Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

christmas angel

This week I decided to give Christmas a go. This time last year my wife had only been buried a week, and yet somehow I felt more determined to try I put on a festive show for my son, family and friends than I do this year. Shock I suppose; confusion probably; a complete inability to absorb the gravity of the situation, definitely.

This Christmas it feels like it’s sinking in. These days when I’m moved to tears it often occurs to me that the thoughts running through my head are new. It’ll dawn on me for the first time that I’ll never again cuddle up to Desreen on the sofa while watching TV on a Saturday night in December. I’ll hear Jackson say something really grown up and funny on the way to nursery and it’ll hit me that she’s no longer there to call and tell. I’ll picture this coming Christmas Day and imagine the pleasure that my son will get from opening his presents and eating too much sugar, but it’ll suddenly break my heart that Desreen’s not going to be around to surprise and to spoil too. I’ll never see her smile, hear her voice or feel her warmth again.

I guess the lows that I’m experiencing right now are driven by the fact that my brain is gradually processing the reality that she’s gone forever. Perhaps I’ve spent most of the last 13 months focusing on the fact that my son has lost his mum. Right now, though, I feel like a man who’s lost his wife at Christmas. My son’s having a good spell and I’m suffering; we do have a tendency to ebb and flow and prop each other up when the other’s mood is low.

He’s a remarkable child. Not because he can kick a football, sing in tune or recite poetry (he’s three by the way), but because he seems so emotionally attuned. On Wednesday this week I gave in, admitted defeat and headed out to buy a Christmas tree. I could almost hear the decorations my wife and I bought from Liberty telling me that they needed to come down from the attic to be displayed to the world: ‘Nobody puts Liberty baubles in the corner’, they taunted.

Later, when I returned home with a Norwegian spruce over my shoulder, I asked Jackson if he would like to give me a hand decorating it. Perhaps he knew that only half of my heart was in it because he decided that I should instead play a supportive role to his lead.

‘Daddy’s not strong enough to put lights on the Christmas tree’, he told his granddad. ‘I’m strong though’, he went on.

What an observant little man, I thought, having spent the week feeling so weak. And I’d have imagined it impossible to be more moved by him that day until we unpacked the decorations together a short time later.

‘What’s that, Daddy?’ he enquired pointing at something he’d watched me carefully unwrap.

‘It’s the angel for the top of the tree’, I replied, ‘Mummy bought it before you were born.’

‘Can I kiss it?’ he asked.

‘Of course you can, darling. Let’s both do it’, I offered.

As I watched him kiss her angel, my heart melted at his continued display of his love for his mummy. I just looked on and hoped that somehow she felt that love from her little angel too.

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Desreen’s Christmas tree angel

18 comments on “christmas angel

  1. lesley
    December 8, 2013

    I read your post whilst taking a break from decorating the tree.something I usually love but which this year feels like a chore. Last year, the first without my brother, I went overboard determined we would have a great christmas. What I didnt know was it would be my mum in laws last xmas ( she did but chose not to tell us ). I didnt expect xmas this year to be so hard. The presents are bought, the tree is nearly done and ive even watched Elf my fave ever xmas film.But there is something missing.Or rather there are 2/people I loved dearly missing.im sure it will be ok on the day. We will make sure it is for my daughter and niece and nephew. Your post has helped me as I thought things like xmas would get easier not harder.helps to know what I am experiencing is not unusual x

  2. Janice
    December 8, 2013

    A beautiful and poignant post. I’m nearly 2 years in and have begun to recognise the difference between memory and reality – never seeing my husband again but understanding wonderful times we had together.
    Although I don’t have the strength to get a tree, I’ll get my own angel decoration. Thank you Ben and thank you Jackson. X

  3. Anisa
    December 8, 2013

    Beautiful and so emotional xx

  4. Bill Wright
    December 8, 2013

    It’s a shit time of the year when dealing with loss. If it wasn’t for my two surviving children, Xmas, quite frankly, could just f___ right off. I’m sure with each year, my attitude will improve, but spectre of Anni’s death date will always be looming two weeks after Xmas.

    My wife and I went to a remembrance service at Kings College yesterday for parents whose children died there and I observed lots of parents. Some like me, experiencing their first Xmas without their little Angel clearly found it very intense and heavily emotional experience to be back at the hospital listening to beautiful readings. Others I noticed looked to be openly enjoying the day, even cracking jokes with each other. It simultaneously disturbed and comforted me to see people so relaxed and gregarious at such a sensitive occasion.

    • Donna
      December 8, 2013

      Don’t be fooled by people joking, it could all be a front to cope with what they are attending and will probably hit the floor afterwards. x but hope in general it helped you to realise that sadly you are not alone in your grief. x

      • Bill Wright
        December 8, 2013

        I thought it could possibly be front, but it was difficult to be sure as it’s not something I would do in that environment.
        At my monthly Dads Support Group there are only 3 of us so it was staggering to see the chapel packed with hundreds of parents, so many people ‘like us’. My wife and I felt too emotionally beaten up to stay for refreshments after, but we definitely will stay next year and will also take Anni’s twin brother and big sister.

  5. Heather Shawley
    December 8, 2013

    Felt really emotional reading your post. It sums up how I’m feeling right now. Kids are so excited about Christmas but for me I’m thinking about missing my husband so much. I lost Robert 17 months ago.

  6. Stuart
    December 8, 2013

    I feel your pain and it brings back memories of when my beautiful Wife passed away at the age of 31. The firsts are very difficult and I thought I would be ok when the second special occasions came around but they were just as painful! All I could think to myself was how unfair it was and what a waste to the world to lose such a special person. I had to push myself constantly to make the effort to accept invitations as I knew I could easily self isolate. It’s 10 years on now and even though I am remarried to a wonderful woman I still miss my first Wife and think about her often. But it’s not sadness I feel now, it’s happiness to have had the special times. I know it’s very early days for a lot of you and I hate this cliché but it really does get easier to live with, it just takes a little time.

  7. Lorraine
    December 8, 2013

    A beautiful post and a beautiful angel on the tree.

  8. Donna
    December 8, 2013

    This will be the 2nd xmas without my sister after losing her 18months ago. Her 2 1/2 year twins are starting to enjoy christmas things more and things like taking them to santa and watching the fireworks at the Christmas lights turn on broke my heart just that little more!! I am in the process of putting the tree up at the moment. my heart is not in it thou. Last year i decorated the tree in purple and silver, purple being her favourite colour, but not this year. As a family we are all going away again as we did last year to avoid facing doing it the same as when my sister was here. but next year I think we will have to face it! Love your beautiful angel decoration and i’m sure your wife felt those kisses and the love in heaven. sending you love and strength to get through the festive season. hope you make new precious memories xx

  9. Mary Mourad
    December 8, 2013

    I couldn’t handle any of the events leading up to the first anniversary, two days before Christmas. I flew out to a new part of the world, hiding in a closed room all day, escaping any memory that could remind me that what I’m still unable to grasp is reality … Hard and solid. Without children this battle is a losing one: against fate, loneliness and logic. No trees, no decoration, no phone calls, and probably no internet too. “Stuck” is how experts define it, and honestly I don’t mind! I wish you a more peaceful season.

  10. Stuart (Ageing Tenor)
    December 8, 2013

    What a beautiful post, Ben. Like you, my wife died in a November, so the first Christmas without her was all a bit of a blur. I also determined that Christmas should go on, and I also found the second Christmas far more difficult, given that I had time to think about it. But, as with a lot of events I have had to deal with over the last 4 years now, it was the anticipation of the day that was far worse than the actuality. The problem is that the anticipation lasts for weeks beforehand, and you don’t know that it’s not going to be as bad as you thought it might until afterwards.

    It will be tough, you will have “moments”, but it will be OK. It’s tough on you and it’s tough on Jackson, but you will help each other through and make your Desreen proud. And, even though this is the 5th Christmas without my Anne, you have reminded at least one person that he’s not alone in this new, unlooked-for journey. Thank you, and have as good a Christmas as you can.

    Take care, my friend. Stuart.

  11. Annabelle Talbot
    December 8, 2013

    Ben, you and Jackson are so brave. I feel your pain. I can’t even bring myself to put up our tree this year, in fact I can’t even face Christmas without Mat. It’s only been 12 weeks since he left us but I know I have to keep things as normal as possible for our girls. Best of luck through the festive season, Desreen is watching over you from the top of your tree and is so proud of you. Thinking of you both. Virtual hugs from me & the girls. Annabelle xo

  12. Theresa Miall
    December 8, 2013

    To Ben and Jackson I love reading your posts I have been in the same situation for 5 yrs in .March my youngest Elizabeth was 2 and my eldest David 8 when Richard died to be honest I don’t know where the years have gone and like you and many others the first year was a complete blur.I have tried to keep things as normal as possible, well a new normal for us as its definitely not the same. We have tried to make new memories at any opportunity, we now have a real tree that we have cut down from a friends wood, Richard like Desreen for you is still a big part of our festivities, he has is own tree and the children put tea lights in a part of the garden they planted for Dad.I think our children are amazing and like Ben seem to hold me up when times are hard, on the odd occasion they still are!
    All the best to you both and I’m sure Desreen would be really proud of you both, try and take some time for yourself during this very busy season, hugs from Theresa, David & Elizabeth.xxxxxxxxxx

  13. sharrongordonsharron gordon
    December 9, 2013

    sure she did x

  14. Sue
    December 10, 2013

    It has also been 13 months for me-tomorrow-last year was a blur for sure. It seems this year that it is the first without my husband. I put up a small tree yesterday and made me even sadder. My husband loved Christmas and we went all out with decorating and opening our home to family and friends-so different now-I do have many special “angels” and have put out as well, but especially my nativity-true meaning of Christmas gives me hope that we will be together again.
    It is just so hard to go on each day and I dread another year without. Reading these posts does make me realize that I’m not alone. Bless you all.

  15. C
    December 10, 2013

    I think the first year goes past in a raw, painful, almost manic way… I flew at things without thinking, pretending all was ok and after a year ran out of steam. Even after months and months, slowing down and realising what has happened can be just as painful as the first few shocking days.
    The first Christmas was the ‘same’ as it had always been, almost pretending like nothing had happened, the 2nd we needed to do something else as it will never be the same without the person you love and who shapes festivities the most.
    Wishing you and Jackson and peaceful Christmas.

  16. TheHandmadeMum (@DaniAskins)
    December 11, 2013

    Beautiful post, it’s amazing how switched on young children really are. Wishing you well this Christmas.

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