Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

being positive

When someone close to you dies, the well-wisher who tells you to ‘stay positive’ should be prepared for a somewhat negative response. What if you weren’t that positive a person in the first place? You’ve certainly never felt less optimistic than you do right now, so staying positive may pose somewhat of a challenge.

But I’m learning that there’s nothing wrong with being positive whilst grieving. In fact I find myself using positivity as my weapon in an imaginary duel with the grim shadow of death. I’m playing Luke Skywalker dressed in white and ready to rumble and Grief comes as Darth Vader, dark, dangerous and trying to lure me to the shadowy side.

Grief puts up a good fight – a physical and emotional exchange mixing hard-hitting blows and mind games. Grief tells me it’s my fault that my wife is dead. He tells me I have nothing left to live for. He tells me I’ll never be able to feel like I’m really living again. He makes me think the darkest thoughts I’ve ever thought and feel the most negative feelings I’ve ever felt. And when I try to laugh in his face and beat him with positive retorts, his harsh hand tries to slap me back down and put me firmly back in my wretched place. But I’m tougher than I look and my trump card is that I’m not trying to win. I know Grief will be back for more if I put up too strong a fight so I decide to settle for a draw.

So when Grief throws blame at me, I go for a run. I’m pretty fast and I can go for miles without it catching me so I get some time off to empty my head or think about other things. When he suggests I have nothing to live for, I spend time with my son. He confuses the hell out of Grief. He throws little soft punches made of joy, laughter and mischief that Grief can’t defend. Just as Grief thinks he’s got me, my son will say something random like, ‘I love music, Daddy. I love Mickey Mouse!’ Or he’ll try to do the bum wiggle a friend taught him at the weekend, where his bottom doesn’t actually move but he thinks it does because it’s up in the air and his excitedly clenched fists are shaking from side to side. If I’m lucky he might even be my second in the duel and follow me around the house whilst biting on the tail of my shirt pretending I’m the train to his carriage. When Grief makes me think dark thoughts, I think about the good times with my wife. It hurts like hell at the moment because the memories make my eyes go misty and I can’t see that Grief is about to throw a sharp jab, but I keep doing it anyway because it’s worth the pain. And if he does slap me back down, I crawl off beaten, wait for the wounds to heal and come back a little bit stronger.

Grief is a dark place where light seldom shines, but when a spark occasionally flickers it’s unfair of Grief to torture us for our moments of positivity. Sorrow doesn’t bring a dead person back to life. Negative thoughts don’t honour the people we’ve lost more than positive ones. And when the person loved you the way you know they did, it’s reasonable to assume that they wouldn’t get any pleasure from seeing you so constantly forlorn.

That said, sometimes when I feel frustration at my somewhat cactus-like eyes, which can go days with no sign of water, I can hear my wife (the most entertaining person I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing) saying, ‘Benji, you’re not sad enough for my liking. I deserve a lot more tears!’ She does, but she also deserves a happy little boy, so I’m not going to beat myself up if I have a good day.

28 comments on “being positive

  1. Gemma parker
    January 15, 2013

    I only found out about you’re blog today through a friend Lyndsay. I think your courage is astounding. You’re little boy has a great father and I have no doubt you’re beautiful wife is looking down and thinking what a wonderful job you’re doing while breaking inside. Reading what you have written just makes me appreciate my life and how quickly things can change. Thank you for sharing. 🙂 xx

  2. Lydia
    January 15, 2013

    I am getting you a lightsaber. Jackson truly is such a little cutie. So caring and sensitive too. A total treasure. I’m so glad you have each other xxx

      January 15, 2013

      That was quite something to behold last night. What a delightful little boy he is. Thanks for being there x

  3. Lydia
    January 15, 2013

    It really was. I actually feel very privileged I was there. Was very special. You should be (as I know you already are) bursting with pride xx

  4. Nina
    January 15, 2013

    Ben, I’ve read every blog and facebook post and in equal measure I’ve smiled at your beautiful memories, chuckled at your funny stories and (despite feeling like a fraud as I never knew Desreen) tried to stop the lump from growing in my throat at the sadness you have to face every day. You are an inspiration. x

  5. Yiannis
    January 15, 2013

    Ben, whatever I type might come across as wrong. Nina could not have said it better. I live in West Hampstead and your love has touched many people. You are truly an inspiration and I wish more people were as honest, loving and brave as you. Thank you. Big hug to you and your boy!

  6. Paula Breeze
    January 16, 2013

    What an amazing husband , father,son. friend and man you are !!!! you are an inspiration and a breath of fresh air, for you are not afraid to show your sorrow, tears, grief as well as being able to allow yourself to smile and enjoy the special moments in time with your son as you both travel a journey of uncertainty.
    I feel humble to have had the opportunity to have seen you on bbc which as led me to read your blog.
    You are truly an unique human being and your son as the most fantastic daddy.
    Im in awe of you both.
    Hugs to you and your son x

  7. Linda
    January 16, 2013

    Your writing and your courage touches my heart Ben.. It’s as though your words are a paint brush for your grief and love for your wife. It’s raw, emotional, intimate and inspirational. Thank you – your words are not only healing for yourself but I feel also for other men (and women) to tranform our society beliefs on how men should be with their emotons.I send love and light to you and your son

  8. Chris
    January 16, 2013

    Hi Ben. I saw your slot on Breakfast earlier on, and am very glad I was able to find your blog & facebook page.

    I was widowed 13 months ago. I’m 45 and our children are now 14 & 12. We were together for 28 wonderful years and married for 17.

    You are doing a wonderful thing by writing – and sharing – this blog. As many others have already said, you write beautifully. The fact that it’s so raw makes it all the more powerful to read, and VERY helpful to others, whether they’re in a similar situation to you or not.

    We were “lucky”, in that my wife, Ruth, died after a long battle with a brain tumour. Whilst that’s a crappy situation, it does mean that, when the end comes, it is not a surprise. And that means the kids and I had the opportunity to enjoy the last days and weeks with their mum, say what we really wanted to say, and “be” together. It was a very precious time, and so helpful later.

    I have been acutely aware of how much easier that made my initial grief. When you lose your wife, mum or anyone close, so suddenly, as you did, you have to go through every emotion and practical new-world reality in real-time. That’s so tough, and yet another reason why your blog is so important – sure, for you, but most certainly for others who’ll follow you too.

    It absolutely makes sense to me that you focus on Jackson. He’s benefiting from that, but it’s so cathartic for you too. As a widower myself (although I never really think of that term usually) I recognise that my sense of self was buoyed up by being “Ruth’s husband”, and by being devoted to her. Some of what you’ve written suggests a similar thing – wanting Desreen’s praise, confirmation, affection.

    It’s so great that you have Jackson! A big part is because Desreen lives on through him. But another big reason is that he gives you a purpose and the confirmation of how important you are – to him, and to your community. And through this blog, to the wider world too.

    Your last sentence on this post is SO important! “I won’t beat myself up if I have a good day.” That sounds like a significant moment to me. For those left, life does (and has to) go on. Guilt naturally follows such a statement, but that doesn’t change its truth. My guilt was abated by being able to tell myself that Ruth wanted us to be happy and have fun. Everything you’ve written suggests that the same is true for you.

    For what it’s worth, I’ll share a thought that has helped me this year … I have come to terms with the reality that Ruth isn’t *physically* here, but, having shared so much of our lives together, I can “bring her back” to my emotional life whenever I like, because I carry her in my head and in my heart. Sure, that’s not the slightest bit as good as having her here in person, but it’s a comfort to me. It means that we’re still connected in a happy, emotional way.

    I sincerely wish you every strength as you carry on, Ben. Your ability to recognise and express your feelings must be so helpful in that process. It sounds like you’re doing great things for your son. Please take it from this stranger that you’re doing great things for people you’ll never meet too. That’s a pretty great legacy for your wonderful wife too, wouldn’t you say?

  9. David
    January 16, 2013

    Until this morning I was unaware of your situation or campaign. I will not pretend to that I can imagine what you have gone through. I am a single Dad raising my son (now 6) on my own. His mother left just before he was two and went to Australia. In that time he has had no contact from her at any point not even a card. I to found that everything surrounding children, support and domestic life is based around single mothers but never had the courage you have shown to try to do something about it. I found it so hard to believe that in such a P.C mad society we are not included!

  10. Jude
    January 16, 2013

    After seeing you on t.v. I found you on here.Just wanted to say what a truly courageous man you are.Your boy has been blessed with 2 wonderful parents and though your beautiful wife is no longer in your daily lives she will always be with you.

    I grew up without a dad-he died when I was 8 months old.I was never allowed to ask questions about him because I might upset other people, my mother was never a huggy sort of person.I grew up with a hole in my life and even now in my 50s I crave information about him.So keep on doing what you are doing-keep those photos in place,wear that jumper,fill the house with flowers and above all trust your instincts .Only you know what is best for you both and what Desreen would want you to do.
    Sending love to you and your dear boy.

    • Chris
      January 16, 2013

      Such warm words, backed by such real life experience. I echo your comments – “trust your instincts, only you know what is best for you both.” Brilliant.

      • christie berges
        January 22, 2013

        Brilliant is right…. “trust your instincts, only you know what is best for you both”.
        perfect ending to a perfect blog comment.

  11. mike
    January 16, 2013

    hi ben saw you on tv this morning and could see the struggle in your eyes i am amazed you kept it together ! i was widowed almost 7 years ago and had 2 kids, 10 and 14 and i still find things difficult at times. i can associate with the feelings you feel though, as a man it is not easy to talk about. i am glad you have your son to focus on but dont neglect yourself as you may find you will have bad times when you least expect it. i hope your friends and family dont let their attention and help for you drop as i know you will still need them for some time. thanks for your being so open today it made me feel very positive,

  12. jenny gayner
    January 16, 2013


  13. Lucy
    January 16, 2013

    A beautiful piece, very poignant. Your wife would be very proud of you and your son is very lucky to have you as a Dad.

  14. lisagorman3105
    January 16, 2013

    Ben I am in Miami so missed your telly debut and can’t get it here due to ‘no overseas’ bloody BBC crap. I just want to say I’m following you like so many others on here – this is going to be HUGE and help so many people. Good stuff.

    Lisa x

  15. Erika Deakin
    January 17, 2013

    Hi Ben,
    I have wanted so many times to reach out to you these past months but I have been afraid that my own grief would spill out uncontrollably. (There is nothing worse than a Tommy Topper!!) However, as I sit here sobbing I have come to realise that that would mean I would never get in touch. I didn’t want that.

    What I did want is to say that I am immensly proud to know you. I have followed your messagess on Facebook and now your blog. I know our grief stems from very different situations; but it is still grief. There are so many things that you have written about that I have identified with and still to this day (nearly 14 years on) I find that my grief is so raw. You have been a therapy of sorts as there are so many things that I hide away. Don’t ask me why: I’ve got the washing to do, the girls need feeding, I have to go to work. The list is endless, but sometimes life does not allow for grief. You are right. We are all griefs’ bitch. People don’t expect you to cry fourteen years later!

    But I miss my brother, full stop.

    I miss his voice, his terrible choice of aftershave, his company. Most of all though I miss sharing our lives. His wedding, his children, his wrinkles. I feel as though so many things have been ripped away from me. And for that I am terribly angry: another aspect of grief I am sure you can identify with.

    You are right to keep Desreen’s pictures up for Jackson. Daisy sees pictures of Kris and knows exactly who he is even though she has never met him. It hurst like hell every time she says ‘Uncle Kris’, knowing that he is just sort of phantom to her, not the tangible being that I still remember the touch of. But I refuse to allow his death to keep him out of his nieces lives. Children are amazing, she has not once questioned why she has never met ‘Uncle Kris’. However she did ask what ‘died’ meant the other day. I was stumped as to the best thing to say, luckily Peppa Pig bought me some time to think about an answer for that question another day.

    I could write on here for hours, spilling my grief here on the page – as I said you have been therapy. So thank-you for that. But I won’t go on any longer. I will finish by saying: keep doing what you are doing. For others yes, but primariliy for yourself and for Jackson. Whatever helps you get through the day.

    Lots and lots of love to you both.


      January 17, 2013

      I love you. Thanks for opening up and when it feels bad just remember how we wept with laughter at ‘deep fried squirt’ and ‘vegetarian spring rolls with pork and meat’. Cherish all the memories and fuck hiding away from them xx

  16. Mina
    January 18, 2013

    I live near Westhampstead and told of your tragic story only recently outside my children’s school gate by another mum…. Words cannot express how much your loss has moved me……my heart goes out to you and your beautiful little boy….you seem like a lving family and will get throughout this dark time….your blog is truly inspiring…. Keep moving and when you feel like your day can’t get any worse….. Give it some time and see how things are tomorrow x

  17. Hi Ben,

    Caught the end of your interview on BBC Breakfast earlier this week and have looked at the different social media posts over the last few days.

    Really good stuff.

    I have an interesting spin on things as my dad was suddenly and quite unexpectedly widowed just before my second birthday with me being the only child. Different times to today but I think there are a lot of similarities. I now have my own kids but in all my time I think I have only come across one other person who has lost their mum.

    Grief, in these circumstances, is a funny thing from a child’s, teenager, growing adult and then married man’s perspective as it changed as I matured

    From my perspective it resulted in real positives, sounds strange writing that, and then real and unexpected challenges at unexpected points which I never thought about until they happened.

    It can all work out – but it just needs work on all dimensions.

    Happy to contribute more and actively help your campaign as I think it is really important.

    Glad your initiative made me write this



  18. john
    January 20, 2013

    Dear Ben
    read your account in yesterdays Guardian, thank you so much for disclosing how you feel, the intense grief. I was touched too by your “imagining it from a two-year-old boys point of view” Almost 70 yrs ago my dad was killed in an accident on the docks, he left home one night and never came back, my 2yr old grief must have been intense, can imagine as Jackson has, calling out wheres daddy gone/ when is he coming home? I think its brilliant you allowing and accepting Jacksons anger, message to me was ” be a big boy” no place for my toddler grief then. Years later therapy and a digging down to that place of loss. In my 70th year now and in therapy for other reasons but have recently visited that early trauma. I too am a Christian and prayer comforts me now and the promises of having a heavenly father supports my daily living
    Like Keith previous contributor to your blog, glad your initiative made me write this.
    God bless

  19. runa
    January 20, 2013

    Dear Ben

    I read your blog. I was moved by your transparent emotions. I have not suffered the grief you have suffered. But as a surgeon I have seen many suffer.

    Whether you could have done anything more or anything different will always be a question in your mind, no matter what.. it is how you cope with that question and I think what you are doing is a positive way of coping with it.

    I wonder if you have come across the Geeta. (or Bhagwadgeeta). it is a book of Hindu religion, but as you know Hinduism is not actually based on any book, but refers to various books to understand philosophy. It depicts the huge turmoil faced by Arjuna who along with his brothers is fighting against his cousins. Its a long complex storey, it does not mimmick your situation. But it discusses about the decisions one must take .. the right decisions/ reflex decisions and cope with the reality of life by keeping faith on the “Karma.. the actions you must take”

    I am not reccommending it because I am a Hindu, but because I think you will find useful to cope with your thoughtful mind. So please do not misunderstand. English translations are readily available.

    Please make sure that your son is not overwhelmed by the haunted grief of mother’s loss but in her divine memory and be nurtured by your incredibly courageous soul.
    With regards to the grandparents on both sides, who would have found it very hard to cope without the little one.

    Best wishes

  20. Dawn Daly
    January 23, 2013

    Dear Ben

    Firstly, please accept my earnest condolences to you and your son on the tragic loss of your wife and mum.

    I am by nature an extremely emotional person, a mother of four sons whose whole outlook on life changed when I became a mother. An emotional floodgate was opened within me and my instinct to nurture and protect became paramount.

    I was dubious to read about your grief for fear of taking your pain on board as I am prone to so often do….I need not have worried.

    Your grasp on grief is awe inspiring. The understanding of your sons needs at this bewildering and heartbreaking time for your son is extraordinary. Your positivity exudes in every written word. it is no wonder that you have not only touched so many but had such a positive effect on their own way of dealing with their own grief.

    The love you feel for you wife is so apparent and your determination not to lock away your memories will enable your son to remember, know and love his mum even though he cant be with her. Your son will grow up to be very proud of you as I am . certain your dear wife must be.

    I sincerely hope that you continue to find the inner strengths necessary to deal with your loss and urge you to continue your writing. You have an absolute gift that cries out to be shared in your writing. To put your feelings onto a page to share with the world is such a skill and will help to heal so many who feel alone in their grief.

    Thank you for sharing so openly and honestly you have certainly helped and inspired this person to make some changes. LOVE AND PEACE to you and your son xxxxx

  21. Ema Espinheira
    January 24, 2013

    Dear Ben
    I have read your story on the sun newspaper and I just could stop crying, my sincerest condolences to you and your beautiful son, you r for sure an inspiration for all of us because we live in a world that teach us that man don’t cry man r not allowed to show emotions, thank you so much.I have a 3 years old son and I will defenetely teach that it’s ok for a man to cry to scream when he’s hurting.I wish you and your son a wonderful life and will continuo to pray for you 2.

  22. Joehaedi
    January 25, 2013

    being positive, I love this and try to do this, I believe that if we have a positive thinking, nature will gives us a something positive, its a law of nature, god will approve from what our thinking

  23. David
    January 26, 2013

    Hello Ben, im Dave (37) and my wife Nicky (32) died very unexpectedly in Dec leaving me and our two sons Joel aged 4 and Zach aged 2 behind. Im so sorry for you and your son and id like to offer helpful advice but it sounds like your coping very well. Working full time and being the dad that the boys need is tricky as im not fully in control of my own emotions at the moment (regular face cracking in Tesco and i dont even feel it coming half the time). We were together for 13 years and married for nearly 6 and i have to say that im a bit of a mess. The boys however are coping so well and often tell me how much they miss her and want her back. I did my homework on how to tell them but the telling was much worse for me than for them. I read that children dont start to understand death until the age of 6 but im sure ours will have a better understanding than most by the time theyre that old. I know i havent offered any valuable nuggets to you and its probably therapy for me to share my story but I feel for you Ben and wish you both the best of luck, Take care mate.

  24. Hi David,

    Not sure if you read my earlier post on the blog but just wanted to drop you a note and let you know I am thinking about you and your boys as I too lost my mother unexpectedly before I was two.

    I write this not to give you any nuggets, or talk about my story,but just so that when you are going through any ups and downs that you know someone else has gone through a journey with some similarities to what your boys will go through and it has all worked out positively.

    I have not written this very well – and have struggled to think about what to write – but just want to give you a feeling of warmth and support , from maybe a different angle at what must be a difficult time.



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