A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
Something hasn’t been right with me this week. I’ve felt a heavy sense of foreboding envelop me out of nowhere, and it has taken me ages to figure out why. After spending a lot of time alone thinking, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m anxious about a couple of things coming to an end – things that have helped me to manage my grief over the course of the last year.
A week from now I will have completed the London Marathon. When I originally signed up for the race, I did so for just one reason: to raise money for a child bereavement charity that I believe in. Once I began training, however, I noticed that I was getting so much more from it than that.
I realised I’d given myself a forward-looking focus that could help ease my mind’s preoccupation with the past. I noticed that by taking back control of my body through fitness, I felt more in control of my mind and, in turn, my life. And, for the first time in ages, I felt a sense of achievement through reaching my training goals.
Five weeks from now I will have released a book that I’ve been working on for over a year. When I originally started writing it, I did so for three reasons: to help others suffering the agony of loss to find empathy and feel less alone, to assist those attempting to help bereaved loved-ones better understand what they might be going through, and to enable me to explain things properly to my son when he is old enough to understand. Once I began writing, however, I noticed that I was getting so much more from it than that.
It gave me back a relationship with my wife. Through the words I wrote about her life, I was able to divert some of my mind’s focus away from her death. It brought back great memories. Sometimes, after hours of writing at my desk, I would walk away with a smile on my face, feeling like I’d just spent the day with Desreen. In fact it often made me feel happier. In contemplating everything – both bad and good – that Jackson and I went through on a daily basis in such acute detail, I really noticed that, despite the pain, we still had pleasure in our lives.
Six weeks from now I imagine I’ll be wondering what happens next. Two of the biggest challenges I have ever taken on will, to different degrees, be over. I’m sure there will be those who think that this will give me a good opportunity to slow down, but I can’t help wonder exactly what purpose that will serve.
Earlier this week, a friend mentioned that someone had told him they thought I should probably stop publishing this blog. I rolled my eyes at the second-hand comment but chose not to pursue the line of conversation. I did think about it for some time afterwards, though.
I think it’s probably safe to assume that the person who made the remark believes that it’s time for me to ‘move on’. Once, this very suggestion would have made me angry, but these days I tend to find myself at least trying to see things from the other point view. And, having given it a lot of thought, I really do understand where they’re coming from; I appreciate how hard it is to understand how another person’s grief operates. But that doesn’t make that person right. It probably just means that they are failing to empathise with the reality of loss.
I imagine they quite innocently believe that if I keep picking at the metophorical scab, the wound will never heal. It’s a logical conclusion to draw if you treat the mind as no different to the rest of the body. But unlike a graze, a cut or a broken bone, the mind thinks, reflects and remembers. It doesn’t simply heal and there’s no medicine to completely numb the pain.
And so I’m left wondering what this person thinks might be the benefit of me abandoning the blog. That I’ll stop thinking the thoughts in my head if I no longer type them out on a screen? That my mind will erase its concerns if I stop sharing them with the world? That I’ll no longer suffer the anguish if I don’t raise it again in public? That I won’t need to worry about the impact of my wife’s death on my son’s mental well-being if I get on with it alone? That I’ll stop loving my wife if I stop writing about her? That I’ll meet someone else if I appear to make myself more available to others? That I’ll live my life more like they think they would if they were in my shoes?
In my recent attempts to see grief from both sides, I imagine that this person still sympathises with my loss but is entirely unable to empathise with it. And that brings me to the point of this post: grief is very complicated, terribly difficult to comprehend, entirely personal and all too easily marginalised by people who don’t understand.
Now try to imagine going through it as a child. Take a second to think about how heartbreaking it would be if you lost the person you loved most and the people around you failed to acknowledge the impact it had on your life. Close your eyes and consider how you would feel if you were assumed ‘resilient’ enough to get on with your life without questioning such a significant death.
My grief may be approaching its expiry date for some, but at least I’ve had the chance to speak my mind. Many children aren’t given that same opportunity. And that’s why I’m running the London Marathon for Grief Encounter next week.
Please take five minutes to watch the charity’s new tenth anniversary film below and click this link to donate it you can. Thank you so much to everyone who has already given. I’m truly overwhelmed by the generosity so many people continue to show.