OVERCOME with grief Linda Timberlake kisses the portrait of her son Kevin Wyeth tattooed on her arm.
It is the closest she can get to her 31-year-old son after he was brutally killed in an unprovoked attack in a Southampton alleyway.
The injuries he suffered at the hands of cage fighter Damon Wright were so severe, police told Linda she would be unable to recognise the young dad-of-three, his killer cruelly robbing her of the chance to say goodbye.
Today one year has passed since his death but the mum-of-four refuses to say goodbye.
Instead, she has returned to Woolston just metres from where Kevin’s lifeless body was discovered last August, to get a tattoo tribute to ensure her son’s memory will live on.
And the 53-year-old says the inked portrait which sits above the words “always in my thoughts and in my heart” is so realistic it is providing her with comfort through her darkest moments.
Tattoo by BJ's Tattoo Studio in Woolston
“I can’t believe a year has passed. It’s already hitting me very hard,” she says breaking down into tears.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get over it. I truly didn’t realise how bad it would be and though time passes, it doesn’t get any easier.
“The tattoo is a huge comfort.
“It’s like he’s always with me now and that’s a really nice feeling.
“It looks just like the photo.
Every little feature is the same, it really is. It’s just like my Kevin.
“I kiss it every day.
“It’s the only thing that has lifted me through the darkest days of my life.”
Nothing could have possibly prepared Linda for the phone call she received on the morning of August 24 last year.
She stood frozen as she was told by his ex-girlfriend’s mother that Kevin’s dead body had been found.
There, within the confines of her home where she was surrounded by pictures of her beloved son’s beaming smile in photos hanging from the walls, she could do nothing but wail at the top of her voice and collapse on the floor.
“I’ll never forget that moment. I felt totally numb. I made such a noise and I physically collapsed. I couldn’t get up off the floor. I was just hysterical. I didn’t know what to do. I felt helpless.
“I thought it must be a nightmare. I thought someone please tell me this isn’t real, please tell me this was a mistake.”
However, what happened next was so real the conversations still haunt her 12 months later – and she will never be able to forgive Wright for ripping the heart of her family out.
She says the cage fighter showed no signs of remorse in the court case earlier this year when he was sentenced to ten years in jail for the manslaughter of Kevin.
Wright had hit him with such severe force, his face shattered and his brain was left significantly damaged. The jury at Winchester Crown Court cleared him of murder by a majority decision but they did not accept his claim he acted in self-defence when he viciously attacked the Saints groundsman.
During the trial Wright admitted he had delivered the blows that killed Kevin saying he threw with “everything” he had wearing his eight ounce fighting gloves. It then took him more than two hours before he called an ambulance.
And for Kevin’s family, his loss was made even worse by the fact they had to wait so long to bury him.
Due to the extent of his injuries he had to be identified by his fingerprints and his family were unable to see him one last time.
They then had to wait an agonising five months before the funeral.
But the pain didn’t stop there. Linda explains collapsing in court as she was forced to listen in detail to the violent last moments of Kevin’s life.
Thinking about what Kevin suffered at the hands of his attacker in those final terrifying moments, pains Linda every waking moment.
“I will never be able to forgive him.
He had about 80 face and neck injuries and they were horrific. I didn’t want to hear about the extent of them but I did hear. I know his face became detached, everything had become detached from everything else. He must have just kept on hitting him.”
Thinking of her son’s final image as he was left to die is a difficult one to erase from her mind.
That’s why she was determined to get a tattoo where everyone can see to remind her of Kevin’s smiling face.
And this weekend Linda is looking forward to showing it off to her friends and family as they all gather to mark the first anniversary of the young dad’s death at the Obelisk pub in Woolston to share memories of his life.
Linda explains she has bought a special balloon personalised with a photograph of Kevin which she will release surrounded by loved ones.
“The way he died and the extent of his injuries haunts me but I have to remember Kevin as he was, a happy go lucky person, and I will not let his killer steal that from me.
“Kevin was such a likeable person and everyone in Woolston knew him. He was always smiling.”