Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

taking liberties

Dear Desreen,

I’m writing to you to ask for forgiveness. I’ve just done something that I can barely excuse. I’ve closed your loyalty card at Liberty. And the luxurious London store has seen few customers as loyal as you. I half expected to be escorted back onto Regent Street by security or for the walls around me to creak in despair, fearful for their own future as their biggest fan apparently turned her stylish back on the indulgent emporium of fashion, furniture and fabulous fabrics. Yet in a manner typical of the delightfully professional staff employed to work in this oasis of calm in London’s hectic west end, the assistant simply smiled, actioned my request and took your name off their books.

You see Jackson and I have just moved house. I’ve changed our address on all the utility bills and it’s now becoming increasingly rare that post shows up in your name. I went to Liberty in December and asked them to change the surname on my account when I took yours for myself and our son, but I couldn’t bring myself to end your relationship with the store at that point. I found out you’d joked with a friend about wanting to be buried there when you died (never imaging how that day was just around the corner). You left taxis waiting for your outside while you browsed. You bought stationary in there with no more reserve than a school pupil buying protractors, pencil cases and Post-Its in WHSmith at the end of August on their mum’s card. “Oooh, bargain!” you’d say when a greetings card cost £6. “What are you thinking?” you once said angrily when the sales assistant told you they’d only made small diaries in Liberty print one year, “What am I supposed to do now?” you continued, enraged as if she were personally responsible.

As vacuous and shallow as it may sound, you’re everywhere in there for me.

We bought your wedding ring there. You only wore it for a month before you died because it took us the whole year after we were already married to find the right one. Now it sits on my left hand next to mine, white diamonds next to black making me look a little like an overindulged medieval king.

You bought Jackson’s nappy bag there. Yes, only you, darling. A Marc Jacobs nappy bag. A designer bag to carry everything necessary to keep your little prince’s bottom clean.

You dressed him there too. You pretended you didn’t but the day your friend told you they were opening a children’s department I actually thought you were going to ask to move in.

You bought everything there. It was Tesco to you. You’d tell me not to be so crass saying that but it’s such a big part of why everyone loved you so much. It was quite simply your shop.

So when letters continued to be delivered addressed to you in Liberty envelopes, they made me smile. I like to imagine you looking down on us from time to time, just not when the sales are on nor when your celestial postman passes you the latest Liberty catalogue through the pearly gates (if you haven’t already had them fashioned into a new jewellery line).

But I’m scared when I’m there too. I worry about seeing people you knew. I panic about seeing the guy in menswear who always recognises our little boy and asks, “Is your lovely wife not with you today?” I wonder how I’ll feel when I have to explain. I wonder how he’ll react when he has to hear what I have to say.

But I go there nonetheless. I go there to be with you. I see things you’d love and feel sad that you’ve already missed out on two seasons that would have filled you with so much pleasure and joy. I find it hard to imagine anyone looking as good in any of the clothes they sell as you or any of the candles smelling as nice as they would in the house you always made a home.

So I’m saying sorry but the fashion seasons have started making me feel a little sad. They make time feel like it is passing by so quickly. They tell me how long it’s been since I saw you last when I don’t even need to ask. So I know you’d understand but I’d still fully expect you to be a little cross.

And it’s with that in mind that I took the liberty to take something from Liberty whilst I was there today.

Remember your dad asked for a Ming vase for Christmas and we laughed at the thought of going to Sotheby’s to splash £14m on a casual gift? Well I figured two things outs: 1) that he must have no idea what a Ming vase actually is and 2) that he would have loved a minging vase if you’d bought it for him.

You were all about Moroccan ceramics in your final months. In fact you were taking me to Marrakech for my birthday so I could buy some for you (your logic was a strange but beautiful thing). So when I spotted a handmade pot from the country you’d fallen for even though you never actually got the chance to visit, I knew it was for him and I knew it was from you.

So forgive me about the account, but I promise to look after your parents and I promise to keep Liberty open through my custom. Where the hell else would I go to be with you now that we’ve moved house?

Love,

Benji xx

Liberty: your second home and the co-creator of your first

Liberty: your second home and the co-creator of your first

13 comments on “taking liberties

  1. Avril Lamb
    June 4, 2013

    beautiful.

  2. Edward Baker
    June 4, 2013

    That just broke me, I hope in time I have the strength you do. I have the same relationship with LK Bennett.

  3. Simon
    June 4, 2013

    Ben, beautiful note to your beloved Desreen, brought tears to my eyes both of sadness and happiness to read that you’re moving on no matter how slightly, well done.

    Simon

  4. Theresa Miall
    June 4, 2013

    How beautifully you write Ben,your comments made me smile, as I imagined her wandering around the store. I take myself to a local bike shop and do the self same thing( Richard was like a child in a sweet shop there) as it makes me feel close to him.Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us .xxx

  5. Noddy
    June 4, 2013

    The most touching thing I’ve read all month. I’m sure Desreen is smiling down on you and this season’s goodies. XXxxx

  6. Felicity Wilson
    June 4, 2013

    I really like Desreen’s logic in taking you to Marakeesh for your birthday (& thus buying her Moroccan goodies). How precious to include her parents too.

  7. lesley
    June 4, 2013

    Been having a bad few days and struggling to see any light at the end of the long tunnel I feel I am in.but your post has made me smile. You are such an amazing writer Ben. Thanks so much xx

  8. sarah collins
    June 4, 2013

    so exquisitly written. you dont know me but i think your wifes dad is friends with my step dad r. parsons. its a coincidence that i started following your blog but i realised the link a few weeks ago. anyway. just wanted you to know that i think you are a beautiful writer and an inspiring person x

  9. Katherine
    June 5, 2013

    So lovely. I have the same relationship with Brooks Brothers as it relates to Wesley. I feel closer to him in the tailored and classic store that he loved so much. So nice to have been with people of good taste! :)

  10. Naomii Chaplain
    June 6, 2013

    This post is one of my favourites. I gain strength, perspective and many other things by reading about you and Jackson but I love, love, LOVE reading about Desreen ( “Being Desreen” is my all time favourite). She makes me proud to be woman, to be Jamaican and to be ok with having high and sometimes slightly outlandish expectations. She sounds like an awesome mother, wife, girlfriend, daughter ….and she is just downright hilarious.
    I don’t need to tell you about emotional drainage but I do feel spent after reading them because I end up in tears – not just typical soppy reaction to a sad story but genuine grief for a woman, a man and their child who I have never met.
    Big love to you for the Liberty step. She may be gone but she’ll always be their best customer. They’lll never have anybody like Desreen through their doors again. x

  11. Allan Morgan
    December 2, 2013

    Beautiful.

  12. Pam
    December 2, 2013

    Someone posted this on Facebook … not sure why I decided to read it, but read it I did despite the fact that I’m supposed to marking my students’ work.

    Thank you. Thank you for sharing your story, thank you for sharing your wife – what a wonderfully character she had, and great logic too!! I completely understand why she would take you to Marrakech for your birthday to buy her a present: makes perfect sense!

    You made smile and you made me cry. Thank you.

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