A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
Three days ago I wrote a post called ‘feeling nothing’. It seemed to sadden people close to me, resonate with the unfortunate people who could empathise with my loss and make the compliments many people had so far offered dry up.
This morning I was given the incredible honour of being asked to talk about my blog to millions of British TV viewers on BBC Breakfast. As I sat in my hotel room last night preparing (or rather completely crashing out in the knowledge that I wouldn’t have a toddler whacking me in the head all night with his twitchy little limbs), I was saddened by someone close to me too. My mum. She sent me a text saying that she knew I didn’t want any praise but that she was proud of me. It upset me that I’d made her anxious to say how she felt, especially when my blog is all about opening up. So I corrected her and noticed a little of my old insecure/cocky self in my reply. “I never said I didn’t want compliments”, I challenged her, “I said I just felt nothing when they were offered.”
I’ve tried all sorts of things to bring happiness or pleasure back to my life over the last two months. The Mr Porter sale; Kalms; my favourite Cognac; wine (lots of it); exercise; expensive new Nike running gear for my half marathon; plans to have my teeth straightened; new shoes; booking a holiday; getting a tattoo; changing my name. But none of it did what I hoped it would. I probably never even expected it to. I guess I was just clutching at anything to distract myself from my pain.
But this morning I realised it’s possible to feel again. I was a little surprised to learn that, for me, it doesn’t come from material things and it doesn’t come from running away. It comes from facing your demons, offering and receiving kindness, doing good, accepting and offering support from the people who care about you and to those less able to express themselves. And it comes from love.
When I left the BBC studio, where I was able to compose and articulate myself well, I broke down.
I broke down because of all the things I’ve done in the eight years since I met my beautiful wife, I knew she’d be most proud of this. I knew from the conversations we had towards the end of her life that her career was just a bridge to the good she wanted to do when she retired (at 40 – you can’t knock the girl’s self confidence and ambition). It was her intention to help more young black women break into the fashion industry because she felt there was too great an imbalance. Typically I was several steps behind her to do list and hadn’t thought about what positive impact I could make in my future life. But last week her memory told me and it has guided me all the way. I like to imagine she has bequeathed me her strength of character and desire to help others so that it wasn’t lost upon her death.
I can’t end this post here because if she has passed on some of her qualities to me then it would be only fitting to end with a gag.
Desreen would have pissed herself laughing at seeing my gaunt mug on the tele today.
She’d have told me that I’m always too pale in January to go on TV without fake tan or a sun bed session.
And she would have been cross that she didn’t get to select the pictures that were broadcast across the nation. ‘Benji, what have a told you about sharing photos of me without my approval? You idiot!’, she would have shouted.
But she would have forgiven me an hour later on the condition that I buy her a present.
I love you Dessie and everything I’m doing is for you x