Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

new words

Many widows and widowers speak of the uncomfortable ‘widowy’ moments they’ve experienced since losing their spouse.

Like when they realised a friend had crossed the road to avoid them just because they didn’t know how to handle that difficult conversation. Or when a previously chummy neighbour, who would usually be happy to lend you their lawnmower, suddenly wouldn’t sweeten your grief with their metaphorical sugar.

After losing our spouses we can become ostracised, sidelined, social outcasts even.

And we’ve done nothing wrong.

And we’re already in so much pain.

Yet people can cause us even more agony because they don’t know how to approach us, how to deal with our suffering, how to compose themselves around us.

And these people probably do care, but just don’t know how to show it in such difficult times.

So it creates a nightmare within a nightmare for the people who wish, more than anything, that they could just wake up from this devastatingly terrible dream.

Well two days ago something happened that made me feel immensely proud. I saw this phenomenon un-happen. I’m quite aware that’s not a word, but should one have to be approved by a council before people start using it? Perhaps, but either way I love made-up words, m’kay?

So the reason I saw this situation ‘un-happen’ is because I’d played out what I believed would happen in my head so many time but it didn’t happen that way after all.

On Wednesday this week I decided to go into work for the first time since my wife died. It’s been three months. I’ve been calling this time ‘paternity leave’ because ‘beleavement’ hasn’t been approved by the word council yet.

Every single part of me had been dreading this moment. Not because I’ve suddenly become lazy or work-shy, but because I was scared to walk into a room full of 70-odd people who wouldn’t know how to handle me. A room full of people who are mostly under 35 and who possibly shouldn’t know how to deal with the grief of a 33-year-old man who has already lost his wife.

In my head I saw people pretending they hadn’t seen me walk in. I played out this scenario of groups of people dashing into fictitious meetings to avoid the stinky widower. I imagined that’s what I’d become, that I was no longer their colleague, their friend. That I was no longer Ben.

I was nervous in the lift on the way up to the office. I felt like I had to take something to take the edge away. I nearly turned back because I’d seen what I thought was going to happen so many times before.

But it didn’t. It un-happened.

Everyone was incredible. They treated me just like they did before but with hugs and handshakes. They didn’t ask how I was because they already knew. They were actually pleased to see me. No road-crossing, no ‘widowy’ moments, just a room full of lawnmowers and sugar.

So I said I was proud, but why?

Well five weeks and five days ago I took it upon myself to open up about my feelings and to dish up my grief on a plate. That plate became tapas within a couple of days and those tapas were a banquet within a week. Nearly a month and half later this blog has had 300,000 views. If I can’t see a number in my head represented by actual people in a football stadium, then I’ve never been able to imagine what that number looks like.

So I’ve not been able to envisage the amount of people reading, who they are or why they’re bothering. I’m just a grieving guy who spends his entire day worrying about his son and not moving very far from where he lives, so it’s been impossible to appreciate what people do with the words I write. I decided early on that it didn’t matter though. As long as the words did some good for someone, anyone, then I didn’t even need to know.

But two days ago that someone, that anyone, was me. Everyone at work had been reading the blog. They knew what was in my head. They’d read the guidelines for how to approach someone like me. They knew that I wanted to be treated like a whole person rather than a piece of broken jigsaw. All of a sudden it was worth opening up, telling the world how I feel and leaving nothing out.

So that’s why I felt proud. Yes, I’d apparently made the potentially difficult situation easier on myself, but it wasn’t that. It was because I know these people and because I know now that they can do it again. I know that the next time any of them hear a terrible piece of news that will change the lives of the people around them forever, they’ll know what to do. They’ll know how to prevent there being a nightmare within a nightmare and whoever’s terrible dream it is will be made easier by one of these incredible people that I have the honour of knowing.

And so I’ll carry on. And we can all make an impact together if we keep reading, commenting, sharing, talking, opening up and softening that stiff upper lip.

Possibly the natural place to sign off but I met a lovely guy yesterday who really got me thinking. Like my son, his children lost their mother much too soon and we chatted for ages about how we could help make life better for our kids.

We posed a question too. What do you call a father who has suddenly and tragically become both mum and dad to their child or children?

A mad?

A dam?

Perhaps we should ask the word council for approval.

18 comments on “new words

  1. wendy
    February 15, 2013

    Ben
    I feel a physical pain when I read your blog entries. I have a three year old son. You sound like an amazing dad and your beautiful boy is lucky to have such a great dad. I clicked on the guidelines but the link wouldn’t work for me. So I am not sure what the ‘right’ thing to say is. All I know is that life can be totally shit at times. There are no words. No-one should have to lose their wife, best friend, son’s beloved mum. I would say to someone to feel whatever you are feeling, do whatever brings you comfort.
    You are right to feel proud.

  2. dottyhousewife
    February 15, 2013

    Fantastic message and so true. Remember your son will grow up with these widowy moments though. I remember dipping my head down in German classes, praying the teacher would not ask me the question ‘How old is your mother?’, as I could not work out how to reply without upsetting everyone. If I said ‘She is 32′ (in german of course) I would have gone bright red, as most of the class knew my mother was dead, If I said, ‘My mother is dead’ this would have created an awkward moment and I hated awkward moments..at 11 years old I just wanted to be normal and viewed as such. Your son will want not want pity, just understanding. He will not need pity, he has you and he had a wonderful mother, many have much less than this.

  3. Ana
    February 15, 2013

    It was so lovely to see you the other day Ben! We’re all looking forward to you coming back to the office xx

  4. Mummy Kindness
    February 15, 2013

    How incredible that the words you share to help others have the added advantage of helping you too, on so many levels (as illustrated here). What an inspirational man you are. I love your truthfulness and honesty. What an fantastic role model you are. Keep learning Ben and please keep sharing and teaching too.

  5. Mummy Kindness
    February 15, 2013

    PS. I’ve just nominated you in the MAD blog awards in the best blog of the year category. Thought you might like to know!

    • lifeasawidower.com
      February 15, 2013

      Seems appropriate given the new ‘mad’ status I have as combined mum and dad. Very sweet of you. Thanks x

  6. Sheeba
    February 15, 2013

    I am from India, so now you know the impact you have made through this blog, because the feelings you share and way we deal with our pain , death or anyother mortal pain ,we all share it and I appreciate your human spirit and courage to carry on, inspite of your suffering and loss, I am sure your unique way of dealing with your lose would encourage many people in difficult situations and your son would be proud of you .

  7. David Kelly
    February 15, 2013

    Glad to hear that things went well with that first day back at the office. A hard step to take as you’ve expressed but thankfully a much more pleasant shock for you than you had envisaged.

  8. Helen
    February 15, 2013

    Hi Ben,
    I lost my fiance suddenly on 8th September. I found out I was pregnant with our first child 6days after he died. Knowing I’m carrying our baby keeps me going. Knowing I have a (huge) job to do keeps me going.
    I know how you must have felt that first day back at work. I returned after just 5 weeks. I needed something else to focus on and I needed to escape some (well-meaning) but rather overbearing family members. My colleagues had been warned by my manager not to ask how I am. They didn’t ask and I was grateful.
    I have experienced the friends who don’t know what to say, the friends who avoid you because every time they see you, they expect to see your partner there too and seeing you only reminds them of the person who is missing. I don’t know how to deal with them. I don’t know what to say to them either.
    Your little boy is very lucky to have you. Try to keep that in mind x

    • Rin
      February 18, 2013

      Hi Helen

      My situation mirrors yours slightly – I lost my finance a month ago today. I’m 27 weeks pregant with our first child. It’s the only thing that keeps me going as well, it’s Jon’s legacy, that and he would be crazy mad at me if I left his child.

      If you ever want a chat I’m here.

      x

  9. itwillallbefine
    February 15, 2013

    I went back to work after six weeks – Rich died on the last day of term, and then six weeks later was September and back to school. My class of 7/8/9 yr old children were wonderful, my colleagues tried so hard as well.

    It is rough as toast, but it is doable.

    Btw, I would love to do a guest post for you sometime, about grief now, 3 and a half years on. (3 years, seven months tomorrow if we’re counting – but who’d do that, right?)

    *hug*

    • lifeasawidower.com
      August 19, 2013

      I’ve just re-read this. Please go ahead with that post if you’d still like to x

  10. Cindy
    February 15, 2013

    I’ve just watched you on the This Morning website and decided to read some of your blog.
    I have only read this one at the moment but totally understand where you’re coming from with the Widowy moments – I lost my Husband on 20th November 2012. It was just as sudden as your loss, we went to sleep at 11.30pm and I woke up at 2.15am and he’d stopped breathing. He was 43, I was 37 and we have 3 children aged 8 and under.
    I have been extremely lucky and can’t say that I have experienced anyone crossing the road to avoid me (unless I’ve just not seen) but I do feel a sense of almost panic when I arrive at the school playgroup, go shopping or walk down the high street in case I either bump into someone who is going to ask me how I am or someone who hasn’t heard the news.
    My youngest is 3 and a half and she doesn’t understand the concept that Daddy isn’t coming back or why. My older 2 boys do understand but it doesn’t make it any easier to explain why. They went to bed and when they woke up Daddy was gone and is never coming back, it’s so tough to explain – especially when you don’t comprehend yourself!
    I wish you all the best wishes in the world and I look forward to reading the rest of your blogs from the past few weeks and hopefully many more to come.

    Take care, Cindy

  11. Michaela
    February 15, 2013

    Why? You ask you re self a million times, why me it’s so unfair. I lost my beloved bob April 2011 went to wake him he had gone. Complete disbelief shock life has to carry on how? 3 little boys all under the age of 6 , some how it does but life is never the same.
    ,

  12. Alan
    February 19, 2013

    Hi Ben,
    I know and understand the pain you feel and the twisted grief inside. I too want to help the same way you do and it is strange how these things happen. At the end of last year I set up thewidower.co.uk as it is 9 years for me this time round, being widowed at 31 with an 8 month old 5 year old and a 7 year old was the worst thing I have ever had to get through. Please check out thewidower_ on Tweeter too as I do feel if the more of us pull together the more we can share the pain. Please let me say the words that mean very little at this short time of loss, in time the pain doesn’t go but life does carry on, children are stronger than we realise and with an opem heart as you have the memories stay alive. Please message me as I would like to help, if I can.
    Alan

  13. James Webber
    February 20, 2013

    Hi Ben
    Many friends have told me about your blog so today I’ve finally had a look. I am so very sorry to read about your devastating loss and I truely understand your shock, disbelief and anguish. If I may, I’ll quickly let you know my story if you don’t mind. I am 35 and just before christmas 2012 I lost my dear wife. She was only 37 and she was taken from my 4 year old son and I in her sleep without warning and for no apparent reason.
    We’ve had to go through a long and painful investigation which is still to be concluded. It seems she had a genetic abnormality which caused her heart to just stop whilst she slept. I found her in the morning which was as horrible as it sounds.
    Like you its very early days for my son and I but I feel that with each day i actually feel slightly worse at the moment. I totally agree with your blog from the 19th in which you explain that you feel something of an outcast. Our neighbours who used to be such a bundle of joy have now decided that they should ignore me which is hard to take. However I am lucky enough to have some truely tremendous friends who have been unbelievable and are really helping me through this time. If I’m honest I feel that the true reality is starting to sink in and my overwhelming feeling is loneliness – no one can provide the warmth and companionship that a wife can.
    I am finding the practical things which need to be arranged particulary painful. Things like dealing with the mortgage, insurance, my wifes bank account etc – it seems like no one is willing to make this easy for me.
    Our son is currently at pre-school and I have encouraged him to go every day that he’s expected. I am pleased to say that he seems to be settling down a lot quicker then his dad!
    I’m sure like me you deal with each day at a time. I must congratulate you on the blog, it helps me to know that someone else is having to deal with exactly the same evey day issues that I am. I’ll read your blog with interest from now on.
    All the very best.

    James Webber

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