Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

summertime sadness

When I was a child I used to suffer from nosebleeds every time the shifting seasons caused an acute change in the temperature. Until the weekend just gone, however, I hadn’t experienced such a physical reaction to the weather in years. Suddenly a sharp switch in the climate changed the faces on the street from gloomy to glad, and there was palpable pleasure in the air. All the while I began to feel the slow drip of a metaphorical bleed; the seasonal shift had got me again. Only this time no one could see my symptoms. Grief – the great hidden affliction – ravaged my body without so much as leaving a scratch on my face to trigger concern in most people around me.

‘At least the weather’s good,’ one friend commented after noticing a slight dip in my mood.

Perhaps that’s the problem, I thought.

In normal life an unexpected burst of bright sunshine has the capacity to lift spirits enormously. Today, however, in my new life, I’m left wondering whether the weather’s lack of warning is exactly what’s bringing me down. Had I got comfortable in the rhythm of the sky reflecting my mood? Was the rain justifying my desire to stay indoors and not face the world outside? Aren’t I meant to be happy, just like everyone else, now that I’m wearing shorts and shades? Life, I believe, would be much easier if it were that simple. The human brain, it thinks, would be less challenging to live with if we controlled it rather than it controlling us.

I desperately want to put on my sunglasses and step outside to have fun. I want to join in with the happy couples and the kids that fill the local pavements and parks. I don’t want to analyse everything and always come back to the same inevitable realisation that sadness now plays such a big role in my life. But when I find myself applying sun cream to my little boy outside his nursery I’m no longer in control. The scent of its distinct summertime perfume makes its way up my nose and into a part of my brain that has been hibernating all winter. I’m back in the shop where my wife bought if for our last holiday together. I’m at the swimming pool in Spain where we went with friends. I’m watching Desreen play in the pool with our son. I can smell our life before loss.

Perhaps I just need time to adjust. Maybe I too will soon feel happier than I did before the sun started shining. Perhaps experience should tell me that these dark clouds will lift a little if I just go with the seasons. Sometimes, though, it’s just so hard to see the light.

20 comments on “summertime sadness

  1. Carol Butler
    May 19, 2014

    while reading this I will always love you is playing on my local radio :-)

  2. Ruthie
    May 19, 2014

    Smell is enormously evocative for memories… it might not even be the sunshine itself but the suncream and the air and the freshly cut grass and the chlorine in the pool…
    This week has been really tough for us as it was the due date for our little baby that we lost in November. I have been in the same frame of mind Ben – lacking enthusiasm, energy and motivation and knowing inside that ‘there are so many things to feel grateful for’ and thinking ‘why am i so miserable? why can’t I shake this indifference?’ but it is grief. It is also, as you say, the complete lack of warning about when it strikes, then the emotional impact, what it does to you and how it arrives. And no idea about when it will leave again. it’s enormously paralysing. And on top of that I have found myself swinging being agitated about the inconvenience and it stopping me function v’s wanting to completely wallow and switch off to the world.
    I don’t mind the grieving per se in as much as I know it’s necessary and it’s important to move through things, but I find the whole thing about not being able to predict or control the impact overwhelmingly difficult.
    The only thing you can do, as you are doing, is recognise it, be gentle with yourself and accept what is… how you are feeling… and not putting pressure on yourself to conform.
    However, I can completely vouch for having a good dose of vitamin D and a laugh in the park.. or sitting down and playing lego, to lose yourself for a while. it’s good for the soul and it warms the heart.. even when it feels tender.
    Thanks for sharing again. It’s always helpful to read for us. We will you all the best xxx

  3. Surayya Cheema
    May 19, 2014

    I know I cannot understand your feelings right now as we all grieve in different ways. Grief seems to cling on for dear life no matter how much we try to shrug it off and it has a right to stay attached. But sometimes you need to give yourself a gentle nudge towards normal life (for lack of a better term), for yourself and for those that need you.

  4. cyclingwithheels
    May 19, 2014

    I don’t have real experience of grief – or at least not of the kind that comes from losing someone so close to you – but I do have experience of depression, and I know that this time of year can be the hardest precisely because of the difference between how you’re feeling inside and what the weather is doing. It’s as though it’s OK to be sad when the weather is miserable, but when the weather is good it’s not OK. And when everyone else manages to be happy in the sunshine but you can’t be, that seems to make happiness all the more distant and unattainable.

    Over time I’ve managed to overcome my depression and regain my happiness, and I hope that, with time, you’re able to find your happiness again too.

  5. martharoberts69
    May 19, 2014

    When my son’s twin died, I remember finding scant solace, whatever the weather. In fact, the opposite, just as I feel you are describing. When it rained, I’d look out of the window and think, ‘He’s getting wet – what kind of mother leaves their child outside to get wet?’ and if it was sunny I’d think, ‘He’s never going to enjoy sunny weather.’ It was as if I could never win. Almost eight years on, the years are still marked to a certain extent by significant months, key anniversaries, evocative smells and suchlike that will, I feel, forever tether me to the event. But over time, I also feel I am better able to feel the beauty of things again – life, it seems, pulls you in the direction of life, like some kind of tornado.

  6. samp77
    May 19, 2014

    I still can’t smell Boots suncream without tearing up as the scent reminds me of Thailand where my husband and I got together….that smell reminds me of our holidays together, holidays that I now have to take alone or not at all. It is strange how the grief hits you…

  7. Terry
    May 19, 2014

    My father died in May. Here in the American South, that’s when gardenias are at their peak. Two years ago, when my family gathered to await the inevitable after my father’s unexpected collapse, someone plucked a blossom off a bush and handed it to me. I wish they hadn’t done that. I used to love gardenias. Now their fragrance transports me to a dark time filled with unspeakable sadness.
    Thank you for sharing.

  8. sharrongordon
    May 19, 2014

    Know the feeling x Date: Mon, 19 May 2014 09:21:24 +0000 To: sharrongordon@hotmail.co.uk

  9. A Gordon
    May 19, 2014

    You are inspiring, I just hope that time heals your pain, thanks for sharing.

  10. A Gordon
    May 19, 2014

    You are inspiring, I hope with time your pain will reduce. Thanks for sharing you blog.

  11. Lunar Hine
    May 19, 2014

    Ah, I was wondering what was wrong with me. It doesn’t make much sense, but maybe I’m doing this new daft thing too. If grief would be more logical, or at least explain itself once in a while, it would really help.

  12. murielle
    May 19, 2014

    I strongly believe it’s a question of time. Summer is a very bad period for me, remembering the great time we had on holidays, Swanage, Isle of Wight, leaving London for the week-end to head to the seaside. And summer being the season he died.
    I am not one for the sun anymore (which is not that great since I moved back to the South of France!) but I want to believe that time is a great healer.
    For everyone.
    Memories will fade a bit, but in a good way. New habits, new way of spending the time out in the sun, new places to go to.
    Not yet, but one day…

  13. handikwani02
    May 19, 2014

    I do not want to be tempted to say ‘time will heal’ Ben in my own experience time has not healed the loss of my young sister but what time has helped me to do is to accept the reality that she is no longer here with us. I am hoping that time will do for you what is best for you and Jackson

  14. liamlivings
    May 20, 2014

    In my experience you just have to go with the feelings grief throws up, whether they’re related to a bright summer’s day, or a gloomy winter evening. You will have many memories of your wife and a smell, a sound will bring them back to you, and you will feel sad at your loss. This isn’t something you can control. You just have to go with it. I burst into tears at the NEC Classic Car show at the sight of a 1987 VW Golf – same as Dad, who died in 2001, used to have.

  15. Shmii
    May 21, 2014

    Scents and smells have such a strong connection with memories. Your writing has moved me tremendously, thank you for being so open and sharing (I lost a very close friend last year and totally understand how the sense of loss can hit you out of nowhere!). I hope the grief triggered by memories soon soothes and brings a smile x

  16. Ewa
    May 21, 2014

    I know what you mean. The sunny weather and the smell of suncream have the same effect on me. I am suddenly transported to happy days of previous summer holidays and the pain of knowing that those days are gone forever is indescribable. We loved our holidays and went to the same places most years. My husband and soul mate died last September and I am dreading the summer holidays this year even though our 10-year-old son is looking forward to them!

  17. Tashiana
    June 4, 2014

    I have no words that can do you justice…just know that this is beautifully written and that you are incredible!

  18. Tessa Tangent
    June 8, 2014

    Thank you so much for voicing these thoughts and feelings. As others say, there are so many things which constantly ambush me with great memories but great sadness, too. It’s approaching a year now since Paul died suddenly at the end of a wonderful day celebrating my birthday last June. The season, the sun, tv series, events, and daily moments inhaling the scent of Imperial Leather soap – all recall the love of my life and this desperate loss. Related so much to your beautiful post. Love to you and Jackson. Reading your book. Thank you. Tessa T

  19. Sarah Barrett
    June 9, 2014

    I was widowed 16 years ago this August. I was 27 years old with our daughter Emily who was 15 months.
    Emily was my only motivation to continue without Bobby. Going back to work was good for me it helped a lot.
    He was my first love, the love of my life. A day doesn’t go by without thinking about him. The hardest thing for me is that Emily doesn’t remember him I would do anything for her to have one day with him. But she is so like him in looks the way she talks laughs sense of humour.
    We celebrate Bobby ‘s birthday every year with lunch and letting balloons off with messages written on.
    I didnt gel with councilling i found it weird.
    We planted a tree in Dulwich park which was a place we loved to take Emily and spent many a day there.
    You never get over the loss you learn to live with it. Bobby will always be part of our life’s he’s just in another room. One I don’t have the key to.

  20. Samantha
    August 20, 2014

    Eish!lyf sometyms yeses but u have 2 accept wot ever happened o happening in lyf even t hard n sw difficult 2 lose r love1nes but drs nthn we can duw ol can tell u z 2 be strong wid r son never lose hope GOD will be olwys wid u n r lovly sone ya be strong man

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