Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

poor daddy

I made a mistake when Desreen first died. I tried to hide my grief from my son thinking that he wouldn’t suffer so much if I seemed happy and kept playing with him and his train set.

You can’t hide the truth from a toddler though. They are too sensitive and intuitive to not notice that your world has shattered around you. One night I (or rather a bottle of Merlot) let down my guard and I quietly sobbed my heart out on the sofa during The X Factor final while he entertained himself with his track. My son knows me well enough to appreciate that daddy much preferred last season’s Strictly Come Dancing, so understandably he was taken aback to see the tears streaming down my face.

But it was his reaction that turned the steady stream into a river. He weighed up all the people in the room to try to establish whether any of them had upset me, gave them all a dirty look just in case and then tenderly wiped by eyes with his soft little hands. That upset me more because I felt like I should be his rock, rather than he mine. So I started acting as if I were happy in the day and then retreated to my room at night to unleash the pent up grief. I was trying to protect him from my feelings until I later realised that I should be revealing them to him (click here for a post on this).

Today I started to wonder whether my initial reaction is inherent in the male species and that maybe he’s guilty of the same crime. I went out for a run leaving him in the house with his grandmother and while I was gone he pointed at a picture of me and Desreen on the wall, looked round and said, “Poor Daddy, Nanny. Poor poor Daddy.”

This now makes me wonder whether the happiness he shows me in the day is a miniature mask for the pain he also feels in his heart. Grief has an terrible habit of making you constantly question everything. Today’s question is, why was he shouting, “Help me! Help me!”, in his sleep the other night when he always used to giggle his way through his dreams?

16 comments on “poor daddy

  1. Nwunye
    January 10, 2013

    I remember reading about your wife’s death through links posted by a mutual friend. It just made me feel raw because death’s bad enough on its own, but having it happen suddenly in front of you can’t be easy.

    It is wonderful that you’ve set up this blog as a way to remember your wife and help others in the same situation. There is so much more I want to say but the thought of your boy saying ‘Help me’ in his sleep is proving my undoing. I’ll be back. I need to collect myself.

    Thank you for letting us into your world.

  2. Jenny
    January 12, 2013

    What you write is so true – you can’t hide grief from a toddler or child. They take in so much more than we think.
    I have two sons aged 5 and nearly 3. I had our third son nearly seven months ago now, sadly we never got to keep him as he was stillborn at 38 weeks. The grieving process is the hardest thing I think I will ever have to do, I hope I will ever have to do.
    Like you I tried my hardest to put a ‘brave’ face on for my boys but it’s impossible. They have seen me cry now many many times and sure they will in the future, and I have to say they have been remarkable. They have comforted me which seems so wrong as it should be me that’s strong for them. But through seeing me express my grief it seems to have helped my eldest son especially open up more to me about how he’s feeling. I know it’s a long road ahead but I am trying to be as open and honest as I can for all of our sakes.
    I wish you and your son a gentle journey through this unbelievably hard time.
    Take care.

    • lifeasawidower
      January 13, 2013

      I’m so sorry for your loss. I really do appreciate your honesty about your son and I hope mine is able to open up and be honest with me and himself. I know many men find it so hard.

      • Jenny
        January 13, 2013

        I am sure your son will open up when he’s ready to as you seem like a very open and approachable father. Initally after losing our baby my eldest son asked a few questions but then couldn’t really understand why we were still crying for a baby that had gone. In his world you cry and then get on with it. It’s only been the last month or so that he has not been scared to see me cry and has cried with me. It takes time for their minds to digest what has happened – but they get there. I think at first he didn’t want to cry as he didn’t want to upset me. Once I explained that it’s OK to cry and to talk about anything that he wants to he seemed more comfortable with his emotions.
        I totally appreciate that men grieve differently to women – I know my husband has. But as long as you are dealing with how you are feeling and thinking (which you obviously are with the blog) then, in my opinion, you are doing everything you can to get yourself through it.

      • Cj Swaby
        January 18, 2013

        Ben, I’m curious as to whether it’s so much just that men find it so hard, or that there are fewer opportunities to express and explore grief and bereavement as a man? I know that for me, after the death of my grandmother, and shortly after my brother, when I approached the conversation with the men in my circle (and complete strangers too) they were actually open to it, and welcomed the opportunity. But I certainly agree that there seems to be an absence of the male voice in the dialogue on death, Which is why what you are sharing in such an authentic way is so invaluable. Thank you. As a volunteer for Cruse Bereavement Helpline I was the only male on my training course in a group of around 17. That got me thinking.

      • lifeasawidower.com
        January 18, 2013

        I’ll give you a stat that has motivated me. Of all the calls into Child Bereavement UK last year about the death of a child’s parent or significant adult, only 17% were from men. There are plenty of resources out there, I simply hypothesise that men aren’t opening up and embracing them. Perhaps because we’re all too often told to be strong and just deal with it. That’s what I hope we can change together.

  3. Andrew
    January 16, 2013

    My partner drowned when our daughter was 10months old, it was in the floods of 2000 – we had just got engaged.
    She was everything to me and the guilt i feel by not being able to save her is overwhelming at times, even now.
    There are no rights or wrongs, no text book on grief – i never showed my feelings in front of my daughter and i ll never know if that was correct but maybe i lost my temper more than i should have or did more sport or whatever.
    the hard times were when she d cry uncontrollably, begging me to bring mummy back and i d have to tell her mummy is never coming back, she doesnt live on a star BUT she
    does look down on you and it would break her heart to see you so upset and we would hug and she would say i ll try to be brave and then cry some more.
    She is a teenager now, bright and beautiful, very sporty, popular – everything i never was at school.
    As a dad, i feel i ve been so lucky to have bought her up, there is no one else to blame or take control, its all down to me…good or bad.
    as your son grows and you get stronger then you and your son will share even more amazing times, it does get better and perhaps as i do, realise i didnt bring up my daughter, she saved me.
    Treasure them and take care.

  4. David
    January 17, 2013

    Ben. Just started going through your blogs, my 13 year old has been immense, she from the first day this tragedy started has been my rock. We have laughed a lot as well its what we did when Memby was around so to get through this we need fun and laughter in our lives, I’m sure Desreen would want the same. Chat soon David and Shani.

  5. vanessa.m
    January 18, 2013

    What is this stupid man Andy Mcleod talking about!!??
    Calling ben a sad man and saying all he cares about is his blog?!!
    Well Andy, how about you take a leaf out of this mans book and BE a real MAN and supprt him, rather than writing rubbish on a grieving mans blog?!
    Go away your not wanted here!
    Ben, I think you are doing an amazing job with this blog and all your posts.. You have so much to teach other people through this tough experience. May God be with you and little man. Vanessa

    • lifeasawidower.com
      January 18, 2013

      Shame he feels that way. My intentions were really to try to help other people find empathy online. And also to share my experiences of handling a grieving toddler and learn from others so I can make sure he grows up as happy as possible.

  6. Mandy
    January 18, 2013

    Hi Ben. I’m truly sorry for what you and your family are being put through.

    I wanted to just add something on this post, as I am the child of a parent who died when I was young, and wanted to share some, maybe, positive advice that I have worked through with counselling. I honestly hope it can help you, possibly not now, but when coping with your child as they grow older.
    Children are resilient and forthright creatures, but they’re not capable of ignoring what’s going on around them. My mother did everything she thought was best for me and my siblings at the time of my Dad’s death, as she was drowning in her own grief, and did everything she could to protect us from the hurt. However, therein lies the problem. I spent a large part of my childhood hearing my Mother tell people that I was ‘too young to really remember my Father or what happened’. This marginalised how I felt and undermined any memories I had of either him or my grief. It made me feel sidelined and not worthy of the same emotions that others were freely allowed to feel. In fact, I remembered many things about my Dad, including his death and funeral, and being so upset at being told of his passing, but hiding my emotions for fear of upsetting my Mum. To my Mum, this was because I was too young to understand, but I genuinely didn’t want to see my Mum cry anymore, so squeezed tight to stop the tears.
    So I guess what I’m trying to say is, be honest and open with your child and talk freely about memories and emotions, in an atmosphere with no judgement. Don’t project emotions onto your child, but rather listen with an open mind. My first memory of my Dad was when I was one and a half, but how many people would believe that, at that age, a child would be storing memories?

    Lastly, don’t idolise your wife to your child. Don’t let your wife become the paragon of virtue on a pedestal – the unobtainable partner your child will never be able to match in life. Help make your wife human when discussing her: warm, loving, amazing but like all of us flawed and one who made mistakes. Give your child the whole picture so they can create their whole, real Mother in their mind.

    • lifeasawidower.com
      January 18, 2013

      Thanks so much, Mandy. Would you permit me to publish your email to the Facebook page without your name perhaps?

  7. suzeozsuse
    January 23, 2013

    ‘The Daniel Diary’ by Ailsa Stern is a book by a woman whose five year old daughter died of the flu – in this book she writes about the grief of her son Daniel who was 2.5 when his beloved older sister ‘disappeared’. It’s worth reading as an exploration of how children express grief.

  8. Pingback: birthday beats | life as a widower

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