Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

old habits

I went back to work yesterday. You may feel like you’ve read these words from me before, but last time it was just too soon. I wasn’t in a good place. Truth is I’m still not but I’m trying.

After just a few hours at my desk I realised that work is not the big challenge for me. It’s life that’s tough. It’s the wrapping around my role. It’s all of the things that accessorise the working day. The time away from my son. The lack of privacy to deal with emotions as they gently erupt out of nowhere on the bus through Elephant & Castle, a place that could make a grown man cry at the best of times. It’s stepping outside of the secure zone that I’ve built in recent months that makes me anxious and emotionally unbalanced.

They say old habits die hard. I say old habits are hard to face when someone dies. My son effectively said the same thing to me this morning when I left for the office.

“Take coat off, Daddy.”

“I can’t, mate. I’ve got to go to work.”

Sitting in his high chair his head disappeared into his folded arms, his right leg contorted comfortably onto the table top in a position only toddlers and yoga instructors can easily achieve.

“Wa, mmm, umm, eee”, or some such slow sound came from a hidden place within his big curly hair and stripy pyjamas.

“What did you say, Jackson?”, I asked several times without really needing to.

After a few minutes he unfolded himself, stared into space and asked, “Where’s Mummy gone?”

He’s not asked that question for a while. It may be a subtlety to some but usually he simply says he wants her. I don’t see this as a nuance though. To me it’s the difference between coming to terms with the reality of the situation and not.

But this morning, we took a trip back to our old life. Just another morning when Daddy left before getting chance to play. One of those days when Mummy would no doubt make an entrance to soften the blow of Daddy’s departure with a daft face, a funny joke or a kiss that tickled.

But not today. Not any day.

It’s hard to imagine that such a young boy could already have old habits. It’s even harder to have to watch the habits that brought such pleasure die. And it’s even harder still when you had to watch his mummy do the same just four months ago.

13 comments on “old habits

  1. Bill Wright
    March 13, 2013

    Ben, I’d really appreciate it if you could provide a future update on how you are coping with being back at work. I am attempting a morning on Friday, two months and a week after my 2yo daughter died. Work and my boss have been brilliant and there has been no pressure from them to return, but I feel like I ought to try to go back, although I don’t necessarily feel I am ready, as I still feel fragile. I don’t want to feel or appear vulnerable in the work place. But you don’t know until you try I guess…

      March 13, 2013

      Hi Bill,

      It goes without saying. I write as soon as something comes into my head so no doubt work will feature more and more. I’d suggest a phased return if at all possible.


      • Bill Wright
        March 13, 2013

        Cheers Ben.

  2. Stefan McGarry
    March 13, 2013

    Hi Ben,

    Saw your blog on Facebook. We used to do some work with Mischief but I don’t think our paths have crossed. I’m sorry to hear of the tragic death of your wife; as a father myself – I found your post very moving and can’t begin to comprehend what you must be feeling.

    I really hope you can find some future peace, contentment and happiness in your life with your son.


  3. Alison
    March 13, 2013

    I read your blog everyday, I am nearly 4 years on into my ‘widowship’ and immune to tears after a full year or more of crying every day. However now and again I hear or read something which can take me straight back to the early days of grieving. Today is one of them after reading about your son, I know as a mother of 2 beautiful children how I would feel not to be there for them.
    Today I will be thinking about you and your little boy and hoping you will find that tiny bit of relief which will grow over time so life is easier to cope with.
    Alison x

  4. Paul R
    March 13, 2013

    My only suggestion would be to see if you can work part time. Don’t try to gut it out full time. After my wife’s death I was off work for two and a half months, then I worked part time for another month. While it was part time, I slowly built up my work time from 20 hours to full time, as I felt capable of it.

    One benefit I had was working from home. If I needed to get away I just shut down the monitor and left the ‘office’ for a bit. Sometimes to just go lie on the bed and sometimes to take a walk outside.

    Everyone was encouraging me to go back to work to get some “normalcy” in my life. Work will never get my life back to normal, nothing will. But engaging the brain again in a difficult task, did help. But it took a while to get where I could focus on the job. The first week or so was more of a relearning the language and tasks. While I knew what should be done, it was very difficult to focus on the actual doing.

  5. Naomii Chaplain
    March 13, 2013

    Good luck with being back at work.

    If you find you are not quite ready after all, I don’t think anybody who knows you, through your blog, or personally could ever doubt your commitment, drive, energy, circumstances and desire to do “the right thing” for you and Jackson – which is essentially all that matters.

  6. Sarah Pointer
    March 13, 2013

    ever helpful….having just returned to work myself you have answered my question of why am I getting on alright with it…..its because, as you say, its not work that is the problem. Thank you for putting into words what I have been unable to…again.

  7. lesley
    March 13, 2013

    Everyone who is grieving should just do what is right for them when they want to doit.there is no right time to do anything.i took just one week off after my brother took his life. I went back part time and was lucky that I was able to work very flexibly, going in when I wanted and leaving when I wanted too. I thought work offered routine and normality and it stopped me going over and over what had happened.looking back I wasnt ready to go back so soon but I really thought I was. I think I used it to try to convince myself ( or perhaps others? ) I was ok when really I wasnt. 6 months later I am back to working silly hours but my job gives me none of the satisfaction it used to.

  8. Miguel
    March 13, 2013

    My wife died a little over one year ago. Being an university teacher, I didn’t want to let my students down, so I did classes as scheduled, but I was virtually incapable of doing anything else – even now I seem to forget everything, including to check the todo lists I do everyday to make sure I don’t forget something. My dean and colleagues have been supportive beyond anything I could ever imagine (let alone deserve).
    Like Paul said, nothing will ever bring life back to normal. Life as I defined it has simply vanished. So I’m finding myself changing, no longer having a “normal” life to fit into and not really fitting into the life I currently have. My work doesn’t not satisfy me anymore, it’s a thing I do because I have to – perhaps one day it will make sense again, perhaps I will need to find something new…
    But having to see your son go through a similar process and then having to leave must be heartbreaking…my thoughts are with you!

  9. Barry
    March 15, 2013

    Hi Ben. I’m so sorry for your loss. Well done for doing this. Brave man.

    I’ve found your words really useful having lost my wife of 22 years suddenly and unexpectedly on 26 December 2012 aged just 44 years.

    I went back to work on 14th January. Prior to going back I worried a lot about bursting into tears or having a meltdown on the commute down to London. I work in fundraising and I’m currently with the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) down near King’s Cross. I live in West Oxfordshire so its a fairly hefty commute. I did have one tearful journey back at the start of February but other than that, have pretty much done the commute in a daze. The guys at DEC have been fantastic though and I think knowing you have that support really helps. That said, I think I should have probably taken more time off or eased back in by starting on part-time.

    How long does it take before starting back to work? Well, I’d imagine it’s horses for courses. I wouldn’t imagine any two of us would deal with our grief in quite the same way. I do thoroughly admire you for doing this though, Ben, and I shall carry on reading.

    Best wishes to you and your little boy.


  10. Linda Walker
    March 26, 2013

    I lost my husband on the 25th April last year. I had been caring for him at home, after he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Initiall Alex was determined that I should contiue to work but as his illness progressed, I made the decision to take time off work to care for hime full time. (I am a nurse of over thirty years experience and, I found it a very humbling experience to look after Alex).
    When Alex died, I returned to work – don’t actually remember how soon after the funeral I done this. I got to the fourth day and broke down – decide to take some time off again. During this time, I decided I didn’t want that level of responsibility any more (Manager in a Care Home) and I resigned.
    Coincidentally, the manager of a local nursing home, where I worked previously, had called to see how I was doing – she then asked if I would like to go back there to work. After a short spell, I did go to work in the local home but after a few months, I decided to go part time. It is only now that I am feeling content with work. I guess I am fortunate in that I can afford to work in this way.
    I guess everyone is different in how they cope with resuming work. I am also intrigued with grief and how we respond to losing a loved one. I studied a course with the Open University (Death, Dying and Bereavement) as well as palliative care courses. If this has helped me in any way, I think it is the realisation that although my emotions are very jumbled on a day to day basis, I know that what I am feeling is all part of the process and ‘normal’. My emotions are even more confused now by the fact that I have met someone else – didn’t expect to find happiness again at my age (50).
    I am also wondering why I had Ben Brooks – Dutton in the to do list on my phone – entry made 16th January2013 – this is me just getting around to looking on the internet.
    I was just reading Barry’s entry – we are all different and learn to adapt in our way.

    Wishing you all the best for the future

    Kind Regards

    Linda Walker

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