A story of grief by a man and a boy

party time

I first suffered grief, along with many friends and colleagues, when I was just 23-years-old. We lost a friend 10 years ago in December. She just dropped dead one day. No real reason. She just stopped living.

When your first real experience of death comes during the party time of your life, at the party season of the year, the party itself tends to come to a swift stop.

The life and soul of my inner party which made me easygoing, fun-loving and content disappeared. People probably still saw those qualities in me but rather that being innate, they became acted.

I’ve probably only told five people this in my life but the psychological effects of our friend’s death made me an insomniac for a year. Exhausted from months without sleep and playing the role of my former self in the day, I’d nod off momentarily only for my body to abruptly jolt me back to consciousness. I awoke with my fingers in my mouth gripping the tongue I feared I’d swallow causing my own untimely death. Irrational fear from sleep deprivation and the stress caused by grief.

When I look back at that time I re-write the story and end on a chapter that suggests I educated my way out of insomnia. In the plot I became the Defender of the Pillow, learning the art of sleep and heroically delivering rest back to myself. I became an expert fighting sleep deprivation, dishing out advice to weary folk with dark circles around their eyes along the way.

But lying awake right now waiting for morning to relieve my mourning, I can suddenly separate that fiction from the facts. I’ve realised that happiness brought me peace; that Desreen was the security blanket I’d needed to get through a night uninterrupted by the slow steady snake of sleeplessness. It has ocurred to me that I’ve never woken in the middle of the night because I am happy. That my leg has never twitched so strongly nor my body spasmed so hard that it shocked me out of sleep because my sub conscience just told me a funny joke. It’s woe that wakes me.

And now I can feel that snake making its way back into the room uninvited. I can feel it gradually coiling itself around me, making me its prey, preparing to squeeze the life out of me and making me the understudy of my own life once more. And I’m scared.

This feels strange because fear has been an unfamiliar feeling to me for many years. I can go on live TV without butterflies in my stomach. I can speak in public without any nerves. I’m comfortable standing up to people who are bigger than me (so most adults) if I think they are wrong.

Our relationship gave me the confidence I’d always sought, yet there is one fear I never overcame while Desreen was alive. Just months ago I told a mate (two in fact, on separate occasions) that I was only scared of one thing. Losing Desreen and being left to bring up our son alone. Remarkably, it turns out she said exactly the same thing to one of her friends around the same time.  The same way round too. Not anxious that something might happen to me leaving the two of them alone, but that she too would unwittingly leave us behind.

And then it happened.

So as I lie awake in bed wondering what fear has in stall for me today, it tells me that we’re going to a party, just like we did 10 years ago. It’s a birthday party for a two three-year-olds that go to nursery with my son, and I’m scared.

I’m scared that the parents might not have heard about what’s happened and that they’ll ask after my beautiful wife. I’m worried that they won’t have read this blog and won’t know that I prefer to be treated like a complete individual rather than half of a reduced couple. I’m concerned about how my son will act when he sees that every other child there has a mummy and his can no longer make it.

I’m 33, I’ve done two live TV shows in front of millions of people this week, revealed my soul to the world through my blog and yet I’m frighted of going to a kids’ birthday party which, judging by the invitation, will be watched over by Spider-Man.

But then I guess I’ve been here before and I know that that fucking sleepless snake can crush even the strongest of super heroes.

34 comments on “party time

  1. Aideen McGrath
    January 19, 2013

    Thinking of you Ben, hope it all goes ok for you and Jackson today. Sending you lots of love and support xxxx

  2. Anita
    January 19, 2013

    Bless you x it must be a confusing and terrifying time right now, I won’t throw all the cliches at you about time being a healer etc as am sure that that is no comfort whatsoever.

    I’m not a “godly” person, I believe that we go through life becoming stronger through our life hanging events, although my heart breaks when I read your blogs.

    There must be so many questions that you want answering… I haven’t been able to see or hear any of your interviews this week (work takes me out for many hours a day)

    I guess I’d like to say how very proud of you, I am, even though I don’t know you, however the support and courage you are giving others is tremendous.

    In your darkest hours and through your darkest fears… You will “survive”, You will “get through”

    Take care

  3. Karina Jones
    January 19, 2013

    While we’re talking about Super Hero’s (and I think you are one by the way) don’t forget, they have their secret identities to keep them safe,strong and protected when surrounded by people. No matter what the battle or how close they come to losing the fight there will always be that powerful force of good, unseen but always present, to give strength when needed the most. Sending you some of my own reserves today 😉 x

  4. kristym809
    January 19, 2013

    I’ll swap you a secret I don’t think I’ve told anyone – I’m terrified of kid’s parties, school concerts, the school playground, any gathering of parents and children because it’s the one time in my life I’m convinved I stand out as a failure for not giving my child the same 2 parent family the other kids have. It’s one reason I work so hard, to overcompensate by being (sometimes) successful in the office as if somehow that will make the playground mums not gossip about why our family’s missing a parent.

    But whilst you’re sipping luke warm tea amongst the stale sandwiches and attempting small talk with people you have nothing in common with except you once had sex at the same time an amazing thing will happen. Across the room, just for a moment your child will stop playing and catch your eye. They’ll turn to their little pal and say “that’s my daddy/mummy” with the same awe and wonder as if spiderman himself had just walked in the room. Never underestimate the power of just “being there” to your child, that makes you a hero.


    • Sharron Gordon
      January 30, 2013

      Beautiful words x …

  5. rachael
    January 19, 2013

    Ben just go in there and smile and it will all come right. Also check out Headspace (app or website). It’s fantastic in general for teaching you ‘mined fullness’ and the take 10 is great for falling asleep. You have shown how strong you are – you can do the kids party. Big hugs. Desreen sounds from your blog like my kind of girl – she is an inspiration as a young mum in London as are you for what you have been through. Big hugs. R

  6. Zarina
    January 19, 2013

    Can’t think of anything to say that doesn’t sound cliched – this blog is one of the most raw and honest things I’ve ever read. I hope it is helping you channel your grief and bringing you hope – just as you are bringing hope to many others who had nowhere to go with their grief. I don’t know you, or anything about you, other than what is on this blog, all I know is your son has a wonderful father who will help him grow up to be a great human being. X

  7. Alex James
    January 19, 2013

    Unwanted attention ,Its ok to excuse yourself , to say no thank you and to protect yourself ,You have one big responsibility to look after yourself because only then can you do it for Jackson. Writing this blog is a fantastic thing Ben but it doesn’t shouldn’t give anyone ownership . Feel how you need to talk to whoever you feel you want to -or not as the case may be – just a step at a time
    Take Care

  8. Sara
    January 19, 2013

    I hope you don’t have to tell the story of why you are alone. It’s miserable to tell over and over when you don’t even want to be there in the first place. Hopefully, the gossip circle has taken over or the people attending the party picked up a paper or two. The thing about what you went through and what I went through is that our pain was splashed across the headlines. That spreads faster than you can imagine. For some reason, people you rarely talk to suddenly want to tell everyone they see that they know you. If I had to wager a guess, I’d say they all know and you will be fine. You strike me as a no BS guy, even when grief doesn’t have a hold on you. And little Jackson, kids rock.

    You might not have any trouble from the parents, but it’s going to be one of those ‘firsts’ that might leave you reeling. Good luck to you.

  9. Phil
    January 19, 2013

    I’m a Dad of two, my daughter is 4 my son 18 months. I hope I am even half the Dad you are are. Your blog has had me in tears. You Sir are a fantastic individual & I’ve no doubts your wife is rightly proud of you and your son.

  10. Rafael
    January 19, 2013

    Ben – I lost a close friend of mine in 2007. He died after a short illness. I was at the same time breaking up from the person I loved (not by choice). I suffered from insomnia and depression for over a year. I couldn’t eat, lost interest in most things I used to enjoy. I also pretended to be the person I had always been – blatantly failing to do so.
    Human beings are not prepared or educated to face the condition and hardship which are inherent to our existence. My parents – like most parents I guess – had never taught me how to deal with the passing of a friend.
    I still find it really hard to deal with this kind of emotions so I reject them. That’s my way of dealing with it. Your story has perhaps made me realised that I never really got over it. I just find a way to deal with it yet don’t know if it is the right one.

    Be strong Ben. You are doing the right thing. Desreen would be proud of you.

  11. seeloois
    January 19, 2013

    Hello Ben. I have spent the last hour or so reading your blog after reading your article in the Guardian. I was drawn to read it particularly as I am a Headteacher of a primary school and in my school there are currently 5 children whose parents are terminally ill. Sometimes, I feel totally overwhelmed at the prospect of trying to support these children…the feelings of inadequacy and helplessness…how on earth do I begin to know what to do or say?

    Your blog has shared raw grief in a very arresting and poignant way. It has also brought into focus for me, that supporting children when their parent has died is an incredible privilege, for grief is a powerful way which humans connect with one another. Having read your thoughts and cried, I can see that all I need to do is to be available to connect with these children when they say goodbye to their parents. There are no right words or actions; just a willingness to connect.

    • Kathryn Edwards
      January 20, 2013

      In your role as Headteacher you may be interested in the courses run by the bereaved-children’s charity Winston’s Wish.

      Good luck in your commitment to channelling love and honesty in your school.

      • seeloois
        January 20, 2013

        Thank you, Kathryn. I’ve come across Winston’s Wish and other similar charities and also organised a full day’s training for all staff… but still, the nagging doubts about how to really help and support children and their famlies through unimaginable grief pervade. Thanks, again for your good wishes.

  12. Natalie
    January 19, 2013

    I hope the party was in some way enjoyable for you today. Even just for the fact of seeing your son play with his friends.

  13. helenaxox
    January 19, 2013

    Hi Ben. I am 18 and came to your blog, and read every post, after seeing your article in the Guardian. I would just like to say that you have made me appreciate the people I love and have around me more than ever. I know there is not much I can say as I am not in your position but what I do know is that Desreen would be so proud of you.

    Sending you love and support x

  14. Stephanie from harlesden
    January 19, 2013

    I was humbled to read your guardian article today. Loving thoughts from harlesden to you and Jackson. Your wife would be proud. Stephanie

  15. Janice
    January 20, 2013

    Ben I’m sending you strength for the day. Do what feels right for you when you’re there. Is there something that you can look forward to afterwards? Thinking of you and Jackson today.

  16. Claire
    January 20, 2013

    Just read your article in the mail. I’m so sorry for yours and Jackson’s loss. I hope that writing this blog helps you thru the journey you are taking at the moment….. X

  17. sophierunning
    January 20, 2013

    Dear Ben

    I’ve just read your article in the Guardian and wanted to write to you to say how moved and impressed I was. I can’t imagine the pain of what you are going through but I am sure that by writing about it so honestly and intelligently you will help other people in similar situations.

    I started blogging when confronted with a difficult time in my life and that of my child. Initially an outlet for pain and anger it gave me a chance to work through those feelings and find some calm. It also helped to find friends and a support network and a purpose that helped me to keep going. I hope very much that you continue to write and that it helps you in a similar fashion.

    With very best wishes, and love to your brave and beautiful boy

    Sophie Walker

  18. 2wishupon
    January 20, 2013

    Hope the party went ok. I did not leave the house five months after my loss and the first time was for a kiddies party. I was soooo scared!!! However, I came away laughing as I have not spoken so much about the weather in a two hour period!!! Keep smiling x

  19. Roger Smith
    January 20, 2013

    Hi Ben, A friend of ours has recently lost his wife. I am keen to say what you are doing here is great. Keep up the good work., Roger – father of two.

  20. Louise
    January 20, 2013

    I have just read through your blog after seeing the article in the DM. You are an amazing person and will no doubt bring up your son to be just like you. I have been widowed for 5 and a half years now, and have 3 incredible children who have kept me going every single day. My beautiful husband died suddenly from carbon monoxide poisoning when we were on a camping weekend. Our children were aged 9, 13 and 16 at the time. I have been through every emotion imaginable over the years. Keep strong Ben. Let your friends and family in as much as possible but don’t be afraid of saying when you need to be left alone. I wish there is something I could say to ease any of your pain. You will have such joy with your son as I have with my children. I haven’t really been able to find the words Ben but I just knew after reading your blog and all the comments that I had to write something. Take care and sending a hug x

  21. Lesley
    January 20, 2013

    Thinking of you and your beautiful son. Read about you through an online newspaper article. I am sure your friends and family are a support to you and that you will find strength together. Wishing you, your family and your son the best for the future.

  22. Jo
    January 20, 2013

    Ben, you clearly have the spirit and the strength to get through this, that much is evident, even if at times you doubt it. Much of the pain of death, especially with young people, comes from the sense of a life cut short. I read a newspaper article once relaying the explanation Patrick Walker, the astrologer, once gave tonJack Rimker on the death of his daufhter ar 21. Patrick explained that for him with his beliefs life is not cut short but completed. For whatever reason your wife had completed her journey and her purpose. I have read this elsewhere from other sources since and for me it makes sense. I hope it might bring you some relief.
    Best wishes for the times ahead. I know you will do well.

      January 20, 2013

      Thank you. It’s not what I believe but I’m really open to comments from others about what they believe.

      • Jo
        January 20, 2013

        Apologies re the typo. It was Jack Tinker who wrote the article for the Daily Mail. Not sure if you can find it now, it was about 9 years ago but you might find it interesting.

  23. LJ
    January 20, 2013

    Hi Ben, I’ve just read your article in the Mail. The first year is the worst, the first of everything. It’s 10 years since my husband died suddenly. Not a day goes by without thinking about him, but I’m so happy I’m here for our two children. There’s been so many ups and downs, but I am so proud of them both. I remember the feeling of I can be mum but not dad……time has helped me to realise that sometimes just being the parent I am has to just be good enough.

    You sound like the kind of person who is amazingly strong, even though you probably don’t feel like it right now. Although you will always miss your beautiful wife, a part of her will always be with you in your son x L x

  24. simon bounds
    January 20, 2013

    hi ben ilost my wife to cancer on the31july last year,jane had cancer for three years started with breast cancer,had heceptin was good for a bit then got a bnain tumer,had it removed,had treatment then it came back had it removed,was told we were waiting for head to heal 6 weeks later she got bad again it had come back and it won!Jane was very strong to the end,we have a 6 year old ,harryhes know his mums been ill,when she took ill jane told me not to bring harry in and she her diying i am aman whos been brought upto be strong and not show any emotions.I find it hard to speak about im crying while writing this,it is hard running a household im selfemployed and looking after my son 2 dogs an2 shetland ponies.Bad thoughts come to me when driving along orafter harrys gone to bed,no adult consevation,i dont sleep much if im lucky 4to 5 hour of very light sleep if im lucky dont seem to need much as to food dont seem to need to eat much any more use to love chocklate crisp ect dont like them anymore gave boxs away at christmas.Harry tells me he loves me 20 times a day at least,i feel gulity,where is god i asked i he would take me in her placebut fell on deaf ears.people dont bother with me much they liked jane not meim loud and say it as i see it people dont like that,i would like if people just said morning ,hellow or get lost instead of turning away when i approach them,people can beso crule shit happen and i have to just get on with it i found friends on facebook people ive not met who listen and give advice some good some bad i take what i can some of its usefull,its hard to talk notmany people want to be bothered no wants to hear you moaning in this day of life i think you are a strong man keep it up specially if it helps any thing that helps,thank you simon

  25. Louise
    January 20, 2013

    A comment on your article in the Guardian’s family section, so apologies that it’s in the wrong place. Thank you for sharing & I just wanted to offer a response. I generally read ‘loomus’ as I turn to page 2 before continuing to read the article, but ‘loomus’ remains as yet unread this week I was so moved by your words. Desreen was very lucky & Jackson is also. Best wishes.

  26. Kelly
    January 21, 2013

    Dear Ben,

    I saw your Guardian article and it made my cry. This is my first blog response ever. I lost my Mother on the 31st January, 1995 and I still miss her. Love your son and never let him forget his mother.

  27. John King
    January 21, 2013

    I can certainly relate to the end of your blog Ben. just a few weeks ago I had to attend my 9 year olds Christmas play in School (I didn’t make it the year before as I was still grieving really badly at that time) and even though I lost my wife 14 months ago the Christmas show in school was a particularly difficult day. looking around at the rest of the parents (overwhelmingly Mums) I got a real sense of just what my kids have lost. I have to admit I had more than one tear in my eye but thankfully it was dark and I was able to hide it (I’d already had enough of the sympathizing looks without them seeing me upset) now that you have to immerse yourself in what traditionally would have been mums role it’ll take a bit of getting used to but from what I’ve seen of you so far I think you’re going to be fine.

    Thanks very much for the blog I really appreciate it Ben.

  28. mrsb33
    January 21, 2013

    Hi Ben. A friend of mine recently shared your blog with me and my heart is broken for you. I can’t imagine there will be much I can say that other have not said to you already, but one thing you said in this post made me think. It was the part about feeling that you will never sleep again without your wife, and how she kept the demons away. I think that we learn something from all of the important people in our lives (and sometimes we learn from unimportant people too, I guess). I like to think that once we have learned something, it stays with us. Like a gift of knowledge or skill. I’m not sure if I’m articulating this very well, but what I’m trying to say is that perhaps your beautiful wife didn’t keep the demons away, maybe she taught you to do that yourself. The knowledge is there within you still, like a legacy that she left you, a strength that you’ll discover again in time. I really hope this makes sense.

    Much love to you and your beautiful boy



  29. Kayleigh Hamilton
    January 31, 2013

    Keep writing you write so beautifully 😀 Angels on your pillow and a big snuggle to your beautiful wee boy.



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