Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

bare courage

I often speculate that the immediate pain a person feels from loss, sudden or otherwise, might be a bit like childbirth. Not in the way that one might feel anything like the same physical pain (I for one have different bits to girls anyway), but rather in that the pain might be forgotten just enough to convince women to continue to reproduce. Perhaps if labour remained so vivid long term there might be more families with just one child.

I find it hard to recall some of the horrifying episodes I went through when my wife was first killed. That might have little to do with the natural chemicals in my brain and more to do with the ones I threw down my throat to numb myself, but I still find it interesting that I have difficulty recalling some of the intensity.

For me the funeral is a bit of a blur. Valium and rum probably had something to do with that but I actually think adrenalin rushes did too. Organising and orchestrating an event that I never wanted to attend but that I still wanted to be perfect must have taken its toll. I’d written pretty much every word that was spoken in the church and planned every piece of music so nothing took me by surprise. Yet the overwhelming experience of being there makes it a little hazy now.

But all of a sudden I’ve been thinking a lot about those early days. I didn’t start writing until two months after my wife died so this week I’ve started to wonder if there are things from that time that I should cover.

One really significant moment just popped into my head. But it’s not significant in a grand or dramatic sense. In fact the whole story is built around just one word. But this one word has had more impact on me than any other I can remember.


I was at lunch with a bilingual friend. He’s lived in both the UK and France and we’d struck up a conversation about the topic responsible for me starting this blog – the fact that when someone close to us dies we are so often told to ‘be strong’. I’ve written many things about this in previous posts.

My good friend speculated that maybe it’s the English language that makes us say things that we perhaps don’t actually mean. He wondered if the word ‘courage’ used in the French way (same word, slightly different connotations) might be more apt.

I loved this. I love words. I love the way they can be used, considered, interpreted, recycled and reworked. I love listening to teenagers on buses creating words without any consideration for the vocabulary committee who think that they own our language. I love the way they use the word ‘bare’ to cover a thousand different things, leaving anyone over 25 perplexed as to what they hell they are talking about.

For the older readers ‘bare’ means a lot of; very; an exclamation used in disbelief. It basically means anything. It means bare shit and that’s not a typo for the sort poo that Winnie might do.

So courage. The reason this really struck a chord for me is that, much like bare you can do what you want with it, whereas being told to be strong is really quite directional.

Being strong means hiding your feelings. It’s shorthand for ‘be a man’. It means keep a stiff upper lip and be stoic. For me it means ‘don’t grieve’.

I’m not interested in being or practicing any of those things. I’m learning to speak Grief with a Frenglish accent. I’m going to approach it with courage and not strength.

That courage will allow me to cry when I want to, scream when I want to, laugh when I want to and be brave enough to just be.

And that’s why I also love words.

Sometimes you only need one to completely change your life.

12 comments on “bare courage

  1. Gavin McLean
    February 22, 2013

    I lost my wife (40) to cancer 1 month ago, leaving two children 4 and 7, were were together for 17 years. We knew it was terminal but thought we had a few years left, we only managed 3 weeks together, I consider myself very lucky to have had those three weeks where she actually felt great, even got her bike serviced. For the last 5 days I have felt strong and relatively positive but the last two days I have crashed down into the pits.

    I think “courage” is the most appropriate word, I have submitted myself to grief and accept that it will be worse on some days and better on others. I cant control, I cant control the childrens’ grief either, I can only facilitate it by providing a platform to express themselves. I feel part of the bigger world for having lost my wife; as bereavement for the vast majority of people in our lifetime will be inevitable. Unfortunately for my children, this time has come too early in their little lives, and I cannot bring her back for them.

    One of the things Rachel was scared about is that the kids would forget about her, I vowed in my tribute at her service that I would not let this happen. I am now knee deep in pictures and home vidoes of Rachel and I have only scratched the surface of cataloguing, courage is needed for this.

    Ben, I have been reading your blog for the past 3 weeks and it has given me comfort and reassurance in time of doubt, but your use of “courage” today has struck a chord with in me, I know I’m not going to beat myself up for being down today because I know tomorrow is another day, as I said, I submit myself to grief in all its forms, but I will always keep my eyes on the horizon.

    Thank you Ben, for talking about courage

  2. anniy07
    February 22, 2013

    I loved this post…you are right about the childbirth thing….the hazyness that comes or you couldn’t do it again, you learnt something very insightful there.
    I too love words and the three
    “from now on….” are good English ones.
    But, courage in French is perfect..
    “couraaaage” with a typical French growl !

  3. anniy07
    February 22, 2013

    I loved this post. You are right about childbirth, the hazyness, we would not do it again. Insightfulness from grief, I expect there will be more of that to come.
    3 good English word are “from now on…” not as easy as they innocently sound!
    “Couraaaage..” with a typical French roar…Yep.
    Covers just about everything !

  4. anniy07
    February 22, 2013

    ooops!!!!! sozz :-)) can not edit from my end.

  5. Sarah Pointer
    February 22, 2013

    As you Know, I lost my husband a day before your tragedy and like you I only started writing weeks after. It is so interesting because like you, I have also questionned how on earth I survived those early days. How my legs carried me to the hospital, to the funeral. I could not tell you what words came out of my mouth when I took the children to see his body but I spoke for a good 10 minutes without crying. I have asked my doctor why I haven’t gone completely mad. She couldn’t answer but I think I am starting to understand. We are human. We are designed to survive and not give up. We are parents and so we do not put ourselves first. Our instincts are of protecting our kids and of survival. When it happened to me I was on autopilot. My mind shut down and the brain released what chemicals it had to. Now, memories are slowing drip feeding back to me of the early days and I realise how far I have come.

  6. Mummy Kindness
    February 22, 2013

    Here’s another word for you:

    In existentialism, authenticity is the degree to which one is true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures; the conscious self is seen as coming to terms with being in a material world and with encountering external forces, pressures and influences which are very different from, and other than, itself. (Wikipedia)

    This is the word that springs to mind when I read your posts each day.

    Beyond courageous, really. Heroic, I’d say.

    Much love.

  7. Paul R
    February 22, 2013

    Some of the best advice I received, was from a fellow widower a month after Laura’s death. It was two words: courage and patience.

    Courage to cry when you need to, courage to make it through the next day, hour or even minute.

    Patience with yourself and with others. With yourself because even though it feels like the end of your life, things will eventually get less bad. Patience with others because they can’t understand what you are going through and while they are trying to help they may say or do something that you just can’t understand or that you find hurtful.

    • Emilie Adams
      February 23, 2013

      As a recently bereaved French mum of three (half English) boys, I cannot agree more: Courage et patience, que de beaux sentiments pour nous aider a depasser notre peine! Merci Ben and Paul.
      Emilie x

        February 23, 2013

        I’ll treasure this sentiment, Emilie. Hope your week got a little easier x

  8. lucie
    February 22, 2013

    Ben – I absolutely love how your write. And this post again is touching me in the most incredible way (can you say that in English?? hope it doesn’t sound rude !). Anyway …. Allez, courage!

  9. Sarah Martin
    February 22, 2013

    This is one of my favourite posts so far. I lived abroad in Germany for a long while and often found German words expressed things so much better once I’d searched in vain to discover the true English equivalent. Your posts don’t just talk about grief, they cross boundaries and bring in all aspects of life and how we tick. I love them. x

  10. lesley
    February 23, 2013

    Ben as always you put into words what others have been thinking and wondering about.i do not know how I was able to tell my mum that her son, my dear brother had died and then tell my daughter her uncle who was so much more than an uncle had taken his life.if you said I would have to do anything like that again ( though surely I will never have to ) I would say I couldnt.i find it hard to even think about it. But I did it, finding courage from somewhere.And I got my mum through the funeral where all I could think is you dont bury your children.
    As I was writing this my husband came into the room to tell me his mums cancer is back and she has only days to live.And it all seems so do we cope with another death of a loved one??

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