A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
Grief is not an easy business to be in. It pays terribly, it’s totally unrewarding, there’s no opportunity to go part time, and it’s both mentally and physically draining.
Mentally I find myself completely tortured. I never ever stop thinking about mine and my son’s loss. Not even for a second. It’s always there.
This mental torture manifests itself physically too. I hypothesise that the lack of sleep resulting from my overactive mind has affected my immune system, which in turn has had a detrimental impact on my health.
If I could be bothered to ask my wretched GP (for the record I’m in the market for a new one) to verify this theory he would no doubt ask me, yet again, if I’m that guy whose wife had recently died, suggest I get some counselling (he should already know I have) and close with a curt, “Is that everything?”
But I can’t be bothered because I realised some weeks ago that my refrigerator offers more warmth than my doctor and that it would doubtless be more interested in the subject matter too.
‘Potentially an engaging topic for a men’s magazine’, I thought a while back though.
At least one journalist had the same idea when, back in January, he discovered my blog through a friend of a friend and commissioned me to write a feature.
I was ‘in the zone’ at the time running on caffeine, adrenaline and a overactive mind. No request was too much. I felt the need to write. I was filling every sleepless night with words anyway, so one more article wasn’t going to make much difference. So I willingly took the brief.
This one was going to be a challenge though. Everything I’ve written to date has been emotionally draining but as I was feeling the feelings anyway, committing them to paper wasn’t going to make the pain of them any more insufferable. But this feature was different because it wasn’t about writing from the heart. It was a more academic piece. I’d need to identify and liaise with experts on both sides of the Atlantic to get what was needed. I’d be subject to their time pressures and not just mine. Just sourcing the information would take three weeks, countless emails and phone calls throughout the day and night due to the various different time zones involved. To meet the deadline I’d have to work whilst on holiday too. That was my problem, but to honour the agreed timings I’d need to get up in the middle of the night to write when my son finally found some rest from the fever he suffered the whole week we were away. He was too ill and distressed for me to work in the day.
However, it was something I’d committed myself to and I felt it was important to stick to my word. I respected both the magazine and the mutual friends who had hooked us up. For all I knew the journalist was holding the space and the deadline was real.
I imagine the pressure of writing this kind of piece would be a real challenge for anyone living through such sudden and recent loss. No two people respond in the same way but it’s widely accepted that on-the-job performance can be affected by grief in the following ways:
I worry about everything constantly.
The cycle of worry is endless but to demonstrate just how much worry envelops me right now I’ll go back to the list above.
And then I worry some more.
I worry like two parents rolled into one. I wonder if I now worry more like a mother than a father. And it’s not the ‘Oh, fuck it!’ kind of worry that you get over. It’s the dark, morbid and completely debilitating kind.
So five weeks ago I delivered the feature I was commissioned to write on time. A day later I got a reply from the guy who commissioned it to say that he would take a look that day or the next. Four weeks later I’d heard nothing so I thought, ‘Oh well, mustn’t have been what they were after, but at least I spoke to some interesting people.’ At that point I decided I didn’t have the energy or the headspace to even worry about his opinion. ‘Even if he wanted to tell me it was the shittest thing he’d ever read’, I thought, ‘it’s not like I haven’t had worse news in the last few months’.
Nonetheless I thought better of leaving the issue completely unresolved and checked in, at the very least to try to get some feedback for the contributors who had been so generous with their time. I thought it would be courteous of me to let them know if their comments were going to make it into print. I thought it would be polite to tell them they weren’t.
It’s now five weeks on and I’m still none the wiser. Not a word from the journalist.
Worry made me check that he’s still with us. Modern technology made my investigation simple. He’d posted a tweet as recently as today. So given he can still communicate with the outside world I have to conclude that he is either a) rude or b) uncomfortable.
Wanting to give the guy the benefit of the doubt I’ve opted for the latter, especially as it’s really quite a common response to someone else’s bereavement.
I’ll ignore him and he’ll go away.
If I pretend I don’t know what’s happened, I won’t have to embark on that difficult conversation.
I don’t think he’s seen me so I’ll cross the road.
Regardless of the situation, I’ve come to realise that the point I am trying to make in this post is more important to me (and perhaps others suffering the pain of loss) than the subject of the magazine feature ever was. It’s on this basis that I’ll stick my neck out and risk making this one guy feel awkward when I personally have nothing to gain from making another human being feel like shit.
When someone is grieving a significant loss, the worst thing you can do is ignore them or pretend they are not there.
It hurts. It gives them something else to worry about. It makes them feel sidelined. It makes them feel insecure. It makes them feel inadequate.
The worry, however dramatic this might sound, compounds itself and turns into more worry. The mental strain then becomes physical and (perhaps) the physical effects have a adverse impact on well-being.
Ironic that I should be experiencing and writing about this potential strain on health given the title I was commissioned to write for.
N.B. For the record I have received an apology from the journalist in question. As I explained to him, I have no malice for him personally and I fully respect and accept his apology. My intention is not to point fingers or to make anyone feel bad, but rather to try to educate people about how they can best help those suffering the pain of loss.