A story of grief by a man and a boy

felicitas vitae

“When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” – John Lennon

One of the most profound impacts of my wife’s death on my life has been the overwhelming urge to document it.

Not her death. Life. Our life. Our lives. Hers. Mine. Our son’s.

Even before Desreen died I was always the guy who took loads of photos on holiday or on a night out. I do, however, remember going through a self-righteous phase when I preached living the moments that life presents rather than shooting them. I believed that if we allowed ourselves to enjoy and soak up life we would retain the resulting images in our minds. Inevitably I have no photos of this phase, my memories are hazy to say the least and I now snarl at the sanctimonious little shit that used to be me.

These days I find myself to be a fanatical collector of memories. I positively harvest them and I’ve nominated myself as their legal guardian until the day comes when my beloved son can adopt them for himself. I’ll do my very best to keep the memory of his wonderful mummy alive and one day my efforts will eventually become his acquired memories. And I’ll take great pleasure in sharing them with him.

But in my recent efforts to document the past I’ve come to realise that I really ought to record the present too. I want my son to understand that life continued after his mummy died and that he made that possible. That he brought so many people who were suffering her loss so much joy at a time that otherwise would have seen only misery.

I believe that by enabling him to truly live in the present and allowing myself to take comfort from him enjoying his life, we will both have a future. Hopefully a happy one at that.

So when I picked him up from nursery last week after a particularly emotionally draining and difficult day at work, he changed my mood in an instant.

“Daddy!” he shouted with so much glee in his voice as he ran over to the door to greet me.

“Daddy!” he repeated breathlessly, unsuccessfully searching for other words to express his excitement.

I stepped in to help his conversation flow.

“Let’s go home, Jack Jack. You need to put your hood up though because it’s raining outside”.

He laughed.

“It’s not raining, Daddy, it’s happy!”

And with those six words, neither of us needed any more. I was immediately uplifted by his joyously positive outlook on what was otherwise an all round miserable day. And he was happy to see me smile.

“Not raining. Silly Daddy!”

You see, when you have a happy and healthy toddler around, moments of pleasure frequently shine through the dull, heavy and debilitating fog of grief. And they bring with them so much relief and respite that they imprint themselves on your memory and act as a medicine for the pain. They become the building blocks that (perhaps) quietly and slowly begin to repair sorely broken optimism and hope.

But in the spirit of documenting life, and perhaps more importantly joy, rather than just remembering it, I now want to capture it in words, poems, songs, pictures and whatever other creative means I or others deem fit.

I intend to shift my focus from updating a curriculum vitae, which obsesses over courses and academic achievements, to creating a felicitas vitae, which will chart a record of life’s most treasured of accomplishments, happiness.

When my much-cherished little boy is old enough, he can repeat John Lennon’s famous words to his careers advisor, preempt the assignment he’ll doubtless be given and hand in his CV/FV before the deadline.

So here it is:

...said Jackson

A fledging plan to creatively capture his musings, comments and delightful little quips.

My talented and lovely friend Emma Sexton has immortalised the most breathtaking thing I have heard pass my son’s lips since he sang happy birthday to his mummy (a month late) on the day she died.

Emma has created a beautiful image that I plan to hang in Jackson’s new bedroom. Together we decided we would also like to spread his joy further and help a bereavement charity in the process.

So see this as a kind of charitable and group-happiness version of Groupon. If you would like to order a print and we can find 50 buyers, we’re on!

You can see the design below and a mock up of what it could look like framed. We’ve removed the word ‘Daddy’ from the buyable design so that it’s neutral and works for anyone.

The unit cost is £20 for a full colour high quality A3-sized silk screen print (without a frame), which covers the printing costs, £5 post and packaging (more outside the UK) and a £5 charitable donation to Grief Encounter, which will use the money to provide support services for bereaved children and their families throughout the UK. Please send a message marked ‘Print Order’ to if you would like to place an order. I will then let you know if we receive enough interest to be able to cover the printing costs.

These are sad times but sometimes the truth is, it’s not raining, it’s happy.

...said Jackson silk screen print

…said Jackson silk screen print

...said Jackson silk screen print in frame mock up

…said Jackson silk screen print in frame mock up

17 comments on “felicitas vitae

  1. gumby25
    March 29, 2013

    I truly hope that Jackson’s inspirational take on that moment of his life is able to help others achieve his state of happiness when all it seems to do is rain.

  2. Felicity Wilson
    March 29, 2013

    Notice my name! How can this ( loving ) Luddite from Australia order this ?
    Also, & I hope this is not inappropriate, what happened to the octogenarian motorist who destroyed your precious family?

  3. Donna
    March 29, 2013

    Just perfect Ben. Our children really do lift us up when we need it, capture everything you can. I am just putting together memory boxes for my girls to give them on 8/4/13 one yr after their daddy died. Full of beautiful memories and some crazy photos !! Hope you sell loads of these… Great idea

  4. Cath
    March 29, 2013

    My husband was told once that he wasn’t ambitious ( he hadn’t gone for a promotion at work) and his answer was ” I am ambitious but maybe not in the way you perceive it to be. My ambition is to be happy in all aspects of my life, especially in my relationships with my wife and kids.” I thought it was a great response- to be happy. Good luck with the venture x

      March 29, 2013

      Funny, I said something very similar to my wife the night before she was killed x

      • Cath
        March 29, 2013


  5. EightySixThat
    March 29, 2013

    I’ve always been a believer that children are absolute geniuses. They are pure and because they have yet to experience the harsh battles Life imparts on us, they say the most interesting things. Jackson is an absolute genius! I will forever walk with these words in my heart and bask in them even more when it rains. Thanks Jackson!

  6. Alice Johnstone
    March 29, 2013

    Love it. It reminds me a little of the ‘Why Are You So Naughty? Because I’m So Happy’ Rob Ryan tile we bought Des x

  7. Dot Schwarz
    March 30, 2013

    Tanya aged 3 opening back door to go for a walk, Oh it’s raining.’ Closing door and running to front door and opening that. , then saying In a dissapppointed voice, ‘Oh, It’s raining out of that doo,r too.’.

  8. Naomii
    March 30, 2013

    Bravo Jackson and Emma!!….and you Ben, as always, I can only imagine how proud Desreen would be of her boys. x

  9. Ruth Ancer
    March 31, 2013

    What a precious little Jackson you have and what a beautiful image.

  10. Pingback: Limited Edition Prints Available - Grief Encounter | Child Bereavement

  11. Donna Ross
    April 4, 2013

    Hi Ben..just to say..I love what you’ve put together and love reading and catching up with your info! It’s very inspiring and not only is a lovely read..but makes me think about my hubby & little boy! I like stuff that makes me think! Years ago my boyfriend at the time..the love of my life at then when I knew no other ( your younger starting out years) was killed very suddenly in a car crash apon leaving my house one night..after a lovely evening and it was a huge shock and one that knocked me off kilter and path for a while..changing my personality and my I have some insight into how it can feel! Obviously I had no family with him and wasn’t married etc..but shock and sudden grief don’t change or differ depending on your life’s stage at the time! So that’s why I wanted to write and say how lovely your stuff is and as a husband and it’s mostly the other way round! ThanKs for making me think! 🙂 Donna xxx

  12. mschanelmarie
    April 4, 2013

    I dont check in on your blog very much but when I do I am always guaranteed to shed a tear and then smile. I love this quote. I teach sometimes and love teaching the little ones as they can always find something to say that will make you smile, especially when you are having a shite day! Thank you, Jackson for the cool quote. Love the print – I’d like a pink one too! Much love! Chanel x

  13. Pingback: six months | life as a widower

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