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”.

10 responses to “Musings from the studio”

  1. Kate avatar

    Beautiful wise words Ruth- sending love at what must be a challenging time of year for you & the girls x

  2. Julie Hall avatar
    Julie Hall

    I was struck by how brave Pete was at his diagnosis and selflessness during his illness. He was more concerned about you and the girls. It was clear to see you both supported one another throughout your life together.
    Will remember fondly the Sunday Club and the laughs we had.
    Love to you Charlie and Hannah at this difficult time.
    We will all remember Pete and what he stood for when we help others.

  3. Rebecca Mountain avatar
    Rebecca Mountain

    Dear Ruth,

    What a beautiful read..I’m so glad it went so well and that it wasn’t a negative experience in the end. I had very little contact with your husband, only a bit of back and forth about which dragon piece I could buy for my Welsh, dragon loving husband..even that and the pieces themselves were enough to see how amazing he was. Especially when ours arrived..I thought it never would, as it went missing for a while in late 2020. I was delighted when it did miraculously appear, it is so perfect!

    So, despite almost no contact with either of you, I can easily tell what a fantastic couple you are, your children must be brilliant. The loss must be terrible, I have been there too, with someone very special to me, a lesser loss in theory, an awful time in reality. I really hope you still somehow manage to have a lovely Christmas and a better New Year, and that you don’t mind my unsolicited response to your incredible words – Rebecca xxx

  4. Andy Cairns avatar
    Andy Cairns

    Hi Ruth.

    Thank you for such wise words. I’m a headteacher up in Carlisle (Belle Vue Primary School) and you spoke to a group through the Early Excellence cluster at a school called Robert Ferguson Primary a few years back.

    You taught me a lot about Early Years that day, and the school ‘followed’ you on Twitter to keep learning from you. You’ve taught me a lot about Early Years, and life, ever since, and I just want to pass on my best wishes to you.

    I never met Pete, but the responses from everyone else say it all. I hope you know you’re such an inspiration too.

    I wish you and your family a lovely Christmas.

    Best wishes

  5. Annie French avatar
    Annie French

    The paperwork will always be there Ruth, but time spent with people who care about you is precious. Thank you for giving us (west studios artists) the time to remember Pete. It’s always been painful to walk into studio 3 and not see him tucked away in his corner, half expecting him to walk in with hands covered in dust and always smiling. Ruth you made it easy for us to talk about our memories, but most importantly you brought love back into his space. Xx

  6. Sharon Bickford avatar
    Sharon Bickford

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful insight into a wonderful man. I never had the pleasure of meeting him but love his unique pottery. I am honoured to won a couple of Pete’s pieces and will treasure them.
    Hoping that you continue to feel the love of so many people who had the pleasure of knowing your husband xx

  7. Dorothy Nesbit avatar
    Dorothy Nesbit

    Dear Ruth

    I never met Pete or you, but I always loved seeing his pots on social media and hoped one day to have the opportunity to buy one of his pots – I especially loved the frogs reading studiously. Perhaps one day I will, though now, it will be pre-owned and pre-loved.

    Thank you for writing of your experience in recent days. I am touched by everything you have written and reminded, once more, of how we make a difference in the world by whatever acts of love and kindness we commit during our lives.

    Please know that – via those wonderful images of his work – Pete made a difference in my life, too, offering the gift of a skilled and quirky form of beauty that I loved. I am so sad to know of his death and of the great loss for you.

    May you and all those Pete touched and still touches find ways to celebrate his life and grieve his loss. I am sending love from rural West Berkshire and gratitude to Pete and to you for this beautiful share.

  8. Jill Berry avatar
    Jill Berry

    An amazing post, Ruth. Thank you for writing and sharing it. Sending love to you, your family and your friends, Jill x

  9. Heather Swainston avatar
    Heather Swainston

    I don’t know you but have followed your story for a long time now and know lots of people in Cheshire who know you. I have really found all your blogs so helpful and inspiring and I wish you and your girls a Hsppy Christmas – what an amazing legacy Pete has left. Take good care of yourself. Much love Heather x

  10. Ruth avatar

    Hi Ruth. We don’t know each other but share a name and I was drawn to Pete’s journey as he was treated at the Weston who have been helping my younger cousin for years.I lost my youngest sister, aged 22, in a plane crash on GOOD Friday, April 13. The hardest thing for my Mum was that people crossed the road rather than risk upsetting her. I vowed always to keep mentioning deceased loved ones, risking causing tears but at least they were never forgotten. I, too, was a teacher, of French, and the hardest lesson to teach was always family-did I have 2 or 3 siblings? Keep up the good work, such an excellent article.

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