Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

remembrance sunday

Today is the first anniversary of Desreen’s death and contemplating what to write has troubled me more than anything else I’ve published this year. The temptation to say nothing at all has been strong. In many ways not bothering to comment about this so-called milestone at all might have gone someway towards subtlety making my point: today is just another day.

The fact that 365 days have passed since my wife was killed is of no more significance to me than if she’d died 364 or 366 days ago. It doesn’t make her any more dead than she was yesterday and nor will it make me feel any more alive tomorrow. Of course this weekend has made me retrace painful memories and intensified my grief, but making it to the end of year one has not suddenly created the turning point that I might once have expected – that I might once have been led to believe it would.

Perhaps that’s because I’ve found myself measuring the last 12 months in emotions and not time. And if I were to quantify this year by depth of feeling and not the passage of time, then it would have been the longest (or perhaps deepest) of my life. But when I consider how I used to gauge time, it feels like no more than six weeks have passed since Desreen died.

I imagine that this first anniversary of my wife’s death might mean more to others than it does to me. I think that unless a person is living through the pain of a close bereavement every single day, it’s normal to only really concentrate on remembering the dead on certain calendar dates: birthdays, anniversaries, perhaps even on Remembrance Sunday, which it happens to be today. But for me every day is a day of remembrance: of the good times we spent together, of the many wonderful gifts my wife gave me including our son, of the things we hoped to achieve together in life, of the love we shared, of the night she was killed, of going to sleep every night since in a half empty bed, of being the person I once was.

And it’s because I understand that ‘close grief’ doesn’t just visit on certain days of the year, that I’ve decided to aim today’s post at those who haven’t suffered the pain of close loss rather than at those who have. I want to explain how I feel about today because I think it could possibly help people to offer their ongoing support to bereaved friends and family members. But one thing I will add, as I often do, is that this is only how it feels to me. I’m no expert in grief; all I know is what I’m going through.

Today has given me no closure. In fact I think closure is a ridiculous word when associated with grief. It means a feeling of finality or resolution but I don’t think that the kind of close grief I’m suffering ever truly ends. I doubt that closure ever comes on either the day of a funeral, the way some assume it should, or on the anniversary of a person’s death. I just don’t think life works like that; time just doesn’t work like that. I’ve never woken up on any of my 34 birthdays and felt distinctly older or acutely happier. It’s just a day, and days where neither incredible nor terrible things happen tend not to leave an impression of being life-changing. I don’t think my life is going to change today just because a calendar tells me that it’s been a year since my wife was killed.

Today won’t make me move on. I try very hard not to repeat myself when I write but I think moving on is a ridiculous expression when associated with grief. I think it has uncomfortable connotations of pressure – of what people expect the bereaved to do. It’s time he moved on, some might judge. But what does it mean? Does it mean it’s time to stop grieving? Does it mean it’s time to stop being outwardly upset? Does it mean it’s time to forget the person who you lost but who you still love? Or does it mean it’s time for them to be replaced? If it’s the latter then I think it’s misguided and ill-judged. Things can be replaced; people cannot. New relationships can of course be forged and a person can be happy again, but I believe that loves endures death thus grief endures life. I think that what we often call moving on is actually just a matter of carrying on.

Today is not what I thought it would be. About a fortnight ago I had what I thought was some sort of epiphany; I decided that I wanted to be happy again. The words happy again often mean in a new relationship when referring to people who have lost their partner. This is not what I meant though. What I meant was that I suddenly felt I’d grown tired of the idea of living half a life: one that lacked motivation, direction or the ability to feel content. So I went on a night out, told some friends I was planning on ‘living life again’ and then woke up the next day feeling worse than I did the week before. I’d tried to turn off my grief before painfully realising that grief doesn’t come with a switch. Grief can come with so much pressure anyway and to put yet more on myself just made it harder still. Right after my wife was killed what gave me the impetus to go on was not choice but shock – a physical and mental reaction to loss. Shock snapped me into action but when the shock wore off it grew harder to muster the energy to carry on. And I’m afraid it wasn’t as simple as telling myself to snap out of it. Now, a year on, there’s no self-imposable equivalent to the shock that made people believe that I was ‘strong’ as I stood and delivered my wife’s eulogy without shedding a tear.

Today is about getting through the anniversary and allowing myself as much time as I need to think about what happens next. I knew six months ago that I didn’t want my wife’s death to kill me too. I already knew that one day I’d want to try to (re)create a meaningful life for my son and myself. I didn’t need a year to pass by to tell me that. But I don’t know what that life looks like yet. And more importantly I don’t feel that I need to have the answers just because some may judge my progress in measures of time that no longer mean anything to me. All I know for now is that I’m going to try find the drive to be a loving, living, caring, nurturing and motivational force in my son’s life.

So tomorrow will be about taking a step towards making some sort of plan for the rest of my life. But if the plan takes another year, or even two or three, then that’s fine with me because I know that putting more pressure on myself just makes me feel worse than I already do. Tomorrow will be about reminding myself not to succumb to the cliché-filled self-help guide in my mind that tells me to think myself happy. Tomorrow will be about finding the will to carry on and not move on. And tomorrow will be about enduring the pain I suffer in opening my heart to the love I still feel for my wife, rather than closing it off for the sake of a resolution that I do not seek.

I want to send all of my love to mine and Desreen’s friends and families today. You’ve all been amazing this year, especially when I’ve been difficult to be around. And, Desreen, this perfect song is for you because you never failed to amaze me x

http://www.justgiving.com/lifeasawidower

33 comments on “remembrance sunday

  1. clairedore74
    November 10, 2013

    Thinking of you, Jackson and your family. Desreen will continue to live on in your hearts and minds. Take life one step at a time, I don’t believe there is a ‘one size fits all’ to grief. We do what we need to do to carry on xx

  2. Mama bear
    November 10, 2013

    Wow, just wow. Beautifully put, wonderful words again

    • Bill Wright
      November 10, 2013

      As always, very well put Ben. If just a few of the fortunate and uninitiated get to read your piece, then hopefully that reduces the usage of cliched grief TV-Speak such as ‘closure’ and ‘moving on’.

      Wishing you a peaceful Sunday.

  3. Dot Schwarz
    November 10, 2013

    Aparty tat she left far too early. Love from all us Dot

  4. Andy
    November 10, 2013

    Big love to you all today. The way you have converted your own emotional agony to provide emotional strength to others through your site is nothing other than inspirational and is something I am personally very grateful for. Stay strong and keep on carrying on.

  5. Kat
    November 10, 2013

    I think this will help many others that have loved and lost to know that whatever they’re feeling is natural to their own grief. I can’t think what to say really other than that reading this has made me a little teary, as I am new to your story. I understand that time is irrelevant here, and just putting one foot ahead of the other, carrying on, can be hard but the fact that you’re doing it for yourself and your son is lovely to read. Nothing I say will make anything any better, but thank you for sharing this.

  6. Xen
    November 10, 2013

    Thinking of you and Desreen and your beautiful son and remembering the loss that connects us all. Thanks for posting this beautiful song.

  7. Deb
    November 10, 2013

    Beautifully written, as always. And simply beautiful song. Thoughts are with you and little Jackson x

  8. Ali
    November 10, 2013

    Just past our first anniversary, my husband died on 31st October 2012. Your reaction to this day mirrors mine exactly. I wish us both luck in creating a meaningful life for our children (in my case three little girls). Your blog has meant such a lot to me and I send you and Jackson our love. Take care and thank you.

  9. Shelley
    November 10, 2013

    Thanks for “reminding” us all on “remembrance day. (and other days too.) Its what the world needs: finding the words to capture the pain and the positives.
    Time is an illusion in grief’s world and “closure” all too seductive.
    Love the last sentence….

  10. Sophie
    November 10, 2013

    Your words are beautiful and sure a comfort to so many people including myself. I lost a dear friend on Friday who left behind an adoring husband and two year old son. A friend sent me this quote and it gave me comfort.

    “Bereavement is a darkness impenetrable to the imagination of the unbereaved” Iris Murdoch 1919- 1999

  11. Audrey Campbell
    November 10, 2013

    Beautiful and comforting Ben. I’m fast approaching the 1st anniversary of the loss of my husband as well as the 13th anniversary of the loss of my son. I’ve heard every cliche going. I struggle but have wonderful support from family and friends and a darling 17 year old son who gives me reason to smile in the darkest moments. Hugs to you and your gorgeous son x

  12. Donna
    November 10, 2013

    Your right, closure what does that mean , these are the people we loved with all our hearts. There one day as we wake up , laugh, share incredible moments , argue , raise our children, look forward to our future , and in an instant they are gone. 19 mths for me I know most people might think that it’s the 1 or 2 yrs you really grieve, but as I smelt Darrells aftershave yesterday the emotion and yearning for him has no set date no timeframe. I cuddle our girls and we laugh and joke about daddy, and I wipe away their tears because all they want is him back. I guess what I’m saying Ben is I’m no expert either, but one thing I have learnt is don’t ever feel guilty or apologetic for however your feeling. Love and hugs from me and my girls to you and Jackson xxx

  13. videodansedubreuill
    November 10, 2013

    Apologies if this has been posted twice. I just wanted to say that you probably have no idea how many people, most of whom you will probably never meet, will be thinking kind thoughts about you and Jackson today. And your family, friends and guests on this blog. I have Jackson’s ‘raining’ poster framed on my office wall – it makes me smile! I wish you well.

  14. J. Shah
    November 10, 2013

    This is exactly how I feel about my son’s ‘anniversaries’. They are just days in a calender – nothing changes about how much I miss him and how I wish he was still here.
    I have only ever heard the term ‘moving on’ from people who have never experienced this kind of grief. I guess unless it happens to you, you wouldn’t know any different.
    Cherish your sweet little boy. All the best.

  15. Stacy Seiber
    November 10, 2013

    Today is also the one year anniversary of my husbands death. Your words echo my very thoughts this morning. Thinking of you and your son as I try to carry on as well.

  16. beverleyann
    November 10, 2013

    Sending you love and comfort today. The one thing I’ve learnt with my journey is YOU set your own rules. Doing what feels right in your heart is all that matters.

  17. Margaret Ashmore
    November 10, 2013

    It has been four years since my daughter died and you have just expressed beautifully in words exactly how I still feel. Thank you! My thoughts are with you and your lovely son.

  18. Josie Hamnett
    November 10, 2013

    Thank You so much for sharing this with us.It has given me much comfort as my Mum died just two weeks ago ,the pain is still raw. x

  19. Sarah Pointer
    November 10, 2013

    Such a hard emotional subject and you nailed it. Well done Ben. And as for the song, one of my favourites…now starts the craft of the father…I know you have a lot of strength left x

  20. Monica Lloyd
    November 10, 2013

    I’ve never met you but my daughter Nicola Lloyd shares the link to your blog from time to time and I want to send you my love directly. I wonder how many other people you don’t know send you love like me. Add it all up and know that you are not alone. Light will come back into your life. You are a shining example of wisdom and strength. x

  21. Jenny Hunt
    November 10, 2013

    The pain never goes away Ben but you just get used to living with it. Thinking of you and your beautiful son with love. X

  22. Donna
    November 10, 2013

    The common quote ‘time heals’ – it does not heal the pain, the loss. time just purely helps you learn how to get throu the next day a little easier than the last. Teaches you to somehow control the emotions that you feel. i remember struggling the week before the ‘anniversary’ as it seemed such a significant day but as you say it is just another where the memories/pain and loss are just the same. every 12th I know its another month! But out of your pain, you have helped others and probably made great awareness of grief and its process. So in that you shd be proud today if nothing else positive and i’m sure your wife would of been too and your son will be when he is old enough to understand XX

  23. Celia Marszal Iannelli
    November 11, 2013

    I printed this out…..thank you…Its been 7 months since my husband died, last week; and this coming week is 12 years since my first husband died…No there is no magic switch (how I wish there was)….and this last two months I’ve kept myself so busy, made some errors…just so I wouldn’t feel the pain…but no matter what its there underneath it all…….your post shocked me into that realization….

  24. Gede Prama
    November 11, 2013

    Thank You so much for sharing this with us.

  25. Michael Lozinski
    November 11, 2013

    Beautifully put, Ben, and I can’t disagree with anything you’ve said. Let me add one thought to it, though. My wife passed away 2 1/2 years ago and the first anniversary of it was significant to me in one way at least. It meant that we had survived a whole year without her. Every holiday, every birthday, every anniversary, every season without her. We had done it. There was no more really wondering what it will be like when it’s time for this to happen and Kathy wouldn’t be there to do it with us. We had now been there and done that before and knew what to expect next time. Maybe even what to do better or differently next time.

    For me it meant feeling less lost and wandering. It was a milestone achievement, bleak as it was, and the next year had a different feel to it just knowing that none of it was going to be as fresh, raw and scary as it was the first time through. For me that was comforting. I had dreaded that day approaching. Once it arrived, I was relieved. I hope you feel some measure of that relief yourself.

    God bless you both!

  26. Kate
    November 11, 2013

    Your words resonate with me and so eloquently expressed. I can identify with the feeling of ‘ just another day’. Those who are no longer with us are woven into our very being as a person. It always seemed impossible for me to make a special effort on one day to remember my dad when each day he is in my thoughts or actions in some small way.That doesn’t mean I dwell on him not being here each day or it is unbearably sad to recall memories. It just means his personality and energy will continue to influence my life and others, this if anything makes me smile. It would have been his 60th birthday yesterday as coincidence would have it.

    Grief for each person is slightly different, I just remember one day after about two years or so not feeling as sad anymore. A little bit lighter spirited but there was no conscious effort on my part that I can mention.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story xxx

  27. Sophie
    November 11, 2013

    RIP Desreen. Even though I hadn’t seen her since high school she is now often in my thoughts. xx

  28. Vanessa
    November 11, 2013

    Thank you Ben, for sharing and for helping people like me, who are coping with the loss of a loved one too. You express perfectly what I know, I for one feel. I wish you peace and happiness xx

  29. Cindy Hewitt
    November 11, 2013

    Extremely well written, as per usual, and can relate whole-heartedly to your thoughts and loss. It’s 1 year next week since my Husband suddenly died.
    Wishing you and your beautiful boy much love and happiness x

  30. Katie
    November 11, 2013

    Amazing words, amazing song, amazing father.

  31. Sam James
    November 12, 2013

    I agree so much with the majority of what you have written……a widower myself of almost 2 years (although it doesn’t feel that long), and left with our son who is 5 now. It is still as raw today as the day that he died, and unless you have been through something so life changing you really will never understand. It is great to feel that I am not the only one that feels this way.

  32. *Bear Shannon*
    November 13, 2013

    Sorry for your loss, bro. I lost my wife in 2005.

    Peace ~ Bear

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