A story of grief by a man and a boy
Last week I expressed my intention to maintain a blog that was purely about the grief that my son and I are suffering as a result of the death of my wife.
However, I feel it’s important to take stock of where we’ve got to in our mission exactly a fortnight after my very first post. So far I have been using the Facebook page and Twitter to update followers on the blog’s progress, but as this is the primary channel I think people who haven’t found the others yet should understand the fuller picture.
I published my first blog post just two weeks ago today. I decided I’d open up about how it feels to become a widower at a young age with a small child (or rather how it feels for me and my son). My pure intention was to try to encourage other men to open up; for them to know that it was okay to not to always have to ‘be strong’ as we are so often told to be; to challenge perceptions of male grief and to attempt to force reappraisal of the stiff upper lip being a badge of honour when it comes to loss.
It seemed to touch a nerve and the blog had a few thousand views in the first couple of days. BBC Breakfast quickly saw a story and asked me to go on the sofa for a chat. BBC Radio 5 Live interviewed me the same day. ITV London Tonight a day later. The Guardian asked me to write a feature in my own words about how my son has dealt with losing his mother. And the phone continues to ring because people have realised that this subject is usually seen as taboo, too delicate to discuss, and that it’s unusual for someone to speak out and encourage men to seek advice and help and, well, just to allow themselves to grieve.
Within just a couple of days, however, I could see things were changing shape. People started getting in touch from all different walks of life. 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 solace in how to deal with children who had lost or were facing loss. And men who had denied themselves grief for years but then broke down when it was covered so sensitively by (most of) the media, telling me that they had finally found the strength to face it and seek help.
But not just that. Friends and family of ours have told me that the posts are helping them articulate how they feel. They’ve told me that the blog is helping them to understand how they can best support me and my son. Strangers have said the same about their own loved ones who are suffering loss. God knows how many tear-fueled conversations there have been this past fortnight. And good, because the tears are a release.
And there’s more. Hundreds of people have been in touch to say that they are learning to appreciate what they have in life. To tell me that they have realised that they are happy, when previously they were unsure. To say that they are going to stop focusing on the small things that they have come to understand don’t significantly change their lives. In all honesty, this was difficult to hear at first because while they could take a fresh look at their own lives, I still sat at home, a widower grieving the loss of the wife I love so much.
But then I remembered a short conversation I had with my mother-in-law soon after Desreen’s death. “I just hope some good comes out of all this”, she said. We discussed my last point and agreed that good is good, so long may people learn to love life by learning more about loss.
So where are we now? The blog has had 165,000 views in two weeks. The Facebook page that I set up a week ago has just shy of 3,ooo ‘likes’. The number of people following the cause on Twitter has rocketed. People are sharing their stories on all three. The empathy I was looking for in the early days is being found and shared by others. Supporters have helped raise over £1,000 and counting for four bereavement charities that have helped me and my son (Winston’s Wish, Child Bereavement UK, Grief Encounter & The WAY Foundation). This was off the back of a Facebook update I posted just on Saturday and donations can be made here until the end of this week. I’ve also asked a newspaper I was interviewed by to make a donation to Care for the Family, the charity that inspired me to start this blog. I have had so many well-wishers get in touch that I haven’t been able to reply to them all yet but I will try.
And where do we go next? Well one thing that I have had to clarify in interviews this week is that I am not a counsellor. Even if I were, I’m sure I wouldn’t be working right now because my own grief is too raw. I urge people to share their stories on the blog, Facebook and Twitter but I can’t offer any answers. I will simply share my own experiences of grief as a man with a child, what I learn along the way, which can hopefully offer consolation and insight to as many people as possible. I’m also hoping to be able to use the blog’s profile to get in front on experts on grief and child bereavement. When I do I will share their advice rather than mine. I’ll find it a great comfort if this can help other people in a similar situation to me and my beautiful boy.
Thanks so much for the support and I do hope this blog can continue to help as many people as possible.