My late wife, Desreen, was very funny. She had a completely different take on the world to anyone else I’ve ever met. For instance, after she’d given birth to our son she never really spoke negatively about wanting to lose weight or build back the stomach muscles that were cut open during her emergency caesarean. Instead, she detailed, with a great sense of positively and passion, the plans she had for her ‘relaunch’.
This wasn’t a one-off thing, either. The relaunch was her really rather regular way of not letting herself get complacent about anything in her life. It was a full aesthetic and attitudinal overhaul, that I found endlessly entertaining (especially when I once heard her friend tell her that she looked like Michelle Obama when I knew she was channeling Claudia Schiffer that day).
Thinking about this a little more seriously now than I might ever have back then, I realise that it takes real guts to let go of what you know and start again. A pattern I’ve found myself stuck in over the years – one that often seems to surprise people when I try to explain it to them – is fear of change. Sure, I’ve changed jobs and I’ve done some things that I hadn’t done before she died, but when it comes to the fundamentals of how my son and I live of everyday lives, I’ve often observed myself frozen in time – anxious about attempting to move forward.
Sometimes the only way to handle concerns about personal progress, though, are to go all-out. Sometimes the only answer is a full-scale relaunch.
In June 2018, I left a really good job at an amazing firm because I just couldn’t face missing out on all the time my son and I could have been spending together. We went travelling for the summer, completely redecorated our house and then I started freelancing a bit.
More importantly, though, I was able to help my son make a lot of personal progress. He couldn’t swim because I’d never had (or perhaps made) the time to teach him or take him to lessons. He’s now confident enough to jump off a jetty in the Mediterranean and swim in the sea. He wasn’t that motivated by sport because I’d never really been able to face hanging out with all the parents at Saturday morning activities in the park. He’s now on a football team, which I observe building him up so much in strength, determination, resilience and confidence. It’s an absolute joy to see.
I suppose what I hadn’t expected from this time out was that the more time we spent together, the more ready we would be to step back and be apart. Working that through in my mind now, it makes a lot of sense.
Children, I’ve learned, need to feel protected, acknowledged and secure. Bereavement – and any significant change in their lives – can completely rock those foundations, though. And yet, at the same time, children also need to grow in independence. As a counsellor once said to me, it’s a child’s ‘job’ to begin to separate from their parents from the moment they are born. Sure, it’s a slow process with humans, but in the animal kingdom we’re quite used to seeing (and accepting) this process on fast-forward.
I guess it was when I was able to see how he had grown, that I was ready to follow his lead. I tried out some childcare options outside of the family unit for the first time and Jackson loved it. I asked him the other day if he feels a bit like he’s found a new big brother in the ‘manny’ who now looks after him after a school for a few hours.
‘No, he’s better than a brother,’ he replied, ‘he’s not annoying.’
I’ve been able to go out and get a new job that I love, confident that Jackson isn’t being compromised in the least. We’re both thriving in the day and truly enjoying our time together at night. I feel somewhat free for the first time in years and it feels great.
I realise now that I didn’t need to fear the future. I just needed to brave the relaunch.