Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

ignoring grief

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:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Difficulty in making decisions
  • Confusion
  • Memory lapses
  • Changes in appetite, sleep habits, energy levels
  • Withdrawal from social situations
  • And perhaps the most vexing of all, worry

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.

  • I worry about what the lack of motivation is going to do to me and my career
  • I worry about making the wrong decisions. I worry about the right decisions becoming wrong in future. I worry about not being able to make decisions
  • I worry about how confused I am. Is it really Easter this week? Have I paid the rent? Did I send that email? Is it Tuesday or 1997?
  • I worry about something else, but I can’t remember what I was worrying about. Who?
  • I worry that my lack of sleep and appetite is going to make me ill and that if I get ill I might die and then my son will be an orphan. I make myself feel sick by eating too much. I eat too much sugar and then I worry that my teeth are going to fall out
  • I worry that, because I don’t really want to be around loads of people at the moment, I’ll push friends away to a point where I won’t really have a social life in future

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. 

15 comments on “ignoring grief

  1. Jackie D
    March 26, 2013

    I think you may not have all the information you need to condemn this guy (though, goodness, I sure want to do so on your behalf). Being direct and clear, ringing him up, would perhaps be a worthwhile approach.

    (By the way, if you ever need a source on grief and trauma, I have been talking about you and Jackson to a psychologist who is one of the world’s top experts, based here in NY. He’d be happy to speak with you if ever you wanted or needed to. You can contact me privately for details if you ever are interested. :))

  2. Dan
    March 26, 2013

    Felt the need to lie to anyone about your situation yet, just so you don’t have to put them through the sad tale and put them in that situation?

    • lifeasawidower.com
      March 26, 2013

      Not lie, but just not go into it. I was trying to explain to someone who didn’t know me from work why I hadn’t been in for four months and ended up just saying, “it’s complicated” and moved on. I didn’t have long to chat and so it felt like the quickest way to get things done and move on.

  3. Jacky
    March 27, 2013

    Life is so unfair and we honestly do not know what we have until its gone. May the good Lord give you strength to get through this.

  4. lesleym
    March 27, 2013

    yet again Ben you put into words what so many of us have been feeling/experiencing . Your words help me through every day. Thanks Ben

  5. SarahM
    March 27, 2013

    Hi Ben, every now and then I write articles for a magazine in Germany. As I’ve worked in editorial before I know how I treated freelancers and how I would want to be treated. That being said, the editor I currently work for is notoriously bad at getting in touch. In fact she only ever gets in touch if I do so first! It’s annoying and half the time I’m wondering if it’s me, she’s too busy, or she’s even been ‘moved on’! But as she keeps commissioning articles from me then I presume what I write is ok, though she never sends me the PDFs of the finished item! So, what I’m saying is, don’t take it personally, and don’t worry. Just worry if they don’t pay you for all your hard work! xx

  6. macrothings
    March 27, 2013

    After reading your post I thought this might be worth mentioning. (Please delete if inappropriate)

    I suffer with chronic Migraine/Headaches and visited the Doctors last Friday as they were increasing in frequency. The temp GP suggested a different treatment using 50mg of LYRICA 3 times a day, I wasn’t too keen but as she’d cancelled my other prescriptions thought I should give it a go! To get to the point, after 6 days I’m in a better place, my headaches have decreased, the thing is, LYRICA is also used to treat anxiety and I now feel better able to deal with things! I’m able to look back and smile instead of cry, the future seems less intimidating, and I even feel strangely confident.
    Perhaps I’ve always suffered with anxiety?

    Of course it’s very early days and this is my personal experience, but knowing how we all feel thought it worth mentioning in case it helps others.

    By the way, I did mention my wife’s death 3 months ago as it might be relevant, she showed absolutely no interest or compassion.

    Kind regards,

    Barry.

    • lifeasawidower.com
      March 27, 2013

      Thanks Barry. I suppose just because a door says doctor on it doesn’t mean the person inside isn’t a total prick. Mine says 7 and I’m 33.

      Glad you’re feeling a bit better.

      • macrothings
        March 27, 2013

        I’ve said it before, but your blog has helped me on along this troubled road
        (My GPrick would not have).

        Thanks again.

  7. Paul R
    March 27, 2013

    I’m always amazed and moved by your posts. I think you are doing so much that may grievers don’t even attempt. Early in my grief I found it easy to write from the heart, usually just for myself. However, when I had to do something analytical I could focus for maybe 5 or 10 minutes and that was it. I can imagine how hard it was to put that piece together. Whether it is ever published or not, hope you finally hear back from the journalist.

  8. Pingback: ever stop fighting till the fight is done. | delana's random ramblings

  9. Nikki
    March 29, 2013

    Hi Ben, I’m 33 and lost my husband of 7 years on 18th October 2012 tragically to cancer and have two kiddies aged 4 and 2. I’ve been wanting to start my own blog for ages and have to say you’ve inspired me to start it. I’m technically inept but will give it a go! As for the worry list, did you get yours at the same place I got mine?! It definitely doubles when you face the world on your own. I go with the motto that no-one will ever fully understand how I feel and remind myself (during balanced moments) that I was one of those clueless people 3 years ago before Chris got ill. I envy people who are spared the evils of grief but I live in in honour of Chris and for my kiddies. Good luck with your blog and thanks for giving me the nudge I needed.

  10. Thank you for sharing on such a sensitive topic.

  11. the blood
    May 7, 2014

    Wow. You just described my new journey. After 33 years of marriage I lost my precious wife. My heart’s been ripped out. I’m a puddle. And perhaps the hardest part of all is that the friends I thought I had, have been no friends at all. Some of them didn’t even come to the funeral. I’m in the people-business. My job is all about serving other people, but those same people who I’ve helped through their crises and losses have completely ignored me….or sent cards (the ultimate slap; why aren’t you phoning me?)….with only two kind exceptions.

    I understand the awkward thing….but we’ve been friends. For years. Where the hell are you now? Why are you pretending I’m not sitting right there two tables away from you? Why haven’t you called me, even once? The ones who’ve shown me the most compassion and kindness have been friends from years ago; people I haven’t talked to for ages. They’re phoning. Why aren’t you?

    I know that fear you talk about. And the worry. My income is down by 30% now. I don’t know what the future looks like without J. It’s a scary place. Will I remarry? I’m in my mid-50s. Not so marketable anymore. Will I be alone for the rest of my life? I worry about the same things you talk about. I can’t stay focussed at work. And retirement is only 10 years away. I thought she’d be with me in that.

    And I’m so lonely. I hate the nights. Can’t sleep. Everything in the house reminds me of her. The tears flow. And my heart aches.

    Thanks for sharing this. I needed to hear that what I’m experiencing is normal.

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