From the bouquets of red roses bursting out of supermarket flower holders to romantic dine-in deals and the greeting card site pop-ups that follow your every move, love, or at least Valentine’s Day commercialism, really is all around right now. It can be hard enough to stomach if you’re single or have just gone through a break-up, but what about if you recently lost your partner?
On 14th February this year – which heartbreakingly also happens to be her wedding anniversary – artist Amy Broch will experience her first Valentine’s Day as a widow. We spoke to her about how that feels, and why spreading joy with her creative talents has been her salvation.
Amy and Sean on their wedding day in New Zealand, 2018
After meeting in London in 2015 – “Sean said it was love at first sight for him, haha” – Amy and Sean married in New Zealand on Valentine’s Day 2018. At the time, she was six weeks pregnant, carrying a daughter conceived by IVF. Just three months later (when they should have been basking in that delightful second honeymoon period), Sean was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, a progressive nervous system disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control. He had gone to see the doctor because he noticed his tongue didn’t feel right. “As the CEO of AMG, he did a lot of talking and instinctively knew something was wrong with his voice. We both knew very little aside from the viral Ice Bucket Challenge had been all about raising money for it”, says Amy. The couple were quickly dealt a second devastating blow: “the first doctor that Sean saw told him to go home, get his affairs in order and start living like every day was his last because it could be.”
Barely out of the anxiety-fuelled first trimester, Amy was dealing not only with the fragility of an IVF pregnancy, but her husband’s world-shattering diagnosis and hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) an extreme form of morning sickness where mothers-to-be experience severe nausea, vomiting, weight loss, feeling faint and possibly dehydration. Her resilience in the face of everything seems almost superhuman, but Amy knew that she had to stay strong for Sean: “It was extremely tough and debilitating but I had to be positive for the sake of my husband. I told him every day that it was all going to be ok and he wasn’t going to die.”
Sean fought valiantly against his ALS diagnosis for two years, but, like many people, his treatment was derailed due to the coronavirus crisis. “Hospital visits and home help were stopped,’ says Amy, ‘As a family, we had to pull together to take care of him ourselves”. In May 2020 Sean passed away, leaving Amy to care for their now two-and-a-half-year-old daughter.
Sean, Amy and their daughter pictured together
Losing your husband of just two years is devastating at any time, let alone during a global pandemic and a national lockdown. While the grief must have felt visceral and all-consuming, Amy found solace and healing in her art, JOY Bomb London, something that also gave her focus and a renewed sense of purpose during Sean’s ALS treatment. “After Sean’s diagnosis, we began exploring every option available in order to treat and slow the progression of the disease – learning that happiness was linked to better treatment outcomes and longevity for ALS patients was a big moment” explains Amy. “Suddenly, the colourful, playful installations I had been creating and experimenting with for years had a greater significance. The drive behind each multi-sensory installation to date is to make the memorable moments happy ones”
“I’m coping this Valentine’s Day by creating an installation entitled ‘Love Letters to JOYself’, which will be in the window of Illuminate Productions at 48 Brook Street in London. I’m encouraging people to spread sweet nothings and messages of gratitude to their first love: themselves! With 2021 starting at such a low joy rate, Valentine’s Day this year deserves a big celebration, and that celebration is YOU. I can’t wait to see my little girl’s face when she sees it!”
Amy’s joy-sparking Love Letters to JOYself installation
Amy’s vibrant, amour-filled installation is described as ‘dripping with melty chocolatey goodness, boy band vibes and cherry-red energy, to remind you to save some red-hot burning love for yourself this year’, and it’s a tribute to her beloved husband. “Honouring Sean and our life together by continuing JOY Bomb has been a blessing. My installations made him so happy during his illness and I’m so grateful that I get to continue that work.” On Valentine’s weekend, (Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th February) there’ll also be a JOY Bomb van driving around central London to spread the love via a digital message board sharing love letters and gratifications. Proceeds from every installation support the Healey Centre for ALS in memory of Sean, the largest hospital-based research program in the world, which supports early-stage trials of promising ALS treatments.
So, whatever Valentine’s Day looks like for you this year, we encourage you to be inspired by Amy and worship at the altar of you, starting with a love letter to yourself. Amy’s already written hers. It reads:
You’re a real-life superhero in a Dolce cape ; )
It’s impossible not to smile at Amy’s innovative, technicolour installation
For more information on JOY Bomb London head to www.joybomblondon.com