A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
I’ve made another decision. At least for now anyway. This blog is not going to be chronological or linear because it’s designed to represent grief, which is neither. Grief is like a shadow. It has the potential to always be there and when a little light shines on you and makes you feel a bit warmer and a touch happier, it appears and engulfs you.
So this is a house of pain and I’m gonna jump around.
It’s funny how I always found excuses to not do things simply because I hadn’t started them earlier until Desreen died. Like not keeping a diary just because the idea didn’t occur to me until May. Or not supporting a football team because I wasn’t into it when I was a kid. But loss has a way of removing limits and barriers. I’ve only apologised once since Desreen died because I realised I’m not usually sorry for the little things I do every day. I’ve also run longer distances at a faster pace than ever before. Why? Because I’m alive and I realised the best ways I can honour my wife are to keep on living for our son and to behave more like her. Here’s what I said on the matter at her funeral.
It struck me just the other day that one of my greatest fears since Desreen’s death was that I will age while she stays eternally young, making us feel even further apart than we already are. But what seems to be getting me through is being able to hear what she would say in reply to my thoughts. And to that one she would say, ‘Oh come on babe, let’s face it, you were always going to age badly compared to me with all of that white skin.’
So I can’t make this talk sad or laboured because I can hear her saying, ‘Benji, I’m getting a bit bored.’
That’s not to say that you won’t cry – God knows I probably will – but if you want to laugh, then laugh and if you want to smile, then smile.
First of all I’d like to thank you so much for coming, and thanks to all of the people who brought Desreen’s floral vision to life. Hundreds of people have been in touch – friends, family and even strangers moved by what’s happened – asking what they can do to help. Many of you have contributed to the flowers, others have brought food and friendship and there have been countless additions to Jackson’s rapidly growing selection of Thomas the Tank Engines.
While I’m sure this pain has only just started and that we will call on all of you for support way into the future, right now I can only think of one thing you can do to help.
And that is to keep my beautiful wife’s memory alive by trying, in your own individual ways, to be more like her.
Here’s the guidebook to being Desreen.
Be strong. Be quietly determined. Be remarkable. Be fun-loving and hedonistic. Talk nonsense that somehow makes total sense. Wind people up. Laugh hysterically when people fall over.
Be there for your friends and be unconditionally supportive of them. Love your family but keep them on their toes. Go round to your parents’ house, have them wait on your hand and foot but give them feedback on how they could have done better. Buy your brother Amazon vouchers to fuel his gadget addiction. Own a sewing machine, but get your mum to do all your sewing.
Listen more than you talk. Give more than you receive. Put your children first. Make candles for friends. Believe so strongly that you’ll have a little girl one day that you already have her full name in the back of your diary. Read The Secret and hang on its every word.
Fall asleep on the bus even if you are only travelling one stop. Buy flowers and enjoy them. Love your wardrobe. Relaunch yourself regularly. Get every single niggle checked by the doctor. Self-diagnose and expect the worst. Take the remote control to work instead of your mobile phone sometimes.
Buy pretty things, and, if you find that they aren’t as pretty as you hoped they’d be, give them to charity and buy prettier things. Say, ‘Oh wow, cheaper than I thought’ when the label on a T-shirt says £400. Yell at me to ‘Just go for it’ when an umbrella costs £150. Never class hot chocolate as chocolate.
Take the Desperate Housewives box set to hospital when you go into labour and after three days and two epidurals, be positive enough to say you’ve having a really nice day. If you ever have a caesarean, make your first post-operation question ‘Can I have a lemonade now please?’
Talk about your extreme detox with friends with a ciggy in one hand and a glass of Prosecco in the other. Write to the vicar who married you because you’re sad you haven’t seen him for a while. Send thank you cards. Drink olive oil before you go to bed to keep yourself regular. Re-carpet the rental property you’re living at because you’ve got friends coming to stay. Play music and be joyous enough in life to dance alone. Tell Norman Jay to get an earlier flight home from Ibiza because he’s annoying you. Light up a room. Ask waitresses completely inappropriate questions about the chicken you’re eating.
Jump from sleeping to leaping in a split second when an incredible, articulate, intelligent mixed-raced man becomes President. Support Jamaica if they’re winning, support your favourite holiday destination when they’re not, but stop supporting England – it’s never going to happen.
Have a different treatment every week on maternity leave and take your baby with you while you have a facial. Brush your skin. Tell yourself you look pretty today. Blame cow’s milk for mucus, not cigarettes. Eat a whole punnet of plums in ten minutes and then blame the pain on a dodgy heart. Believe yourself to be fabulous but don’t be arrogant enough to think there isn’t room – and money to be spent – on self-improvement.
Love all creatures great and small, apart from most creatures great and small. Say ‘byeee’ when you leave a room. Call your auntie ‘AUNTIEEEEEEE’.
Dress well. Go to Paris and tell people it looks like Net-a-Porter in 3D. Own a Marc Jacobs nappy bag. If you can’t afford the price, simply ask the sales assistant for 70 per cent off, stating no other reason than ‘I really want it and haven’t got the money.’
Be truly kind. Have presence. Help people through grief. Excel at your job. Never compromise and never let your standards slip. Don’t buy anything cheap when it could be expensive, knowing that if you buy cheap you buy twice. Think you have money and you always will.
Be brilliant. Inspire people. Never give up and don’t tolerate mediocrity. Speak your mind because life’s too short to mince your words. Support businesses that inspire you. Exercise and never give up on looking as beautiful as you can. Wear colour. Fill a room with personality. Plan good times with amazing friends.
Be creative. Nurture creative talent and make other people’s success your goal. Believe in people and guide them. Be a mentor. Give shops feedback that they aren’t trying hard enough with their stock. Make a beautiful home. Plan to be buried at Liberty.
Be mischievous. Be headstrong and brave, but be childlike too. Record your life intentions; have a plan. Look at old photos and laugh – take lots of new ones. Sign up to the GOOP newsletter and cleanse your system. Meditate. List your achievements – not just your goals – in your diary and be kind enough to let your husband know that you credited a ‘great balanced marriage’ amongst the best. Set out to achieve good health not just for yourself but for your children and family. Plan to spend a month in Ibiza in August and volunteer to be the one to tell not ask your husband’s boss.
Be positive because negativity is too draining. Keep a clean house. Have a bit of class. Be confident but never boast. Never leave anyone uncertain about how you feel. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Be vivacious, organised, passionate, warm, intense, kind, considerate, gorgeous, funny, interesting, quirky and high maintenance. Make your children laugh by being daft. Be there for them. Buy your kids clothes for when they are a year older so other children won’t be wearing them. Buy the carers at your kids’ nursery Christmas presents. Come home from honeymoon a day early because you miss your child. Go home early from hen weekends so you can spend more time with your husband and son. Play with the kids at parties rather than just getting hammered.
Teach me how to be a better father. Spoil me: take me to Paris for Valentine’s Day, take me to Morocco for my birthday and take me to the Olympics on my wedding anniversary. Tell me off for getting in at 3.30a.m. even though in fact I fell asleep on the sofa at 11.00p.m. and never left the house. Forgive me, even though I did nothing wrong, then put me back in the doghouse for the same non-event when it suits you. Tell me you’re going to cook for me every Saturday but only do it once. Embarrass me in a busy restaurant by having the waiter bring over a diamond ring and ask me to marry you, when we’re already engaged. Send me a lesbian Valentine’s card. Tell me that my point of view is interesting but that yours is right. Love my grandma. If your bum is small enough, always share a seat with me. Turn up late to meet my parents because you got so drunk before leaving work you found yourself at Heathrow on the Piccadilly line. Never let me win an argument: tell me I can’t prove something, even if I already have. Tell me you’re having a weekend off sugar and then blame Jackson when three of the four scones we bought have disappeared. If I ever leave you at home without food, have a bottle of wine for dinner.
Make sure you tell someone the password to your computer the day before you die. Make sure you tell someone how much you love them and how proud you are of them the minute before you die. Be the most wonderful person you can be. Love me, love Jackson, love both of our families and I promise we will do her proud.
Dessie, I promise to take good care of our son. I know I’ll never get over you. I know I’ll never get over the fact you picked me to be the love of your life. I know I’ll never forget how happy we made each other over the last eight years. And I know that Jackson and I will love you forever.