These Widow's Shoes


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Saying goodbye slowly

Yesterday I wrote about my feelings about all of Ben’s things around the house and how it has been a challenge deciding what to do with everything. Slowly some things have found new homes and lives, some have met their fate at the hands of the binmen, and many are still part of the furniture of our daily lives.

I’ve wanted to share the different directions these things have gone in for some time, so finally here goes…

Up-cycled into beautiful new things

I’m starting with my favourite. Months ago Ben’s Mum and I came up with a list of beautiful things that we’d like to make with some of Ben’s shirts that we’ve kept, from a patchwork quilt for Saskia, to a little pouch for leaving teeth for the Tooth Fairy. We haven’t made much progress yet – it’s about finding the right moment and that might not be for a while – but I will share pics one day! In the meantime, here’s a picture of one of three incredibly cute animal hoods that my brilliantly talented and kind friend Marylka made for Saskia out of some of Ben’s hoodies.

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Given as gifts

It’s taking a while to feel ok about giving Ben’s things away to friends and family. There has been, and remains, quite a lot of uncertainty in my mind about whether I want to keep certain things for myself, or for Saskia, or am happy for someone else to have them. I am aware of my selfishness in this – Ben’s possessions are all of course legally my possessions now, but it wouldn’t be right for me to hoard everything away from others, especially his closest family and friends. Fortunately no one has put pressure on me to give them anything, so I have plenty of time to mull over what to keep and what to part with. A couple of times lately I have suddenly realised that this or that would be the perfect gift for this person or that. At Christmas I decided that Ben’s two skate boards, with their attractive retro artwork, should go to the two young ladies in his life – his sister and his daughter. So Saskia’s was stored for her, and Katherine found hers with a bow on under the Christmas tree.  His X-Box was packaged up for my nephew and niece’s Christmas present – a big surprise for them!

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It feels lovely to give these gifts knowing how treasured they’ll be, but it also feels very important that the timing is right and that I’m ready to say goodbye to these little bits of Ben.

Keepsakes box

In our case, it’s a bag and a couple of boxes at the moment. I’m on the look out for a lovely chest to put everything in. We’ve got all sorts of treasures – from the obvious things such as Ben’s wedding ring, and watch, to a toy car and a pair of football boots with the mud still on them. There are also things that Ben specifically asked me to give to Saskia on certain birthdays. They’re all packaged up and ready.

Re-appropriated by the little one

There are so many of Ben’s bits and pieces around the house and Saskia, with a wonderful lack of reverence, is very happy to make them hers in her own barmy way. About a year ago she found Ben’s old work lanyard and decided it was a lead for her cuddly dog. Ben’s picture and that dog were dragged around the house together for a good month or so. Ben would have totally loved the absurdity and thoroughly approved of the furry new owner of his badge of office.

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I also loved the moment when she grabbed a couple of Ben’s hats (he loved hats – he had LOADS) and stuck them on our heads. A perfect moment for a selfie I thought…

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There to stay

Some items haven’t been moved since Ben left. There’s a Tilly hat hooked over the top of a bookcase just as he put it in our kind of dining room/family room. I like it. It sits there quietly, not bothering anyone, being an unnoticed partaker in all the hubbub and noise that goes on in that room every day.

Given to charity

Not everything can stay – there’s too much. And though, as I said in my last post, even the most mundane objects seem to have gained new importance, it would be madness to keep every little thing. But it’s so hard to actually throw things away – I even took ages to throw away things like a pair of holey socks or a half-used can of deodorant at the start – it felt like throwing him away somehow.

But, Faversham is blessed with a multitude of charity shops, among them them Pilgrims Hospices and Cancer Research UK,  and so I’ve taken a lot of Ben’s clothes there. Knowing that they’ve been converted into cash for the charities and are hopefully keeping someone somewhere warm, helps to assuage somewhat that horrible sense of betrayal.

The toughest one

And some things have just gone into the bin.  I feel like I’m confessing something terrible to say it!  Maybe I sound a bit mad with all this angsting – I just can’t help it. Recently I really struggled with getting rid of a shelf of old VHS tapes from the lounge. Ben and I had talked about throwing them out and obviously they’re never going to be used again, but there they were, up on the shelf, as Ben had arranged them, like a CV of his TV viewing life – or rather his VHS-watching teenage years, when he was into Alan Partridge and South Park, and watched surfing films, dreaming of holidays to come and the prowess he was going to achieve. I couldn’t get them down from the shelf. In the end I took a picture of them in situ, just as Ben had put them when we moved into the house. I’m not sure exactly what I’ll do with the picture – post it here for one, but probably I’ll also put it amongst the treasures I’m keeping for Saskia.

I kept a few of the tapes for posterity and the rest, well, they have gone to the big video rental shop in the sky.

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And so that’s it really. There’s still lots of Ben around the place and I like that, but slowly, very slowly, the house is moving on as Sas and I do. Old things have to make way for new ones. It’s hard though.

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Stuff

We gather so much stuff in our lives – us, people, Ben and I. Ben was a gatherer extraordinaire. He loved to acquire, collect and treasure things.

But when we’re gone, our stuff remains….Ben’s things became my things. To Ben each object had its value and its story. They even all had an intended future – some to be treasured forever, some to serve their purpose then be thrown away, and some perhaps already earmarked for Ebay or the charity shop. Since Ben died all of these things have become loaded with new value – even the most banal of objects seems too precious to just throw away.

Saying farewell to any of these fragments of Ben’s life is like saying goodbye to him. It can feel like betrayal – as though I want to erase these imprints of his presence here.

But it’s also freeing sometimes. The ‘stuff’ has often weighed me down. Say, for example, the drawer of socks – they couldn’t stay, life goes on and Saskia and I could make good use of that drawer, and yet it took a while to clear it out and take them down to the Pilgrims Hospice shop. Or the several boxes of hoarded miscellany – old bookmarks, silly pens, key rings. None of it useful or meaningful to me, left to gather dust in the dark by Ben, and yet obviously all with its history – gifts from family and friends, stuff he couldn’t bring himself to get rid of. What to do with all that?

These dilemmas still go on, as I have ‘sorting’ moods here and there, in this room or in that. But I’ve become more relaxed over these two and a bit years about it all. I’ve learned that it’s ok not to know what to do with something – if I can’t figure out what to do with it, it’s ok to just leave it where it is, or put it in the loft for a while, because sooner or later the right ‘new home’ will come to me. I’ve had enough of these sudden dawnings now to believe that I needn’t see Ben’s things around the house as something to get stressed or guilty about. Instead, whatever they are, I try to give them new lives, one way or another, so that they’re not ‘dead’ objects anymore, but ones with life and purpose, owned by someone who can re-use and re-treasure them.

I want to share the different ways that I’ve done this but will do so in my next post. I hope it might be of use to anyone starting out on a grieving journey and is overwhelmed, as I have been, with all of the stuff, the fragments left behind.


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Saskia in the sunlight

This morning, in the sparkling sunlight, Saskia and I visited Ben’s burial place together.

Morning sunlight over the burial ground

Morning sunlight over the burial ground

We were there for a special reason – something I’d been planning for a few months. Since Saskia and I started having little ‘conversations’ about where Daddy had gone to (see this earlier post for more on this), I have thought about bringing her to the burial ground so that I could begin to tell her a little about why it’s such a special place for her. She’s been several times before of course (at the funeral, and a number of family gatherings), but we’ve never talked to her about why we’re there – she’s always just treated it as a little expedition out in the countryside – flowers to look at, gravel to crunch, mud to squelch in.

I know she’s too young to understand much, but she can understand that the place is special and associated with her Daddy. So, to tie the place to her, we made a stone – a present from her to Daddy.

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Unwrapping her special gift for Daddy

We made it a month or so ago. We chose the stone on Whitstable Beach (a favourite place for Ben, Sas and I), and then Saskia did some beautiful finger painting…

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Fabulous finger painting by Saskia

A little message and some varnish to preserve it…

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Love Saskia x

And so Saskia put it under ‘Daddy’s tree’ – and hopefully there it will stay for a long long time, nestled amongst the grass and roots.

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Saskia putting her painted stone under Daddy’s tree

I talked to her a little about this being ‘Daddy’s tree’ and ‘a special place where we can come to remember and think about Daddy’. I showed her his name on the plaque and his photo that sits nearby, but in truth she was only partly with me. Her lovely toddler mind was distracted by all the flowers on the other graves, and especially a wicker reindeer that someone had placed on a grave nearby (she wanted to ride it!). So our little ‘ceremony’ and ‘conversation’ about Daddy was short and sweet – I decided we needed to change the activity and go for a walk. Which leads me on to something I absolutely love about the Woodland Burial Ground – in the middle is a pond. It has wooden bridges that cross it at either end and is home to hundreds of frogs in the summer. For me when I come alone, it offers a serene and inspiring place to walk and reflect, but for a toddler it offers a myriad opportunities for discovery and fun! First we tried to say hello to some ducks but they wandered off, so we played pooh sticks (though none of our sticks were very keen to come out from under the bridge). After that we had copious amounts of fun throwing stones into one end of the pond and then dropping some more off the bridge at the other, enjoying their satisfying ‘plop!’. And here is my beloved monster enjoying the thrill of balancing on a big rock…

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Joy!

It was such a perfect time. I hadn’t envisaged the fun part – I hadn’t gone further than the stone and the talking about Daddy part in my imaginings of our visit. But it was just right – now Sas will have these vivid, fun-filled memories to go with her memories of Daddy’s tree and her painted stone. I suppose these images are just fragments in her mind at the moment – little shiny pieces that she knows go together but exactly how they fit and what they mean she can’t tell.

After our adventures down by the pond we crunched our way back up the gravel path to Ben’s tree, meeting his mum, step-dad and sister along the way. To my surprise Saskia proceeded to confidently tell her nana, gramps and aunty that this was Daddy’s special tree which would grow bigger and bigger, and this was her stone for Daddy. So it did go in after all – seems she can listen and stomp around exploring graves. Clever girl.


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Memories of when I fitted into these shorts…

It’s funny the unexpected situations that can bring back memories of Ben. Here I sit in my bedroom, surrounded by clothes as I figure out what to take on holiday. As I’ve hunted to the back of the drawers and wardrobe and tried on my old beach holiday clothes, I’ve realised that a lot of these things haven’t seen the light of day since our honeymoon in Bali in 2008. There’s the surfer girl top that we bought there, that Ben loved so much that when the colours ran in the wash he secretly hunted for hours on the net to find me another, the shorts that I bartered over (i.e. got bullied into buying by a formidable Balinese saleswoman), and the slinky, sequin top that I used to save for our dates. Putting on these clothes after all these years feels like putting on an old self – more naive, younger, slimmer!

It’s sad, but comforting. I said in a post back in May that I’ve struggled to really feel memories from before last year. When I’ve thought of our happy  times – our honeymoon, our wedding, first moving in together, holidays – the memories are there but the emotions aren’t. It’s like the emotional equivalent of a blurred or faded photograph – I’ve been numb to those memories. The memories that I can feel are mostly the many grim ones from last year.

Except in this quiet little moment of looking through old clothes, which has brought back happy memories, and lovely, very welcome feelings, along with them.