Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

heavy happiness

The sun was shining on us today. I woke up feeling okay and decided it was time to get out and play. Being ill for a fortnight has not only made me feel like shit, it’s also made me feel like a terrible father. Little energy and being in pain has made me poor company for a toddler. So today was all about making sure my son had fun.

Seeing his face when he discovered the joy of not just a bouncy castle but also a bouncy slide made up for two miserable weeks in two seconds. Yet just moments after a smile stretched across my face I felt a tear well up in my eye. Sadness that my eyes could see his pleasure whilst my wife’s remained closed.

My son’s smile was there to stay though and as I watched him play I thought about how innocence breeds contentment. Unlike me, he’s living in the moment so when he’s having a nice time, why would he do anything other than laugh and smile? What could possibly make a person cry when there was sunshine, swings, slides, scooters and soft scoop ice cream?

Well from my adult point of view there are a few answers.

Understanding: knowing that we’re definitely not going to see Desreen again; comprehension of the concept of death; grasping the words ever and never. 

Preoccupation: never being able to escape our loss; going over that night in my head; thinking about where she is now; worrying about where we’ll be in the future.

Isolation: feeling lonely all the time; never feeling truly fulfilled in company or alone; detachment from every social scenario I find myself in.

Guilt: feeling constant regret that my son is missing out on his mother and that his mother is missing out on her son; feeling ashamed when I suddenly realise that I don’t want to be sad forever.

Perhaps it’s that conflict of emotions that makes grief so powerful. You can have fun building a castle but you know that the sand is going to get in your eyes. You can feel your heart melt when your child offers you a bit of his ice cream but you know it’s going to hurt your teeth. And you can soak in the sun and urge yourself to stop thinking about the rain clouds in the distance, but you know you’re bound to get soaked if you dare to leave home without an umbrella.

13 comments on “heavy happiness

  1. Carrie Dunne
    May 19, 2013

    oh Ben, in the midst of your grief you have so perfectly portrayed the child ‘living in the moment’ and the sad, but inevitable, contrast with your adult thoughts of ‘understanding, preoccupation, isolation, guilt’.
    I know how raw grief is and, although those that grieve may be in completely different situations, your pain is shared and understood. My heart goes out to you and your gorgeous little boy.

  2. Linda Hayes
    May 19, 2013

    I feel your pain, it has been 2years for me and I’m still feeling comfort of the liquid kind! but unlike yourself I have no one to get up for in the mornings. Your Wife is very proud you will leave a legacy Sooo much for your wonderful son to look back on in later life. Be strong whatever that means.

      May 20, 2013

      Thanks Linda. Well it’s 07:47 and I’ve only had tea so far so I’m doing okay x

  3. Nicky Robertson
    May 19, 2013

    There is no shame in feeling that you don’t want to be sad forever. None whatsoever. It took me a long time to reach that place. There will always be times of sadness. I will always miss my beautiful, eternally 31 year old husband. But I can no longer be constantly melancholy – he would HATE that. As would your lovely Desreen. Just breathe. Jackson will help you xXx

  4. sarah pointer
    May 19, 2013

    to quote C S Lewis “part of misery is …miserys shadow or reflection, the fact that you dont merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief”. i too am waiting for my eyes to smile when my mouth does x

  5. Paul R
    May 19, 2013

    Interesting to read that after having read an article that intellectualizes the grief process and makes it sound like grief is a switch that we can switch off if we only spend the time to reason why we should feel happy. I honestly don’t understand how people can be grief counselors and write such articles.

    I hope sharing your thoughts still helps and that you aren’t continuing with this written journey because of your readers. For me it helps to read about others experiences because grief is such a lonely feeling and it helps to know that others are also on the journey. I wouldn’t wish this journey on anyone, but it does help to know that I’m not travelling alone.

      May 20, 2013

      Interesting point, Paul. The reasons I’m still writing are: because I want my son to understand what happened when he’s older; because it helps me to articulate my thoughts; because I find it exhausting to have the same difficult conversations about how I am with everyone I know over and over; because I understand how isolating grief can be and if I can try to make others understand then I think some good can come out of it; because people like you say it helps to know there’s empathy out there. The order of priority changes constantly but there always feels like a reason to continue, which is the main thing.

      I agree with your other point too. One thing I’ve promised myself is that I will never tell people how grief is going to feel for them. No one else can ever know or generalise. To think that a person who knows nothing about your past can tell you your future is simply ridiculous to me.

    • Jet Black
      May 21, 2013

      I so agree with you Paul. One now-ex-friend is a counsellor and trainer with Cruse Bereavement Care. After going through a risky, scary and horrible procedure as part of treatment for cancer, I hadn’t heard from her or the rest of that group of friends, so when I next saw them I told them I was angry about their abandonment. She responded that she’d always seen me as someone who was independent and self-sufficient and that’s why she’d not been in touch… Go figure!?!?!?!

      Fortunately, there are people out there who really do get it, whether on grief or coming face to face with one’s own mortality at an early age and whether or not they’re also going through it. From reading this blog, I find that a lot of the feelings overlap.

  6. Jet Black
    May 20, 2013

    I completely agree that the conflict of emotions is so very powerful, even, or maybe especially if you find a way to be in the moment. Being in the moment is also about being in sad, heart-broken and devastated moments as well as the joy of your son’s ice cream offer. As someone living with a life-shortening cancer, I frequently experience something I call the ‘see-saw syndrome’ where I feel physically dizzy from being mentally thrown up and down by conflicting thoughts and emotions about living and dying, about being humanly mortal like everyone else and knowing my mortality will come sooner than normally expected.

    I’ve yet to write about in my blog as the words and clarity of emotion about this particular topic often elude me. So I really appreciate you writing this as it helps me. In fact I so relate to so much of what you write, even though our situations are so very different. Thank you!

  7. Jude Thorne
    June 6, 2013

    Hi Ben, it’s Jude here from Ice. I was at Red today and heard you had started a blog and have found your posts very touching. I was so sorry to hear about Desreen – so shocking and tragic and I can really empathise with the thoughts and feelings you have been describing.

    I don’t know if you knew, but I lost my husband, Robin, two and a half years ago and was just recovering from the shingles I caught a year after his death when we ran the pitches.

    It is a lovely, positive thing you are doing, sharing your grief to help others and it is obvious that Jackson could not wish for a better father and role model.

    I wish you all the best. Jude

  8. Pingback: park life | life as a widower

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