A story of grief by a man and a boy

open letter

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.


P.S. Click on the links throughout the copy above to access media coverage and links to Facebook and Twitter

22 comments on “open letter

  1. tracey
    January 21, 2013

    Hi Ben, I’m just about to have my tea, I’ve read this blog and I’ll look out for your next one and let you know I’ve read it. I know how important it is to hear from other people. x

  2. Barbara Fleming
    January 21, 2013


    You have indeed brought something out into open discussion that I think has been a taboo subject for too long. When I lost my darling husband aged 58 in August, his 91 year old dad lost his youngest son. He had already suffered the loss of his dear wife only months before, after 63 years of marriage. I know his losses have been very different to yours and your sons. But as a man, he has struggled. I help him to talk every day about his wife and his son. He is often tearful, but it seems to help him. Sometimes he tries to be ‘a man’ and covers it up. I told him your story, he listened attentively and said what you are doing is a good thing. I understand what you mean about still having to sit at home and deal with your loss. I understand, and my heartfelt best wishes go out to you and your son. I am dealing with my loss too, very different, but an agonizing experience. My life changed forever the day Don died. I wish you and your little boy peace and my love.

  3. Natalie
    January 21, 2013

    Hi Ben, I’m glad to read this post this afternoon and see that you mentioned how your blog is also helping the families and friends of men who have lost their partner/wives , not just the men themselves. Last night I couldn’t sleep as I was penning a message to you in my head to tell you exactly this! My brother is the same age as you and he lost his wife and baby son 3 years ago very suddenly ( think he may have even messaged you) and remembering back in those early days, he very much shut off from the family – not meaning to but found it so hard to talk openly to us. He slowly did however but reading your thoughts and emotions in your blogs will help so many other families and close friends help their loved ones who have lost , in some way or another.
    It’s incredible how after such a tragic loss, you have such love in your heart to help others. My brother was the same after his wife died….he would hand out £500 to every homeless person he saw….Bit nuts if you ask me but luckily for his bank balance that soon stopped! 😉
    Anyway, just had the urge to write this.
    Big love to you and your son.
    Stay blessed.

  4. Laurence
    January 21, 2013

    I know that saying `there’s no need to not feel guilty’ is of no help. Feelings and logic don’t go together in such situations. Everyone else will know you did your best (in that brief moment of time), but that doesn’t stop you going over what think you could have done

    But I can think of one good reason that may help you, and that is related to your son’s needs. He will suffer enough in his life from the loss of his mum, and it will be worse if he `loses’ you (though any adverse impact on your health of your wife’s death). You will realise I’m sure that you will not be helping in the slightest by allowing yourself to be overburdened with guilt. Maybe that can be your `excuse’ for giving yourself a break from the inner turmoil of how you dealt with the incident in those few seconds.

    Wishing you the best – and of course no need to reply

      January 21, 2013

      I’ll be clear about one thing. The Mail on Sunday made that part up and there was no choice to be made. Thank you for your words though.

  5. Helen Trussler
    January 21, 2013

    Hi Ben, my partner died nearly 10 years ago suddenly of a brain aneurysm, I was 5 months pregnant at the time and my daughter was 5 years old. I felt completely isolated and alone, there was no one in my situation that I could talk to. I applaud you for doing this blog, I know its primarily for men, but believe me, had there have been something like this back then, I would have hung on your every word.
    The strange thing I have learnt about grief over the years is that the emotions everyone goes through are universal, its no consolation but its a comfort to know your not alone and at times not going insane.
    In the early days I took one moment at a time and slowly I rebuilt my life, I gave birth to a beautiful boy called harry who will be 10 in June and is the living image of his dad, thats beautiful. My life has changed dramatically since Ray died and I found love again and happiness, but I no longer take life for granted and appreciate my time with all those I love, a cliche I guess, but it took tragedy for me to see that, sadly. I will continue to read your blog and I look forward to the day when the heavy cloak of grief begins to lift for you and a little glimmer of light shines through.

  6. Kerry Costi
    January 21, 2013

    Hi Ben, I think the reason that so many people with different stories, lives & beliefs are touched by your blog, is that it is so pure, your love for your wife & son shine through each article, my throat & heart ache for your unique loss. Nothing can replace a love like yours but I hope & pray that another love can grow alongside it in the future, you & your son deserve that. God Bless. Kerry

  7. Lisa Francis-Holcombe
    January 21, 2013

    Dear Ben, I read your piece in the Guardian and cried, I remember reading about you losing your beautiful wife in November and how much you said Jackson loved her and my heart ached for you, I thought to myself, I wish I could help them, it’s so tragic and so unfair. Reading your blog, I can see how much you help other people and what a good, kind and loving man you are and I’m so pleased that Jackson has you as his daddy. I got married and had my baby boy last year, quite late in life, at 41 years old and I never knew I could feel such a depth of love for my little family, with that comes the risk of loss and because there is now a chance of losing someone you love more than anything in the world, it makes you vulnerable in a way I’ve never felt before. Now when I read of loss and bereavement my heart aches, but from this terrible tragedy you have created a way to help so many people, to open up, to connect, to share and to talk. I wish I could say some magic words to make everything better but please know that people you have never met before care about you and your boy. You, your beautiful wife and your son have touched my heart. I don’t know why things like this happen, it makes me question everything, what do I believe in anymore, is there even a God and where is he but what I do believe in is love and nothing can take that away, not loss, not being apart, not death, nothing destroys it. Your heart is full of love and you are a good man. I’m going now before I start to cry again (and get too mushy, I don’t even know if this will make sense through my tears and I’m sorry if I have written anything inappropriate!) but thank you Ben for sharing your life, for opening your heart with your words and helping other people too, you have my admiration and my respect,
    Love and Hugs, Lisa xox

  8. Daniel
    January 22, 2013

    Hi Ben I came across your blog by way of Grief Encounter, I’m so sorry for your and your little boys loss having suffered a similar loss i can appericate a little of how you are feeling and also know that no words can do justice to the memory of the woman you loved.

    Its over 2 years since i became a single father to my 7yr old son Joseph and at times its been a struggle and a steep learning curve but with time it becomes easier. People tell me I’m doing an amazing job i say I’m just doing what i have to do I have no choice I love my son.

    I think this blog is a great idea, people find it difficult to talk about death this gives them a forum keep doing what your doing Ben both with the blog and being a great Dad.

  9. Simon Sankey
    January 22, 2013


    First of all, let me tell you how sorry I am for your loss.
    I am English, but live in Canada, after falling for a girl from Nova Scotia over 8 years ago.
    A family friend from London emailed me with news of your story.
    Unfortunately, I understand your position all too well.
    My wife, Cara, was diagnosed with breast cancer whilst she was pregant with our son, Milo.
    Cara fought bravely for two years, but the cancer was too agressive and wouldn’t listen to any of the treatment, whilst she embraced everything the medical system could offer.
    Cara passed on April 14th, 2012 aged 32 years old.
    Our son Milo, now 2 years, 5 months is her legacy and I feel so fortunate to have him.

    I have read a few of your posts and I can certainly empathise with the range of feelings you express.
    I would like to discuss my own feelings, fears and concerns with you.
    Let me know if you are comfortable with this.


  10. Stephen
    January 22, 2013

    I just read your article on the Guardian, I’m so sorry for your loss man, I’m sure the article and this blog are having a big impact on a lot of people, you’re doing something important.
    Take good care, God bless

  11. Laura Bloom
    January 23, 2013

    Hi Ben, I just read your article in the Guardian and want to add my voice to the chorus. I am so sorry for your loss, and I am so sorry for Jackson’s loss. Thank you for your writing, which is moving and healing, and, as a poster above said, pure. I think you’re very wise to be honest and plainspoken with Jackson about what happened, and also to have a consistent narrative, and to ask others close to you to use that narrative also. I think this will be very helpful in the years to come for your son. My very best wishes to you both.

  12. Annamaria fereday
    January 24, 2013

    hello Ben,i am so sorry for your loss,i understand your loss as i too lost my husband 11 years ago,i was left with 4 children age 12,11,8,and2.i didnt know where to turn,i tried to conceal my own grief so i could cope with my childrens grief.but in the end this was the worst thing i could of we still to this day mourn the loss of such a lovely husband and father ,but we do it together ,we laugh and cry together about him and not a day goes by that we dont speak of him.I encourage you to do this with your son even if it brings tears.You have the most precious thing in the world a piece of your wife to love and nuture and best wishes sent your way.

  13. John Harte
    January 24, 2013

    I’ve just read your story in The Sun whilst sat in my van having my teabreak, so moved by your story have wiped a few tears away reading your story. My thoughts and prayers are with you and Jackson

  14. Seamus
    January 24, 2013

    Not long after my Wife passed a friend of hers told me “That in time it will all seem like a dream…with only the good things remembered” Nearly twenty years later this holds true. Let me share just one story. My youngest was age five then. At age 13 he came home from school with his report card crying uncontrollably having failed his English class. Haveing never seen him this upset since the day I told him of his Mothers death…I guess there was more going on. When he calm down a little it came out that was really upsetting him was that his Mom is now disappointed in him. Well I started to cry with him assuring him that She loves him always. As it turned out his major book report had went missing after the teacher wouldn’t except it because of a scratch out word.It turn up while I was in talking about this with the school principal (just found on the shelf in the history teacher class). It was graded by order of the principal….an earn a A. He double majored in English & Journalism. Expect the unexpected & a few small miracles along the way; hang in there friend.

  15. Annie
    January 27, 2013

    Hi Ben, I’ve just read your story from last week’s Guardian…I have 3 kids so I’m forever reading out-of-date newspapers. What a sad story. I wish you and your little boy all the best and I will think about you both in my prayers. Jackson is lucky to have such a sensitive man as a father.

  16. Shaun Veness
    January 27, 2013

    Hi Ben, I was given your web address by a friend, He thought it might help me with my recent loss and strangely knowing you aren’t alone in this particularly dark stage of one’s life is a strange comfort.. you start to feel less like it’s a personal attack but more a savage twist of fate.. I lost my wife on January 6th to a burst aneurysm, she was just 45 years old and we had been together for 28 years, it has left me lost and devastated and very much alone as we had no children.. she was my soul mate, best friend and lover and I miss her terribly.. good work you are doing here, I for one haven’t followed the stiff upper-lip route and find myself very publicly breaking down..

  17. macrothings
    January 28, 2013

    Ben, thank you for giving us a place to share our grief, it does make you feel less alone. My wife died unexpectedly on the 21st December, she was 54 and we had been together for 37 years, like Shaun above we had no children but lived for each other, she was everything to me, I miss her so much.

  18. Christine
    February 2, 2013

    Hi Ben, I read your story in the Metro few days ago visiting London. I am sincerely sorry for your loss. From personal experience, the death of a loved one brings on such an intense emotion it feels one’s heart is being ripped apart literally. People say with time it heals….I say with time it simply becomes more bearable. The gap they leave behind can never be filled. But it the intense feeling gets better as you recall times spent together, laughs, jokes, how they would respond to things and so on. I pray that those memories brings smiles to your face rather than tears (tears will come now and again, it’s ok).

    I Lost both my parents and two siblings one year after the next. At some point I thought I was going to lose my mind, but I’m still here. One of my siblings died when her daughter was only 18 months. Today she’s 4 years old and she gets to know her beloved mom through us. That is the hope your son has. He will get to know his mom through you and the rest of the family. She’s absent in person but alive in your hearts and memories.

    Sharing your heart this way is an amazing step and they will leave an amazing journal for your son for when he’s much older.

    God bless you. Christine.

  19. Jeff
    March 19, 2013

    Hi, I’ve just lived through what would have been our 30th wedding anniversary. I thought I did well to get through that although it was not easy ( Now we are approaching Easter and every other Holiday. These are important days and I recognize them from a spiritual aspect. However the ritual of a meal has never had any appeal to me. Of course when my wife was here (I lost her on 5/9/12) before she became too ill, was the keeper of the Holidays and preparer of the meals. Now it is just me and my 20 year old daughter. I wish I could get away from these traditions without hurting anyone in the process but it does not seem possible. I would rather watch The Ten Commandments and eat a bowl of spaghetti that arrange a meal and worry about who can make it and who cannot.

  20. JWilbo
    June 17, 2013

    My husband passed away at 36 in 2009. Our boys were 4 and 7 years old at the time. Please look into, a phenomenal organization for widows/widowers. Also, for all types of losses. Prayers and hugs….I truly feel your pain…

  21. Alison Bilton
    May 9, 2014

    Hi Ben,I just wanted to say I lost my husband 15 years ago he was 31 when he died and I was 35,i got widow’s mother’s allowance till my son was 17 then it stopped I went to claim my widow’s pension from my local benefit office and they told me I was not entitled to it till I’m 60 because I was under the age of 55,i have been so angree for so many about this,they classed me as a single person and I said at the end of the day I’m still a widow can you help me in any way so I can claim my pension,the law should be changed as you can not put a date on anybody who dies suddenly Thankyou look forward to hearing from you Alison Bilton x

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