For six months after the suicide of my son, Kai, the last pair of shoes he wore stayed on the shoe rack in my hallway, untouched. Every time I passed them, I felt sadness, though now I realise the importance of what remains. All that is left are memories, and objects can help in aiding that memory.
Travelling with his shoes after he was gone started with an expedition to the Sahara Desert in North Africa. I decided to take them with me, capturing them in the desert landscape with a photograph. I take quite a few, then I choose the one I like best. I always wanted him to go travelling, and he never had that opportunity, so this is my way to take a part of him, part of his memory, to these amazing places; a way of fulfilling his chance to explore, to see different places and cultures.
Since coming back, they returned to the shoe rack, but now, when I walk past them, I don’t have overwhelming feelings of sadness or regret, instead, I have a feeling of: oh wow, we made a memory together, we did this.
I still stop to look at them, to smell them. They still smell like him and that’s comforting. Even though his physical body isn’t home, he is, in some form, where he should be. I don’t preserve them, polish or clean them either. They haven’t been cleaned since he took them off, nor will they ever be. They will remain the same as they were when he took them off for the last time. I don’t wear them either, even though we are the same size, because that’s not what it is about, they were his.
I’m planning to take them to India next, though I have to be really careful as they are both precious and priceless. I treat them as if they were jewels. I have to be practical too, thinking things like: ‘Am I able to survive three weeks in India while making sure I don’t lose them?’ I’d like to take them to the Himalayas too, to see if I can have them blessed in a temple, though I face the issue of no shoes being allowed inside.
For me, the shoes act as a link, a continuing bond between myself and something my son owned. It has completely changed my experience of bereaving.
I now walk with Stepping Out when I can. I’m not a natural walker, but it’s been helpful. Just to get out in nature, with people coming together, people who understand as they are all going through something, it’s therapeutic.
We’re encouraged nowadays to go through a certain amount of time where bereavement is deemed acceptable, and then we seem to be encouraged to move on again and put our grief behind us, continuing in our life without the person we have lost. This is something I am theoretically challenging within both my artwork and studies.
Freud started this with his attachment theories, that a healthy mind and healthy grieving should be able to move on after a period of two years. We should then let the memory go. But I think the process of memorialisation and memory is important. Because that’s all we have left. It’s healthy to move forward in life, but with the memory intact so that they are always with you, becoming part of your life and not just put to the side.
As told to Amy Stevens.