Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

the future

This post was written sporadically over the course of about 18 hours.

As I write this post I’m experiencing the worst kind of insomnia. It’s the type where the time on the clock tells you it’s more like morning than night. I’ve been in bed for five hours and I haven’t nodded off for even a minute. I’m rested but my mind is racing. For once I can’t even bear to document what’s going through my head. I can’t imagine anyone would want to know.

These days I tend to find that I can’t slow the pace of my thoughts unless I translate them into written words. It’s not an easy thing to do in the middle of the night though. It’s a bit like lying awake and needing the toilet. You know you won’t sleep unless you go, but it still feels almost impossible to summon the energy to drag your bladder to the bathroom. Only once you’ve relieved yourself can you get any proper rest. Currently my release doesn’t seem to come, however, until I’ve pass words. Yet I’ve acquired the literary equivalent of urinary retention. I know I’ve got a brain bursting with thoughts but I can’t express how I feel. Suddenly the English lexicon is proving to be an inadequate collection of words that won’t allow me to convey my innermost thoughts.

For much of this week I’ve felt like this thing I’m living is not really my own life. It’s all too unfamiliar to truly be mine. I suddenly wonder if we are defined not only by the lives we have lived to date but also by the lives we had previously seen on the horizon. When a dense fog drops and your skyline disappears, how do you know what direction to go in anymore? How can you be the same person you thought you were going to be when you can’t see yourself for the haze? When you’re on stage playing yourself and then suddenly a director tells you to switch roles, how are you supposed to know the lines?

I think this is the reason why I feel sick to my stomach and crazed in my head. Having spent my life feeling confident enough to shape the future, as if it were mine to mould, I suddenly find myself unable to plan ahead. I don’t really want to in case I can’t be bothered by the time the events come around. Today I even bothered to think about how I couldn’t be bothered to think about Christmas. And it’s only March.

Maybe I finally understand why people use the expression ‘one day at a time’.

It’s not because grief is neat and tidy or considerate enough to come in consistent 24 hour doses. It’s because if you bother to think about a more distant future – the summer wedding you’ll attend alone, the holiday you’ll plan without your wife, your child’s first day at school – it just feels too big and empty to contemplate.

And even though you might still appreciate everything you still have in life, it’s what won’t be there in the days, weeks, months and years ahead that hurts your head. That breaks your heart. That keeps you awake at night. And that makes you completely re-evaluate your definition of the word future.

12 comments on “the future

  1. Tracey
    March 16, 2013

    Hi babe firstly I love to read your blog/ blogs & am definelty repeating what others say when I feel you are coping as best you can with a situation & feelings that you were never ever going to have to expect to cope with. I lost a baby & death of a loved one so close really is traumatic for all involved. There is no right or wrong way to deal with things but writing really does help put things into perspective & also help to make decisions. I rarely sleep due to recently become severely disabled & I have two young girls. Lying awake in bed or after having to resort to going into my office find that using my dictaphone is a great way to just let it all out as if someone was im the room. The other thing I do is to play a great hypnotherapy time. I put the cd into the unit pop it on timer get ready for bed & I lie & listen to the cd & nine times out of ten I’m
    Asleep before the cd ends. Anyway I hope you manage to continue the way you are going. & it’s another bloody saying you’ve no doubt heard a million times but time does help the healing of hurting. It will never go but gets a little easier as time & life goes on. Great to be able to send u a message direct. If ever you need an ear to chat /scream / cry with or too I’m here whatever the time or do ;0) take care lots of love tracey x

  2. Katy Lassen
    March 16, 2013

    I was in the library at Saint Martins today and I saw a beautiful girl who looked very much like Desreen. I did a double take and even had to stare at her for a moment or so just to make sure. This happens at least once a week. But when I see someone who reminds me of Desreen then it makes me think about her and how great she was and what advice she would give me with whatever issue I’m dealing with at the time – and there always is one! Thinking of you and Jackson – he is so cute and looks like his mum. Much love xxx

  3. Heather
    March 16, 2013

    I’m sorry you are feeling this way.
    Recently I’ve started to understand why some people say they feel they might be going crazy after a bereavement. My thoughts spin, I torture myself with them, and I don’t have confidence in anything anymore, least of all my self or my sense of identity. Planning anything is difficult to say the least.
    Some part of me is still looking for the ‘right’ thing or combination of things to do to bring him back. As though if I did everything right I would deserve him. Silly. I know. I still look forward to telling him stories, or seeing his face. The realisation is crushing.
    One day at a time.
    I can only hope it gets easier for us both.
    Thank you, as ever, for sharing

  4. Bill Wright
    March 17, 2013

    Ben, I know from reading your blogs that you are the archetypal ants in his pants, busy minded kind of guy, but is there anything you can do for an hour or two in the evenings, when Jackson is in bed, that entirely absorbs you and gives you a little respite from introspection? I don’t mean supressing your feelings, as that is not healthy, but just trying to give yourself a 120 minute vacation?
    I’m embarrassed to admit this, but for the first time since first becoming a parent in 2007, I am enjoying a bit of gaming. My current raison d’etre, when the brutal grief stricken fog of insomnia takes hold of me, is to be the most succesful mayor ever, of the largest city in the world, on a sims game. The shame.
    But it gives me a break after a traumatic day of missing my little girl and wishing my life had a reset button.
    Obviously I’d much prefer to be peacefully asleep, but I’m sure that will come when I build up to being f/t at work again.

  5. Lucille
    March 17, 2013

    Forget the future….today is the first day of the rest of your life!

  6. Alison
    March 17, 2013

    It sounds like your brain is asking for respite….you may need to find a way to calm your mind!
    Sometimes you need to concentrate on the two b’s ‘just be and breathe’ this got me through my worst times………

    Lots of love

  7. Gill
    March 17, 2013

    You had almost finished a jig-saw of your life together, the picture was making sense and you knew where the remaining bits would probably fit….
    Now it’s been knocked over, all the pieces are lying on the floor in disarray.
    You’ve got to begin again, painstakingly fitting one piece after another….the picture will begin to form in time; it certainly won’t be the one you had before, but it may turn out to be more beautiful than you can imagine now.

  8. Rma
    March 17, 2013

    Ben have you tried listening to an audiobook to help with sleep? When your brain is racing and crowded with thoughts a diversion can help ‘switch off’. Others use tv/ radio but I find bulletins and music bursts disturbing. A monotone voice at a volume that you can just hear seems to force the brain to listen and thereby settle. The voice is a personal choice I find relaxation tapes with their ‘plinky plonky’ music very irritating but spent many a night with Stephen Fry and not many women can say that! (Big hug)

  9. macrothings
    March 17, 2013

    As a member of the “club” I empathise completely, I currently find myself living in a time bubble, looking back and forward just enough to function, if I push the boundaries to far I become overwhelmed with loss and find I have no purpose….

  10. lesley
    March 17, 2013

    Since losing my brother last year I often have spells where I cant mind starts racing and I cant stop thinking about the day I keep busy and probably dont always let myself think about him though I am not sure thats healthy. When I cant sleep I listen to boring radio progs on iplayer which sometimes works. At times I have resorted to over the counter sleeping tablets though I am not happy about taking them.writing down my thoughts and feelings does help and I have a bnote book by my bed and I carry one round with me. What I find so hard is just as I tjink I am doing ok i can find myself overcome with grief and feel that I am never going to get through this. Grief is the hardest thing most of us will ever deal with

  11. jovahi
    March 20, 2013

    Hi Ben,
    I read your blog often and usually have nothing in terms of good advice I can offer so I don’t bother, but today I felt that I might be able to offer some help.
    So here is my two cents – I have had insomnia on and off for years and the only thing that helped me was this tutorial ( which explained the types of insomnia, causes of insomnia, how it affects you and how to manage it and start getting more sleep. I stuck with it, ended up printing it off because it was easier to read like that, and read it over a couple of weeks and it did work. In fact I am still using some of the techniques now, like creative visualisation – great for people with active minds like mine – which helps you visualise going on a journey to a calm and relaxing retreat where you evenutally fall asleep. I still suffer with insomnia but it’s nowhere near as bad as it was, and I no longer find myself in that desperate dark place at stupid o’clock when I’m getting frustrated with myself for being awake and worrying about getting through the next day. Instead, if I still cannot sleep sometimes I’m more accepting of it, more accepting of being tired, realise that I can still function on a couple of hours sleep (although I might be a bit loopy) and that eventually I will get more sleep. Anyway I hope it can help you in some way too, not to stop feeling what you’re feeling, but to enable your brain to switch itself off when you need it to.

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