Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

six months

Next Friday will be the six month anniversary of my wife’s untimely death. It simultaneously means both everything and nothing to me.

Everything because I can’t believe how much our families and friends have been through in that time. Nothing because I suspect that what we’re going through hasn’t even started yet.

Everything because it’s been the longest six months of my life and I’ve never felt so many emotions so intensely. Nothing because, looking back, I can’t believe six months have passed so quickly and so much of it feels like a blur.

Everything because my whole outlook on life has changed. Nothing because I feel so powerless now that I understand that I have no real control over the future.

Everything because it’s 25 time longer than the previous longest period of time (seven days) that I hadn’t seen my wife in eight years. Nothing because I’ve started to understand that time is a measure that holds little value in grief.

And so as we approach the six month anniversary I can imagine that there are people out there who’ll assume that long enough for a person to have begun to heal. In my experience it’s not. Time is simply a medicine dished out by untrained practitioners. But for me it’s a placebo and I’m familiar enough with the taste of real thing to know I’m being taken for a ride. The truth is I feel every ounce of sadness and loss I felt six months ago.

Yet I’d be lying if I said that my feelings nearly six months on were exactly the same. I know this because I’ve been keeping a diary in the form of this blog and when I look back I can compare. I wrote a piece called Imaging It back in January, which aimed to explain how it immediately felt to loose my wife so suddenly. I covered elements of confusion, guilt and physical pain that I no longer feel with the same intensity. If I had the same physical symptoms, for example, I’m sure I would be extremely ill by now. And if you witnessed me as the shell of a man I was back in November I’m sure you could assume that time was indeed healing. Yet it’s not. I guess I’m just on a journey towards slowly learning to survive with an open wound. And I guess there’s little other choice but to survive when there’s a young child there who needs you more than ever before.

As well as the six month anniversary, next week will also mark several milestones for this blog. It will be four months since I published my first post. By next week there will have been 100 posts and the blog will have received half a million views. And it was with all of this in mind that it occurred to me to revisit Imaging It, because it gave a real insight into the grief I felt immediately after my wife was killed. And although I don’t believe time heals, I’m starting to face the reality that it changes.

So I’m going to tell you what it feels like for me some six months on. The most important part of that sentence is not the measure of time but the part that says ‘for me’. I understand how natural it is for human beings to compare themselves to others. I know how it feels to get cross at people for pushing their beliefs on me. I appreciate that one person’s six months might be another’s six years. And above all, I know myself and I know that all I’m doing with the blog, all I’ve ever done with it, is document how I feel at any given moment in time. Perhaps after seven months I’ll change again. Maybe I’ll regress. Who knows if my feelings will be closer to month one than month six? I’m only certain of one thing. I’ll be the only one feeling my exact feelings. You’ll be the only one feeling yours. We’ll share common ground but we all grieve in our own way in our own time.

I mention this only because I’ve felt some upset and discomfort recently for being criticised for my grief.

I’m not angry enough.

I’m too positive.

I’m just out for myself.

Perhaps inevitably, given my current fragile state, I could hear a thousand positive comments and concentrate only on a handful of negatives. But that’s my grief. When my wife first died I was more preoccupied about who hadn’t got in touch than who had. These days I can’t even remember who did and who didn’t.

But the struggle I’m having with my grief is also telling me to grow a thicker skin. It’s telling me that all that matters now is the approval and the well-being of the people I love or respect. It’s telling me that I set out to help people and if there are still people who can find solace or empathy in what I write, then it’s worth carrying on. It’s telling me to be the gauge of what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s telling me to face the reality that you can’t please all of the people all the time. And it’s telling me not to waste my increasingly precious energy trying.

So this is what grief feels like for me six months on.

It feels like sadness.

Sadness because the person I shared my life with is no longer here and never will be again.

Sadness because any precious moment of happiness I feel, however brief, is followed by a crippling sense of foreboding and loss.

Sadness because it tears me to pieces to think of my son not being raised by the mother who adored him so much and who was planning to make his life so special.

Sadness because I fixate not just on my own loss but that of my wife’s family and friends and I feels theirs too.

It feels empty.

Empty because whatever I do, however much I occupy myself, however much I try to honour the memory of my wife, I feel nothing. No pride. No sense of achievement. No progress. Just nothing.

Empty because a part of me died with my wife. She was part of me. We were part of each other. The physical part has gone and with it it has taken so many of the positives emotions that I always held so dear.

It feels endless.

Endless because I know I’ll never be healed.

Endless because I’ll never see her again.

Endless because I’ll never see the old me again.

Endless because there’s no conclusion, just an unknown expanse of time ahead of me to always miss her.

Endless because a huge part of me doesn’t want the pain to stop because it’d feel like I were doing my wife a disservice in death.

Endless because I have the feelings of both myself and my son to worry about for as long as I’m lucky enough to be alive.

Endless because it never leaves my mind for a moment and I find it hard to concentrate on anything else.

Endless because I rarely sleep and so there are now more hours in the day yet I don’t have the energy to fill them with the things I used to love or the things that made me a healthier person.

It feels like disbelief.

Disbelief because when anyone talks about my wife’s grave I shut down.

Disbelief because I don’t think I’ll ever truly be able to get my head round what’s happened.

Disbelief because, well fuck it, I just can’t fucking believe it’s fucking happened.

It feels lonely.

Lonely because my days never come to a natural close with a ‘goodnight’, a kiss or a cuddle from the person who told me it was time to go to bed.

Lonely because however much company I’m in, I still feel alone.

Lonely because intimacy has gone.

Lonely because I’ve lost my wife, my best friend, my co-parent and my partner in fun and mischief all in one go.

It feels disappointing.

Disappointing because people I bump into often assume that they don’t need to mention what happened because it happened six months ago.

Disappointing because some people avoid talking about my wife as if she never existed.

It feels shared.

Shared because I understand now that I feel some comfort when I comfort others.

Shared because I believe that if we pass kindness on it will come back to us.

Shared because so many people out there are looking out for me and my son.

Shared because I’ve let the people who I initially pushed away back in.

Shared because I stopped trying to be a hero and started to accept and truly appreciate help.

It feels hopeful.

Hopeful because I’ve let moments of happiness back into my life and I’ve sad to hell with the consequences and the hangover that they might create.

Hopeful because of my son’s sunny disposition and his beautiful outlook on life.

Hopeful because he tells me, “It’s not raining, Daddy, it’s happy” when all I see are dark clouds ahead.

Hopeful because he can answer for himself at two-and-half when people ask where his mummy’s gone.

Hopeful because when the other kids at nursery discuss the necklaces that they are making for their mummies, my son doesn’t get upset. He just says he’s making his for his daddy.

So today my grief is not the Gollum I spoke about in the original version of this post. But it still feels ugly, isolated, wretched and schizophrenic enough to be Sméagol.

N.B. Please do feel free to share how it feels or felt for you at six months too. In fact, please do share how it feels or felt for you at any point in your grief. I realise that for many people this blog is not just about my story but also about all the stories shared in the comments. And for me that’s just amazing because it feels like we’re all in it together.

Six months on my grief is still ugly, isolated, wretched and schizophrenic enough to be Sméagol

Six months on my grief is still ugly, isolated, wretched and schizophrenic enough to be Sméagol

61 comments on “six months

  1. mags
    December 2, 2016

    How do you know how I am feeling – you have put into words what I could not, I miss him so much and feel desperately lonely after 8 months – I don’t really want to live. Dreading my first Chrismas without him.

  2. Mat
    February 5, 2017

    Hi just went through my first Christmas alone ,l took a trip to Cuba the pain of being without her threw a time we cherished was to much to bear.l did find peace in my trip ,new faces ,time to be alone ,and not being reminded ,how much she is missed,which she is.l would do this again and recommend it to relax the soul .

  3. Elle
    February 14, 2017

    You’ve hit on so many things I’m feeling. For the first few months my coworkers innored my grief, and me, looking away when it was obvious I’d been in the washroom crying. They had no idea how to talk to me or behave around a grieving person. Now, 6 months and 10 days after, my boss and colleagues all act like I should be back to full speed at work, when the reality is most days I cry all the way to and from work, and slog through my work day like a zombie. Friends have been wonderful, but I’m afraid to show them how much I’m still hurting, because I don’t want to lean too much on them and feel like a burden. I’m afraid my continued sadness will drive them away. I feel so much pressure to be “better now” and I’m just not. The new reality of him being gone forever hasn’t fully sunken in even after 6 months. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, and I can’t sleep because what used to be a special day we celebrated our love for each other will now and forever be filled with longing for my husband. We didn’t have children, so it’s just me left to grieve. My heart will forever be broken, and I feel like slapping people who insist on telling me life will get better with time, or compare the loss of an 89 year old parent with the accidental death of a vibrant, intelligent, fit 58yr old man who was my husband, whom I’ve known and loved since I was a girl of 18.

    • andrewfeben
      February 17, 2017

      Hi Elle
      Today would have been our 21st wedding anniversary. I’m going to get a single red rose and take it to the grave and give it to my beloved. I don’t know if there is any connection, if he knows, but on Valentine’s Day I found a single red rose pressed in the back of a scrap book he made up to his 21st birthday and I think it must be the one I gave him when we first began dating because he said nobody had ever given him flowers before. So here we are on the 17th Feb and I’m going to do it again, symbollically at least.

      I have no idea if what I’m going to say will be helpful and before I begin I should also say that I still cry at some point most days, still sleep badly and haven’t got back into a proper routine. I retired from teaching so no longer have work to provide any structure or “escape”. I also have a strong faith which has sustained me, He’s been so good to me.

      For the first 14 weeks I just cried all the time. I read everything I could about grief, bereavement, loss of a spouse (which is unlike any other loss), including counselling I formation. I then joined an online group for widows/ers which led me to a local group. The online forum (this one) showed me that some people were still feeling much as I did years down the road and I knew I couldn’t survive that, I’d be better off jumping off a high bridge under a huge lorry. So I faced every thought, every pain, every wave of awfulness with acceptance and prayer, whether I felt like it or not, and kicking and struggling at times. The sadness, the pain, the sense of loss, the missing my wonderful husband goes on but I gradually become more used to it and make sure I keep busy as well as having my sad moments. The local group has been a lifeline. We go out and have fun together, theatre, meals out, bowling, dancing for dummies, etc. and we all have such a depth of care and understanding of one another. I also have amazing friends, family and church family alongside me. When people say hurtful things (which is rare but does happen) I tell myself that they mean well and sometimes I explain gently why it hurts.

      I am certain that my love for my husband will never die and there will be sadness in some measure always. Yet I am also hopeful that I can still do something useful in the time I have left, that there will be moments of joy, that peace will ultimately prevail as I live with him in my heart but not physically with me. I hope for a new life with new treasures along the way, whatever they may be.

      It is ten months for me now and this period is hard … signing Christmas cards with just my name, New Year with friends in a party of 5, both our birthdays, Valentine’s Day, wedding anniversary, a year since my hip replacement, followed by his short 3 week knowledge of an incredibly aggressive cancer which destroyed his body in that short time, then the funeral and the ongoing shock and deathly silence all around me.

      It’s all so painful, yes, and will never be completely healed – but I just keep choosing to be as positive as I can, to trust that I will get through this as countless others before me and since have had to do, to fill most days with company and things to do at some point during the day (there’s plenty of time for weeping) and wait for the worst of each storm to pass. It has been a very up and down journey so far but I can see progress overall when I look back. I try to be patient with myself and continue to love my other loved ones. I still have a way to go but I know I’m on the way and I love the glimpses of sunshine after the rain. We all have our own journeys but take heart that you are progressing along your own way. Why don’t you look for a WayOn group near you – or even start one if there isn’t one already? There are so many of us!

      Look after yourself, be kind to yourself, keep hoping and looking for the glimpses of fun and laughter, peace and joy that will increasingly come your way. And know that your loved one would want you to be okay so no guilty feelings allowed!

      If any of this is helpful, hold on to it, but please just let anything else fly away from mind. I wish you increasingly peace and joy in the midst of your pain.

    • BFrame
      February 18, 2017

      Dear Elle..I lost my husband of 27 years, best friend and “soft place to fall” one year ago(next week). He left for the airport one morning, I kissed him good bye and said “see you tomorrow night” and that was it. He died of an aortic dissection at the age of 58. So I know exactly how you feel. I felt like I must be crazy. I felt (and still often feel) like a ghost walking amongst the rest of the “living” world. I carry him with me every second of every day. So, I can say that 6 months is still so very fresh!! I’m just starting to come out of the fog from the past year and the realization that this is “really happening” is hitting me. I joined a grief support group after 8 months that met once a week for 2 months and we are trying to get together once a month to catch up with each other. The process was painful but to be with people who walk in your shoes is very comforting. I also started seeing a counsellor and can go and say, to her, anything I have been feeling without filtering it. I always feel so much more grounded when I leave her office. There are many triggers every day that take its toll on me emotionally and physically. Like the previous writer I have read everything I can get my hands on and , unfortunately, feeling the grief, howling and wailing, is when you are moving forward, one inch at a time. God it hurts!! It can’t be rushed. Listen to yourself. Give yourself permission to do as much or as little as you want. Try to find a few people in your life that aren’t afraid of being around you. Even if they don’t know what to say and just listen to you talk, cry or scream. I’ve told my friends that not only does it take a village to raise a child, it talks a village to help someone through this because it’s a long process. Tell your friends that you need them. They will need you one day and you would be there for them, I’m sure. I would also say not to get too ahead of yourself. I try to look ahead only by a month or so. I can’t go much further than that or it’s too overwhelming. I hope something in this helps, even a tiny bit.

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