Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

mindful happiness

Since starting this blog almost a year ago, I’ve been pretty outspoken about my distaste for many of the clichés and platitudes so often offered as comfort to the bereaved. And the worst, in my view, are those that do little other than marginalise a person’s grief and that, when translated into direct English, can often be read as Shut the fuck up and get on with your life.

Those who have been there, however, will be painfully aware of the fact that pulling your metaphorical socks up doesn’t make any difference to how you really feel inside. And I think that’s because grief is something that can’t be entirely controlled – managed, maybe, but not controlled. Telling someone who’s stricken with grief that they ought to pull themself together and stop dwelling on their loss doesn’t tend to have much of an effect at all. It’s is a bit like suggesting that someone should try harder to stop bleeding when they’ve just been stabbed. Like grief, the blood flow is just a natural physical response to the injury and telling the victim to buck their ideas up isn’t going do much to help close the wound. And, let’s be clear, grief is a natural response to loss; grief is not a lifestyle decision we choose. Of course we can make choices about how we ‘wear’ our grief – we can put a brave face on for others, we can dress in black if we so desire, we can act positive, we can slip into a deep state of mourning, or we can bury our pain deep inside – but ultimately grief is something that will eventually (if not constantly) be felt and endured.

One thing I’ve always found particularly hard to swallow is the idea of ‘living life for today’, as if single days as units of time aren’t painful unless they are grouped together into a week, a month or a year. It has actually crossed my mind that living solely for today might make my life little more than a rather sad existence. And that’s because today and many other todays that have come before it have been too upsetting for me to feel comfortable about living exclusively in them with little thought for the future.

I have, however, been learning about mindfulness, which can loosely be defined as techniques that help clear your head of information overload to allow you to focus on the present. I decided I wanted to study and practice this for just one reason – to try to truly enjoy the time I spend with my son. Recently I’ve been getting tired very quickly and easily, and I’ve suffered from mood swings and impatience with people when in company. I often torture myself with thoughts about how my wife might have cared for our son alone if I had been the one who was killed instead. Knowing her as well as I did, it’s hard not to imagine that she would have done more to build a happy, fun and stimulating life for Jackson than I have been able. And I’ve frequently found myself feeling guilty and increasingly low about the fact that I could be present in our little boy’s company but all too often not completely there.

But over the past couple of weeks I’ve felt different; I’ve found myself having fun. Not the sort of fun that I used to think was fun – hanging out with friends and acting like a big kid myself – but actually being with a little one. We go out scooting, we play with trains, we ‘do Play-Dohs’, we paint pictures, we sing songs, we read, we pretend to be various different animals, we kick a football and we cook together. We argue, we fall out and we both have tantrums too, but most of all we get on with being each other’s best mate. And just yesterday it occurred to me that I am suddenly enjoying my time with my son because I’m successfully peeling away at the distractions in my head and concentrating on the one thing (or rather the one person) that truly brings happiness back into my life: my son.

I’ve really no idea whether this is happening because I’m suddenly more mindful of mindfulness, or whether my grief is cutting me some slack. I don’t know whether this is a temporary thing, or whether I’ve somehow turned a corner. But I have learned that I shouldn’t take contentment in grief for granted, because these days my feelings can change so quickly. The good thing about growing more conscious of enjoying the good moments when they come, though, is that it doesn’t really matter if the happiness is fleeting or not. What matters is that we feel it at all.

If you would like to learn more about mindfulness, I recommend ‘Get Some Headspace’ by Andy Puddicombe.

It's hard not to have fun in the company of this little guy

It’s hard not to have fun in the company of this little guy

11 comments on “mindful happiness

  1. Julie
    December 16, 2013

    I have been following your blog since you first started it. My partner died in October last year, and I have been amazed at how your eloquence has mirrored how I was feeling. Many a time I have started to comment only to not be able to find the right words but today, having read your latest blog I just wanted to leave a comment. I too have completed a mindfulness course and have found it amazingly helpful to stop myself panicking about the scary journey ahead. It doesn’t stop the grieving but at least allows a few minutes or if I am lucky hours respite from the sadness and pain. You are an inspiration in your honesty and I wish you and your beautiful son some happy times ahead.

  2. Janice
    December 16, 2013

    Thank you for saying it as it is and thank you for making me smile. Love the shades! X

  3. Paul R
    December 16, 2013

    Two comments:
    1) I honestly believe that grieving is part of healing. I also believe that if you take the time to grieve, instead of looking for distractions, the healing happens quicker. I was fortunate that my company gave me so much time off, in the U.S. it is usually 4 or 6 days, not the 2.5 months I had.
    2) I think mindfulness is a good practice. Once I understood the difference between mindfulness and meditation. I’ve always heard that meditation is trying to clear the mind. Mindfulness is taking the time to become aware of your surroundings and as extraneous thought come up acknowledge them and move on. It is away of fully participating in something instead of doing one thing while your mind is active on something else.

  4. Lucy
    December 16, 2013

    Mindfulness is something I’m really interested in learning more about as well, Ben. Do you mind saying if you are completing an organised course or just working on it on your own?

  5. Sarah Pointer
    December 16, 2013

    For me, certain thoughts and scenarios had to play out in my mind over and over again, part of the work of grief. I do find my mind stiller now because I think I have over-thinked them if you know what I mean. Saying that, mindfulness is an essential tool going forward and reading about it and practicing it is really helping me now that the crazy voice in my head has fecked off for a bit! It wouldn’t have stood a chance before now x

  6. Sophie Ireland
    December 16, 2013

    I have followed your blog for several months now and share many of your perspectives about the grieving process. I thought you might appreciate this. I like Brene Brown’s work and she has has some very interesting talks in Ted.com. I saw this today and it made me smile.

    http://brenebrown.com/2013/12/10/rsabear/

    Sophie

  7. Lucy
    December 16, 2013

    That’s great, thanks. I watched a speech Ruby Wax gave on it and found out she has completed a masters degree in Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Will definitely try this book as an introduction. It’s the anniversary of losing my dad this week and I’d like to mark it constructively.
    So pleased to hear something has helped you enjoy time with Jackson. Goodness knows you guys deserve that x

  8. Ruthie
    December 17, 2013

    Thank you so much for this. It has really comforted me to read some of your insights and so refreshing to read something so blunt!
    I was asked to vote for your blog on facebook (which I have) by a close friend. And the timing of this could not have been more pertinent as I just lost a baby 2 weeks ago at 18 weeks term which was harsh and then lost a friend to cancer immediately afterwards.
    This whole ‘carry on as normal / as you were’ thing does have to happen with 2 other children and it’s true life does just continue around you, whether you participate fully or not but I have found the lack of space to grieve and the ‘appropriateness’ of when to grieve or where to grieve or sometimes even how to grieve, really hard. Not to mention other peoples’ discomfort and at times my own, about the grief itself. It’s such a complex thing and although I have lost people before it’s so different now with someone so close and having young children to care for at the same time. I can totally identify with your feelings changing all the time and the journey that you and your son are on together… and sometimes I forget that it’s all of our journey when I am wrapped up in my own head whilst cooking, playing, cleaning, rushing to get to school etc…
    It’s really important the whole mindful thing and it works well in my own experience. Thank you for reminding me to go and seek it out again.
    Happy Christmas to you and I hope that there are more smiles than tears. Kids bring such a sparkle to this time of year and without them around, things certainly would feel so much more empty! All the best and I shall be following from now on! x

  9. Margaret S
    January 20, 2014

    Have only just found your blog and you are truly inspirational after your very sad loss. Your son will grow up to be a fine young man.

  10. Mr C
    February 20, 2014

    Can I ask how are you getting on with the mindfulness approach.
    I tried, found it helpful but have trouble persevering.
    I do think there is “something” in it as an approach to “getting better”.
    Be interested if your finding it still helps.

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