Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

day off

Some mornings I wake up and wonder, ‘Should I have a day off from grief today?’. A whole day when I don’t analyse my loss, write about it or read anything about other people’s. In fact, as I sat in my favourite seat on the bus (OCD?) this morning, I thought just that.

I told myself to put on some music and catch up on the news after a whole weekend of blocking out all of the other terrible shit that’s going on out there to spend some extremely special and rewarding time with my son and our friends. But clearly it didn’t last long because here I go again…

But the fact I feel compelled to write this post highlights a point about my experience of grief. There are no days off. There’s no break. Sure, you can divert yourself or physically relocate to an environment that I might once have called ‘a holiday’, but attempting to totally escape it is a bit like going for a swim in the sea and trying to keep your hair completely dry. You get splashed. The current pulls at you even in the shallows and all of a sudden you’re on your arse panicked despite the fact that if you stood up, the water would only be up to your knees. Worst of all, however, is when you’ve built up your strength, you’re adamant that you’ll beat the elements and then a wave crashes into you and leaves you soaking and choking.

I’m really only sharing this thought because it’s the Tuesday after a bank holiday weekend and I’d been planning on writing a piece about what a consistently lovely weekend I’d had since Saturday. I got cocky. To soon was I victorious. I thought I was safe and dry. But then a little emotional tsunami struck.

“I want to go to the sky and see Mummy. I want to kiss Mummy.”

Drenched.

There’s more and there’s more to it too, but for now I’m simply hoping to establish a point about a potential situation that fills me with dread.

‘You need I get over it. You should move on.’

A magical switch that can turn off grief, which perhaps only those who have never experienced it are told about.

The fact is grief is a natural reaction to loss and is a natural process necessary for a person to come to terms with that loss. Perhaps you could imagine it as Mother Nature writing a non-pharmaceutical prescription for your soul. Despite it not being a drug it still behaves like a medicine and if you don’t see out the full course you’re unlikely to get better. And as with any natural remedies that aren’t dished out by doctors, there will always be naysayers and those who think that they know better when in fact they know nothing at all.

Sadly there appear to only be two ways to really understand grief. Listen or learn. In my experience truly learning comes with too high a price. Listening, however, is always free.

19 comments on “day off

  1. Ben Dyke
    May 28, 2013

    I remember the moments of premature victory and then bang! You feel like you are right back at the start and feel as intensely sad as u did on day one. In fact for me because day one was an ending of Hannah’s suffering and therefore relief, the sadness was worse as I let myself finally feel it, after making sure the kids were OK. I even found myself properly feeling stuff I repressed when she was ill, a year or so later. The mind is an amazing creation!

    I remember a helpful thought about grief that I read, that the quickest way to see the sun again is not to run away from the night but run in to it. Running away means its forever chasing you, but running towards it means it passes quicker.

  2. Katie
    May 28, 2013

    Beautiful Ben x

  3. lesleym
    May 28, 2013

    a friend compared grief to having to carry a small heavy rucksack with you at all times. you never forget its there though some days its easier to carry than others. I had a lovely day out with my mam on Saturday and was thinking how well we are doing and was then overcome with sadness as I miss my brother so much. The penny suddenly dropped that this grief thing is not going to go away !! its always with me though that won’t stop me living my life and at times actually enjoying it

  4. Natalie hurst
    May 28, 2013

    Brilliant Ben as always. In retrospect I almost am grateful for the mini tsunamis as I think they stopped a huge drowning one occurring, wiping me out so I couldnt have survived and taken care of the rest of my family. I have revisited the moment where I held my baby son with his eyes closed so many times that its a part of me now. I have had requests about visiting the sky too x you’re doing brilliantly Ben. Your analysis helps us shape and name and face all of our grief.

  5. Dot Schwarz
    May 28, 2013

    A friend said to me after two and half years after Zoe’s suicide, shouldn’t you stop speaking about her? WE are no longer close friends.

    Ben it does get better. It is just it never never goes away completely. I remember it was the days after Zoe died that I realised I had not thought of her for ten minutes. Now 13 years later it can be even a couple of days. I think we can accept ‘normal’ death, grandparents, aged parents. What we cannot accept is abnormal deaths, the suicides, murders, natural calamities.

    Dot

  6. Bill Wright
    May 28, 2013

    So very true Ben, I recently heard from a close friend that at some point you have to ‘choose happiness’. It was well v meaning, no problem with it; I just wish it was that simple. Your splash analogy is really vivid, conveys so well this half life of being in and out. I feel I am alternating between swimming in the comfort of the pool of my sadness as it makes me feel close to Anni and dipping my toe into the whirlpool of our new normal, to honour Anni, doing it for her and the people she adored, her Mummy, Brother and Sister. People who depend on me. As you say, either way we get soaked.

    There’s that guilt element of having a ‘good’ day as well. I might feel pleased with myself for having a fairly productive time at work and being able to chat with colleagues about work, football, current affairs, TV, maybe even cracking a few jokes. Then I catch myself and feel like I am doing a bad impression of the old me and that I am neglecting Anni, for having my sense of loss, buzz at a low hum in the back of my mind for a short period, as opposed to the cacophony of thrash metal at the front of my head that it often feels like. I know it is irrational to feel like I am betraying Anni for trying to move forward (never ‘move on’, feels like an important distinction to me).

    I really appreciated the other analogies on here as well, they ring so true. It does make sense to run into the darkness. All of us automatically weigh up risk and reward and I think running headlong into the grief does instinctively feel like the biggest risk- and it does take its toll, but not as big a cost as running away and storing up a bigger avalanche for a rainy day.

  7. Sheraz
    May 28, 2013

    I know it sounds very cliche, but grief gets “better” and easier with time. Time isn’t a healer, definitely not, but it helps you manage your emotions and plays in key part in learning how to live with grief, loss and sadness. It’s true, we don’t move on but we move forward. The loved ones we lost along the way will always be there with us. We’ll always think about them.

    I remember feeling extremely guilty when I started laughing again after my mum passed away nearly 20 years ago. I was only 16 and never expected to lose the person I cherished the most so soon. But then I remember thinking that she knew me and wouldn’t take offence. She knew I wasn’t ok about her leaving us so suddenly, she knew I would never be ok about it but she also knew that life had to carry on without her. Although it has never been without her. Not a single day goes by without me thinking about her. She is still very much a part of me and my life. My grief has just turned to acceptance because I just can’t fight it. Some days I miss her more than others and grief turns to anger.

    Grief is a mixture of emotions that we have to carry with us for the rest of our lives.

    Good luck Ben – you and your son are doing remarkably well and Desreen can only be proud of you two.

  8. Paul R
    May 28, 2013

    I hate to say it, but there isn’t a switch to turn off grief. While I think it is impossible to have a day without grief, there is a point where you stop picking at the scab. What helped me early on, I think it did anyway, was trying to learn as much as I could about grief with reading, following blogs, starting a Grief community on G+ and joining Widowed Village. Last week I realized that I was “picking the scab” too much and I’ve backed off on all of that. I still read your posts when they come through and I’ll look at Widowed Village once a week, instead of every day. The same with the G+ community.

    I’d also like to comment on your statement at the end about learning or experiencing grief. I think there is only so much you can do to learn about grief. One person likened knowing what grief is to getting married. Before you get married you have thoughts about what your life will be like. But until you are married you really have no idea what it is like.

  9. Katherine Cline
    May 28, 2013

    I can relate the the feeling of loss and grief. I’m in the early days of losing Wesley and am stumbling through the dark of grief with nothing but occasional flickers of light like those of a faulty flashlight, a flicker of light and clarity and then it is gone.

    I was at the beach this weekend and felt literally overcome with the waves of grief as I watched my daughter in the water skipping and jumping in the waves with my brother and his son and realizing I would never squint into the sun and see Wesley from the back, his silhouette outlined and hazy in the sun, frolicking and playing in the water with her. My eyes stung and my heart ached for what will never be for him and me and our little girl. And crash went the waves.

    And Jackson’s comment about wanting to kiss his mummy in the sky. What a heart wrenching but lovely thing, Ben. Desreen is with you, just out of your reach.

    • lifeasawidower.com
      May 28, 2013

      At the weekend I went back to a spot where I spent the weekend before feeling upset at seeing Jackson so happy. When I went back I felt happier. I’m not going to generalise and say that means it’s suddenly got easier because I’ve no idea how it’ll feel next weekend but I learned that sometimes things feel okay and sometimes they don’t. That gave me a little hope and helped me enjoy my time with him. I guess I’m grateful for his naivety though. That’s my sunshine most days.

  10. awomansthoughtson
    May 28, 2013

    Hi Ben,
    Your so right.
    I found it ironic that you use the idea of swimming, as i use swimming to be the only time i get small amounts of time where my body and mind feels numb and just doing something else than constantly thinking about my Hugo’s last moments. I know this could be classed as a distraction but i found that my brain has to focus on breathing otherwise i would be drowning, so it can’t really think about anything else.

    • lifeasawidower.com
      May 28, 2013

      Perhaps it’s nothing like swimming then. I haven’t been in the sea since she died. Sounded about right when I wrote I though and I had a smile on my face thinking of her putting all of her effort into keeping her head dry in the water x

  11. nornironman
    May 29, 2013

    I don’t think grief is something we get over but rather it’s something we get accustomed to managing. Hopefully over time (and that varies from person to person, bereavement to bereavement) each individual’s deep emotional troughs of their grief process can be less deep and they are able to get out of the trough more easily / readily than in the early days of their grief. We can all still be taken back to moments of loss at any point well after the bereavement but hopefully, with the passage of time, we can be more confident that we can embrace those lows, go there and better cope to work through those moments without fearing that it may perhaps overwhelm us as it did in those early days of loss.

  12. sarah pointer
    May 30, 2013

    i see grief as a cloudy sky. For the first time in almost 7 months there has been a break in the clouds. i am away with the kids and it feels like happiness and it feels like hope x

    • lifeasawidower.com
      May 30, 2013

      Having shared your journey from afar and separated by just one day, that makes me happy x

      • sarah pointer
        May 30, 2013

        told you i would give you a heads up my friend xxx

      • lifeasawidower.com
        May 31, 2013

        Always a day behind but I thought I’d let you know that a big ray of light just broke the clouds for me x

  13. Tendup Tshering Lama
    May 30, 2013

    How true, realistic. Unitl a month back before 10 April, people used to look at me for sympathy and few words of consolation, whenever they were on grief. Suddenly I lost my Uma, my wife, my friend, my mentor, my helper, mother for my two sons and a perfect housekeeper, administrator, perfect in all respect, a solid lady. Today is the 50th day of her passing away, as per the Buddhist culture, I had the final bidding farewell of her soul (49th day we call it Ghewa Karpo), believing that a person’s soul stays in the family, then formally bid farewell with rituals. this is done but, I cannot find my cloths to wear, my tea, my shoes, I see the empty side of her bed, wake up at night in the middle and feel her, she is simply not there. Who can not comfort me and say shoothing words of sympathy, i cannot think and cannot imagine that in her I have lost, missed everything. So sad, I know that I have to move on the life after 43 years of beautiful and successful marriage with Uma without her but how, i cannot imagine and think. Tendup Lama

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