A story of grief by a man and a boy

anniversary gift

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


‘The Map of My Entire Life’ screenprint. A posthumous anniversary gift for Desreen


14 comments on “anniversary gift

  1. Beverley Seymour
    August 5, 2016

    A perfect purchase, I’d say. It will bring you joy every time you look at it, I’m sure.

  2. Mars Lord
    August 5, 2016

    Beautiful. Thinking of you on your anniversary!

  3. Paul Richard
    August 5, 2016

    Yes, you will always remember and celebrate your anniversary and her birthday. Evan if you marry again, I have remarried and now celebrate two anniversaries and birthdays.

  4. Ingrid
    August 5, 2016

    “WOW, you have picked “An Amazing And So Appropriate Anniversary Gift” !!!”
    Sending Lots of Love&Hugs on your Wedding Anniversary, Ingrid xx

  5. Nicole
    August 5, 2016

    Beautiful writing and a beautiful painting.

  6. Hardip
    August 5, 2016

    Will be thinking of you tomorrow Ben, x

  7. Katy Hill
    August 6, 2016

    Wow. I’m so glad you bought
    such a perfect gift for her. That print is beyond beautiful X

  8. Carol Barber
    August 7, 2016

    I can only echo everyone else! The print is the perfect choice. I just love it only managed to see it in detail when home! Great to share some time this weekend.

  9. victoriawhyte
    August 8, 2016

    Love that you are finding ways to honour these special dates in ways that are meaningful to you. Thinking of you.

  10. blinky bustard
    August 12, 2016

    You write so beautifully Ben, your words must surely jostle the thoughts of many. Much love.

  11. Ravi Roshan Jaiswal
    September 23, 2016

    Hello Ben,

    Interesting post indeed. I’m so glad to read your wonderful article on ‘Anniversary Gift’. Such a surprised anniversary gift for her.

    Your loving word was quite effective and reading that, was pretty good for my heart. Thanks for sharing your unforgettable moment through his post. I enjoyed it lot. I must appreciate you for your beautiful purchase and it enough to fill your life happy and joy.

    – Ravi.

  12. Gina
    October 5, 2016

    It was Dave’s birthday on 1st October just gone. He died suddenly and without any warning on 5th August 2016. I wanted to buy him a birthday card with a picture of a bear on – Bear was my nickname for him. I have bought him a bear card for the past 26 years. In the end I thought it would be a bad idea. Reading this I wish I had done it.

    You were right with your anniversary gift Ben.

    Love to you and Jackson.

  13. Lucy
    November 1, 2016

    Not the same at all, but I lost my son 7 years ago and I ‘buy’ him things for his birthday band Xmas grave. I also write him a card every year, seal it up and put it in his memory box.

    There is no right or wrong in death. X

  14. Barbara Abbott
    January 2, 2017

    Hi there, amazing paintings and unique gift. Last month on my anniversary my husband gift me a hand stamped necklace with a lovely wife stamped over it and I was little surprised while receiving that gift and I think this type of unique gifts can be the best thing to be remembered. Thanks Chris.

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