Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

sick child

Never has a common cold felt more intense and I don’t even have one.

Late last week my little boy woke up and radiated temperatures between 38 and 40°C throughout the day. He was attached to me constantly, waking up only to check that he was still in my arms and that I hadn’t gone anywhere.

I did what I could to bring his body heat down, remembering the best piece of knowledge that any parent can ever learn (that you can administer both paracetamol and ibuprofen at the same time), but to little avail. The germs were just too hot and bothered and they weren’t going to chill out until they were reunited with their nasty little friends at A&E.

I think I could have found better places to pass the time in my current state of mind. The words “trauma in six minutes” announced repeatedly over the speakers somehow weren’t helping me relax. The doctors and nurses weren’t of much assistance either.

The nurse rolled her eyes at my distressed two-year-old son’s lack of cooperation, the doctor called him “naughty” and the registrar was openly judgemental about the fact that he was eating plantain chips. I bit my tongue but if by any small chance you are reading this, he’s half Jamaican, it’s a type of fruit common to the West Indies, and we couldn’t get him to eat anything else that day so get back to your fucking ivory tower and be grateful that you’re well enough to stomach your quinoa and three bean salad.

Where was I? Yeah, so my son has been unwell, it’s normal, he’s a toddler, it happens to them all bla bla bla, but it feels less normal when you’re both grieving. Every emotion that I’ve been holding inside, invisible to the naked eye, is being projected publicly by my child.

My internal but incessant tears are running down his face. My hidden frustration and bad temper are convulsing in his little limbs on the bed. My desire to be completely antisocial and to physically lash out at people who deserve to be treated better is there in his tiny fists.

But the hardest thing of all is realising that I’m constantly torturing myself with the thought that I’m a bad dad (I’m not fishing by the way, so don’t feel the need to offer me any reassurance).

When I can’t get his medicine down his throat my mind tells me that his mum could.

When I spot that his t-shirt is on back-to-front I feel like giving him the phone to dial ChildLine – I even feel like scripting him so he doesn’t leave anything out.

And when the only thing he’ll eat is Cheerios and I know that he’d get more nutrition from a bowl of Mars bars, I feel like getting that registrar round to give me a good talking to. We’re probably not on speaking terms if she’s just read this though.

35 comments on “sick child

  1. aj
    February 5, 2013

    Dont beat yourself up. Us parents know our children better than any1 else and we know what is best for them even though others will think different. If he wants to sit and eat his fav food 24/7 then let him at least it means he is eating and has still got a appetite. Hope he is feeling a bit better and sending u both a big hug. Well done for what u r doing and a pat on the back for the steps that u r taking.

  2. Sheila Fowler
    February 5, 2013

    Bless you both xx

  3. Jenny Mein
    February 5, 2013

    I sympathise. It is distressing when people who you think should know better can be so unkind……. Just hang in there. You are doing an excellent job.

  4. Beth
    February 5, 2013

    My husband is always trying to convince me that chocolate cheerios are actually pretty good for you… cheerios do seem to be full of vitamins and minerals: But as you said, you have to go with what they will eat when they are poorly. Hope he’s feeling better now. And ignore people like that registrar! Stupid woman 🙂

  5. Karina Jones
    February 5, 2013

    If it makes you feel any better my friends daughter, who is 5 this year, will NOT,under any circumstances, allow medicine in any form to be administered by anyone! Pepper pig herself could walk out from the TV screen and fail miserably. I have witnessed all forms of gentle coaxing, bribery, blackmail, threats of all kinds ( toys being removed, nose falling off etc etc) and still no medicine. This is just one of those things, single parent or not I’m afraid. Maybe even ‘normal’ 😉 Good luck!

  6. Lucille
    February 5, 2013

    Don’t give a fig to those “professionals” who know more about your child than you do. Let him eat chips, cakes or gummi bears – when kids are ill they (and their parents) need comfort not a lecture on healthy eating. Plenty of fluids and some chocolate buttons will help… the most delightful way!

  7. Ginny Gilmore (@GinGoddess)
    February 5, 2013

    I think that, if your local A&E takes feedback from “clients”, you should invite them to read this post.

  8. Emilie Adams
    February 5, 2013

    I feel for you today and I know where you’re coming from. My 5 year old came down with chickenpox the day after his father’s funeral and my 10 year old broke his arm and needed an operation to reset it a couple of months later. It was tough to be on my own with him in the ward when all the other kids had both sets of parents with them. After you have lost your partner you try hard to keep going and continue with your daily routine for the sake of the children but when they’re unwell it’s easy to succomb to the pressure and fall apart…or just be angry. We did get over the chickenpox though and the arm has now been mended! Good luck for the next few days.

  9. Michelle
    February 5, 2013

    Ben I know it’s a nightmare when you have to cope with your child’s illness with out your partner being there I still hate it now six years on know one worries about you’re child like you and your partner do that is one of thinks I have found the hardest to cope with (although I have never told anyone this ) I to have a sick child to day so I’m on nurse duty. I hope your little one feels lots better very soon take care michelle

  10. Shar
    February 5, 2013

    Hey Ben. Better Cheerios than naught eh?! Blessings, blessings…we look for them in all places if and when we can because without them, everything else seem to be crashing down on us (i.e. the ‘bereaved’ – Hate that word btw) – bet Jackson is well chuffed to have u there, esp. when he’s sick. Nothing worst as a child than being ill and having no one to care for u X

  11. Shar
    February 5, 2013

    Hey Ben. Better Cheerios than naught eh?! Blessings, blessings…we look for them in all places if and when we can because without them, everything else seem to be crashing down on us (i.e. the ‘bereaved’ – Hate that word btw) – bet Jackson is well chuffed to have u there, esp. when he’s sick. Nothing worst as a child than being ill and having no one to care for u X

  12. bereavementbuddy
    February 5, 2013

    I am a mother of a 5 year old, I’m being honest when I say, I feel like this every time my daughter has been poorly!

    I am aware that although your grief is at a very raw and tender stage, the feelings you have regarding your son being poorly are how I feel and I’m sure most other protective parents feel!!

    Im not sure you want to be told that, but ‘normally’ the dads can have the comfort of knowing ‘mums know best’ (I know this can’t always be exactly true) and now you are working on behalf of you and the little ones mummy, you can do it, as you already are!!!

    I hope this makes sense, I have been in the stage of ‘is this grief making it worse or is it really this scary?’.. When your babies are poorly and you feel the pressure to make them better…. It really is that scary!!

    Cuddles, fluids and calpol are the answer!!!!

  13. Paul R
    February 5, 2013

    I know what you mean about the announcements, etc. I use to go to a church right by the hospital, but everytime I heard the flight for life helecopter fly over I’d just start crying. My wife was airlifted from the accident site by helicopter. It’s almost a year now and while the emotions aren’t as extreme they are still there. Now I try to say a prayer for the person on the helicopter and the family that is trying to get to the hospital. It’s an attempt to shift the focus away from me and my emotions, but it doesn’t always work.

  14. lesleym
    February 5, 2013

    Grief stops us dealing with all those things we could deal with before. I can’t make decisions . About anything. I find myself crying over trivial things except they aren’t trivial. All those things I could do without any thought are now enormous tasks. What I am trying to say is grief takes up all our energy ( physical and emotional) so every day is hard and when anything goes even a bit wrong its too much. Whilst there is no normal what you are experinecing is normal ( I am well aware that doesn’t make sense )
    Big hug to you both

  15. V
    February 5, 2013

    Ben……. I’m sure this was beyond frustrating however. Looooool. Your take on it had me laughing out loud. You probably don’t need to hear it but your writing skills rock. Not what you were trying to achieve I’m sure but this blog is really honing your observation skills at times heartbreaking. At times almost too painful to read your palpable pain. But today humour sneaked in. Every emotion is pouring out of you with good reason. And you know what. That’s ok. I’m sure being there with the emergency alerts must have churned hugs to poor sick Jackson. Keep kicking Ben and Jackson. God has you covered.

      February 5, 2013

      I actually respect this comment an awful lot x

      • V
        February 5, 2013

        Just one step at a time Ben. Every day is a triumph.

    February 5, 2013

    But you still controlled your emotions in the hospital went home and expressed your feelings here with us…So although you feel that you are constantly torturing yourself.To exercise control in this extreme circumstance is bloody HARD WORK, physically and emotionally…. huge hugs to you and Jackson xxx

  17. ericernie
    February 5, 2013

    Hi Ben – I’ve been following your blog since Laura Schwarz posted a link to it. Firstly I want to say how sorry I am about Desreen – she sounds like one amazing woman. Secondly, speaking as the wife of a doctor, as a trained nutritionist and the mother of a very strong minded one year old daughter – doctors and nurses often know little about nutrition and can be extremely patronising, and babies, toddlers and children can be extremely opinionated about what they eat. My daughter recently had a cold and fever for ten days and took nothing but milk – by then I was relieved if she’d eat anything – and anything turned out to be chocolate buttons – be it chocolate, cheerios, plantain chips or whatever – sometimes calories are all you want in them and comfort is what you want to give them. As for the battle of calpol and ibuprofen – it doesn’t matter how good a mum or dad you are – trying to get it into them is a struggle to say the least and always will be when they’re too little to understand that it’ll make them feel better. Your experience at A&E sounds horrid and of course it is the last place on earth you want to be right now. Strangers are difficult creatures when you’re grieving – I haven’t experienced anything like what you’re going through right now but I did lose two pregnancies and my dad in the space of 18 months so have some idea of how vulnerable you feel when you’re grieving. Sometimes you crave the company of strangers who don’t know your back story and therefore treat you normally but when they’re unkind or mean you want to shout at them about how miserable you feel and how they’re not helping. You sound like a brilliant dad and from what you’ve said about Desreen she would have only chosen the best dad for her son – so try not to doubt yourself, ignore the stupid remarks of strangers and know you’re doing the best you can.

  18. fayewes
    February 5, 2013

    Just a tip , I had the same thing with my 2yr old son a few weeks back and ended up in hospital with him because of his raging 40 degree temp. He kept refusing the medicane ( don’t blame him , it was fowl ) so I said if he had his medicane it could the be followed with a one chocolate button and a sticker of his choice out of a big book of stickers I have. He loved the idea of a treat and it worked every time . Invest in some choc buttons and Thomas tank engine stickers and he will be putty in your hand ! Your doing an AMAZING job ! Xxxx

  19. fayewes
    February 5, 2013

    Just a tip, I had the same thing a few weeks ago and ended up in hospital with my two yr old son with a raging temp of over 40 degrees! He refused to take his medicine ( don’t blame him it was fowl ! ) so I offered him a treat of one chocolate button and a sticker of his choice out of a large sticker book that I have after he had his medicine and it worked every time . So invest in chocolate buttons and Thomas the tank engine stickers and he will be putty in your hands! Your doing an AMAZING job xxxx

  20. lottiesc
    February 5, 2013

    Ben – you are fantastic and an inspiration even though I’ve got a feeling that’s not how you feel right now but still, thank you! I would love to make contact and also guest blog if you accept me as I like you would like to share my experience. I lost my husband nearly 8 years ago and my boys were only little, Oliver turned 2 years 2 days before the funeral and Connor was 4.5 years. A rocky road behind me and one ahead but lots of good stuff to share too. In particular I would like to send you a few things which has given me strenght but not via the blog. Let me know if that would be OK by emailing me at Big hugs of strenght for you and do scream at the moon – it sometimes helps (at least me!).

  21. Siobhan
    February 5, 2013

    Hope tomorrow is a better day for you. One hour at a time is all you can do. You are doing so well, give yourself a massive pat on the back. Hope ypu have a good nights sleep and support tomorrow .

  22. Sarah Martin
    February 5, 2013

    What a completely crap experience you had at A&E. I think this would be worth a letter to the hospital but you probably don’t feel like that right now! I’ve got a two year old and since Xmas his diet has consisted mainly of chocolate and sweeties. He’s been off his food and only seems to want to eat snacks and no ‘proper’ food. And I’ve got to the point where I don’t care. One day he will rediscover food and that he likes it. Don’t let others criticise you – they don’t know Jackson like you do, and whether you’re a Mum or Dad, you can only do your best and that’s what you’re doing. We all beat ourselves up at times – but you have no need to. He’s being a poorly and unhappy two year old (for good reason), and you’re doing your very best to be the best Dad you can at a difficult time. If others have a problem with that, then let them get over it. You’re doing fine. And that’s all we can ever tell ourselves in such a steep learning curve that we all go through. I hope he feels loads better soon – as I hope you do too. Sorry if that was a bit like ‘reassurance’ – it’s hard to avoid when you have empathy for someone else’s situation. xx

  23. darkeyes85
    February 5, 2013

    Dear Ben,

    I find your blog inspirational and amusing. It has been a long time since I have laughed so much, in fact it’s been years. Since I signed up last week I have read all of them. I learned a lot from reading your words and thanks to you I have learned to cope better with my own grief, although different from your own. Rather that I lost something instead of someone, and not as sad as your own loss. I know it’s okay for me to cry or feel angry or throw my things even though I am an adult. You have reached so many people in so many ways, that’s pretty powerful and I am sure when Jackson is older and he will be more than aware of just how strong a person his dad is. I hope he is better soon, if you feel good he will to.

    Best Wishes.

  24. Violet
    February 5, 2013

    My Gran always said, that if as a parent if you don’t feel like a failure at least once a week, well then you are doing a shit job.

  25. Paula
    February 6, 2013

    Ben you made me laugh and for the first time – since i read your article in the guardian – today I didn’t want to cry with you. Today as a parent I was nodding to your experience at the A&E. I hope he is feeling better and that you didn’t get his virus! Keep well x

  26. Jenny Mein
    February 6, 2013

    Violet’s comment made me laugh too……a good ol’ laugh can be so therapeutic when things get intense, crazy. Just laugh out loud and your little son will laugh too……. We are all behind you!

  27. kateyanne
    February 6, 2013

    When my husband died, my kids were 1 and 6. When they got sick it was the worst time of all for me. I felt helpless and hopeless and furious. Hang in there. It’s tough.

  28. jinikentmum
    February 10, 2013

    Bitter sweet post…really sorry about your little one being sick but your post made me laugh so much..I love your honesty about your feelings. Your post brought back memories of an incident…Once I ended up at he A&E with my daughter and she was about two…The receptionist said I have put the date of birth wrong, I checked the form and it was correct so I said no that’s her date of birth…then she spoke to me in slow motion as if I needed to lip read (by the way I am not deaf!) saying “are you sure, she is really tall”….I wanted to scream “shut up woman, I am tall, her father is tall, she is two, I am not deaf, I speak perfect English even if Iook different to you!” ( I am black and I get that a lot where people speak to me as if I don’t speak English…lol) You know your son more than anybody else so just go with your flow!

  29. Mrs Ward
    February 12, 2013

    Oh mate, what a pain.I had a run in with a jumped up reg in A & E a fortnight ago. I was wishing a really bad case of crabs on her by the time I left (4 hours later with a still screaming 6 month old baby) The quinoa and 3 bean salad comment made me laugh out loud as this one looked like that’s exactly what she’d eat for lunch. Psssst, did your reg have long brown hair, badly applied make up, prison face and was a bit short and dumpy??? Hope the little fella is better x x p.s Harry still hasn’t mastered the scooter. He’s taking it for walks at the moment as opposed to riding it….

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  31. Marta
    February 21, 2013

    Ben, my name is Marta. Four weeks ago my husband of 13 years died unexpectedly. We’d been together since I was 15 (I’m now 33), and I moved from Brazil to the States to be with him. We have 2 girls, ages 6 and 7. Scott was an amazingly caring, fun and involved father so now I’m struggling to try to be more like him, and every time I fail it reminds that he was the better parent. I loved him dearly and it’s refreshing to read about your journey because some of your feelings really resonate with me and how I’m feeling. I have no idea why I had the urge to comment, I’m not a blog reader but my friend who lives in London sent the link to me hoping I may find solace in your words and experience; which I did. It helps to know I’m not the only one grieving the loss of my partner and best friend while trying to parent two scared little girls.

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