Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

being strong

I’ve decided I’m not going to write about the incident. It’s really easy for people to say, ‘You need to see a counsellor and go over what happened on the night,’ but I’m not convinced. I know what happened better than anyone else at the scene, I know the outcome and I know that I can’t do anything to change it. So why revisit it publicly?

Fortunately the professionals seem to agree. I imagine I’ll replay it in my head every day for the rest of my life, but I don’t think it helps me or others to discuss it at length.

That said, I am seeing a counsellor. In fact I’m seeing about twenty because if you can open up then suddenly your closest friends and family have invisible letters after their names.

But the first three paragraphs of this post are really just a bridge to some points I wanted to voice about grief.

Point one: Grief is fucked up. I’m planning on using swear words sparingly on this blog and only when I really mean them, but in this case I do.

Grief (the shock and numbness phase) made me crack jokes minutes after I saw my wife die. It made me tell my friend off for having a runny nose in the ambulance. It made me apologise to the police for wearing a fleece blanket when my wife would have scalded me for it not being Welsh lambswool. It made me check that everyone was okay for drinks when her best friends came to my house in the middle of the night unsure whether to believe what had happened. It allowed me to plan a funeral for my wife with as much gusto as our wedding. It enabled me to stand up in front of countless people in a packed church and speak about her without really shedding a tear. It’s tempting to say that Valium and rum played their parts too, but in my heart and I know I could have done it without because shock is more powerful a drug than either.

Point two: Grief is totally unpredictable. I wanted to ‘be strong’ on the day of the funeral because I felt it was my duty. People have told me how strong I’ve been or encouraged me to be strong along the way. But it’s really not a badge of honour when your wife has just died, it’s simply a matter of wanting to do her justice.

Now I wonder whether it would be better if people said, ‘Be weak.’ Why? Because if I’m strong the whole time then I’m not letting grief have its way with me and, trust me, we’re all grief’s bitch in the end. It just depends on how long we’re prepared to flirt before letting it have its way with us.

That would be quite a nice thought to finish on but this blog is about men and grief and my last point is more specifically about fathers.

Point three: Grief shouldn’t be hidden from children. If we are only ever strong and hide our true feelings (and tears) from our kids then perhaps they will think they shouldn’t cry or show their feelings in later life. I can only use my son as a reference and I’m no psychologist, but if he hides his tears from me because I was ‘strong’ and hid them from him, then I’ll have failed him.

Sadly for me right now, when he does see me cry he snatches my hanky, wipes fake tears and says, ‘Oh boo hoo hoo, daddy,’ while throwing himself around the room dramatically. One day he’ll know that this would be the worst time to mock his father’s feelings, but for now I just have to believe it’s his way of making me laugh. So it’s just two guys trying to make each other feel better. One two and the other thirty-three.

13 comments on “being strong

  1. Endre Johansen
    January 7, 2013

    For someone who lives far away from London and don’t get to see you as often as I’d like to, it’s good to read your thoughts in here, Benji. Blog added to my ‘favourites’ folder.
    See you tomorrow night though!

    • lifeasawidoweurgh
      January 9, 2013

      Pleasure to see you as always. I found it amazing that you already knew how I was feeling from reading this so we could have something like a normal night.

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  3. Catherine
    January 19, 2013

    Hello Ben,

    I read about your bereavement right after it happened. My deepest sympathies go out to you; I have experienced numerous bereavements, but nothing like yours.

    What I found really hard is the amount of ‘friends’ who seemed to melt away because I guess they found the idea of death and dealing with someone’s feelings impossible to deal with.

    Are you seeing someone from Cruse Bereavement? Someone I know found the best support from them after her husband died from cancer. She wrote a book called Why Not Me? Her name is Barbara Want. Her book is available on Amazon, if you use them, otherwise a bookshop can order it.

    All we can do is try to carry on.

  4. Janice Lambert
    January 20, 2013

    I so agree with you about grief being fucked up. Speaking from my own journey, It’s ever changing and at times seemingly inappropriate in others eyes I’m sure. The laughter, the sadness, the survivor guilt, the memories, the feeling everything, the lack of feelings, too much sleep, not enough sleep – it’s all crazy.

    I truly feel for you. I’m thinking about the hankey, at 2 years old and I wonder if he’s trying in his own way to make sense of this and feel closer to you in that moment by trying to copy you. What a wonderful Dad your Son has. You are there for him, happy, sad, it is all valid and he’ll be a wonderful human being knowing that you are there for him through thick and thin whether happy or sad.

    My hope for you is that you have the support of friends to get you through when you need them. Take good care Ben.

  5. Jessica
    January 20, 2013

    Having lost my Dad when I was 15 and heard from everyone “be strong” I couldn’t agree with you more… “be weak” is the best wish you can give to a person in grief. I was strong, I still am and now I’m 42 and I cannot find the sadness for the life of me…. Sadness, anger, happiness in memories, all those emotions are the most pure in the moment and not meant to be shelved for later.

    I am happy that I have found your words, your honesty and maybe I can travel to my sore places while reading about yours, who knows?

    Be real, and everything will flow as it needs to…..

  6. Lunar Hine
    January 22, 2013

    My husband died a year ago this week, just before our girl’s second birthday.
    It’s good to read your words and feel your insightful and heartful approach.
    Wishing us all strength and safe times to be weak.
    Thanks for writing this,
    PS If you’re interested, I write about how it is for me on my blog, amongst other things.

  7. Tania
    February 10, 2013

    I’m compelled to right and apologies for the stream of consciousness – it’s the only way to get the words out. You’re right to show your little boy that you are sad and that losing your wife hurts you. My mother died at the age of 22 when I was 18 months old. I never saw my dad cry for her until my first child was born. I grew up thinking she wasn’t important to him and thinking I had no right to cry for her, especially as I couldn’t remember her face and voice. I have missed her my whole life and bottled the grief up. It found it’s way out surreptitiously at opportune moments as depression or mindless, wild desperation when a boyfriend left me once. So better that your boy can see the grief and learn that crying is a good release. It finally erupted properly following the birth of my second child – my first girl – as dark, maddening post natal depression. The grief exploded and I spent a year of counselling airing it, wallowing in it and finally accommodating it.

    I thought I didn’t remember her face but gazing into my son’s eyes as a new mother I immediately recognised them as his grandmothers.

    I wish you both good wishes and the strength to get by each day.

  8. swanshaw
    February 13, 2013

    There is being strong and sometime just keeping it together so that you don’t fall apart. Five and half years after my husband died leaving me with a bewildered two year old and almost four year old all I can say is it doesn’t really get better, you all just find ways to deal with it. And as your child grows up their ability to cope will change sometimes for no apparent reason just like you will feel if that makes sense.

    You will find your own ways to cope, accept all help people want to help but sometimes don’t know what you need. At the start I felt I just survived and it took me several years before I truly accepted it although everyone exclaims about how brave and strong you are, we’ll you are but that doesn’t mean you aren’t hurting or missing them constantly. Children are resilient but I think we underestimate how much they take in and how much support they do need.

    Hope you are surviving as that’s often what I felt was all I could do at times and there is no shame in that.

  9. Carolynne
    September 8, 2013

    Hi Ben, I’ve just come across your blog. I’d heard about it but wasn’t sure of the name… anyway I’m glad I’ve found it now and I want to read it from start to present. I just wanted to say how sorry I am for your loss and that the love you describe you shared with your beautiful wife is so touching.
    Grief is a strange old thing. When I lost my mum 5 years ago I remember doing some strange things…. from feeling like I had a hole in my chest and not being able to breath one minute to laughing and joking when we had visitors round to send condolences the next… even after the funeral where I sobbed uncontrollably I was having a fun time with guests at the wake, catching up with old relatives…. so odd, I cringe about this but I guess it’s all part of the process.
    I wish you and your little boy well, he’s gorgeous and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of your posts xx

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  12. brucuk
    December 6, 2015

    Just wanted to know how you are doing?
    I’m 51, widowed in May, 19 year old daughter and my choice was whisky, not rum.
    So hard……..
    Great article.
    Stay strong, and good luck.

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