A story of grief by a man and a boy

little treasures

At Desreen’s funeral, the vicar who married us said something that really stuck with me. As he held up a card from Liberty that she’d sent him some weeks earlier, he said, “Before she died things like this were quite nice, but really they were just stuff. Yet now they have become treasured memories – things to hold in our hearts forever.”

I have come to learn that there was never a truer word spoken.

The night Desreen was killed I was driven home by the police holding three things. My son’s little hand and my wife’s engagement and wedding rings. I placed her wedding ring straight next to mine on my little finger and it hasn’t left my hand since.

When I saw my best friend’s dad, who was widowed during Christmas 2011, at Desreen’s funeral he was also wearing his late wife’s ring in exactly the same way. I guess it’s probably quite a common gesture because a ring is such an eternal symbol of love and unity.

But it’s the little treasures that continue to reveal themselves to me, both thrilling and flooring me in equal measure.

Desreen liked to call the the two of us twins. Her cousin text me the other day saying the same thing, “especially when there was trouble to be had,” he remarked. While we didn’t look strikingly similar, we were able to fit into each other’s skinny jeans, socks, knitwear and sportswear. In fact, a jumper she bought just before she died has since become my favourite despite my son scolding me for wearing it. “Take it off Daddy, it Mummy’s”, he shouts loyally.

She also owned a better running backpack than me, so that is now glued to me every time I train. I’d never properly unpacked it until this week though, so the first time I took it to the gym I reached inside for my headphones and pulled out a pair of her knickers. I haven’t checked yet, but I don’t think they offer quite the same sound quality as my Sennheisers.

The funny thing is, I now pack and unpack that bag every day but I just can’t bring myself to remove her smalls. I’ve even imagined the look I’d get if some big butch dude in the gym ever noticed them fall out, and I just don’t care. In fact, I probably kind of want it to happen because I know how much it would make her laugh and I can hear the exact pitch of her mischievous giggle ringing in my ears. In many ways that’s more precious to me than the white gold and diamonds she unwittingly bequeathed me that cold night in November.

7 comments on “little treasures

  1. lisagorman3105
    January 12, 2013

    Ben I am not sure this will work as I am crap with computers but I have signed up to something so I can leave messages. Your blog is bloody brilliant, I am reading every day. Lisa G xx

  2. Natalie
    January 14, 2013

    We lost our amazing father suddenly 2years ago & my mum sleeps with the pj’s he last wore every night. she dressed a teddy bear in them to start (sounds strange to some) but loved the idea of being able to cuddle something. To this day my sister wears his watch & I wear his favourite jumper & his aviator sunglasses from the 70’s & his socks, we have lockets round our necks with his photo on one side & his signature from the last birthday card he wrote us on the other.

    These little treasures are what bring you comfort & joy & that feeling of being able to know what they would do & how hey would react is the most precious of them all.
    Your wife sounds like a truly wonderful special women & what an incredible tribute to her this is.
    My mum always says: there is only one love in life, to love and be loved and it sounds like you had a lot of love for each other.

    Wishing you all happy memories, treasured thoughts & special times ahead with Jackson.

  3. Kay
    January 17, 2013

    I am a single female. Aged 42. I have a lovely boyfriend but have never married and do not have children. I have been sat here reading your beautiful blog (thank you) for the last 20 minutes and have managed to keep the bubbling tears behind my eyes at bay, until……I reached ‘little treasures’ and then the tears brimmed over and cascaded down my cheeks… gushing down…out of control like a waterfall.

    Ben, I know that you and Jackson will be just fine. Take care.


  4. Lucinda Martinez
    January 19, 2013

    thank you for your beautifully written article in today’s Guardian. the way you have responded to your young son whilst dealing with your own loss is quite remarkable -your sensitivity and reflection is inspiring. as soon as I write this message I feel my words are clumsy, but I just wanted to say thank you for choosing to write about your story. I am full of admiration and hope for you and your little boy. take care of yourselves and go gently. Lucinda

  5. oddboggle
    January 19, 2013

    Thank you for sharing this. Your honesty and bravery is amazing.

    My sister died in October last year, suddenly and unexpectedly. at the age of 46. Two days before she’d sent my son a CD burnt with ‘Songs to remember us by’, for his birthday. The parcel of presents was late, as usual, because she always over estimated the efficiency of the Royal Mail/Australia Post. Our last text conversations were her asking me, ‘Have you got it yet?’ She was so excited to see our reaction.

    The CD was one of many presents. She always went totally over the top. It must have taken her ages to choose the right songs and copy out the titles in her distinctive ‘permanently teenaged’ handwriting. She’d drawn a smiley face underneath the message. I carried that CD close to me all the way back to the UK from Australia. It was in my handbag at her funeral. I still have it close.

    Yes, it’s a the little treasures that we cling to.

  6. Ian
    January 20, 2013

    I watched your interview on the BBC this morning through tears, in fact I write this note in a similar state. What a brave amazing husband and father you are. I am sure Desreen is smiling down on you.
    I lost my young wife of 39 on September 20th 2012, she leaves 3 children. We had known each other 8 years and been married 4.
    To say my world has turned upside down again is an understatement. I went through a divorce 9 years ago and had at last found someone who really truly deeply loved me for who I was. So to loose
    her and my three children to loose for two of them the best stepmother possible and my baby to loose her mummy is devastating.
    How we manage I don’t know, we seem to make it through each day somehow. Most days are a blur. I spend most moments a breath away from a tear. To compound matters, we left England two years ago to
    start our dream life in Spain. I never thought I would be a person who daily goes and stands at a graveside but I have become that person.
    My baby girl of 5 and son of 11 can see the cemetery from the school play ground. We often take pictures painted at school or teddy bears up to mummy.
    Things happen so fast here in Spain, my wife passed away on the Friday 20th September , due to problems associated with pancreatitis , she was cremated on the Saturday and her ashes interned in a niche in the cemetery on the Sunday.
    I’m not sure if it makes things better or worse being so quick.
    You express so well, so much better than I could ever your feelings.
    My love is now deeper then ever before for my wife , I feel regret , I feel lonely and anger at her being taken from me and my children. And most of all I feel scared for the future. How can I move on? The person who gave me my motivation and purpose for life has gone. I carry on for my children , I know I have no choice. The correct thing to say is “ the
    most important thing is now my children”, but I would be lying , so I can add ashamed to my list of feelings.
    My thoughts are with you and the many others that have contacted you.
    I will keep reading your blog and hope it gives me inspiration to carry on.

  7. Mary
    February 2, 2013

    Dear Ben:
    I lost my husband only 5 weeks ago after a short battle with Cancer. I’ve been putting on his sweaters and black clothes since then! I cannot imagine taking them off even though everyone looks at me very strangely. I’m using his computer now to write and sure enough his slippers. The pajamas he wore last while in hospital is my night companion (I’m too worried of wearing it that it may lose his smell!).
    His ring is in my hand and a chain he wore since our wedding and gifted me with a similar one with the symbol of life.
    I so wish to be able to open up and talk but I live far away in Egypt and here grief is something very personal that people don’t like sharing much about, so I look for all material all over the world and just feel so lucky to have found what you wrote! Somehow I feel a bit more normal here.
    I’m reading your blog and starting a private journal myself that hopefully will help me through as well.

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