Many widows and widowers speak of the uncomfortable ‘widowy’ moments they’ve experienced since losing their spouse.
Like when they realised a friend had crossed the road to avoid them just because they didn’t know how to handle that difficult conversation. Or when a previously chummy neighbour, who would usually be happy to lend you their lawnmower, suddenly wouldn’t sweeten your grief with their metaphorical sugar.
After losing our spouses we can become ostracised, sidelined, social outcasts even.
And we’ve done nothing wrong.
And we’re already in so much pain.
Yet people can cause us even more agony because they don’t know how to approach us, how to deal with our suffering, how to compose themselves around us.
And these people probably do care, but just don’t know how to show it in such difficult times.
So it creates a nightmare within a nightmare for the people who wish, more than anything, that they could just wake up from this devastatingly terrible dream.
Well two days ago something happened that made me feel immensely proud. I saw this phenomenon un-happen. I’m quite aware that’s not a word, but should one have to be approved by a council before people start using it? Perhaps, but either way I love made-up words, m’kay?
So the reason I saw this situation ‘un-happen’ is because I’d played out what I believed would happen in my head so many time but it didn’t happen that way after all.
On Wednesday this week I decided to go into work for the first time since my wife died. It’s been three months. I’ve been calling this time ‘paternity leave’ because ‘beleavement’ hasn’t been approved by the word council yet.
Every single part of me had been dreading this moment. Not because I’ve suddenly become lazy or work-shy, but because I was scared to walk into a room full of 70-odd people who wouldn’t know how to handle me. A room full of people who are mostly under 35 and who possibly shouldn’t know how to deal with the grief of a 33-year-old man who has already lost his wife.
In my head I saw people pretending they hadn’t seen me walk in. I played out this scenario of groups of people dashing into fictitious meetings to avoid the stinky widower. I imagined that’s what I’d become, that I was no longer their colleague, their friend. That I was no longer Ben.
I was nervous in the lift on the way up to the office. I felt like I had to take something to take the edge away. I nearly turned back because I’d seen what I thought was going to happen so many times before.
But it didn’t. It un-happened.
Everyone was incredible. They treated me just like they did before but with hugs and handshakes. They didn’t ask how I was because they already knew. They were actually pleased to see me. No road-crossing, no ‘widowy’ moments, just a room full of lawnmowers and sugar.
So I said I was proud, but why?
Well five weeks and five days ago I took it upon myself to open up about my feelings and to dish up my grief on a plate. That plate became tapas within a couple of days and those tapas were a banquet within a week. Nearly a month and half later this blog has had 300,000 views. If I can’t see a number in my head represented by actual people in a football stadium, then I’ve never been able to imagine what that number looks like.
So I’ve not been able to envisage the amount of people reading, who they are or why they’re bothering. I’m just a grieving guy who spends his entire day worrying about his son and not moving very far from where he lives, so it’s been impossible to appreciate what people do with the words I write. I decided early on that it didn’t matter though. As long as the words did some good for someone, anyone, then I didn’t even need to know.
But two days ago that someone, that anyone, was me. Everyone at work had been reading the blog. They knew what was in my head. They’d read the guidelines for how to approach someone like me. They knew that I wanted to be treated like a whole person rather than a piece of broken jigsaw. All of a sudden it was worth opening up, telling the world how I feel and leaving nothing out.
So that’s why I felt proud. Yes, I’d apparently made the potentially difficult situation easier on myself, but it wasn’t that. It was because I know these people and because I know now that they can do it again. I know that the next time any of them hear a terrible piece of news that will change the lives of the people around them forever, they’ll know what to do. They’ll know how to prevent there being a nightmare within a nightmare and whoever’s terrible dream it is will be made easier by one of these incredible people that I have the honour of knowing.
And so I’ll carry on. And we can all make an impact together if we keep reading, commenting, sharing, talking, opening up and softening that stiff upper lip.
Possibly the natural place to sign off but I met a lovely guy yesterday who really got me thinking. Like my son, his children lost their mother much too soon and we chatted for ages about how we could help make life better for our kids.
We posed a question too. What do you call a father who has suddenly and tragically become both mum and dad to their child or children?
Perhaps we should ask the word council for approval.