Musings from the studio
Over the last 3 days, I’ve been working from Pete’s studio. I had this idea that I would be catching up on paperwork and may as well do it at the studio so that people could come and buy some of the pots we have left. It was a great plan. Not much paperwork has been done though. In fact, I’ve managed 3 emails!
Because what’s happened over the last 3 days is I’ve been inundated with visitors. Some fellow tenants in the studio where Pete was based have stopped by for a chat to see how I’m getting on, and to share their memories of Pete with me. Then there’s been a steady stream of visitors, some of whom I know really well, and some of whom I’ve never met before. Some knew Pete personally, while others had only exchanged messages with him or found out about his work via social media. People have travelled from London, Scotland, Essex, Lancashire… It’s all been a bit mind-blowing really.
Last night I reflected on the stories people were telling me. The parents of former pupils who Pete taught decades ago called in to buy something and to say how sorry they were. One dad said that Pete was the reason his children attended and stayed at their primary school, a mum said that Pete had spotted instantly that their child needed additional help, and eventually they received a diagnosis and the funding needed to get the right support. I had forgotten that many years later as an adult they had been very ill in hospital and Pete had made them a special personalised present, but they remembered.
One of the artists told me that she’d met Pete as a child when he was first starting out making ceramics and that they’d made a pot together which she still has, it’s stamped with Pete and her initials. She later shared a studio with him, and told me that he apologised for his, “old man music” and would often pop his head into her space and ask how she was getting on, frequently helping her out when she was learning new techniques or stuck, “nothing was too much trouble”.
I’ve spent hours chatting with people about him, his life, our life together, and how happy he was. One colleague said, “What a life you had, you were really lucky,” others said how proud he was of me, “He was always talkling about what you were up to, he glowed with pride”. It’s been quite an emotional few days. People who didn’t really know Pete well have welled up walking into his studio, and there have been more than a few tears from Charlie, who joined me yesterday, and from colleagues and friends. But it’s been oddly comforting. 3 visitors have shared their own experiences of losing their husband or partner, and we’ve shared the different ways we’re finding to cope with our grief, for some it is a new thing, for others, it has been many years since their loss, but there are days when it is still as raw as the moment it happened.
I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on these conversations (the paperwork still isn’t done) and a few things have struck me about them.
It’s really important to talk about the person who has died. Many people shy away from this as they don’t want to upset you, but what’s more upsetting is when people pretend it hasn’t happened. That feels like they’re erasing the most important person in the world from our lives. I have taken so much comfort and pleasure from the conversations I’ve had with the different people who knew him. It’s been fascinating to see him through other people’s eyes and hear what he meant to them. Lots of people have said how much he “looked like an artist” and “always looked dapper” and that’s made me smile. He’d have liked that.
Life is short and not always fair. One colleague shared how decades ago her fiancée was killed just weeks before their wedding. We talked about how the notion that we’re in control is really just an illusion, a conclusion I drew when my brother-in-law died on Christmas Eve almost 10 years ago. We’re not really in control at all, illness and accidents remind us that it only takes one thing to shatter the illusion and change our lives forever. We’re different people because of it, and we wouldn’t have chosen to join the club we’re in, but here we are, so we make the best of it and live our lives in a different way to what we had planned, but it’s still a life worth living, and there is joy as well as the pain. Some days getting out of bed is an achievement, and on other days it’s possible to feel almost normal, and that’s ok. But life is short, and we are very blessed to have it, so we need to make the best of it. I am so glad we took risks, we pursued careers that made a difference and jobs we thoroughly enjoyed and boy did we have a lot of fun. Colleagues who have lost partners said the same, that they took risks and never regretted it, but sometimes find themselves wondering “how would I feel if I hadn’t?” I really do think that in the end, most people regret the things that they didn’t do. What struck me about all our conversations is that the people who have lost loved ones know that it’s not about money, status, or power, the most important thing you can do in this life is love and that includes loving your life and yourself. Sometimes that can mean making a life-changing decision and taking a risk, others it means cutting negativity from your life, but you only get so much time, so be careful how you spend it.
It's really important to be kind whenever you can. You've no idea what a huge difference it makes to others. I have been overwhelmed by the number of people who have told me about Pete’s small, random acts of kindness but also about the fact that he was kind, reliable, thoughtful, and helpful to all who knew him. I am pretty sure that’s why we’ve been showered with love and kindness since his diagnosis, and continue to be since his death. Not that Pete did it for that. I was always struck by his selflessness. He never did anything with a thought of what he was going to get in return, he helped because it was the right thing to do. I spoke about this at his funeral and vowed to “be more Pete” in the future. Several friends have told me that they’ve reflected on that and tried hard to do the same since. Even after his death, his influence carries on. It's been so lovely to hear how things that he really wouldn’t have thought twice about when he did them have meant so much to people that they remember them decades later. It’s made me think a lot about how small things make a huge difference and what a huge legacy he’s left, not just in the lives of the children he taught over his 28-year teaching career, but as an artist, maker, friend, father, and husband. I can only aspire to make the same difference to so many lives, and I intend to do the best I can to “be more Pete”.