Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

meaning it

I’ve got a bulging folder in my Hotmail account entitled ‘offers of help’. I had this kind of twisted fantasy going around in my head after my wife died whereby I thought I might test a few people down the line.

‘I’m moving house this weekend’, I imagined the email beginning, ‘Please arrive at the following address at 9am on Saturday to help me with the furniture because I haven’t hired a van.’

I liked to think about a removals relay snaking around the streets of East Dulwich as every person I’ve ever met did all the hard work for me. They had offered after all.

But I guess sometimes “let me know if there’s ever anything I can do” is often just something we say to fill the silence or conclude the conversation when someone dies.

Don’t get me wrong, many people have helped me and sometimes I’ve even asked them to. People have fed us, cleaned our home, replaced toys lost in the chaos of that night, helped me plan and execute a funeral, cared for my son, redecorated our home, listened when I’ve needed an ear, backed off when I’ve needed space. The list goes on and on.

But I’ve decided I’ll never offer anyone any help or support again unless I really mean it. Realising it’s not always offered sincerely is just too disappointing and sometimes too infuriating to bear.

For the past three months I’ve been holding out on an offer of help from someone who I suppose owed me very little other than the respect and common decency that I had always shown him. If I’m really honest with myself I always suspected his offer was spoken with little fervour. But as this was more of a debt than a favour I could have been forgiven for believing it would be delivered without hesitation.

Frustratingly that was no to be. And frustration has not been a friend of mine this last few months. It hasn’t taken much for it to turn into anger. And anger is not an emotion that I like to convey in front of my son because it makes him angry too. And when our anger peaks we usually find ourselves quickly sliding down into a trough of sadness and distress. It all sounds rather dramatic but then grief often is.

This drama can be brought on by a broad range of different scenarios too. These could include being sent a chair with three legs shorter than the fourth and then having to deal with a dreadful cast of inadequate customer services representatives for over two months. Or telling a mobile phone company that your wife has just died and that you need to cancel her contract but don’t know her password, only to be told that she will have to call back herself.

But evidently none of these performance related issues by (un)professional strangers who have neither a personal connection nor a reason to care can compare to the frustration borne out of the lack of decency shown by those who do.

I refer to my ex-landlord. A woeful walking example of human indifference.

I moved out of my rented flat in May and bought a home for my son and me just around the corner. It was not an easy decision given that we would be leaving the last home we would ever live in with Desreen. But I was determined to continue with our plans to build ourselves a home and create some security for my son’s future. I served him the correct amount of notice in the appropriate way and even chatted man-to-man about my reasons and about how tough life had been in recent months.

The famous last words were repeated: “If there’s ever anything I can do…”.

‘Just one thing’, I thought, ‘make this process easy’.

He chose to do the opposite. I’ve had to chase him every week for my deposit. I’ve have to withhold my number on my phone for him to answer his. When we have spoken he’s done that really rather embarrassingly “you’re breaking up” thing. He’s blamed a fault on his Blackberry. He’s inadvertently asked for my sympathy because he’s “been really busy”. But he’s usually told me that he’d sort it “tomorrow”.

There have been lots of tomorrows. Each has stressed me out and made me feel more frustrated and angry than the one before. That has made the last couple of months even more difficult than they might already have been. Perhaps something disproportionate to the scale of the issue in normal life, but mindblowingly rage-inducing in mine.

In the end I had to introduce legal intervention to encourage this apparently insincere chap to deliver on his offer.

This is why I’ll never offer assistance to anyone in future unless I really mean it.

‘Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help, but don’t expect me to do it quickly or without drama, lies, excuses, technical issues or legal intervention’ somehow doesn’t have quite the same ring.

And introducing terms and conditions* just doesn’t smack of heartfelt support.

*Just a little small print from me. I write this with a smile on my face now because in resolving the issues I have resolved my own frustrations. But, fucking hell, there are some tossers out there.

23 comments on “meaning it

  1. Mitchell Kaye
    July 19, 2013

    Brilliant post
    In my head I’m holding him down while you punch him
    Or would it be the other way around
    Or would we both stand back and let someone taller step in?

      July 19, 2013

      He’s quite a big lad actually. I think we’d need a touch more support.

      • Greg
        July 24, 2013

        Happy to volunteer my assistance as a tall chap.

  2. Patti Hall
    July 19, 2013

    Sorry, but i had to laugh. Not at your frustrating situation, but at your small print. I like that you always tell it like it is.
    Good thoughts your way,

  3. Angela McKay
    July 19, 2013

    Well said!!!!!
    I’ve often helped others but when I’ve needed help they’re all toooooo busy!!!

    Onwards and upwards!!!

  4. Dee
    July 19, 2013

    I wholehearted agree, there are sooo many people in the “will always be there, for anything, any time” bridage who then put a invisibility cloak on & disappear totally before the dirt has setttled. But your last comment made me laugh out loud in the office. People, they just get you like that sometime’s!!!

  5. Cath
    July 19, 2013

    I can understand your frustration but it made me belly laugh too at how it easy the words roll off the tongue, a bit like, times a healer or God wouldnt give you the shoulders to carry the burden if He didnt think you could manage it… that one really pissed me off big place for God at that moment in my life ( no disrespect meant to those who have the gift of faith). xx

  6. Ruth Martin
    July 19, 2013

    I NEVER say it without meaning it… But I say it a lot, because I know how much the love and support of friends can be such a comfort at these times…

  7. Ruth Martin
    July 19, 2013

    I do think though, that ‘how are you?’ is almost MORE annoying… For many people, it’s just a way of saying hello, or pretending to care… They really don’t want to know!!!

  8. Bill Wright
    July 19, 2013

    I commend your restraint in the small print for not using more colourful language. In your position I might have busted out the dreaded C word….but then I am an original, born and bred South London boy! Northern folk are so much more polite than us, let’s hope that rubs off your little South London boy, Jackson!

  9. Celia Marszal Iannelli
    July 19, 2013

    I get it! Going into fourth month…and its like I have the widow-disease..I want to tell folks its not catchy…….Many flew away, or the quick how are you and move to another subject; some treat me differently, yet others (few) have stuck around……they are my friends….

  10. Alice
    July 19, 2013

    Ugh. Actually it was my agent not my landlord that was like this last year, thankfully the landlord actually stepped in and told them not to be tossers!

    A good addendum to this would be “never lend money with the expectation of getting it back”.

  11. ladawncp
    July 19, 2013

    this makes me smile…..thank you!

  12. Mary Mourad
    July 19, 2013

    Last time I called asking someone who said they’d do anything for help they eventually stopped responding to my calls! I realized then how much of our everyday chatter is just “etiquette” and sometimes lack of suitable wording, and has nothing to do with meaning it. i thought a lot about “rest in peace” and it made me wonder: who should be hoped to rest in peace now! Me or him? It should be wished to me …he must be resting in peace for sure by comparison to my resting in grief! No?

  13. Paul R
    July 19, 2013

    The one thing I stress to people who want to help someone in grief, is to make the offer concrete. Do not make it open ended, because if the person is like I was, the griever will never call. Instead of “call when you need something” say “I’m bringing dinner Tuesday at 5.”

  14. Sarah
    July 19, 2013

    I just recently found your blog and can relate in so many ways. My husband passed away suddenly last August while I was 5 months pregnant. I had to deal with the phone company who tried to tell me that I had to pay over $100 because my husband didn’t give 30 days notice of cancelling his contract. (I had to have it cancelled after his death since I had my own cell phone) I also had to deal with a landlord who attempted to refuse me to allow to hand in my 60 days notice to move out because my husband died on the 29th and I was in no condition to write a letter informing them of my intent to vacate on October 31st, until 8 days after the 1st of September. In the end both worked out in my favour.
    But I very much agree, a lot of the people that my husband and I were friends with, who offered help, support, etc. have basically disappeared from the face of the Earth. I’m not even angry about it anymore. Just very disappointed.

  15. Naomii Chaplain
    July 19, 2013

    What a tosser.
    I messaged you a rather cringe email after seeing you on BBC news in January and offered my help and time and person “removed” from your situ who can discuss grief, death and general mind fuck stuff ’til the cows come home – and I still mean it.

  16. marilynmonruaux
    July 19, 2013

    I agree totally with Paul R and will take his advice from now on. Next time a friend has a crisis I will say ‘Hang on, I’ll be right with you…’

  17. Michael Ada,s
    July 19, 2013

    “let me know if there’s ever anything I can do” A common one for sure. An easy way out. It;s the people that pitch up and come forward with ways of helping that are the true friends

  18. Ben Dyke
    July 19, 2013

    I think we all got some pain and frustration out with you in this blog! I remember Virgin Media charging me for breaking the contract on our TV/Phone/Broadband when I rang them and told them Hannah had died and had the contract put in my name instead of hers.

  19. John
    July 20, 2013

    With you every way on that one. I lost my partner to cancer a month after you lost your wife and have had to cancel her car insurance and other things, some were easy, some not. For those that were easy, I always thanked the person at the other end of the phone as generally they were very sympathetic and understanding. It’s just a pity that companies don’t make it easier at difficult times like that. After all, it’s not an uncommon occurrence now is it.

    And as for ‘I’ll keep in touch’ etc. Yeah, right. With one exception, who’s praise I cannot sing highly enough. They have been there whenever I have asked, they have talked with me, walked with me, sat with me, messaged me every day to make sure I’m okay, brought me lunch and generally been beside me every step of the way. They are, quite simply, the best friend I could ask for.

    And like the other poster who’s friends disappeared off the face of the earth, disappointed dot com. But then, maybe they’re not the people you thought they were.

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