Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

long division

I think I understand the challenges that many bereaved people face when it comes to their relationships with others after the death of someone very close. I use the word ‘understand’ not because I know the answers, more because I think I appreciate that grief can create a lot of questions.

Do I only spend time with the people who know me best because I believe that they will be better placed to help me through these difficult times?

Do I make new friends because it’s too painful to be around people who are grieving the loss of the same person as I?

Do I befriend others who have experienced a similar bereavement in the hope that they might be able to provide an empathetic ear and that I might feel a little less terrible if I can also support someone in as much pain as me?

Do I revisit old friendships that have been left unattended for some time in the hope that these people may still know enough about my distant past to understand the person I used to be, even if I haven’t been that same person for quite some time?

I don’t think anyone can decide which is definitively right or wrong at any given point and with any degree of credibility other than the affected person. I’ve done all of the above and each has its emotional pros and cons.

But this week I did the latter and spent some time with an old friend who once knew me well. We were able to talk about the majority of the most significant people in our lives because we once knew them well too, albeit over a decade ago. Above all it was good to catch up but it was also interesting to talk to someone who had a relationship with my old life but no first-hand knowledge of my more recent past. It made it easier for the conversation to be more mutual and less one-sided than I frequently find it is these days. It’s all too often me, me, me and, quite frankly, I’m starting to find myself to be a real bore.

Recently I’ve found grief to be a very isolating place. One that has made me decline conversations and push relationships away even though I’ve come to expect both to be available to me when I need them. I want to feel understood and yet my feelings contradict themselves because I know that no one can truly understand what I’m going through, quite simply because I’m me and they’re them.

I’m learning that while a sudden bereavement can be a glue that binds people together, the long tail of grief can just as easily become a wedge that divides. I often hear from bereaved people who have found themselves disappointed by the way some people, who they feel should be there for them, have actually responded since their loss. Apparently this experience can really rupture relationships.

I’d say I’ve been fortunate. My friends and family have been nothing but supportive and understanding. And yet I still feel the divide. The only difference is I think it’s me who’s creating mine. My divisiveness comes from my disappointment not in others but in myself. I don’t really want to see some people because I’m not sure that I want to sit around chatting about the same old depressing shit for the billionth time, having to start from the beginning again due to the fact I haven’t seen that particular person for a while. But I don’t really think I’ve got it in me to change the subject yet either.

What I really want is to make someone laugh. I want to feel passionate enough about cooking again to bother asking someone over for a dinner that hasn’t been pulled from a box. I want to start caring enough about food (or anything) again to stop eating fish fingers or jam sandwiches. I want to be disgusted at myself for even admitting I eat either. I want to stop using the response “I’m not bothered” to every choice I’m offered. I want to have enough passion and drive to have a view.

I guess what I’m saying is that I want to want to see people and do stuff. But the truth is grief just leaves me not really wanting to.

14 comments on “long division

  1. SHB
    July 25, 2013

    stop putting yourself under pressure to be…..it will come and is coming in its own time…this slow acceptance of what has happened. Just enjoy what you can…and just know that you will be able to care and love again…in time x

  2. Paul R
    July 25, 2013

    I agree with your answer to all your starting questions, it’s a balance. Sometimes it is driven by what you need and sometimes by what your friends need.

    As to the cooking, I found that once I got some smaller pans, i.e. designed for cooking for one, then I started cooking more interesting foods again.

    Fifteen months after Laura died I thought that I was finally moving on into a better place, but the last couple weeks have been very difficult. I wish I could honestly say that it gets better, but right now I’m not experiencing that. Yes, I do get to laugh with others and occasionally make others laugh, but when I’m home again by myself it comes down to what “our” life could have been, if Laura had not died.

  3. amelia redding
    July 25, 2013

    Everything is so contrary. I put it down to the fact that no matter what you try, right now nothing can be the right thing, because everything is wrong. So, even though I am a positive person and proactive and doing things because Jon can’t any more, I feel I, and most of us, are operating on scales of negativity. Choice B might be slightly less shit than choice A, but right now it’s still fundamentally shit. And the wearying thing is that there’s no consistency. Sometimes being with your closest friends is palliative, and at other times it feels like torture. I know nothing, except that nothing stays the same, so that logic leads to the hope that we will one day want to see people and do stuff rather than forcing ourselves too. And the little people help with that too!

  4. cath
    July 25, 2013

    Spoken from the heart. I can remember feeling really pissed off with myself for feeling sad and miserable all the time. I found little joy and had no passion for anything. I was sick of being in grief mode but then felt guilty that it was a betrayal to the one who had died. Thanks Ben for telling it like it is x x

  5. Celia Marszal Iannelli
    July 25, 2013

    Yes, I get it…..with people/without people…I find it difficult to be with coupled freinds, but they care about me…yet, I find myself shying away…..we needs time, time, time to sort it all out…and it does. …..Trust me this is the second time I am a widow within 14 years…I had my current husband a short time before he got the “sickness unto death” and that was that….

    p.s. I dont like to cook anymore either…..

  6. Carrie Dunne
    July 25, 2013

    All so true what you say Ben. My little secret is that I’ve eaten the same food every day for the last 16 months. I put it down to ‘can’t be bothered’ as well as the same food being a deep sense of security and regularity in this horrendous experience of grief.
    Might try fish fingers to break my habit!
    Carrie x

  7. sarah pointer
    July 25, 2013

    i have learnt that it takes a certain kind of person to be with someone like me (us). some really step up and others shy away and when they do get in touch you find yourself not wanting to talk with them anyway so its a no win. we have been through such unimaginable trauma that its just a matter of self preservation..

  8. sarah pointer
    July 25, 2013

    i have learnt that it takes a certain kind of person to be with someone like me (us). some really step up and others shy away and when they do get in touch you find yourself not wanting to talk with them anyway so its a no win. we have been through such unimaginable trauma that its just a matter of selfpreservation..and you have to be with people that make you feel ok. as for the cooking..my lad tells me its worse than my driving xxx

  9. helenpatience
    July 26, 2013

    Hi Ben, I’m also on the grief diet, either nothing at all or crap in a microwave box. I couldn’t care less. All my energy goes into making a happy home for my daughter, she eats so well. But once she’s in bed, I can’t be bothered eating, sleeping well or taking care of myself. I often forget to eat completely, it’s just not on my radar. I also bore myself immensely at times, as well as others.

    I’m reading ‘A Grief Observed’ at the moment by C.S.Lewis, a short book about his experience of losing his wife (his grief blog for the 1960’s). Although often about his struggles with God, most of his observations about the experience of grief struck a chord. He talks about the sheer apathy, the total disinterest in anything, saying how no one ever talks about the ‘laziness of grief’.

    About friends he says: ‘There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.’

    Sorry to paraphrase but he says it better than I could. I simply think that after losing the one who cared the most for me, it’s difficult to care for myself. One day, fingers crossed, I’ll use the oven for more than reheating plastic crap…

  10. EDL
    July 26, 2013

    It’s too inconceivable, for starters, that he could really be in another “time and space” than me. It’s too terrifying to admit to myself… I couldn;t imagine not having his love and devotion. You’re nobody till somebody loves you, and I feel like nobody again now (I know… how selfish that sounds… all about me.) I wish to hell I knew if he could hear me, if he still knows the people in his past life… if he remembers his vow to me to be soulmates forever. It’s just a bad dream that won;t go away… and I’m so tired of it. I go to ask him something, tell him something and for the hundreth thousandth time, I am shocked to remember that he has passed away. “Tell me it ain’t so, Babe”, I tell him privately. I don;t want to depress my friends, so when I’m low I stay away, but I feel their disapproval when they call eventually, as if I took advantage of their kindness in my worst hours stumbling around after the fact. I do appreciate all their thoughtfulness, I’m just not up to their expectations of getting out and meeting people here in Barrie (my new home) at the speed they expect. I’m torn from telling them how much I miss my man, and putting on a false brave front pretending I’m moving on. I don;t want to move on (I’m crying now) I want to savour all my memories, and use the same towels he dried himself with, and smell his winter hat, and all that stuff. I don;t know how people get over losing really good partners. I will have to learn eventually.

  11. Fi
    July 26, 2013

    Really understand this dilemma. I find myself being so contrary – don’t want people fussing over me, but then get annoyed when no-one seems to care how I’m doing. I want to obsess about G’s death, but then I feel I’m starting to bore myself going over and over it – and nothing changes. He’s still dead. Really enjoy (if that’s the right word) reading your posts, you’re just ahead of me on this horrible journey and you do give me hope and inspiration. Hugs to you and Jackson xx

  12. jennifer Bonus
    July 27, 2013

    I almost gave up on cooking!! of all things cooking which I used to love but the problem is Noel and myself would stand in the kitchen I would cook something unusual and of course he would enjoy even if he hated it!!! that’s what I miss just the simple things im trying at the moment to enjoy cooking again I guess I will wait and see what happens!!

  13. Gary Kitchen
    August 9, 2013

    I used to be really into cooking before my wife died last November! We used to do meal planner every week… plan out the recipes and buy the ingredients accordingly! However, these days I just can’t be bothered! I no longer do my on-line shopping… and the recipes remain in the cupboard! I did try too inspire myself by forking out for some expensive copper pans… but these are still sitting pretty in the cupboard for now :-(

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