A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
I ran the London Marathon yesterday. Years ago, a friend asked if I’d ever fancied doing it before and I said no. That was partly because I thought I’d end up losing too much weight when there was already very little of me to spare, but mostly because I didn’t have the desire or motivation to take on such a big challenge. I was fortunate enough to be one of those people who hadn’t suffered enough to have a cause close to their heart.
That was until 10 November 2012 when my thirty-three-year-old wife was struck and killed by a car in front of me and our then two-year-old son. In that moment, I tragically lost my best friend. And in the months that followed, I inadvertently gained a sense of purpose: I would aim to help other people, like me, whose lives had been shattered by loss.
In the first instance, the people I wanted to somehow support were adults. As a father of such a young boy, I barely knew how to raise a happy child, let alone advise anyone on how to care for a grieving one – I had nothing to offer bereaved kids. I could, however, open up my world to grown-ups to help them see that they were not alone in their pain; I could articulate my grief in the hope that the empathy offered might somehow be received.
But it didn’t take me long to figure out that as a husband who had lost his wife and a parent whose child had lost his mum, it was impossible to separate or isolate our states of bereavement. I realised that age mattered very little when it came to what we both craved. Man or boy, adult or child, perhaps what the bereaved need most is deep understanding, support, empathy and to be met without judgement from others. Age separates us immediately, intelligence and comprehension develops with time, but we all have feelings that can be hurt from the moment we are born.
How do you sufficiently attend to the feelings of another when you are hurting so badly yourself, though? Sometimes, I believe, you need support.
That’s why I turned to others for help with my son. I could strive to be the best father in the world but no man can ever hope to have all the answers. I made a decision to seek out the advice of experts, embrace their help, learn from their practices and pass it all on to the adults that I can reach through what I write. That decision, I believe, has changed my life and, I pray, will make my son’s happier.
Yesterday, I contemplated all of this as I stood in a park full of people waiting anxiously to embrace the task of running just over twenty-six miles across England’s capital. I felt both a buoying sense of awe and a heavy sense of woe as I considered the many heartbreaking motivations that inspired so many thousands of runners to take on such a gruelling test of human endurance.
Surely it’s the hardship that so many of us have lived through that will make completing this race possible, I told myself as I stood with my friend on the start line.
Twenty-three miles later I heard him say, ‘This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.’ Another runner heard him and agreed, ‘I’ve never been in more pain,’ he added.
I have, I thought. And it’s not the hardest thing I’ve ever done, either. The hardest thing I’ve ever done is told my two-year-old son that he’ll never see his mummy again. He’s three-and-a-half this week and, despite having now reiterated that same message countless times, I still really don’t know if he understands the gravity of the situation quite yet.
But because of the help I receive from people who have been there before, I’m confident that I’m doing the very best I can for him. And because of all of the support so many people have offered through the sponsorship of mine and my friend’s run, I feel confident that other broken-hearted parents will be able to do their very best for their bereaved children, too.
There’s still time to contribute if you can. Just go to www.justgiving.com/lifeasawidower or text DESB79 £2 (or any other figure you can afford to type after pound sign) to 70070 to support Grief Encounter, a charity that offers support to bereaved children. And for those who have already given, Jackson and I would like to thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You’ve made a huge difference to our lives in more ways than I imagine I could ever explain.