A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
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 of 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.