Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

judgement day

A few days ago a fellow widower asked me what my views were on whether he should still wear his wedding ring. I thought about his question for a long time. Not because I didn’t feel like I had my own immediate answer but rather because I wondered what might have fuelled his indecision. Did he think that there might be a right and wrong answer to what I see as an entirely personal choice? Was he concerned about the timing of his ultimate conclusion? Was he worried about what his late wife might have thought? Or was he more anxious about what other people might actually think? 

Grief can have a habit of making you question everything. I have found that it can make me confident one minute and then desperately insecure the next. Confidence may not be something that everyone associates with bereavement but it’s something I have certainly felt over the months since I lost my wife. It’s not so much a confidence driven by self-worth than a boldness driven by not really giving a shit about the value others see in me. Petty insecurities about things like my appearance (or keeping up with appearances) have become really quite redundant; I just don’t care that much any more. Instead my self-doubt tends to revolve around my position as a grieving husband and a striving father – little else matters to me. And so, on the face of it, I can understand why the gentleman in question would be concerned about what he should do about his wedding band. Perhaps he simply wants to retain a physical connection with his late wife. The problem is, it would seem, what others might think.

Since my wife was killed in November 2012 I’ve learned that people think all sorts of things but few people think exactly alike. And that’s what makes pleasing everyone so altogether impossible. In the aftermath of my wife’s death I was desperate to find empathy and support from other young widowers but initially struggled to find others willing to open up. I started this blog, pushed it really hard and then finally found others who were searching for the same thing. We helped one another immediately, we continue to do so constantly and I think that reaching out to the people I eventually found was probably the most significant step I could have taken in helping myself through the pain of grief. Yet insecurity still beckoned. Will people think I’m being dictatorial about grief? I asked myself. Will I be seen as an attention seeker? Will people just want me to shut the fuck up? It wasn’t long before the anguish that made me start writing this blog changed shape and focus and morphed into something that made me wonder whether I should stop.

Things progressed quickly: TV appearances, articles in newspapers and magazines, a book. What followed was more division of opinion and more insecurity on my part about what was right and wrong. But I quickly made a promise to myself: I would be the judge of what I deemed to be the appropriate way forward for my son and me – everyone else was entitled to retain their opinions in private but, ultimately, no one else could know what life was truly like behind our closed doors.

This was a turning point for us both; with other people’s opinions cast aside, we could face the pressure of facing our own lives without the pressure of facing other people’s views of them. When I stopped worrying about grieving the way other people perhaps thought I should and faced it in a manner that felt appropriate for me, I stopped ‘being strong’. When I realised that maintaining my career at the cost of having a happy child went against everything that was really important to me in life, I gave up work to be with my son. When it occurred to me that I could build a legacy for my wife on behalf of our little boy by capturing the special moments of her life for him to cherish forever, I wrote a book. I appreciated that when all of these things collided – my vulnerability, my lack of work, my shift of focus – I might find things even more difficult than they already were and to some degree I did; I grew depressed. But I faced this and of course I continue to, knowing that it’s not something that can simply be brushed aside with a good night out, a trip to the seaside or a sharp talking to. It will take time, energy, effort, patience and self-respect – none of the things that people who are quick to judge tend to invest in those they pass judgement upon.

In the last seven days I’ve finished editing a book that will, by the very nature of these things, be judged when it is released. I have also decided to embark on a career in freelance PR and copywriting, albeit part time and built around the occasional days that my son attends nursery. Doubtless there will be those who have their views on my transition from boardroom to spare bedroom as I attempt to build a future as a sole trader. These days, though, I base my decisions on just a couple of factors: would my late wife support me and is this the right thing to do for my son and myself? What else really matters? Can I let the views of someone I don’t even know – a troll, perhaps – hold me back? Can I grow concerned about how those I think I know really view the decisions I make? Is there ever any pleasing everyone? And in pleasing everyone else, would I risk leaving my son and myself displeased and dissatisfied in my own sense of conviction?

I think a lot about that guy pondering over his wedding ring and I wonder why he or any of us really worry about what anyone else thinks. It’s a damn hard place to get to but now I’m there I realise that the only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing and say nothing at all. And what would be the point in that? If I’d done nothing I would never have found any of the people who have helped make these last fifteen months more bearable that they otherwise might have been. If I’d said nothing I would have hidden the grief that I now know I needed to show and share. And if I had spent the whole time worrying and hiding from those people whose only mission is to criticise almost anything that anyone does, I would almost certainly never have left my front door. And had I locked myself away inside my house those same people who criticised my motives for putting myself out there in the first place would have asked, What sort of example is that waste of space setting for his son?

12 comments on “judgement day

  1. Abbey
    February 2, 2014

    Thank you for this blog Ben.
    I became widowed 5 months ago, and have been following your blogs- trying to consider what the stuggles might have been if my husband was the one left behind. It seems as though they would probably be very similar. I have found this articulate has paticularly hit a chord for me. I have been massively struggling with what other people may think of my reactions, my behaviour and my ups and downs (which are, sadly, frequent and tidal)! I know that my husband would have had a similar view point to you, if the three most important people would be happy with the decision (yourself, your late partner and your children) – then that is the right decision.
    It’s so nice to see it in black and white and to know that someone who has suffered a loss of a partner can advice.
    Abbey x

  2. dotdads
    February 2, 2014

    Reblogged this on I am a Widower.

  3. Paul R
    February 2, 2014

    I noticed a few comments on the FB page about people who have chosen to keep wearing their wedding ring. I took mine off the morning after Laura died. To me that felt right. As the wedding ceremony stated we were married until “death do us part.” Unfortunately, it came far earlier than expected.

    As you stated above this and so many other choices is very personal and should not be driven by what you think others might say or what others have done.

  4. Sarah Pointer
    February 2, 2014

    Grief hurts. Nothing at the moment makes me feel ‘better’, but doing some stuff makes things worse. It is about managing the shit that is constantly there. Maintaining a level of shiteness so you don’t drown in it and only you know what works for you x

  5. handikwani02
    February 2, 2014

    I so look forward to reading your blogs, like I have said before it is the honesty with which you deal with the issues that you face as you continue to deal with your loss and grief. I could not agree with you more, if anyone allowed other people’s opinions to determine their actions they could never do any thing for fear of judgement . If one believes that what they are doing is the right thing to do they should just go ahead.

  6. lottiesc
    February 4, 2014

    As usual very thought provoking and real Ben – thank you! When my husband Gary died nearly 9 years ago, I made his wedding band smaller and wore it with my own until just about 3 years after his passing when one day, it felt right to take all three rings off. I had comments and questions about my actions right at the beginning as well as when I took the rings off and then again when I re-married just over 6 months ago. The questions when re-marrying came from Gary’s and my two sons who queried what actually was in the rings themselves anyway as I love Gary equally much to my new husband Iain, just in different ways. Whatever is, everyone hopefully gets to the point of doing as they want and when they want it – no one else but “you” can know what’s going on inside and what’s right or wrong for “you”.

  7. Wilma Beauly
    February 4, 2014

    i have lost my husband just over 3 months ago and what your blog said hit a nerve for me ,i cant go out my front door as i feel broken hearted we where together for 34 yrs he was my bestfriend my soul mate,,and i hate how people think you should grieve how they expect you to grieve by being brave or being strong,well im sorry to say i cry day and night and will grieve my own way i dont feel like being brave or strong anymore i just want to shout and tell them to leave me alone,,i look forward to reading your book,god bless you and your son.xx

    • RUBBY
      May 13, 2014

      “i hate how people think you should grieve how they expect you to grieve by being brave or being strong,well im sorry to say i cry day and night and will grieve my own way i dont feel like being brave or strong anymore i just want to shout and tell them to leave me alone,”…WELL SAID

  8. thepuffindiaries
    February 4, 2014

    So true. I made a one word new years resolution and that word is “confidence”. One of the things I want to be more confident in is knowing that all the choices I make for myself and my family are the right and best decisions. When I first started writing about my adoptive family I confidently wrote from the heart about what was going on for us. As more people began to read and take note, have an opinion on my writing, my parenting I began to loose my confidence. I became afraid of being judged. Thank you for writing a post that has spurred me on with my return to confidence.

  9. James
    February 13, 2014

    When my wife died in November 2010, she was in the hospital, all she had on was her wedding ring. Before she went in to theater, I asked her if I should keep it, no, it does not come off my finger, she smiled. I laughed and “chink’ed” my ring with hers, “by the power of the rings then… ” I laughed… You see I thought everything would be ok, just routine… I was wrong.

    The next time I saw her, she was gone… When I left her, I took her ring off, and put it straight on my little finger, next to mine, it fitted perfectly, and I have not taken either of them off since. I walk around an empty two ringed man, now unable to take them off, and I often ask myself why it matters so much to me, and I don’t know.

    I remember the priest saying to us on our wedding day, that rings are an outward expression of an inner union. I like that, and that’s how it still feels, so I leave myself alone and let it go, and I find myself chink’ing them together like we once did…

  10. Miss Twenty-Nine
    May 7, 2014

    James – your story above is lovely (so sad, but lovely) – such a touching image of the two rings side by side on your hands.
    I lost my parents when I was nineteen, and have worn Mum’s ring on my right hand ever since, and a ring I bought with my Dad the day he died on my left (he never wore a wedding ring). Every now and again, eleven years on, I stare down at my hands, and can’t help but smile being reminded of them :) xxx

  11. RUBBY
    May 13, 2014

    I will continue grieving my way.

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