Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

feeling nothing

I used to crave constant praise from Desreen, which is perhaps why she offered it sparingly and only when she really meant it. She was big on self-improvement and probably worried that I would turn into a ‘comfy’ 30-something male if she didn’t keep me on my toes.

I was the kind of guy who liked to please others and sought approval from people too, which is, when I think about it, probably why I so often cook for friends. It tends to have the effect of instant glorification, which I think most women would say is typical of a man. It’s why we expect thanks when we halfheartedly pass a hoover over the living room although we would never dream of acknowledging the women in our lives for carrying out the same chore.

I refer to the kind of man I was, because he seems to have disappeared at Desreen’s funeral. Ever since the moment I returned to my seat from giving her eulogy, every compliment I’ve been paid has fallen on deaf ears.

I’ve been called strong; brave; a good father; a hero for saving my child; an honest, powerful writer; witty; an inspiration. People have said they are proud of me. A close friend was even been kind enough to call me an “amazing human being”. Yet I feel nothing. I feel the kind of nothingness I first felt when I took Valium three days after Desreen died, naively thinking it was a kind of sleeping pill. For those unfamiliar with it, Valium (in a strong enough dose) almost stops you from grieving. So when I woke up at 2am confused about why I’d awoken so soon after taking such a strong sedative, sleepless and with a head full of dark thoughts that I wasn’t unable to ‘feel’, I was deeply confused. I wondered what was wrong with me; that I knew my wife was dead but I didn’t feel emotional. I felt nothing.

That’s how compliments feel when you’re grieving. The endorsement we seek our whole lives becomes redundant.

Perhaps the acclaim I was seeking before was arrogance, perhaps it was insecurity. But either way it was a feeling. And yet another feeling her death and my grief has stolen from me.

I was going to leave this post there because it felt like an appropriate close, but as I wrote it I received a text message from one of my wife’s best friends. She told me that Desreen would have been very proud of my words on this blog. It’s easy for people to say how Dessie would have felt about things when she’s no longer here to decide for herself, but when it comes from someone she went to dance class with when she could still barely walk, it feels true. And it breaks my heart. But at least it’s better than feeling nothing.

14 comments on “feeling nothing

  1. mawarre
    January 13, 2013

    I don’t know what to say except that, from the other side of the world I ache when I read you raw sadness. I could never have expressed the complexity of my journey of grief after losing one of my children as eloquently as you are sharing your story. Bless you.

  2. Jenny Scarff
    January 13, 2013

    Know exactly what you mean. Lost my husband in August 2010 when he was killed when a car hit him and is bicycle on his way home from a family day out. Still taking the pills because I cannot sleep without them but they deaden your senses so the grieving has still not started. I have not got time to grieve either as I have two young kids that want to know what we are doing today…everyone says what a great job I am doing but it means nothing.

  3. Helen Nowicka
    January 14, 2013

    Ben – my heart goes out to you. I’ve only just seen your terrible story and your blog and am so very sorry for your loss. You have beautiful memories and a beautiful boy, and good friends who will love and cherish you through the dark days. No-one should have to go through what you are being put through and all you can do is take it a day at a time and get through in whatever way you need to. Love and hugs, wishing you better days. They will come.

  4. Sara
    January 14, 2013

    My oldest daughter had a major jaw surgery this year. The major side effect, and possible complication that wouldn’t go away was numbness. It turned out, the numbness was a blessing. It kept her from feeling the excruciating pain. I think your numbness is maybe grief mixed with guilt. I think as you heal, and forgive, you will feel again. I do remember those feelings. Oh, do I remember. Keep writing, keep healing.

  5. Louise Bull
    January 14, 2013

    I come without smart words or helpful advice, but I read your words, and wanted you to know that it hadn’t gone into a vacuum. I’m typing through tears. Life is unfair and it can clearly be cruel, please keep writing, because in time, I can only hope you’ll look back and see just how far you’ve come

  6. megScraps
    January 15, 2013

    It is difficult to live your life in similar way as you used to earlier when you lose someone very close to you. You feel so choked everyday and wish for that one last time where you touch them, hear them,feel them. Love is a beautiful feeling and when u realize that you don’t have the person to share your beautiful feeling you feel empty. I cannot say I completely understand what you are feeling but atleast I can empathize. you know what writing could do. It actually releases you. So, you are doing best!

  7. Joanne
    January 16, 2013

    Ben & Jackson

    I clicked onto your blog after a friend linked to it on Facebook. I have read it with both tears and smiles.
    I have (fortunately) not lost the love of my life and do not even want to try and imagine what it would be like, or how I would cope with raising our twins alone. I have however lost someone very close, my brother, and can empathise with many of the feelings (or lack of them) that you mention.
    I think your reasons for writing the blog are wonderful and hopefully others will benefit from it in the future during their darkest hours.

    I also think that it is something that you will be able to revisit with Jackson when he older.

    I wish you and Jackson well for the future and hope that together you find a way to navigate your grief and move forward

    Joanne

  8. Pingback: feeling again « life as a widower

  9. Barbara Fleming
    January 16, 2013

    My heart goes out to you. My darling partner Don died on August 14 2012, very suddenly, 5 long and lonely months ago. He was the love of my life, and I recognise so much of what you talk about. there is not enough understanding of the pain of grief. It frightens people so much that they don’t want to acknowledge it – until it happens to them and they have no choice. I’m not sure HOW we go on without the love of our lives. Most days I don’t want to, but 5 months on I’m still here. I think it is especially hard for men, I hate to think how Don would have coped if it had been me who died. I hope by doing your blog you find some release for the pain – and I have no doubt you will help others too.
    Barbara

  10. Janice Lambert
    January 20, 2013

    I believe that sometimes it’s the medication that stops us from feeling, I also know that it’s a part of grieving… it’s almost as if it’s a safety valve that kicks in. Then the brain starts to worry and we feel guilt for not feeling. Its totally crazy. Thinking about you and Jackson

  11. george moore
    January 20, 2013

    hi BEN just been reading your;e story in the sunday mail it brought tear;s to my eye;s i know what you are going through my wife died suddenly aged 52 left me with two young boy;s 13/12 we had been married for 12 year;s keep you;re chin up you are not by youreself george

  12. LYNNE
    January 21, 2013

    Hello Ben, how wonderful you have found a way to express yourself..
    Losing a loved one is so traumatic..
    I read about you in the Sunday Mail.. everything changes in your life… you will find happiness again.. work through your grief as you need to first . My hubby died from cancer 2 weeks after visiting the doctor.. do hope you find much comfort from knowing other people’s experiences are similar to yours.. much love is out there for the likes of you and me xx

  13. Anon
    January 22, 2013

    Hi Ben. I am really sorry for your loss. My partner died suddenly in an accident four years ago and I can honestly say it was the worst thing I have ever been through. I think your blog is admirable and it will indeed do great good. There are so many people out there going through similar experiences and it gives great help to people to know they are not alone. Thinking of you and your son.

    Anon, 29

  14. Roisin
    February 10, 2013

    hi Ben, i have just read your open letter in the sunday times from yourself and your beautiful little ray of light jackson, just to say from a stranger in Ireland you are both in my thoughts and im so sorry for your loss, keep writing, writing and writing and continue getting all the hugs you and your son can give, rx

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