The slow work of grieving in a headlong world

Maurice Saatchi feels it would be a "monstrous betrayal" of his late wife to move on

Share

Love is all around us, at least the entertainment version of love is.

It tends to be sunny and colourful, full of tender smiles, with a catchy soundtrack and perhaps a few heart-tugging one-liners. We are so used to it that the real thing, when it appears in public, can be something of a shock. It is too uncompromising, almost vulgar in its directness.

Almost 18 months ago, the writer Josephine Hart died, aged 69. Her grieving husband, the advertising grandee Maurice Saatchi, has been talking to The Sunday Times’s Bryan Appleyard about her on the publication of her book Life Saving: Why We Need Poetry. The interview, which can be found on Appleyard’s website, is as wrenching a portrait of loss and bereavement as one could ever read, touching on the big, universal question of how best to be true to a loved one who has died.

Saatchi, it is safe to say, has not exactly let go of the past. Every day, he takes his breakfast beside Josephine Hart’s tomb, beyond a lake near his house. At other meals, he lays a place for her and puts newspapers in the order she preferred to have them. Now that she has gone, he says, “I am leading Josephine’s life literally and contentedly… In my capacity as Josephine Hart, I am just doing what she would have done anyway.”

The conventional therapists’ wisdom, that there comes a time when the bereaved person needs to move on and come to terms with what has happened, appeals not one bit to Maurice Saatchi. Moving on would be “a monstrous betrayal”; it would be “an act of selfishness” to come to terms.

Everyone grieves in his or her own way. All the same, this hard-line condemnation of renewal after death, which is what it is, sounds like dangerous advice, coming from a normally wise man. It turns the lost love into a sort of tyrant from beyond the grave.

Death can be seductive. For some, living with loss becomes a drug upon which they are dependant. It is easier for those people to slip into an aching slumber of remembrance than to deal with the rough-and-tumble of everyday emotional life, so scratchy and transient beside the great drama of love and death.

It is probably easy to say if one has not been in Saatchi’s miserable situation, but there is another way: to respond to death with life, to refuse to become imprisoned by the past. Josephine Hart was clearly an extraordinary and inspiring woman, but perhaps her words to her husband after she was diagnosed with inoperable cancer – “Your life is ruined” – might have been better thought than spoken.

Each part of a couple which has been lucky enough to have experienced an intense life together will normally hope that the one who lives longer will, after bereavement – the one process which will not be hurried in a headlong world – be able to live in the present and the future without the slightest sense of betrayal or selfishness.

In a sense, Lord Saatchi is doing just that. Describing himself as his wife’s “understudy”, he has overseen the publication of her book. There was a Josephine Hart Poetry Week at the Arts Theatre last month, during which poetry was read by theatrical royalty, from Derek Jacobi to Harriet Walter, from Tom Stoppard to David Hare.

There is a poetry app, which has been developed by the Josephine Hart Foundation. In his own way, he is moving on.

Lord Saatchi may feel himself to have been created by his late wife, to be essentially the same person as she was, but he is not. The best way to celebrate a great life that has gone is to relish and treasure the one that still breathes, thinks and feels, and live it to the full.

Prurience and the National Trust

The National Trust is in trouble again. Not so long ago, it managed to annoy Adam Nicolson, whose family once owned Sissinghurst, by being in his view excessively tidy-minded and corporate.

Now it is the turn of another writer, Alan Bennett. In the introduction to his new play, People, Bennett records that he experienced “a sense of unease” when visiting stately homes. Staff were too keen on talking to him about what he was seeing, apparently. In his play, he imagines the National Trust in thrall to the idea that anything, however seedy and implausible, was justified to bring in the public.

He was subsequently horrified to hear of a National Trust mobile phone app which offered a historical guide through Soho’s red-light district and to hear that Jeffrey Archer had contributed to one of its audio guides about Benjamin Disraeli. His version was tame by comparison.

It seems a touch stuffy, this attitude. Providing a history of Soho is surely not such a terrible crime, and who would Bennett prefer to have talking about Disraeli? Dame Judi Dench? Julian Fellowes? The Duchess of Devonshire?

terblacker@aol.com

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A still from the BBC's new rap about the outbreak of WW1  

Why give the young such a bad rap?

David Lister
Israeli army soldiers take their positions  

Errors and Omissions: Some news reports don’t quite hit the right target

Guy Keleny
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice