Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

jumping around

I’ve made another decision. At least for now anyway. This blog is not going to be chronological or linear because it’s designed to represent grief, which is neither. Grief is like a shadow. It has the potential to always be there and when a little light shines on you and makes you feel a bit warmer and a touch happier, it appears and engulfs you.

So this is a house of pain and I’m gonna jump around.

It’s funny how I always found excuses to not do things simply because I hadn’t started them earlier until Desreen died. Like not keeping a diary just because the idea didn’t occur to me until May. Or not supporting a football team because I wasn’t into it when I was a kid. But loss has a way of removing limits and barriers. I’ve only apologised once since Desreen died because I realised I’m not usually sorry for the little things I do every day. I’ve also run longer distances at a faster pace than ever before. Why? Because I’m alive and I realised the best ways I can honour my wife are to keep on living for our son and to behave more like her. Here’s what I said on the matter at her funeral.

Being Desreen

It struck me just the other day that one of my greatest fears since Desreen’s death was that I will age while she stays eternally young, making us feel even further apart than we already are. But what seems to be getting me through is being able to hear what she would say in reply to my thoughts. And to that one she would say, ‘Oh come on babe, let’s face it, you were always going to age badly compared to me with all of that white skin.’

So I can’t make this talk sad or laboured because I can hear her saying, ‘Benji, I’m getting a bit bored.’

That’s not to say that you won’t cry – God knows I probably will – but if you want to laugh, then laugh and if you want to smile, then smile.

First of all I’d like to thank you so much for coming, and thanks to all of the people who brought Desreen’s floral vision to life. Hundreds of people have been in touch – friends, family and even strangers moved by what’s happened – asking what they can do to help. Many of you have contributed to the flowers, others have brought food and friendship and there have been countless additions to Jackson’s rapidly growing selection of Thomas the Tank Engines.

While I’m sure this pain has only just started and that we will call on all of you for support way into the future, right now I can only think of one thing you can do to help.

And that is to keep my beautiful wife’s memory alive by trying, in your own individual ways, to be more like her.

Here’s the guidebook to being Desreen.

Be strong. Be quietly determined. Be remarkable. Be fun-loving and hedonistic. Talk nonsense that somehow makes total sense. Wind people up. Laugh hysterically when people fall over.

Be there for your friends and be unconditionally supportive of them. Love your family but keep them on their toes. Go round to your parents’ house, have them wait on your hand and foot but give them feedback on how they could have done better. Buy your brother Amazon vouchers to fuel his gadget addiction. Own a sewing machine, but get your mum to do all your sewing.

Listen more than you talk. Give more than you receive. Put your children first. Make candles for friends. Believe so strongly that you’ll have a little girl one day that you already have her full name in the back of your diary. Read The Secret and hang on its every word.

Fall asleep on the bus even if you are only travelling one stop. Buy flowers and enjoy them. Love your wardrobe. Relaunch yourself regularly. Get every single niggle checked by the doctor. Self-diagnose and expect the worst. Take the remote control to work instead of your mobile phone sometimes.

Buy pretty things, and, if you find that they aren’t as pretty as you hoped they’d be, give them to charity and buy prettier things. Say, ‘Oh wow, cheaper than I thought’ when the label on a T-shirt says £400. Yell at me to ‘Just go for it’ when an umbrella costs £150. Never class hot chocolate as chocolate.

Take the Desperate Housewives box set to hospital when you go into labour and after three days and two epidurals, be positive enough to say you’ve having a really nice day. If you ever have a caesarean, make your first post-operation question ‘Can I have a lemonade now please?’

Talk about your extreme detox with friends with a ciggy in one hand and a glass of Prosecco in the other. Write to the vicar who married you because you’re sad you haven’t seen him for a while. Send thank you cards. Drink olive oil before you go to bed to keep yourself regular. Re-carpet the rental property you’re living at because you’ve got friends coming to stay. Play music and be joyous enough in life to dance alone. Tell Norman Jay to get an earlier flight home from Ibiza because he’s annoying you. Light up a room. Ask waitresses completely inappropriate questions about the chicken you’re eating.

Jump from sleeping to leaping in a split second when an incredible, articulate, intelligent mixed-raced man becomes President. Support Jamaica if they’re winning, support your favourite holiday destination when they’re not, but stop supporting England – it’s never going to happen.

Have a different treatment every week on maternity leave and take your baby with you while you have a facial. Brush your skin. Tell yourself you look pretty today. Blame cow’s milk for mucus, not cigarettes. Eat a whole punnet of plums in ten minutes and then blame the pain on a dodgy heart. Believe yourself to be fabulous but don’t be arrogant enough to think there isn’t room – and money to be spent – on self-improvement.

 Love all creatures great and small, apart from most creatures great and small. Say ‘byeee’ when you leave a room. Call your auntie ‘AUNTIEEEEEEE’.

Dress well. Go to Paris and tell people it looks like Net-a-Porter in 3D. Own a Marc Jacobs nappy bag. If you can’t afford the price, simply ask the sales assistant for 70 per cent off, stating no other reason than ‘I really want it and haven’t got the money.’

Be truly kind. Have presence. Help people through grief. Excel at your job. Never compromise and never let your standards slip. Don’t buy anything cheap when it could be expensive, knowing that if you buy cheap you buy twice. Think you have money and you always will.

Be brilliant. Inspire people. Never give up and don’t tolerate mediocrity. Speak your mind because life’s too short to mince your words. Support businesses that inspire you. Exercise and never give up on looking as beautiful as you can. Wear colour. Fill a room with personality. Plan good times with amazing friends.

Be creative. Nurture creative talent and make other people’s success your goal. Believe in people and guide them. Be a mentor. Give shops feedback that they aren’t trying hard enough with their stock. Make a beautiful home. Plan to be buried at Liberty.

Be mischievous. Be headstrong and brave, but be childlike too. Record your life intentions; have a plan. Look at old photos and laugh – take lots of new ones. Sign up to the GOOP newsletter and cleanse your system. Meditate. List your achievements – not just your goals – in your diary and be kind enough to let your husband know that you credited a ‘great balanced marriage’ amongst the best. Set out to achieve good health not just for yourself but for your children and family. Plan to spend a month in Ibiza in August and volunteer to be the one to tell not ask your husband’s boss.

Be positive because negativity is too draining. Keep a clean house. Have a bit of class. Be confident but never boast. Never leave anyone uncertain about how you feel. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Be vivacious, organised, passionate, warm, intense, kind, considerate, gorgeous, funny, interesting, quirky and high maintenance. Make your children laugh by being daft. Be there for them. Buy your kids clothes for when they are a year older so other children won’t be wearing them. Buy the carers at your kids’ nursery Christmas presents. Come home from honeymoon a day early because you miss your child. Go home early from hen weekends so you can spend more time with your husband and son. Play with the kids at parties rather than just getting hammered.

Teach me how to be a better father. Spoil me: take me to Paris for Valentine’s Day, take me to Morocco for my birthday and take me to the Olympics on my wedding anniversary. Tell me off for getting in at 3.30a.m. even though in fact I fell asleep on the sofa at 11.00p.m. and never left the house. Forgive me, even though I did nothing wrong, then put me back in the doghouse for the same non-event when it suits you. Tell me you’re going to cook for me every Saturday but only do it once. Embarrass me in a busy restaurant by having the waiter bring over a diamond ring and ask me to marry you, when we’re already engaged. Send me a lesbian Valentine’s card. Tell me that my point of view is interesting but that yours is right. Love my grandma. If your bum is small enough, always share a seat with me. Turn up late to meet my parents because you got so drunk before leaving work you found yourself at Heathrow on the Piccadilly line. Never let me win an argument: tell me I can’t prove something, even if I already have. Tell me you’re having a weekend off sugar and then blame Jackson when three of the four scones we bought have disappeared. If I ever leave you at home without food, have a bottle of wine for dinner.

Make sure you tell someone the password to your computer the day before you die. Make sure you tell someone how much you love them and how proud you are of them the minute before you die. Be the most wonderful person you can be. Love me, love Jackson, love both of our families and I promise we will do her proud.

Dessie, I promise to take good care of our son. I know I’ll never get over you. I know I’ll never get over the fact you picked me to be the love of your life. I know I’ll never forget how happy we made each other over the last eight years. And I know that Jackson and I will love you forever.

38 comments on “jumping around

  1. Mike M
    January 7, 2013

    Well Ben that puts the concerns of first Monday of 2013 into sharp perspective and then some.
    Stay strong fella! best, Mike x

    • lifeasawidoweurgh
      January 9, 2013

      Thanks Mike. I’ve not been thinking much about the date recently but it just occurred to me this might have been pretty heavy reading for day one back in the office x

  2. mrsydneyroad
    January 7, 2013

    I really enjoyed talking with you on Saturday, and am very glad you put this eulogy on WordPress. Don’t forget the list of Do and donts you spoke about. ben w.

    • lifeasawidoweurgh
      January 9, 2013

      I’m going to see if there’s a way I can do share that list now, Ben

  3. zomersetgirl
    January 7, 2013

    Wow, just wow. I won’t use the word brave because for me too that kind of means nothing, but for different reasons. I’ll just say that love is truly amazing and that will be the thing that guides you through this, through the bad, the bloody awful and the even worse. Never let go of that love x

  4. Mark Reed
    January 10, 2013

    Hi Ben.

    Thanks for sharing your feelings. Well done.

    Is it okay if I print this page and put it up in the house so Team Reed (Mark, Nikki, Evy and Asa) always remember Desreen and how we need to try and appreciate everything always?

    Mark Reed (one of Nick’s many pals)

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  6. rockmaven
    January 11, 2013

    Hi. I lost my husband through suicide April 9 this year. I understand your pain and your grief and how it can one back like a shadow. It’s been 9 months since he passed away and I cannot seems to get my life back together. Just when I think I am starting to live again, the grief comes back. And if your read through my blog, you’ll realize that suicide grief is so much darker than any other kind of grief, It is full of questions, like you said, and full of self blame and anger and all the emotions you can possibly think of. If you ever feel like wanting to feel like you are not alone, please do read through my blog: Surviving Beau.


    • lifeasawidower
      January 13, 2013

      I will do, Anna. I’m so saddened to hear of your loss too.

  7. Caley berry
    January 11, 2013

    Your wife sounds like a wonderful lady and I am so so sorry for your loss.
    If I could choose one person in the entire universe that i would speak my last words to, it would be my 2.5yr old son – I hope you can take some comfort in the fact that Desreen got to do that x

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  9. Vanessa
    January 13, 2013

    I am so sorry for your loss. What a wonderful tribute to your wife. I knew Desreen as a child through a family friend who was in the armed forces with her dad. Keep writing dont ever think your pain is too raw to share. God bless you and Jackson.

  10. Melanie Hope
    January 14, 2013

    Hi Ben, I just want to say that I think what you are doing here is a beautiful thing. I often think about you and Jackson and wonder how you are both getting on. Reading this you have had me in tears then the next minute I have laughed so loud George asked what was so funny. I love the guidebook and will definitely will be doing some of these myself.
    Look after yourself

    Mel (Caz’s Friend)

  11. Grace Alabi
    January 16, 2013

    Ben I watched you on TV today . I have been depressed for over a year adn been a nightmare to my loving husband and kids. I am going to get help today because I want them to remember me just how you remember Desreen…she reminds me of how I used to be and I want to be like this again….X

  12. Naomii Chaplain
    January 16, 2013

    I have just spent the last hour and a half reading about you and your wife and son ( and sedning you a long waflling e-mail) and after reading this and smiling a bit I am now a positive mess at my desk – unable to tell anybody why because they will know I have not been working. I want to be like Desreen.

  13. Naomii Chaplain
    January 16, 2013

    *sending *waffling

  14. alysonandrew
    January 16, 2013

    what an incredible woman – I am in awe and channeling that list to be a bit more fabulous. How blessed you both were to have her in your life, even if only for such a short time x

  15. pink2477
    January 16, 2013

    I too watched you on BBC breakfast this morning and found your words captivating, so I thought I’d seek out this blog to learn more. I am so fortunate not to have been touched closely by grief, but I am taking inspiration today not to bitch and moan about having to go to work, tidy the house, feed the cats or pay the bills but to appreciate the two wonderfully annoying teenagers I will come home to in an hour’s time. I have read through your guide to being Desreen and it made me smile, a lot. There were things I could identify with and other things that gave me thought. It has reminded me to appreciate life, just as it is, fun, quirky, insanely frustrating and amazing. I do not know you, or your family and can only offer my condolences as a stranger, but I am sure those who know you well are confident that you can keep Desreen’s spirit alive and take comfort that one of the things she done well was to teach you to be a better Father. I’m pretty sure you don’t need my advice to enjoy every minute you have with Jackson, but good luck with the future trials, tantrums and tribulations, I’m sure they’ll be worth every second. Good luck this this blog too, it’s topic may stem from tragedy but so far I’ve found your writing a delight in amongst my usual dreary day and I’m sure your words will have a much greater impact for those who have recently encountered loss and grief.

  16. terrance0902
    January 17, 2013

    This is moving, beautiful, humorous and witty. It is clear that you loved and still do love your wife very dearly. Think I will take up the point on informing shops that they are not trying hard enough with their stock! Thank you for sharing your story. Best of luck for anything you may do in the future… Now to wipe the tears. Sincerely, 18 year old male, Terry.

  17. Lynn Ireson
    January 18, 2013

    Your words and list make me wish I had known Desreen. My thoughts are with you both.

  18. Janice Lambert
    January 20, 2013

    Your Guidebook on Being Desreen had me smiling and crying. What a wonderful way to remember her every essence, thank you for sharing here.

  19. rachelopps
    January 20, 2013

    This is a great blog and I am sure you are giving many people comfort. Thank you for opening up and I wish you strength and comfort.

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  21. Tuawa
    January 21, 2013

    Hi Ben, I am so sorry for your loss. I admire your strength and I want to thank you for posting such a personal experience. I enjoyed reading this post and it encouraged me. I will honour your wish and try to be like Desreen everyday. May God bless you and your little boy and continue to guide you and give you the strength to go on.

  22. Sam Bates
    January 21, 2013

    Found your blog via daily mail article, a touching, inspiring and emotionally charged post. Thinking of you

  23. Charlotte
    January 23, 2013

    So beautiful, so much love. Thank you for sharing xxx

  24. Naomii Chaplain
    March 4, 2013

    I love coming back to thispost. It’s my favourite. I love reading about Desreen.

  25. Chris Howard
    March 23, 2013

    Hey Ben, I am 31 and my wife died 3 weeks ago in a car accident caused by an elderly driver of the other car. We were together 10 years but married a year and a half. We planned for children but had not got there yet – I’m so confused I am honestly not sure if that is a relief or the worst part.
    A huge amount of what you are say rings true with me. I just miss my Kk so much.
    We spent 6 months traveling when we got married but all my happy memories hurt so deeply.
    I heard about you from a mutual friend – thank you for giving me a reference point I guess! Much love, be strong, Chris H x

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  30. Poppy
    April 14, 2014

    I came across your blog the other day and I’ve found it so moving but also inspirational. Desreen sounded like the most wonderful woman. I’ve written down in my diary almost your entire ‘being Desreen’ guidebook and I’m going to strive to be more like her. I don’t have any experience of death or mourning but if there’s anything good to have come out of your loss, it would be great if random strangers like me could become better people. Thank you this post is beautiful

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