Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

good grief

Having probably taken the happiness I had for granted over the last eight years, I lay in bed at 3am last night, sleepless and sullen, and realised just how beneficial an emotion it is.

Happiness makes us look good. It makes us glow in a way that no makeup brand or lighting director could ever recreate. So far I’ve never heard anyone at a wedding say, ‘the bride looks rough’. Beaming brides radiate and I can sincerely say that every male friend I’ve seen walk down the aisle did the same. It’s an emotion that changes our faces, straightens our postures, makes us infectious to the people around us, and allows us to smile wider and laugh louder.

Happiness makes us nicer people. It doesn’t feed off bitchy comments or quips. It doesn’t need them to survive. It doesn’t scoff, it just slowly grazes on tenderness, kindness, company, intimacy and gentle humour. It orders the tasting menu rather than the all-you-can-eat.

Happiness makes us appreciate what we have. When happiness is truly inside us it’s like a little hedgehog; unassuming, not boastful and (I’m not sure if you know this about hedgehogs) immune to the snake venom that is sorrow.

We spend our lives chasing happiness and complaining that we haven’t found it. Our holiday destinations are too cloudy. Our jobs don’t allow us to have enough fun. Our waists are too wide. Our teeth aren’t white enough. Our friends live five miles further away than we’d like.

We spend our lives talking about how we could be happier.

But then loss comes and we realise we couldn’t. We’d swap Barbados for Bognor. We’d lick stamps until our tongues bled for money. We’d put on another stone. We’d wear dentures. We’d move to another country and have dinner with mates over Skype. We’d do anything to have that person back in our lives.

We lose ourselves in talking about happiness but we don’t allow ourselves to be happy talking about loss.

My friend treated me to dinner tonight and gave a little more fuel to my fire.

I want to hear people happily talking about grief and not just grieving happiness.

Let’s continue this good conversation about grief.

25 comments on “good grief

  1. vanessa.m
    January 18, 2013

    I agree with this post.. We take happiness for granted and sometimes the people we love most are who we take for granted also.. I guess that’s how life is, when things are TAKEN from us we would do anything to have them back. I feel really sad that this happend. But you know what Ben, your beautifull wife must be soo proud of you right now, I don’t know you or her, but I’m smiling at the thought that she’s proberbly laughing at you or something for coming out with such pure honest heartfelt words and phrases.
    Grief is not about crying or wishing we had done things different.. Crying will not make things better :( but what you can do is smile and be happy that you met the perfect woman and that she blessed you with such a beautiful young man, celebrate her life and treasure your memories..
    I must admit i neglected some of the things or people I love in my life, and this post has definatly made me feel more apprecitaive of life and those around me, I’m 22years old but iv read this post as if it were my father telling me these things about happiness.
    Thank you soo much for posting. And I hope you get some rest for tonight

  2. Carol Milligan
    January 18, 2013

    My experience of grief, made me feel alive, feel every thing, like some kind of switch that had been out all my life was suddenly switched on, I am not ashamed to say I enjoyed the emotion, that sounds terrible, I didn’t enjoy the loss of my loved one, but it made ever single nerve in my body wake up, like it had been sleeping for a thousand years, suddenly the smallest thing, a robin sitting in the garden, was so pure and clear and noticible, it was as if I had developed super powers over night, and could see and hear things all around me, that I never took notice of before, the beatuful sky at night a crisp packet sadly rolling across my garden, which made me cry cause it looked sad! I guess what I am trying to say is that My grief, was so raw, it was as everything was crystal clear, like coming out of a fog, and as long as I felt like this, I still felt near my loved one. I know people say they are many stages to grief, but to me this was certainly a possitvie one, if you can dare call it that, most people would be horrified at the very thought of me saying this, let alone writting it down in your blog! But there is no right way or wrong way to deal with grief, you just gotta go with the flow, and if a crisp packet rolling across a garden helps to release some emotion, then I see that as part of a long and weird healing process <3

  3. Sara
    January 18, 2013

    Ben, explain more to me about grieving happiness? I’m not sure I understand what you mean, but I am intrigued. You have me thinking. Which did I do? I’m not sure, but I know now I find much beauty in my grief and my journey to healing. I didn’t ask for the journey, in fact, I was fairly angry for a while. I told you in a post one time that it will change you, if you let it. I let it change me, for the better. The experience absolutelly shaped my life and my beliefs–that’s where I found beauty. Even in the hardest times there was beauty. That’s hard to see under the clouds of darkness, but I see it now. I don’t think I was grieving happiness though. I think I was grieving future, my kids futures. I think I was grieving how life was supposed to be and certainly him as a person. Clearly, whether I liked it or not, this was how life was supposed to be. I figure, if I didn’t make the most of life after he was gone, then the complete thing was a huge waste of life (lives).

    • lifeasawidower.com
      January 18, 2013

      I’m trying to say we sometimes ‘give ourselves grief’ for not being happy enough when we often haven’t realised quite how much we have. Then we experience loss and real grief (not the colloquial type) and we realise how happy we were (or perhaps should have been) with our lot. I’m not saying I sit at home ‘happily’ grieving, rather that I want to feel comfortable talking about my grief and not marginalised for it.

      • Sara
        January 18, 2013

        I completely understand now. Makes absolute sense. And, excellent point(s). Thanks for explaining to this sometimes clunky brain.

  4. Wendy
    January 18, 2013

    I read your story today and although the grief I experienced was not my husband dying, a lot of what you have posted made me aware of how I felt at that time I lost my mother in law, made me think about how I dealt with the grief of my husband when his mum passed away, how I have often regretted not taking more pictures of her with my sons, not writing down all the special moments she spent in my life, terrified I could not remember her face or not smelling her perfume again. I recall talking about something she once did that was really stupid, she actually hurt herself, but her reaction to the incident in recollection still to this day makes us all laugh hard, but makes us cry too because we’re sad we cant recall it with her. Please keep blogging its a wonderful way to give your son memories to read and help him learn about how you coped too, as well as helping others who find themselves in your shoes. What few photos I have of her I have made into a beautiful scrap book. I wish you every success with your blog and hope it will help you, your son and others dealing with such an emotional rollercoaster. Wendy

  5. Tash Dahling
    January 18, 2013

    Sometimes we just don’t know how to count our blessings. I think that’s human nature. And mostly, once we lose that thing that we didn’t know was happiness, do we realise what we had. Human beings are contrary creatures.

  6. Alex James
    January 18, 2013

    Hi Ben
    I think grief brings us into the reality of the moment, the future can seem like an endless empty /lonely path and the past gone as those we love have gone but precious painful to recall, but where we might long to be.
    Surviving the moment waking each morning. breathing in and out making the first moves of the day in the moment give a depth of where we are.An awareness of self that perhaps we never had to have or notice before.
    Your honest writing is reaching so many
    Take Care Ben
    Thinking of you
    Alex

  7. Pingback: good grief « younglady95's Blog

  8. Aza
    January 18, 2013

    Here I am at the start of a life that you yourself started 8 years ago.
    I have never experienced such a loss as you have but the empathy and sincerity with which you are sharing your story is just inspiring.
    The importance of simply talking and venting feelings is so vital when you feel like the whole world is against you and there’s no way out.
    Thanks to the age of technology there will always be someone out there to listen to your words, hear your thoughts and share your angst.
    Thank you to you for encouraging the world to help themselves by remembering happy times and just plain and simply talking.
    All the best to you and the wonderful Jackson…

  9. Andy King
    January 18, 2013

    Ben
    thanks for the blog–I lost my wife last March to cancer at the age of 43–strangely, this is the first time I have written about how I feel–I honestly cannot remember much about the months after her death, my mind protected me from the pain of losing a life partner so early–like you I have kids(2 boys aged 15 and 17)–unlike you they have offered me an amazing amount of support because of their age and I see Jules every day when I look at them
    we have thrown ourselves into fundraising–as so many do but the kids set up their own website http://www.screwcancer.co.uk aimed at their own age group
    Happiness is of course a relative term and we have only demanded happiness as part of our make up for about the last century or so. Prior to that survival was all we could hope for. Personally I have tried to look for the positives –rathere than thinking that she has been taken from me 30 years too soon–I try to think that at least I had 20 years with her–an approach that soemtimes works–more oftne doesn’t.
    Each person’s journey is singular and the only advice I can offer to those in a similar situation to me is –never take anybody’s advice–however you feel at any point –that’s ok

    thanks again

  10. John King
    January 18, 2013

    Ben I commented on your excellent blog yesterday after seeing you on the telly, I’m also commenting today but for different reasons.
    I don’t really understand what your trying to say in this blog, saying things like “We lose ourselves in talking about happiness but we don’t allow ourselves to be happy talking about loss.” What exactly does this mean as to me it sounds like a slogan from a self help book.
    Maybe I’ve totally misunderstood you but I’m not “happy talking about loss” I lost my wife of 21 years 14 months ago and I’m still angry that she was took from me at such a young age. I have 3 kids two of whom are teenagers who still cry themselves to sleep at night so forgive my bitterness Ben for not being able to “happily talk about my grief” although hopefully I’ll also soon reach a place in my life that you seem to be at already.
    JK

    • lifeasawidower.com
      January 18, 2013

      I wasn’t trying to say that I’m happy about talking about my all too recent loss. More that we don’t tend to talk too much about the ‘what if’. It’s often taboo and makes people close up. I’ll never be happy to talk about my loss. What I had before it, yes, but not the loss itself. I’m just questioning whether we should be more open about talking about loss and grief.

      • lifeasawidower.com
        January 18, 2013

        Also, I think it’s important to note that this is a kind of diary about how I feel on any given day facing raw grief. I might look back in a week and wonder what I was talking about and how the words came from me. I’m not a counsellor and I’m not saying I’ve got the answers, just documenting how I feel.

  11. jackie
    January 18, 2013

    Thank you for sharing so deeply, honestly and meaningfully My husband died when my son was 2 and my daughter 4 Now at 16 and 18, we have, by God’s grace muddled through. I am a volunteer ‘buddy’ with Care for the Family Keep talking and keep the memories alive. Come on one of the Care weekends if you feel able
    Thank you
    Jackie

  12. Alex James
    January 19, 2013

    Ben
    the journey is as individual as unique as the relationship theres only one way to do it – your own
    Your words sharing your experience may help others to feel less isolated as some threads may be similar but you are right this isn’t about everyone else is it its about you.
    This will be so precious for Jackson in future
    one day you will write less
    Its not about getting over or moving on its about living alongside and manageability
    Alex

  13. jane
    January 19, 2013

    Thank you Ben for making me appreciate the wonderful people in my life with todays Blog. x

  14. Anna
    January 19, 2013

    Hi Ben,
    My Dad died suddenly, in an accident when I was 16 (nearly 10 years ago now) and I kept a diary because it was something I was doing as a teenager anyway, but I really think it helped. When reading your blog it brings all that raw feeling back and the tears are streaming down my face. You are so very brave to share your feelings. This blog ‘good grief’ made me think of something my Mum was sent by a friend, at the time Dad died – it is similar I feel to what you’re aluding to here. I’ve posted it here. Sending courage to you and Jackson for the hours, days, weeks, months and years that lie ahead.
    Anna

    Kahlil Gibran The Prophet

    “Joy and Sorrow

    Then a woman said, “Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.”

    And he answered:

    Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

    And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

    And how else can it be?

    The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

    Is not the cup that hold your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

    And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

    When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

    When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

    Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”

    But I say unto you, they are inseparable.

    Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

    Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.

    Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.

    When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall”.

  15. Ana
    January 19, 2013

    Hi,
    Two years ago I though everything in my life was not where it was supposed to be. My job was not good enough, i kept finding flaws in my relationship at the time, I was not as skinny as I was a year ago, I wanted a nicer flat and I was exhausted of just thinking of all the things I thought i should have by now. I put my feeling down to a quarter life crisis and carried on in my ways missing out on the beauty of being alive and young.
    Then the news came that changed my life forever and made me experience the power of grief, guilt, anger and love. The next few months were a blur and life changing
    Grief is a journey and I’m not sure when it ends, but it does evolve…
    Now, I still want a better job, my own flat, exercise more etc., but I do not ever let those thoughts consume me or let them linger.
    We need to live life to the best of our ability no matter what is throws at us and the sight of people complaining about what I find as silly little things in life does anger me, but at the same time I know most of those people have been lucky enough not to experience the pain of grief and pre-mature loss.
    All the best in your journey Ben and keep writing..it helps.
    Ana

  16. itwillallbefine
    January 20, 2013

    I lost my man 3.5yrs ago. You’ll get there honey, in time. But not because it heals, that’s crap, but because it makes things different and more liveable. Please take a look at my blog, and you’ll see that it is possible to find the sunshine again, you just have to work for it. *hugs* @madyline if you ever need to shout.

  17. itwillallbefine
    January 20, 2013

    I’ve already commented once, so it maybe that you get two babbling sets of words from me. Aren’t you the lucky one….. Anyway, what I said before is that you are right. Rich’s death was, aside from its catastrophic nature, full of good things, and life is full of good thoughts. I blog at itwillallbefine.blogspot.com because I have to have a space to let it all out. And I do. *hugs* you’ll get to the different place.

  18. dove55
    January 21, 2013

    my father became a widower at the age of 45 and had to raise me, age 5 yrs and my older brother, age 9 yrs ever after and it was a sudden death of our mother, it was a shock for my father. He died a few years ago , age 92 and I took care of him till he died, Im a nurse and I have been reflecting on his widowhood experience ever since he died., realizing things I could not see before. He lost his best friend when my mother died, he did not know a thing about taking care of two kids, it was 1961. The years passed quickly, let me tell you, my Mother was the most loving person any of us would ever meet, we would remember her love and appreciate good souls when we would bump into them, not too many though. He was married to her 23 yrs when she died.

  19. Dee
    January 21, 2013

    Sometimes it is a courageous thing to stay silent, other times, the most courageous thing to do is to speak up and speak out. Thank you, Ben, for your voice which has led to a chorus of other voices who live with and now have shared their own experiences of grief. To express the thoughts, feelings, tears and smiles is such a cathartic experience (I know this sounds like a cliche). Thank you, once again as to see raw, unmasked grief lifts the taboo a little and invites others to remove their masks and let the memories (all the memories) flow. Death, loss, bereavement and grief stay as an abstract concept which we gingerly talk about until it becomes an achingly real concrete present tense in our lives, so to open dialogue (real dialogue, not what we are pre-programmed to say) is a good starting place. As you journey on, may He continue to hold your heart.
    Dee.

  20. Mrs Jackie Loveridge
    January 22, 2013

    Ben, I have only just caught up with your sad story in the Mail on Sunday Jan 20 and felt compelled to look up your blog. Words are little comfort. But humans somehow seem to survive such tragedy, learn a little, and deal with the ache in the heart. There is no real healing in such loss, but an eventual sorrowful acceptance. I do hope you and your little boy grow together, sharing your memories of lovely Desreen, moving forward into the future, keeping her firmly alive in your hearts.

  21. A
    January 29, 2013

    Thank you Ben.
    A lot of how I feel about your blog following Desreen’s death is encapsulated by Dee “(real dialogue, not what we are pre-programmed to say)” (Dee ,January 21, 2013). Thanks to you too Dee, for articulating so elegantly what so many of us feel but find difficult to express, about the death of those we love.
    You’re right Ben. It’s refreshing to see someone that has the guts and fortitude to articulate how they feel about a pain so deep that sometimes, only tears will suffice.
    Your love of Desreen, makes the reader love her.
    When I grieve those I’ve lost, it’s my most powerful emotion, more mundane things cease to matter. Other people might not be able to handle the depth of my emotion but I can and do say, how sad I feel. What I can also say about my own experience of death is that the pain you feel, reflects your love for the one you have lost; and the only part of the person that you truly own, is your love for them.
    What you say Ben has helped me embrace the raw emotion that I feel on my father’s death; my father died years ago in February. I also hope it has opened my eyes up, just a little more, to someone in my family, who lost her husband in a car crash.
    May God give you and Jackson, only what is good.
    Love AB.

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