Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

Our story

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 18.53.23My name is Ben. On 10 November 2012 my life changed forever. Just after 8.00p.m. I left my friends’ house a happily married thirty-three-year-old father. By 9.17p.m. I was sitting in an ambulance on their street, a widower in shock. I only remember the time because I noticed that the hands on the clock were in the same position as when our son was born two years and three weeks before.

My son and I managed to narrowly dodge the car that killed the woman I’d loved for the last eight years. The woman I’d married just the year before. It killed a wife; a daughter; a sister; a friend treasured by so many. But, perhaps worst of all, it killed a toddler’s beautiful and devoted mummy.

How do you even begin to pick up the pieces after such a tragic loss? This question plagued me. I found myself wanting to share my experiences and find answers from people just like me, widowed young and caring for grieving children. My search for those people seemed fruitless. It just made me feel even more isolated.

‘I’m thinking about starting a blog about losing Dessie,’ I told a friend. ‘It worries me that I’m finding so little out there to help men left alone raising kids.’

‘Just do it!’ he responded, immediately understanding my intentions.

So on 7 January 2013, two months after the death of my wife, Desreen Brooks, I published my first blog post. Within a week the Guardian asked me to write a feature, for its Family supplement, about my experience in helping my two-year-old son understand what had happened to his mum. I was also interviewed on BBC Breakfast and ITV’s This Morning on the same subject. Within four months the blog generated widespread media coverage, amassed a devoted UK and international audience, received in excess of half a million views and won a blogging award for making people sit up and pay attention to an issue that could, ultimately, touch any parent.

My original intention was to try to encourage other men to open up, to challenge perceptions of male grief and to attempt to force a reappraisal of the stiff upper lip being a badge of honour when it comes to loss. The blog however, attracted people from different walks of life united in their own immediate loss, or their care and concern for grieving loved ones.

All sorts of people started to get in touch: women and not just men; old not just young; people who had lost their husbands or wives within a week of me and my son losing Desreen; parents who had lost children; partners who had not yet started grieving because their terminally ill husbands or wives were still finding the strength to hang on; teachers who had found some suggestions for how to deal with children who had lost or were facing loss; and people wanting to understand how to help their own loved ones suffering the pain of bereavement.

My aim now is to give a real insight into raw and live grief. I’ve documented everything as it happened. I decided I needed to start writing soon after my wife died because of an analogy that one day popped into my head: if women could remember every ache and pain of labour, perhaps none would have more than one child. Human beings’ capacity to forget pain is enormous, and in many ways that is a good and necessary thing. Morbid as it may sound, though, it filled me with dread to imagine that I would ever forget the agony of my loss. I was even more worried that I might not be able to explain it to my son when he was old enough to start asking serious questions.

The blog explores themes of loss and grief from both my son’s and my own point of view. It also frequently features guest posts about bereavement, loss and grief of all kinds from anyone who has an interesting, thought provoking or touching story to tell.

201 comments on “Our story

  1. cheesesightseer
    February 3, 2015

    Your story is getting out there. I have now randomly seen pictures and accounts of your story across social media, the news and in magazines over a period of time. I hope this is helping you cope with the grief I cannot imagine. Strangers are listening and thinking of you.

  2. antoniagodber
    February 4, 2015

    Lovely Ben. In case you ever have five minutes:

  3. anguskatie
    February 4, 2015

    Just watched your BBC Breakfast interview and you are the most incredible speaker. My boyfriend has recently passed away at the age of 28 and I just want to thank you for sharing your story. Grief isn’t talked about enough and it is something everyone will eventually have to go through. Such an honest approach to it is so refreshing.

    Katie x

  4. angel
    February 11, 2015

    Your story brought tears to my eyes.
    Its very very nice of you to share your story with people.
    It takes so much courage to write about your own pain but it will help others to know they are not alone.
    Thank you for your story
    God bless you

  5. victoriawhyte
    February 11, 2015

    I don’t know how I never heard of you or your blog until today – what cave have I been living in?
    Mind you, while in that cave, I’ve been blogging my own journey through grief since the death of my child in January ’14
    I’m loving your blog – can’t stop reading it – thank you so much for sharing your story.

  6. Eric nissenbaum
    April 21, 2015

    My wife is currently in hospice and has a few weeks to live. She is coming to a close on a 3-year battle with breast cancer. Our son is 6 and is just beginning to understand what is happening. I am trying to figure out what is next for us. Your story makes me feel like I am not the only one.

  7. Christine Henry
    August 29, 2015

    Hi Ben, I have just started reading your book this week. I heard you on Irish radio last year, the Ray Darcy show, I lost my husband to cancer in Feb last year. 2014. He had been sick less than eight weeks and died from cancer leaving behind me and our two beautiful sons, then aged five years and six and a half months old! To say things have been very hard is an understatement, hence I have been looking to read your book for help in dealing with all of this. Between the heartache of losing your best friend and partner, looking after your children, trying to find time to look after yourself and then the financial stress and worries and so much more! I keep asking people grieving and my counsellor – when does it get easier? Everyone says it doesn’t you just find a way of living with the new situation – I am finding this second year worse than the first, I think I was running on adrenaline for the whole of the first year! Anyway I love your book and your blog, keep up the great work xx

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  10. Mick
    November 6, 2015

    Got tears in my eyes, such a beautiful family and you’ve faced the challenges with such dignity. I have to agree, jail is not the answer for the perpetrator. He didn’t willingly break the law, he’s probably just incapable of operating within it due to natural, age related degredation of his faculties.

    I’ve signed your petition to try to have anyone aged 70+ retested for driving comptency and would encourage everyone else to do so – it could be one of your nearest and dearest to suffer next.

  11. Yasmin
    November 10, 2015

    Ben I’ve always believed people come into our lives for a reason, either to teach us something no-one else could have taught us or to help us bring forth the inner strength and resourcefulness that we find difficult to see within ourselves…Desreen was a catalyst to you finding your true self and your true calling…The love you shared with your wife and carry on to share with your son is a love that is so rare in this world…Through the tremendous difficulties of her passing and beyond, you found the strength and willpower to use her untimely passing to make a difference in this world, most people in your place would have turned to alcohol or drugs for comfort..this shows your resilience a man and a human being…Your poem, your blog and your words in general carry warmth, deep love, affection and caring for the people God placed in your life whether its your wife, your son, her relatives or the elderly gent who unfortunately became the catalyst for Desreens passing, if only people can see beyond your petition for the change in law (for drivers over 70) which is positive cause in itself and learn the true lesson of compassion, forgiveness and the power of what true love can achieve in helping us to weather storms we find ourselves with dignity and self worth…Ben you have restored my faith in humanity…I wish you and your gorgeous son all the best for your future, you are a wonderful dad and I know your wife’s soul is at peace knowing that her sons upbringing is in the best hands possible… much love and light to you both..x

  12. sandie942S
    November 10, 2015

    Wow..What an incredible response! I am deeply humbled by the stories and lives within this space. I am new to the tragic loss of Desreen as I have only today stumbled upon the story while I was in my own little bubble that is life. I hope you all find some solace, peace and comfort from sharing your experiences with each other and reach out to Ben and everyone else with love. xx

  13. Colin Andrews
    November 12, 2015

    Dear Ben,

    Being in the age group affected by your petition I reacted impulsively and negatively on receiving an email asking me to sign the petition, without having read it properly, or the background. I feel I must offer my apologies if my response to does get back to you.

    I had erroneously understood you were calling for a compulsory driving test every 3 years after the age of 70. A basic health & competency check of sight & satisfactory response time is not unreasonable, though I would have concerns about the way it might be implemented.

    Your petition has given me real cause for thought. As I pass my threescore and ten I face the question of how long I will be able to continue driving. It’s a particular worry in my area of poor or non-existent public transport. I would not wish to drive, however, if it were evident that I would be putting myself and other people at increased risk by doing so.

    Best regards,

    • Life as a Widower
      November 12, 2015

      I really value this message, Colin. Thanks so much for getting in touch.

  14. Candice
    November 24, 2015

    I have been searching the Internet over for someone with a similar situation of a very close friend of mine who was wicked last month when his wife of three years was killed in a car accident leaving the eight-month-old baby to survive by some miracle. I know his personality and he’s not one to go to any kind of support group that’s why I was seeking out someone that had such a similar experience hoping that maybe they could talk to him or guide him.

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