A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
I got a call from a friend on Friday who was phoning to let me know that an ex-colleague of ours had died. The last time I ever heard from her was when she wrote me a letter after my wife was killed in November 2012. By then her health had been suffering for a while but she still she took the time to get in touch and offer her condolences. She was a genuinely lovely woman: kind, warm, welcoming and really quite exceptionally good fun. Try as I might, I simply can’t summon a memory of her with anything other than a smile on her face; I just remember laughing every time we spoke. She had a memorable manner and it’s lovely to be able to recall a person who always seemed so upbeat.
I, on the other hand, have felt really low since finding out about her death. We didn’t know each other especially well, but over the years I’ve learned that you don’t always need to be very close to a loss to feel its impact. I think that sometimes the effect it has on a person has a lot more to do with their own state of mind at the time. Last night I realised that it was the empathy I feel for her husband and children that pains me most. Perhaps at a time like this, when someone we know dies, we should be grateful for what we have and keep those we love close, but I don’t think it’s always as easy as that. I’ve noticed that my mood has changed dramatically since Friday. I’ve been more reflective, introspective, irritable and short-tempered than I have been in some time. I’ve not been good company for my son at all. I haven’t wanted to play and I’ve been snappy at his slightest display of protest, which has made me every toddler’s idea of a complete waste of space.
In being touched by this slightly distant loss, it occurred to me that this is how I behaved for months (if not the best part of a year) after my wife, Desreen, died. Since finding out about this distant friend’s death, I haven’t just felt sad for the people I know must be suffering right now, but I’ve also felt bad for my son. Over the weekend I got a concentrated snapshot of what I must have been like to live with for so long after Desreen’s death. It made me feel so terrible to consciously witness what our little boy must have gone through in my company for all of that time.
I think it’s this sort of observation about how grief can be that makes it so complicated, perhaps especially socially. Over the years I have heard people imply that some don’t deserve to grieve a person’s death unless they knew them well in life, but it’s not always that straightforward. Sometimes a loss can awaken feelings that we thought we had put to bed; sometimes a death can breathe life into dormant feelings we didn’t even know we had buried somewhere deep down. Personally, I also find that many of the clichés that get rattled off at a time like this only serve to make me feel worse. No amount of ‘counting my lucky stars’ or attempting to ‘live every day as if it’s my last’ could stop from feeling the feelings I’m feeling right now. And that, I believe, is because human beings do not really control grief. Perhaps we can manage it, but so far I’ve found neither a switch to turn grief on or off, nor a dial to allow me to turn it up or down depending on how well I knew the person who has gone. There are too many personal factors involved for anyone else to be able to dictate how another individual should or shouldn’t feel when someone dies.
Today I’m just telling myself that I have to just go through every experience that comes my way, face it, feel it, try to learn from it and then continue to carry on the best I know how. I haven’t chosen to act like a miserable bugger since hearing that an old friend died last week and I would much rather not be grouchy around my son, but I tend to find it difficult to snap out of feelings that have completely taken over my mind. I think that if I had found a way to do that I might have stopped writing this blog the day after I started.