliver. So who is up to the task of overhauling a multi-billion pound industry? Not I, for sure! For the geeks amongst you, the PR industry was worth $12.5 billion back in 2013.

Many clients seeking PR support fall into any/all of the following categories:-

1. They want to appear on the front page of The Sunday Times, this week

2.They want to appear on the front page of The Mail on Sunday, this week

3.They want to appear on the front page of The Mail on Sunday and The Sunday Times, this week

4.They believe that their product/brand/story is the first of its kind in history

5.They think PR is easy

6.They think PR will make them a millionaire – and fast

7.They think PR just happens without input from both PR AND client

The reality is as follows:-

1.PR is made up of a variety of components, one of which is Media Relations, where you achieve column inches within a variety of media outlets

2.Good PR takes time

3.PR is NOT easy

4.PR is extremely powerful if built and used correctly

5.PR is as much about protecting your brand/product as it is about creating it

6.Most PR’s are only good at a few aspects of PR

7.A positive PR account requires input AND TIME from both client and PR

8.It is imperative that expectations of both client and PR are aligned

9.Forget about the front cover of The Sunday Times within the first week of appointment, unless your client is the Prime Minister, the new Royal Baby or Angela Merkel

10. Positive relationships take years to create and minutes to destroy – prevention is better than cure

11.PR covers off everything from how your team answers the telephone to whether the people that work for you actually want to get up every morning. If something goes wrong in a business and a story is leaked, always look to the disgruntled workers as a first point of call to find the snitch

12. PR is about people and understanding psychology – this is probably the hardest part, PEOPLE!

13. Be polite. Manners cost nothing. Some people in my industry should actually not be let out in public, they are so rude

Over the years I have promoted, launched, protected and created pretty much every type of campaign known to man. I don’t say this to show off. Far from it, I rarely pat myself on the back, moreover to demonstrate that if you are good at what you do in PR, you can apply these very theories to any field or sector.

Flash offices and all the trimmings of a corporate name do not a great PR account make. As in life, some people are dazzled by the bright lights and celebrity names, yet seldom (if ever) will Kylie Minogue or Paris Hilton attend your party unless they are paid to do so. Not just because a PR company has their names on the client roster.

The most difficult part of PR is evaluation and ROI. No-one can ever guarantee results in relation to media coverage: pieces get pulled and planes fall out of the sky. Things happen and news agendas change at 30-second intervals. Some agencies will come up with “brilliant” ways of evaluating campaigns: with point systems, credits, complicated matrices and the like and many will use multipliers of anywhere between three and seven to work out how much coverage was achieved and how much that very coverage is “worth” (compared to what advertising might have cost for the same amount of space).

What is of paramount importance within PR is that client and PR are both are in agreement about outcomes and expectation. If expectation is misaligned, it doesn’t matter what results are achieved, the relationship is doomed. And the working relationship will fail. It is the responsibility of the PR to manage client expectation as much as possible and for a mutual trust to ensue. The PR also has their own reputation to keep intact.

And this latter point is also key. Good PR is based on word-of-mouth recommendation. It does the work for you. In public presentations I often use the analogy of a man saying he is good in bed versus the women he has slept with saying he is good in bed (see the visual above). This is the difference between advertising and PR. Whenever I have pitched cold to a group of people (probably three or four times since I launched miranda leslau pr in 2001) the potential client didn’t believe I could achieve what I proposed in my pitch. Boo hoo. Their loss. I never chase a client as how the working relationship starts is how it will finish thereafter.

From the client perspective, it is important that a business is fluid and moving. A PR cannot keep talking about the same thing over and over again. There has to be a story attached to a product, brand or service. The client has to do some work as well, both in and on the business itself so that the PR Tango gains momentum. And PR generates PR…

Another important definition to consider is sales. PR works on different levels: branding, sales, information, interaction and trust. Let’s say your client makes cupcakes… some activity will lead to sales, some will create awareness (that might lead to sales in the future), some will be reviews to reinforce trust (to help drive further sales and brand credibility) and some will encourage people to try and enjoy or cook their own cupcakes as a treat, gift or celebration. In fact, PR is a lot like making cupcakes as you need the right ingredients with the right tools and cooking time, all fused together with a uniform distribution of heat within the oven!

Media coverage will not always guarantee sales. No PR can tell you that such and such article will guarantee xx amount of sales. How a client uses PR is the answer: for buyers, their first question may focus on “how do you intend to support the launch of your brand in-store?” so use the PR coverage as a sales tool at meetings. You should always promote coverage on social media with hash tags and help create a defined brand personality.

And on this note, my own public and private PR personality must retire to my bed. My eyes are scratchy and my grey matter depleted. But the next time you make cupcakes, think of me and my PR craft #sweet #hashtag.

Miranda Leslau’s ‘Life in Black and White’ (with a splash of colour)

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When I was creating the miranda leslau pr strapline, ‘PR IN BLACK AND WHITE’, these words were chosen not only to reflect me as a business person, ie quite cut and dry, but also me in life. Sort it out, sharpish – you either want this or you don’t and never waste my precious time. Not only do I love a mono fashion combo (it keeps packing and wardrobe arrangement simple and yes, I do store my clothes as per the colours of the rainbow), it was also homage to my favourite era of Hollywood, when women knew how to conduct themselves and men were ‘real’ men.

This week was an absolute reflection of my brand: black and white, to a tee. I spent the last five days solid rushing around London, meeting with clients old and new as well as charities and retailers. It was really full on, all in the name of great PR and, hopefully, positive working relationships.

It was a week of real ups and downs though; darkness and light, with a few individuals showing their true (rather dark and unpleasant) colours and others being generous of spirit, professional and kind. It reinforced my ‘LIFE IN BLACK AND WHITE’ theory. But there was a difference this week. Me. I was the difference.

Having had Cancer last year, part of me has gone forever, just like the hour that we will lose as of next Saturday night, when the clocks go forward. I now realise that what other people say, do or think actually has nothing to do with me. How I react to them does. If someone treats me badly it says more about them than it does about me. Before, I would always react, albeit internally and revert to the little abandoned four year old girl.

So when the darkness reared its ugly head this week, I didn’t react. I remained calm and didn’t take it personally. I impressed myself, actually. Probably, the little girl part of me wanted to punch certain individuals in the face. In reality, I realised it doesn’t really matter. No-one died and the hands of the clock keep moving, regardless. Their moment will come (I also know this!).

As my dad used to say “for every action there is a reaction…” where there is dark, the light also shone through for me this week. I gave a talk to a group of international students at The University of Buckingham, where I used to lecture in PR. The course was a BSc in Enterprise and focused on entrepreneurship. My talk was about ‘Entrepreneurs, Life and Living’.

These inspired young people loved my talk. They said it was one of the best of the term. And this, for me, made my week. It made all the other crap worthwhile simply because I had impacted upon these creative young people’s existence. My life motto will always be that “I want to make a difference” and hopefully these engaged entrepreneurial minds will go out and make things happen in their lives. I shared my life story with them (albeit abridged) and gave from the heart.

As I type, the dark rain clouds are clearing, making way for the light, once again. Ever present in nature (and in the Orange ads), the future is bright and a rainbow always follows a storm. And this is when I readily embrace a spectrum of colours, as well as within my wardrobe arrangement, of course.

The Full Term – An Ode To Mothers This Mother’s Day

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My late mother, June Leslau (and I…)

I’m sitting here after my boxing workout wearing just a towel and socks, feeling compelled to blog about Mother’s Day, taking place this Sunday 15th March. It’s a look that might just catch on, dear IG.

My mum died when I was 30. She was my world. As I sat in Blues restaurant in Camp’s Bay, Cape Town, South Africa, almost 15 years ago, eating some of the finest chicken livers on the planet, I had a vision she was in hospital with pneumonia. She was. I had just made a decision to move to Cape Town (in my head) and my mum had begged to come with on that holiday. Within two weeks, we watched her flat line, having been in the ICU for a week or so.

It happens, I know. Lots of people in my life lost their mums at a young age or never knew or remember their mums. It affects you, at any age. It affects how you relate to people. Whether you like it or not. You just have to put one step in front of the other and learn to walk again.

I myself can never bear a child. I had a hysterectomy a few months ago but even with my womb within me, I never could have carried full term. My darling niece Rebekah is expecting her second child this year, reiterating the circle of life and how it so beautifully crafts its arc. As you can see, the overall theme of motherhood is quite poignant right now. My two rescue dogs are getting a whole load of cuddles.

So what I decided to do is write an ode to MUMS, the ones we know and knew and for the ones yet to come. I hope you like it…

The Full Term

For the nine month term you feel us inside

Til the big day arrives and you spread yourself wide

Our new life ahead, you pledge with your sweat

A selfless commitment, for we can’t talk yet

Every milestone and ache, you stand by our side

Tenacious and strong, like a lioness with her pride

Whatever the weather on the barometer of life

From Cornwall to Calcutta and Fontainebleau to Fife

You are there for the full term.

 

As time passes and ‘term’ becomes school

You continue to stand by your unforgiving rule

The path you have walked, the role you uphold

Even if we are rude and with a need to scold

You are there, always there, just as night becomes day

The one we run to when life gets in the way

So for Mums the world over, both of present and past

May I take this bow with my own at half mast

You were there for the full term (for me, my first and my last)

Happy Mother’s Day!

In the words of C. S. Lewis…

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A famous C. S Lewis quote reminds us that “We read to know we are not alone”. Whilst I certainly believe this to be true in respect of books, this mantra also works for me in relation to cinema-going. The film I saw this evening, exceptional in its theme and creation, reiterates the theme of feeling alone, like the tears of a clown.

When I was a 21 year old University student working in Paris back in 1991/2, I lived in a former Prison that was converted into lodgings for about 1,000 girls (only). In France, such styles of shared living where you have your own room, shared bathrooms and a group dining room, are quite commonplace for young single workers. My employers paid for my accommodation so it gave me more money to spend on clothes, a fancy gym membership, travelling and cinema outings.

Like any big City, Paris can be a terribly lonely place to live. At weekends, when many of the girls would go and visit their families, I felt like I was actually incarcerated (when I wasn’t with my boyfriend, friends or family) so I spent a lot of time in the cinema as well as at the gym. At the time I was writing a thesis on French Cinema’s lauded ‘Nouvelle Vague’ movement and many of these films were showing in theatres throughout Central Paris.

I was obsessed with the world of Beineix (Betty Blue, 37.2 Le Matin); Besson (Le Dernier Combat, Le Grand Bleu and DIVA) and Carax (Les Amants du Pont Neuf) – so much so that I hunted Beineix down and interviewed him about my favourite film of all time, Betty Blue. I also visited where Betty Blue was filmed and considered buying and living in one of the ‘baraques’ where Zorg and Betty lived. It never happened. Fortunately, I didn’t poke my eye out like Betty did!

The cinematic experience has always allowed me to drift off into a world of my own, as if I was having a Mr Benn moment, launching my designer boots into the screen and actually feeling, touching and tasting the actors’ temporary reality. I was desperate to get an MA place at The British Film Institute (BFI) where eight places are awarded, annually. Whilst they said my written skills were up to scratch, most of the applicants had years of experience as Directors or Producers. This didn’t happen either. I was gutted for weeks.

Almost 25 years later, I still love the cinema and it is actually a weekly outing for me. I like to go on my own, ironically; I can’t digest the film properly if I am talking to other people. But I never feel alone during a film, or lonely. I feel safe sitting in an awkwardly familiar fake-velour chair, in complete darkness, wrapped up in my pashmina. As I read this back, it makes me sound like such a sad bastard, but actually I am quite happy with my own Mr Benn-style existence. Mr Benn also has excellent taste in hats.

The reason I refer to loneliness or feeling alone though is because of the film I saw this evening: American Sniper with Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller, directed by the legendary Clint Eastwood. To his fellow Navy SEALS and Snipers, Chris Kyle was a true legend. He felt he belonged within his Unit. He felt he had a life purpose. Yet every time he returned to his wife and family (and Sienna is beautifully cast, as a brunette and somewhat bulked up (the chemistry between them is great) he felt alone and couldn’t connect with the outside world. And this is not an experience only felt by veterans.

So many people suffer in their own perimeters, whether it be from depression, loneliness, illness, fear and also in the increasingly solitary existence that we lead… “Metro, boulot, dodo” (“Tube, work, bed”) as the French so aptly say. We spend time actually talking to ourselves on social media and are constantly attached to our phones, Ipads and Kindles. We are all Lone Wolf Packs, to quote another, quite different type of film, The Hangover. Remote feeling and experiencing will get worse as we progress to the 2020’s and 30’s I believe, but films and books can always comfort us, wherever we are.

I spend a lot of time on my own. I rarely feel lonely per se. I feel alone but not lonely, if that makes sense. I can actually feel more lonely in a crowded room than on my own. I also know what it feels like to be in a relationship and to be alone. When your partner is with you in body but not in person. This is a very lonely place to be and one that Sienna Miller portrays so wonderfully on screen.

So what is the point of my blog? Well apart from the fact that leaving the cinema always inspires me to write, I think what I am trying to express is that feeling isolated, without connection or alone comes in many guises. Just look at the tragedy of Robin Williams… a smile can mask a thousand demons. I enjoy being on my own – possibly too much (which is partly why I am not married) but I know many people who can’t stand the silence or bear to be on their own for a few hours let alone a weekend or longer.

So for my part I am indebted to the hundreds or even thousands of book authors and film directors and producers that have made me feel connected with their world, whilst still keeping me in the realms of my own happy kind of Lone Wolf Pack. From Ian Fleming, Agatha Christie and Daphne du Maurier to Lord Archer and John Green… to Malcolm Gladwell and Dr Wayne Dyer to Lesley Kenton and Roald Dahl – all these authors (and many more) have illuminated my Yellow Brick Road. And to the directors and producers too – many of whom are fellow loners who use their solace to help share the insides of their minds with the outside world. And for all of this we should all be eternally grateful. If C. S. Lewis were alive today, I am sure he might amend his famous quote to “We read and watch films to know we are not alone”. Amen.