While most masters students wonder how they will cope with postgraduate study, 59-year old Ian Loftus says he simply wouldn’t have coped without it. An IT professional by trade, Ian studied for an Open University degree in Humanities with Literature while he was still working. “I’d always been passionate about literature and written poetry since I was 11 so it seemed like a good idea,” he says.
Keen to continue his studies with a masters qualification, Ian was disappointed to discover that the course he wanted to study was not available from the Open University.
The following year Ian brought his daughter Chloe to LJMU for the start of her undergraduate degree in Criminology and Psychology. During his visit he saw a leaflet for the MA Writing course and signed up for the course which would bring him to Liverpool one day a week from his home in Cumbria.
The day after Ian started his masters, however, something happened which changed his life, and the life of his family, forever. Ian’s 22 year-old son, Dominic, was killed by a drunk driver.
“I don’t know why but I just kept on with the course,” recalls Ian. “I explained what had happened to my programme leader but I didn’t say anything to my fellow students. When I told my bereavement counsellor about the MA some time later, he said that creativity was a really good outlet for grief although he couldn’t really explain why.”
Ian’s weekly trips to Liverpool helped father and daughter. “Chloe and I would meet up for a coffee, go for lunch or see a film,” he smiles. “It gave us a chance to talk about Dominic and what had happened. Inevitably, it also meant I spent a lot of time collecting dirty laundry and delivering clean clothes!”
Some months after the accident, Ian founded the Cumbrian Lad Foundation in Dominic’s memory. The Foundation provides bursaries to school leavers needing financial help as they progress to further education/apprenticeships. Dominic himself at 22 had made a huge success of his career. He qualified as an electrician at Carlisle College in 2012, and at the same time owned, ran and worked in two restaurants in the area.
Ian graduated from his masters with a merit and, realising how his studies had helped him to cope with the tragedy, decided to embark on a PhD investigating the role of creativity in the bereavement process. “I’m looking at the works of CS Lewis, Julian Barnes and Helen Macdonald who have all written about loss and I am considering the psychological impact of bereavement too, speaking with bereavement councillors and organisations as part of my research” he says. “I want to be able to give something back, to talk to counsellors and tell them about the real life experience of bereavement and how that can complement their theoretical learning.”
It is also hoped that Ian’s research will form the basis of a book helping others to come to terms with their own grief.
As part of the MA Writing course, students set up a blog – something which Ian found particularly useful to work through his grief. He has continued writing for the blog since he graduated and now posts sections of his PhD. Take a look at Ian’s blog and find out more about the creative writing courses on offer at LJMU.