The Fabric of Life

Just the other day, I made a pretty big decision. I decided to sell my wedding dress. Unusually for me, this isn’t a decision I have made quickly. Let me explain.

My husband and I are not particularly traditional people; in fact, in some ways we are positively unconventional. Despite an initially rocky relationship we knew from the off that we were meant to be together and when it came to deciding whether or not we wanted to be married, it wasn’t a deal breaker. In the end, I told him, ‘I love the idea of being married to you but I don’t want to get married, with all that that entails.’ So I gave him some very clear instructions: don’t propose. Don’t buy me a ring. Don’t expect that we’ll be planning any kind of traditional nuptials. But he’s a bit of a maverick, my now husband, and he ignored one of those instructions. He dragged me up to the top of Primrose Hill in the dark one evening and he did propose but he knew better than to have ignored the other edicts. On the way home, he asked me, ‘ Are you absolutely sure you want to do it this way?’ He meant, was I absolutely sure I wanted to just disappear and get married quietly and privately, just the two of us, with no fanfare and no friends and family. I was sure. We were sure.

It took just six weeks to organise everything. Deciding to marry in Edinburgh, where we had shared our first kiss on our second date, was easy. I wanted to use my late grandmother’s wedding ring to marry with but we almost completely forgot to get him a ring, which resulted in a hilarious trip to an Oxford Street jeweller one week before the big day, with us asking in a panic for the cheapest ring they had, and nothing for me.

I looked at high street shops and on EBay for a wedding dress. It wasn’t going to be on display so I didn’t need a showstopper, but I was uncharacteristically indecisive about what to choose. In an unorthodox move (but what choice did I have given our circumstances?) I asked my husband to be to leaf through some wedding magazines with me to get an idea of the style I might choose; and then I saw it. Sprawled across a double page spread was the Most Beautiful Dress I Had Ever Seen. A slinky, bias cut Bohemian whisper of a dress by Jenny Packham, with a price tag that made us both take a sharp intake of breath. I stopped in my tracks. “If I was going to have a ‘proper’ wedding dress’, I said, ‘that is the one I would have.’ We put the magazines away and went back to trying to Google a Druid priest in Edinburgh.

And then, a week or two later my husband to be told me that we were going down to the wedding dress designer to find me That Dress in my size. I protested, a bit too meekly. It would be a silly thing to do. My husband is not a conventionally romantic man; he’s never ‘done’ Valentine’s Day or Mothers’ Day and is very low key about anniversaries. He has hardly ever bought me a birthday or Christmas gift and often lets doors bang shut in my face. Unlike many of our peers, since we had children, we don’t have ‘date nights’. However, over the years I have come to appreciate just how over the top romantic he really is, albeit in a stealth way, with things that actually matter to me.

He’s cooked for me, okay only a handful of times, but it’s something he neither enjoys nor understands very well. Notwithstanding the ‘Persian Pasta with Dried Limes’ (Never. Ever. Mentioned.), he has really put a lot of thought, effort and love into whatever he’s cooked for me which has made it special. Even more endearingly, he always compliments anything I have cooked and put in front of him, even if it’s quite literally a burnt offering. I could make him a piece of toast and he would exclaim delightedly that it’s amazing. He very often brings me a cup of tea in bed in the morning. He gets up with our eldest son at the crack of dawn. He spontaneously makes time to take me out to breakfast or lunch occasionally after we drop the kids at school: because it’s a sunny day. Because we live near the sea. Because he works from home a lot. Because we can.

Even though I am a trained reflexologist, he gives me a foot rub almost every night and hardly ever asks it of me. He will be insistent about running me a bath at the end of a long day. When our children have been babies, he’s always indulged my need to hold them in our arms all evening on the sofa with us, never once complaining or suggesting that I ‘put them down’ in another room.

When Romy was taken ill, during that unimaginably hellish 48 hours which were so awful that even now I can’t fully remember it all properly, he was there by my side, supporting me and doing everything he could to work out how we might save our daughter’s life. Afterwards, he almost put his own grieving on hold to support me, quite literally holding me up emotionally and sometimes physically, despite his own pain. Quite simply, if it weren’t for this man, I’m not entirely convinced I would still be here.

Through four children he has never, not once, taken himself out of the marital bed to get some sleep elsewhere. We’ve always been in it together, sleep or no sleep, a team. Once, when I accused him of not being very spontaneous he organised me a birthday dinner with loads of friends and family in attendance, at short notice and as a complete surprise and I am very, very hard to surprise. And every now and then he just pulls out the stops and rolls out a massive romantic gesture. Buying me this dress was one such gesture, and this is one reason why it is hard to let it go.

After L was born, thrilled to have a daughter, I dreamed of saving that dress for her to use once she was older. With the passing of time I began to question whether she would really want to wear her mother’s outdated wedding dress. Maybe she wouldn’t want to get married. Our financial situation wasn’t great and I wondered whether it might be better to sell the dress on and use the money for something more practical or worthwhile but the sheer romanticism of its acquisition got me every time; I just couldn’t part with it.

After Romy was born I thought the dress’s fate was sealed. Now we had two daughters – it would be criminal to part with such a beautiful dress. L was by this time already showing herself to be a real tomboy: eschewing dresses and skirts for shorts and dungarees, declaring pink to be a ‘disgusting’ colour and insisting on wearing her brother’s old clothes. Ah well, I thought. Perhaps Romy would revel in her femininity a little more. Perhaps she would wear the dress.

Earlier this year we marked our ten year wedding anniversary. I say ‘marked’ rather than ‘celebrated’ because ever since Romy died I find it hard to truly celebrate anything. Also, neither I nor my husband find ten years of marriage something to ‘celebrate’. For us, the past ten years have been full of highs and lows just like any other couple’s and our union has produced four adored children. We both feel that it’s more appropriate somehow to celebrate the beautiful moments that happen, day in, day out, the little gems that remind us of why we love each other so much despite the daily grind and the niggling conflicts. It seems somehow wrong to us to celebrate ten actual years of being married; as if we’re patting ourselves on the back for having stayed that way. As one person remarked two weeks after Romy’s death, something like 80% of partnerships end following the loss of a child. That gave us something to live up to!

And anyway; how to celebrate when one of our children is missing? Instead, in an echo of our marriage we marked the occasion quietly. I laughed, as only my husband would give me a ‘Thank You’ card on the occasion of our anniversary. And again, unconventionally, we discussed selling the dress.

In a sense it’s an easier decision to make now. The fabric of that dress is entwined with the fabric of my life, my husband’s life and those of our two sons and two daughters. When we moved into our new home last summer, it required a lot more work than we had imagined and the garden was little more than an overgrown jungle, a piece of waste land unfit for our children to play in. Our budget was used up getting the house into a habitable form ready for our new baby’s arrival and we promised ourselves that this summer we would focus on the garden. Since baby M’s arrival in October and the ensuing onset of winter I found myself less and less able to visit Romy’s resting place and I miss this weekly ritual badly. It’s become one more thing to feel guilty about and on bad days I really suffer being unable to go and sit with Romy. This regular visit enables me to feel that I have made time for her in my week; however on more than one occasion it has seemed either inappropriate, impractical or unfair to drag my new baby with me. It also plays havoc with my state of mind on those days when I miss Romy the most. After a visit with M, I find myself referring to him as Romy for the rest of the day, or looking at him and seeing her. This is an ongoing symptom of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which still dogs me.

What’s more, our older two children are relegated to the front garden of our house to play outside; not ideal as it is next to a fairly busy road and my adrenaline is sky high as I worry about balls going in front of cars/stranger danger/rabid dogs/errant children running off. There is not enough space. The back of the house, however, boasts a beautiful piece of garden with plenty of space for a patio, small lawn, home office/studio for D (eventually) and a big table and chairs. It’s an idyllic place for our children to play and for us to eat and enjoy time as a family. For me, importantly, it’s a space where I can arrange all the rose bushes and plants we have been sent in Romy’s memory on her anniversary and birthdays. It’s a space we can lovingly place her bench, hand made and gifted to us by our wonderful neighbours and friends in the village Romy was born in. It’s a place where I can make the time and space to sit with her without having to drive for twenty minutes and haul my baby son with me. It seems absolutely fitting that the proceeds from the sale of my wedding dress will help to fund this oasis of calm and tranquility, a space for memories and tears, laughter and togetherness. After all, this is the fabric of our marriage, our family. This is the fabric of our life.

And so, the fabric of this dress is now irrevocably intertwined with the roses, the bench and the memories I have of my beautiful youngest girl. I imagine the thousands of tiny beads as the thousands of cornflower seeds I will sow for my baby girl, in memory of her cornflower blue eyes. The elegant drapes of the sleeves have become, in my mind’s eye, the beautiful white roses I place for her every time I visit. The intricate twisting of the sequins that entwine themselves down the length of the dress are creepers and vines, alive and snaking through this little piece of paradise. In my mind, my beautiful dress is coming alive as Romy’s garden before my very eyes.

And in this garden that I plan to create for our family we can sit and quietly celebrate every day that we get through together. In place of that ten year anniversary celebration I would rather give to my beloved husband a space for us to reflect, to be together and to keep alive our daughter’s memory as keenly as we have kept alive our marriage through all its raw beauty and its tragedy. A dress is just a dress, but a garden is a living testimony to our enduring love for Romy and the strength of family. Our family of six.