Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

valentine’s day

This is a guest post by Cj M Swaby

NLP wellness coach, writer and speaker, 33-year-old Cj M Swaby lost his brother; the singer, musician, husband, son and uncle, Lynden David Hall; to cancer in 2006. He shares his experiences of grief as a loving sibling, an NLP practitioner and a volunteer for Cruse, the national bereavement helpline. 

In 2003 my brother was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. He would die three years later on 14th February 2006. I got the call at 8:35am on Valentine’s Day.

A few years before my brother was diagnosed with cancer, my grandmother was killed suddenly in December 2000. Both deaths marked me in different ways.

The grief I felt was one of the most powerful and overwhelming emotions I had ever experienced. But I didn’t run from it. While falling apart at the seams, I just about managed to function on a day-to-day basis. Behind closed doors, however, I was struggling to find the strength to deal with a family that was imploding and a relationship that had recently collapsed under the pressure.

I began to question everything.

What was I doing? Who was I spending my time with? What was really important to me? Why was I here on Earth? Why did anything even really matter?

Then I began to question my beliefs around grief. I was tired. I was bored of the pain, bored of the suffering. I just wanted it to stop. I used to write frequently to get the thoughts onto paper and out of my head.

No Más. No Más.

My eyes can cry no more,

Though my heart screams with pain.

Cold and numb,

My body remains.

Tired and exhausted,

My soul has run dry.

Though my heart screams with pain,

My eyes refuse to cry.

I wanted something different. How had it got to this? I began to explore death. I began to challenge my bereavement and in the process dismantled my grief.

So what did I learn?

1. Grieve at your own pace

Grief is not a race.  Allow yourself the time and space to be present to your emotions and the love you still have for them. Explore this. Time is not always a factor. They say that time heals; I would suggest that it’s not so much that time heals, but how you use that time to tackle your bereavement that matters.

2. Your grief is unique

No one has the right to tell you how to grieve or for how long. While I may understand what it is to lose someone you love, I can never truly know what another person is going through when their loved one dies. One of the biggest mistakes that I made when my brother died was to assume that I knew what other members of my family were going through.

The mistake that others made, was to think they knew how I felt. I soon learned to respect and value each person’s experience of grief. Give them the space they need to express it, but also recognise the boundaries. The behaviour of others around me did impact on my ability to deal with my bereavement. The right support network is often important.

3. Give yourself permission

Sometimes it felt as if the emotions were so overwhelming that I would not be able to contain them if I ever let them surface. This was new and scary. I discovered that when I allowed myself to do whatever it was that I needed to do, to get through it, I was able to free myself up.

I used to beat myself up for feeling the wrong way, saying the wrong things, not feeling the way I thought I should feel or getting angry, feeling guilty or being unsure.

I stopped this. I no longer beat myself up and I allowed myself to feel these emotions without self-judgement. I even scheduled regular “lose the plot” sessions. This was dedicated time where I would lock myself in my room, scream, cry, write in my journal, dance, sing, exercise, punch a pillow. Whatever I needed to do in that moment to give myself a release.  My only criteria when giving myself permission was that I did not hurt myself nor others.

Highly irregular right?

No, not really. I was simply having a normal response to an un-normal situation.

4. Your experience lives beyond theory

There are many theories on grief. They can provide an invaluable understanding of the bereavement process, no matter how long it has been since your loved one died.

Some of the more common ones are:

  • The Five Stages Of Grief – Elizabeth Kubler Ross
  • Tasks of Grief – William Worden
  • Dual Process Model – Stroebe & Schut

These can be very useful in helping us to get to grips with the reality of our grief, but I would be mindful that our individual experiences are unique and may not slot neatly into any of these models.

This is okay. They can be useful as a guide but may not provide all the answers. Your grief is a unique and dynamic experience with many different shades. Remember, it lives beyond theory.

5. It can be done

When I was in the initial depths of my grief, I had no intention of transforming my bereavement. My wish was simply to navigate through it day-by-day. Then as I managed to get a handle on it and get a sense that it was actually doable, I realised that I could change my grief if I wanted to.  This is not to say that it was effortless, but that it could be done. Others had done it before me, so why not me too?

Now I occupy a different space, where I encourage an open and honest dialogue on death, and self-empowerment around grief, through my own wellness coaching practice, and as a volunteer on Cruse Bereavement Helpline.

So what do I know? I know that death does not discriminate and we are often very unprepared.

Cruse is looking for volunteers for the bereavement helpline. The national telephone helpline 0844 477 9400 is open for calls from 9.30am to 5pm working days, answered mainly by a team of trained volunteers working in the special helpline area of the central offices in Richmond, Surrey.

15 comments on “valentine’s day

  1. Bill Wright
    February 8, 2013

    This is so beautifully written by Mr Swaby and provides so much somfort. He’s effortlessly achieved the delicate balance of writing about the uncertain randomness of grief with confidence and authority, yet in a totally unassuming, non condescing style.

    I really like the scehduled ‘lose the plot sessions’. Today is the one month anniversary of my 2 year old daughter’s sudden death and every day I have had moments where I want to be on my own, in the middle of a desert with not a person near me for me miles and just scream and shout until I puke. Apart from a few muffled hollas, my consideration for my family and neighbours has stopped me from having a really good shout up. I am now mentally picking a date for a lose the plot session in the woods. Let’s hope I don’t freak out and dog walkers!

    • Cj Swaby
      February 14, 2013

      Hi Bill,
      My thoughts are with you. I’m glad you found the post useful. It’s important to “let it out” in way that serves us (even if others don’t understand) and I’m glad that you have found a way to do that. You never know, the dog walkers may be dong something not that dissimilar, but using the dogs as a front! It’s by taking action like this and open about it, that can pave the way for others too.

  2. lesley
    February 8, 2013

    Cj I keep reading your piece.it is so helpful and comforting. One thing I have found hard is persuading people that their supporting me includes them letting me be on my own.i need to be alone with my thoughts and feelings at times. At other times I need to talk about my loss ( often going over and over what happened _ my brother took his own life ). what is supportive one day is not always the next. Learning to actually let myself experience my grief was hard but necessary. To begin with I tried so hard to be “strong ” but I would then be overwhelmed with my feelings which seemed too much for me to cope with. I now understand I will have good days and bad days with there being no pattern to them.
    Cruse have provided me with support and I am so grateful to all those volunteers who help people like me
    Your words help me accept I can get through this
    Thanks so much

    • Cj Swaby
      February 14, 2013

      Hey lesley,

      That’s great that Cruse could be a support for you. Sorry to hear about your brother, thoughts are with you. It’s an invaluable service that isn’t that well known. And you are right 100%. Each day is different and our needs vary. Communicating that with those intimate around me was a challenging at first, but when they got it, it made a big difference.

  3. lisagorman3105
    February 9, 2013

    absolutely brilliant post. excellent. Bill so sorry for your loss.

    • Cj Swaby
      February 14, 2013

      Thank you Lisa, gad you found it interesting.

  4. lisagorman3105
    February 9, 2013

    fantastically written, great guest! Bill so sorry for your loss. x

    • Bill Wright
      February 10, 2013

      Thank you Lisa

  5. lisagorman3105
    February 9, 2013

    as you can see I cannot get used to posting and am doing everything twice…..in fact this is the third one just for this thread. Jesus……!

  6. ola
    February 14, 2013

    I completely agree with you that grief is unique! I am a 37 years old Black female who lost a lover, who was a best friend in 2002. I had met him at the Uni when I was about 17 years and he about 19 years. Since then we became closer for the next ten years out of which we had dated for seven years. We both were in the same class in the UNiversity for eight years out of the ten studying a degree which was meant to be five years. However, due to the unrest in my country there was a three years extra to the time of our duration at the University. He was a very loving, generours, charming, honest, hard working and caring human being I had ever known. Despite the fact I was from a broken home, he made me believe in true love!. Unfortunately, just as we about settling down he had a motor accident which resulted in spinal injury. He became paralysed, yet he was the most optimistic person. Unfortunately, I believe he did not get the best help he was supposed to get, because despite the paralysis he always had sensation all over his body. To cut the long story short just as we were coming to terms with his paralysis which by the way never changed him as a person, the worst happened! Some doctor in the country was helping to get him more mobile while we had decided to raise funds for him to travel abroad for rehabilitation. The last week of his life I had just gone to my family, because since the accident almost two years even though we were not married I was almost always with him. For the first time in that period I went to a telephone booth to talk to him, because as of tehn we were just begining to have the awareness of mobile phone which was very uncommon at the time. That first time for almost two years he told me he felt discouraged!. Not planning to see him befor then, I nevertheless took to the road on a four hours journey to see him. However, he was the most flexible he had been since the accident as he was able to hold a pen loosely and wrote my name on a paper, was a ble to hold a fork to feed me!!. I was to spend a day and go back, but he delayed me for an extra day. Actually I had to tear my sef off to get back home, because then I was begining to have disagreement with a family that was sort of a father figure to me about marrying someone of a different religion. So I could not really be open at home about the accident except to my sibling and my mum who at the time was also convinced I needed to marry some one of my religion. Never had it crossed my mind to leave him atthis time and was schocked when a mutual female friend whom he could have done any thing for comented that I should leave him for other suitors at the time!!! Any way the dya I left him I was on my way back on the road, I felt there was something wrong. But was not to know until te next day when I was called into the room of an uncle when I got home wher I lived who did not know I was still intouch with my late boy friend. He had been informed the night before that my late boy friend had passed away about the same time I felt something wrong! That was the begining of my heart break, I just turned twenty seven. Any way I later almost two years afterwards got to leave my country for a further education abroad with the suppport of my father who since I was about 12 was only in and out of my life.

    I have not been able to get over the loss. A lot of people I have met have either not believed why I should be holding on or gotten over it!

    This brings me back to your comment that grief is unique! I mean, I have made a long essay to pack ten years into the few lines is impossible. There are other personal things you can not even share or comprhend.

    The sad thing is that I feel I have not been able to grief properly for him, because people think since we were not married or with kids then the bond was less! It is sad and breaks my heart that such a kind person had a short life and we had no kid to share the memory as sad as it may seem to say it would be difficult to tell if a child was involved. It may be me being selfish, but I wish we were able to have a memory of him alife, since there was nothing of him left! That was also one of the things I was told he discussed before he passed away. I have not been able to move on since then and having dishonest relationship any time I tried to move on has not helped. I hope one day I would be able to get past the lump in my throat when I think about him. I do not know if I would get that oportunity of true love ever again. However, I take consolation I was abe to experience true love in my life time.

    I have tried not to let the past be a dictator, however it would always be difficult. Especially with my cultural background and I am being percieved as if I have less of an existence without marriage.

    • Cj Swaby
      February 14, 2013

      Hi Ola,

      Thank you for sharing, you must have incredible strength to be here to day and been through what you have been through.

      What was really present, was how much love you had for him, and how profoundly his love had transformed your life. Such a beautiful thing.

  7. Sincere
    February 14, 2013

    Powerful words ftom such a powerful heart. Thank you Cj for sharimg your story and being so transparent. It is through your transparency, regarding such a personal topic, that we all can see ourselves. It is my wish that upon seeing our own reflection via your words and experience, that we all can find a personal path to healing any wounds left behind by the loss of those true and dear to us. Thank you for being a blessing and continuing to be the living embodiment of the message of love your brother shared in his timeless music.

    • Cj Swaby
      February 14, 2013

      Beautiful words my friend and thank you so much. Know that you continue to be an inspiration in what you do too. Shine on!

  8. CK.
    February 15, 2013

    Loved this piece. Really sums it up nicely. Thank you.

  9. always a mum
    February 23, 2013

    Love this post, found my self asking too ‘what on earth am I here for? One great book that helped a great deal was ‘The purpose driven life’ by Rick Warren.

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