A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
This is a guest post by Sally Fenton
Sally is the founder of Sally-Anne Jewellery. In this post she tells of the grief she felt for the bereavement of her grandmother and how the same person she lost was the one who helped her get through it.
On the 27th September 2011 I got a phone call telling me that my grandmother had died. In that moment a wave of emotions washed over me. I felt sadness, anger, guilt, confusion and complete numbness one after the other and yet all at the same time.
In the weeks after her death I went through the motions, trying to carry on life as normal. I told myself that other members of my family like my granddad and my mum were suffering much more than me and that I had to stay strong for them. My granddad kept urging me to ‘stick in’ at university. I was at the beginning of my final year at art college and my granny had always been so supportive of my passion for art and design. I was forever drawing her pictures when I was a kid and she would hang them proudly on her kitchen cupboards.
Of course trying to carry on as normal and continue my studies felt like an impossible task at that stage of my grief.
The first stage was the crying. Hysterically crying so hard that my fake eyelashes pinged off, my face puffed up like a big red blob and my head felt like it was about to explode.
The second was guilt. Why didn’t I phone her that day? I should have called her. I should have visited more often. Did I give her a kiss the last time I saw her? Did I tell her that I loved her? I couldn’t remember.
Then came anger. Anger at everyone around me. I saw red at things that normally wouldn’t bother me. The girls at university bitching about the most trivial, stupid things.
“She’s copying me, I use photography in my work”, one said.
‘Well you don’t own the art of photography and neither were you the first person to ever invent it, so shut it!’, I thought to myself.
I wanted to bang their heads together and shout, ‘Well at least you’re fucking alive!’
Work was difficult too. Retail can be tedious at the best of times but I felt immediately irritated at customers who would complain about the tiniest little mark on the bottom of a stupid £4 ornament, like it was the most terrible thing in the world. It took all the strength I had not to smack them in the face for being so utterly ridiculous.
Then there was numbness, feelings of nothingness, where I just sat and stared into space for hours on end. This, mixed with sadness, quiet sobbing and countless sleepless nights.
I could often go through all of these stages in a day, or in an hour, or in five minutes. It was all just so exhausting.
Then one night I was lying in my bed tossing and turning and worrying about how I was going to make it through my final year. I’d lost my passion for my degree, I hadn’t done any work in two months and was really starting to fall behind. I considered dropping out but that thought upset me even more as I knew that if my granny had still been alive she would have been disappointed in me.
That same night I began to understand that my grief wasn’t going to just magically disappear and that I wasn’t going to feel like me again anytime soon. I needed to try to turn my grief into the most positive situation that I possibly could. I realised that I wasn’t very good at talking about my feelings and that I’ve always been much more comfortable expressing it in other ways. So decided to make a collection of jewellery in her memory. People have such sentimental and emotional attachments to their jewellery that I felt it was the perfect way to remember and honour a loved one.
I felt that it was the only way in which I could stay and finish my degree. So I called round the family asking for everyone’s permission. I didn’t want to upset anyone by doing it. Luckily they were all incredibly supportive and said they thought it was a lovely idea.
My mum and I went through all of Granny’s old clothes and jewellery. They still smelt like her and I began to wonder if I was doing the right thing. Was I emotionally ready to do this? What if I fucked it up? What if I let her down? What if the rest of the family didn’t like what I’d produced? Would they be even more upset? What if I didn’t like the end result? Would I feel even worse?
But I was determined. Determined to do her justice and capture and treasure her memory so the whole world could see just how much she meant to me. There were days that I felt like giving up, like I’d made a mistake. I spent many a time in the university toilets bawling like a baby, careful to turn them into silent tears if someone else came to use the cubicle next to me. I missed her so much and I so badly wanted to pick up the phone and ask her what I should do. She’d probably tell me to dry my eyes and get on with it. So I did.
I did some research into the traditional Victorian mourning jewellery but quickly decided to rally against that tradition. I wanted my pieces to be positive. I wanted the collection to be a celebration of her life. It should show that I was privileged to have known her in life and not be so obviously about her death.
So I used fabrics from her clothes as a basis for my collection, setting them into silver as if they were the gemstones. Commonly in jewellery the stone is the cherished part – just as I wanted her memory to be.
The thing I found most difficult was talking about it. I had to speak to my tutors and the rest of the class about my work, it was part of the course. I hated that. I fought back the tears but most often couldn’t stop them. It was private but yet I’d chosen to show my feelings in such a public way.
Gradually talking about it became a little easier and the collection fell into place. On the opening night of my degree show I went in to see my tutor and ended up missing the first hour of the opening as I sat in her office crying hysterically whilst trying my best to avoid looking like a big red sweaty panda.
They were tears of relief, sadness, frustration and happiness.
Now I’ve made it my goal to help others through stages of their grief. For me it’s still ongoing but it gets easier as time goes by. I just count myself lucky that she was a part of my life for 21 years and it’s because of her that I’m now doing a job that I love.
Sally’s work focuses on preserving precious memories through jewellery and capturing a sense of a loved one, which can be treasured forever. You can visit her site at http://www.sallyannejewellery.co.uk/