A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
Earlier this week I overhead my colleagues talking about the London riots.
‘Can you believe it’s been five years this week?’ one asked.
No, I thought, I really can’t. My mind wasn’t on violence, though, it was on love. It’ll be five years tomorrow since Desreen and I got married. As a widower, I’m not even sure if it’s technically still my wedding anniversary, but to be honest I don’t really care. It’s up to me (and me alone) to decide how I mark the occasion now. We were only actually married for fourteen months after all, so it has become a deeply personal time for me.
As the others reflected on the panic on the streets of London, my mind went back to our honeymoon in Ibiza. I could picture exactly what we both wore, what we drank, the lightning on the terrace where we sat and our brief and somewhat dismissive conversation about what was going on right on our doorstep back home. We couldn’t have felt further away or more content.
I smiled as my memory brought us back together again. Anyone who has experienced this feeling, however, will understand that a comforting visit from a beautiful past is often abruptly swept away by a slap round the face from a less perfect present.
Like most people, I usually recoil from pain but on this occasion I decided to sit with it for a while. Not always an easy thing to do in an open-plan office, but I’d blame my red eyes on the air conditioning if necessary. I thought about what we would be doing together this weekend. I pictured myself with Desreen, Jackson, a daughter that never was and a gift. I stayed with the gift for a moment, entirely aware of the part that was less likely to really hurt.
I wondered, Is it weird to buy Desreen something for our anniversary? Then again, I asked myself, who’s judging?
I thought about it for half a second, decided I wanted to and then decided on the perfect gift. She used to love visiting Colombia Road flower market where she particularly liked to visit Ryantown – a shop owned by artist Rob Ryan, which has since closed.
‘I can’t wait until we can afford one of these,’ she said once as she admired his intricate papercut works.
I knew just the one. When I was decorating the house I bought after Desreen died, I took an interest in art for the first time in my life. I suppose when I struggled to make a pile of bricks feel like a home without her there, I sought out things that made me feel again – things that I could connect with on an emotional level.
I began to see things differently, realising that if a painting, print, object or artefact touched you somehow then it was ‘art’ – even if only to you. In that moment when you stand before something and it speaks to you in some way, I’ve since registered, then no one else’s opinion really matters.
I remembered a piece by Rob Ryan that was showed in the exhibition ‘The First Cut’ at Manchester City Gallery in 2012. It featured a heaven and earth scene with the silhouette of a girl sitting a cloud who reminded me of my wife.
And then came the words: ‘I used to live in one of those little houses down there and I still remember every road and field and every brick and stone. Every single thing that you can see was a part of the map of my entire life. The raging battle ground of all my victories and defeats from up here just looks like a pretty pattern. Every single minute was a struggle but not one second goes by when I don’t wish that I was back down there….. Mixing it up on good old planet earth!’
When I first laid eyes on it, I realised I wanted to see those words at home every day, but for some reason couldn’t justify the expense. Then I remembered how much I used to love buying gifts for Desreen and how much I miss being able to see the enjoyment she got from having beautiful things around her. It occurred to me that, in a more perfect world, I would have bought her something anyway, so I threw caution to the wind and went ahead and found a print of the piece that I loved so much – that she would have loved too.
So, even though this will hang in just another ‘one of those little houses’ where she never lived down here on ‘good old planet earth’, this is for my wife up on her cloud somewhere.
Happy anniversary, Dessie x