A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
This is a guest post by Jeff Brazier
Jeff and I first met at the This Morning studios in February when we were invited onto the show to discuss child bereavement. Like my son, Jackson, Jeff’s sons, Freddie and Bobby, lost their mum, Jade Goody, when they were very young. Since Jade and my wife, Desreen, died, Jeff and I have found ourselves raising our children as sole parents.
In this guest post, Jeff identifies the feelings of guilt he often faces even when trying to do the best by his kids, something I’m positive will resonate with many parents raising children alone. But neither Jeff nor I are doing this job entirely on our own; we are lucky to have the support of our family and friends too. Touchingly this post is also about Jeff’s mum and the help she continues to provide him and his boys.
Together, Jeff and I support the child bereavement charity Grief Encounter. Jeff contributed this guest post to help raise funds for the organisation through sponsorship of my London Marathon run in April 2014. To make a donation please visit http://www.justgiving.com/lifeasawidower
As parents we spend every waking hour protecting, teaching and caring for our children, cleaning up after them and preparing ahead for them. It’s a job that can’t be done halfheartedly. It has a way of bringing you down a peg or two and then moments later it has you peeling yourself off the ceiling. You could say it’s a roller-coaster but they only last two minutes.
The success I experience in my professional and domestic life work in tandem. The more I work, the more space I can afford to buy us in our home environment. And the higher up the ladder I climb, the fewer hours I have to work to get more at home. That’s the point to any career: working your way up, starting at the bottom on £12,000 a year, then learning the ropes so that one day you have the tools to go and run the company, charge for your expert opinion, and then deliver the results you have proven you can accomplish.
Last year I encountered the perfect contradiction in my working life: a job that was so beautiful in one respect and yet so painfully difficult when I looked at it from a different point of view. This occurred when I took an eight-day trip to the Maldives. I don’t quite know where I am on my career ladder but I can clearly see that I am climbing at pace. To financially gain from being taken to an unimaginably beautiful group of islands in the Indian Ocean, just to say a few words to camera whilst parading along the beach in my swimming trunks, constitutes progress from my days growing up in a block of flats. You could say that my luck is well and truly in.
But I’ve believed in my dreams and worked tirelessly – from being branded as reality TV show fodder – to get to the stage of presenting regularly, where I’m the person chosen to front shoots ahead of many others that would be only too willing. My dad once wrote in my 21st birthday card: Learn respect through hard work and endeavour. I think they were great words and I’ve since taken them on as my own.
Now before you shout Alright Jeff! Good for you! in a sarcastic tone, I’m not dropping locations like the Maldives on your toes without reason. In fact here comes the leveller, the concrete boots, the bubble-bursting truth that made the trip so bittersweet. Being that I’m not without responsibilities in life, just how do trips like this make me feel about my role as a parent? They make me feel guilty.
Guilty, as though I’ve gone on holiday and left them at home. Guilty because, more often than not, I’m experiencing something magnificent without them. Simply put, I feel like I’m letting them down. I’m not there to pack them off to school in the morning or to tuck them into bed at night, and that niggles me.
I know that this is a common conundrum for any working parent: some of us soldier through our working days to come home and spend an hour, often at best, with our children before they disappear to bed; some of us have to give up work in order to stay at home permanently because we believe it’s the best thing – or even the only thing – to do.
The thought that some people have to pay over half of what they earn that day on childcare horrifies me. It means that some go to work for very little because they refuse to lose their independence to the welfare system. We all encounter similar choices as parents, and it’s down to each of us to find the right balance so that we can feel justified in our actions. Because, let’s face it, it’s harder to raise children since traditionalism went out the window. And are we are happier for it? Well I guess it’s down to every individual to answer that question; my mum certainly is! ‘Struggling with a smile’ is probably an accurate description for her years as a single parent.
Mum got divorced along with most of the nation, it seemed. These days there are more parents doing it on their own than ever before. We have developed an awareness that if we aren’t happy in life then we have the right to change that without being judged by society. But this freedom of choice often comes with an associated cost – bringing up kids in modern times is a full time job in itself and then we often want to have another full time job on top. Working parents or professional jugglers? Same thing.
I recently read a quote by cyclist Bradley Wiggins: ‘The body is like a screw that you keep turning. You never know what it’s capable of until it snaps’. Well the working parent is a longer screw than most, because we don’t have a choice but to keep on turning (or screwing, but then I suppose that’s what brought us all here in the first place!)
On balance, I consider myself fortunate. I get to spend a huge amount of quality time with my children and we experience so much together as a family – things I didn’t get to experience as a child. Daddy’s career grants us the time to make many of these experiences possible. It gives us a good quality of life and provides us with options for their future. So I try to remind myself that neither the destination I’m heading to on a plane, nor the eight days we spend apart should dictate my emotions. I’m proud of of the balance I’ve created because it works for my family. And so I embrace the guilt. If it wasn’t there, then I’d know that my heart wasn’t in the right place.
But I can’t end this piece until I have mentioned my mum and the fact that she makes all of this possible. She makes herself exclusively available for my children and she does it because she loves them. And because she loves me. All parents know that there are probably only a handful of people they would entrust with their children for such a length of time. My career and the success of my children’s upbringing cannot be credited solely to myself. We are a team and I take huge pride in sharing the spoils of my career with the person we couldn’t do without. Thanks Mum.