A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
It’s morbidly fascinating to watch yourself change so completely through grief. Before my wife died I could probably count the number of times I’d cried in the last five years on one hand. And they were about some pretty serious shit.
I’m not a ‘happy crier’, tears just don’t come if the news is good. I’ve got friends who cry at the drop of a hat, male and female.
One of my favourite people, who is sadly no longer with us, probably won my heart because of how many tears he shed. My friend’s dad, this man took my breath away the way with his uncensored tears. The way he’d happily cry at the achievements of not only his own kids but their friends too never failed to blow me away. He was an army man and a policeman, so stereotyping would have made you expect stoicism and a stiff upper lip. But he was Warrant Officer Teddy Bear, PC Pussycat. A truly wonderful man who taught me a lot about wearing my heart on my sleeve.
My tears come often and without warning these days, but the fascination I now have with bereavement makes me stop and wonder exactly why I’m crying at any given moment.
Well two days in a row my emotions have overwhelmed me at exactly the same time – when I’ve dropped my son off at nursery. Yesterday, one of his carers told me she was leaving for a new life overseas. I was delighted for her and her husband and we chatted about their plans. But as I left my son to play, my eyes filled up with tears.
‘Why now?’ I asked myself. And then I remembered something I read last week. I’ve been working on a feature for a men’s magazine, which has given me access to some of the most respected writers on the subject of grief, as well as leading bereavement counsellors. In speaking with them, the same name came up again and again and so eventually I looked up Dr. Kenneth J. Doka. He’s a professor and an author, having written some of the most celebrated and widely referenced books on bereavement.
In reading some of his material I found an interview in which he explains the definition of grief.
He clarifies that grief is actually a reaction to loss rather than a reaction to death. He explains that although we obviously experience grief when someone we’re attached to dies, we can also experience it when we lose any significant form of attachment. According to Dr. Doka we can experience grief in divorce, in separation, in losing an object that’s particularly meaningful or significant, in losing a job that has meaning or significance. He states that whenever we experience an attachment and we experience loss in that attachment, grief becomes the natural way we respond.
I imagine that there will be some people who don’t like the comparison, perhaps because death is the most irreversibly final of all those losses. Death leaves no hope for a return or a reconciliation. My view, however, is that there’s no point comparing one person’s type of loss or grief to another. It doesn’t change anything, it’s not a competition and if it were, no one would ever come out of it feeling like a winner anyway.
But I understood this wider definition of grief as I walked away from nursery both yesterday and today. Another woman who my son loves and who has played an unforgettable role in his life has gone. Yes, this lady could come back and he might see her again one day, but I still know that the tears that I cried for her loss were through grief.
A reaction to this kind of loss might not be everyone’s definition of grief, but it’s gradually becoming part of mine.