A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
This is a very inspiring and moving guest post by Ryan Doubleday, a child bereavement support worker at the charity Nelson’s Journey.
I am sitting at my desk, reading probably the most incredible letter I have ever received. The words on the page are dancing around me, my eyes faltering because I cannot comprehend what I am reading.
‘You inspired me, and I’m not afraid to be myself anymore. It really has hit me that people care about my well-being and it’s all thanks to you.’
These words were written by a 14-year-old girl who I supported following the death of her brother. She wrote this letter after attending a therapeutic residential weekend, which the charity I work for – Nelson’s Journey – organise for bereaved children and young people. I am fortunate and privileged to have got to know this girl and hundreds more children in a similar position to her. I have been able to help them, in some small way, through the hardest thing they may ever experience – the death of someone they love. I feel lucky to have witnessed the drastic positive change in this girl. She is the inspiring one.
I look around my desk, at pictures of my gorgeous wife, Annie, my cuter than cute nine-month-old daughter, Indie, and a business card that reads: Nelson’s Journey, Bringing back smiles to bereaved children, Ryan Doubleday, Child Bereavement Support Worker. I laugh to myself at how things have finally fallen into place – a family, and a career helping people. I feel proud of who I am.
This feeling makes me feel warm, mainly because my journey to get here was cold and bleak. At times it was a vicious mountain climb and I could have plummeted off the edge at any moment. My mind wanders back to that oppressive mountain, to the weight on my shoulders, to the eyes of others constantly on me, to their expectations of how I am supposed to act. A 15-year-old me who is lost, sitting in a classroom, bursting with anger, uncertainty, insecurity and fear. My head feels heavier than a thousand bricks. A bit at a time I release the weight and pain from my head and from my heart onto the page, the ink re-writes the messed up thoughts in my head. The teacher doesn’t notice or doesn’t care or perhaps just feels sorry for me. It doesn’t matter which. No teacher nor doctor nor well-meaning friend can unburden me. For now poetry is my release. I look down at the tear stained page:
It was about this time, just last year,
It felt like the end was drawing near,
I was faced with the most frightening fear,
Losing the only person who was always here.
She’d been there for me, all my life,
Losing her felt like grabbing a knife,
And slipping it slowly into my heart,
Anything’s better than being apart.
She used to laugh and smile and cheer me on,
I don’t know what I’ll do when she’s gone,
I was sitting by her bed, hearing her moan,
Already I began to feel depressed and alone.
It still hurts me, when I hear her name,
Sometimes I wish I had someone to blame,
Sometimes it brings a tear to my eye,
The question still on my mind, why,why,why?
Three years prior to this I had been told that my dad was going to die. He had cancer and he was going to live for two years maximum. The ridiculous irony that he had raised tens of thousands of pounds for cancer research by running countless marathons is one of life’s cruel tricks. I, along with my brothers and sister, had been told to spend as much time with our dad as possible as he wouldn’t be with us much longer. None of us expected our mum to get cancer and die before him. ‘Fuck you cancer’ – blame the 15-year-old old me for that, he always was a potty mouth.
Two years to the day after my magnificent mother died, my dad joined her. I am not overly spiritual, in fact I openly admit that I believe there is something but I am unsure what it is. However, I cannot help but think that the very fact that my father died at the same time of day, on the same day, in the same hospice and in the very same room (his choice to feel closer to my mum), means they may have been reunited. I am troubled at times with memories and at others comforted by them. Some memories have dwindled, others stay vivid – some good, some bad. I feel to truly remember someone, it means remembering the good and the bad things. I don’t profess my father was the fairest or best father in the world. I have been guilty for years of putting him up on a pedestal since his death. But you know what? He wasn’t perfect but he was my old man. My mum on the other hand, I will not hear a bad word uttered about her. The prerogative of a mummy’s boy!
The day my stunning wife and I got married in Mauritius four years ago, there was a rainbow in the sky. We were informed that locally it is believed that if there is a rainbow on your wedding day, it is a blessing from your deceased loved ones. It was actually a double rainbow or Doubleday rainbow if you will.
So why do I do the job I do? Am I fighting a cause to get bereaved youngsters the support I never had? To a certain extent yes. Part of my fight is to get schools, other professionals, parents and even society to stop writing off bereaved children, to stop feeling sorry for them and open their eyes to the bravery, courage and resilience that I see in these young people every day. If we believe in children and teenagers when they are losing belief in themselves, we can improve their self esteem and give them the best possible opportunity to stick their fingers up at all the cruel situations life is throwing at them. We can’t climb their mountain for them, but I for one will be manning a water stop along the way to ensure they have the best chance of overcoming any climb.
Does the pain ever cease? No, not entirely but it does become manageable. Do I wish my parents were alive? That I could hold them, that they could hold me, that the family portrait I hold dear of Annie, Indie and me had my creators standing proudly behind us? Of course, but unfortunately this is the reality of loss. We are born, we live and we die.
My bereavement experiences will not define who I am – I am me. I am a man who loves his family, cares for his friends, is proud to be a part of a fantastic cause and, even though death is inevitable, it’s life I am interested in.
A 12-year-old old boy asked me recently, ‘Ryan, are we born to die?’ My answer was simple. ‘I don’t think so, I think we are born to live, and dying is what happens when that’s finished.’
Read more about Nelson’s Journey here: http://www.nelsonsjourney.org.uk