A story of grief by a man and a boy

the boss

My last post received lots of really helpful comments about dealing with my son’s grief-related anger. So useful have they been, in fact, that he’s actually been much better today. And perhaps that’s because some of the advice I took on board has enabled me to be a fairer father to him. Someone suggested I look a what triggers his anger – usually not getting his own way about something seemingly trivial – and it made me think about how I might better respond to a situation as it simmers up rather than when it’s already boiling over. As a result I’ve been an altogether nicer dad today and he’s been an altogether nicer son.

But one comment that followed yesterday’s post stood out to me above all others. A young mum who lost her husband admitted something that many others might find too hard to accept: that her husband’s death hadn’t only taken her child’s father but that it had left her mentally absent as a mother too. I feel the same. My son’s also lost a big part of me. And I find it safe to assume that he’s grieving not just the person he lost when his mummy was killed but also the personality that disappeared from his daddy as a result.

I guess I’d already admitted this I myself when I wrote this poem earlier in the year:

Half the patience,
Half the fuse,
Half the parent,
Half enthused.

Half a man,
Half a boy,
Half the home,
Half the joy.

Half the time,
Twice the toil.
Twice the effort,
Half the spoil.

Half the father,
Half the son,
Half the future,
Half the fun.

Half the memory,
Half the drive.
Half dead,
Half alive.

Glass half empty,
Glass half full,
Sometimes vibrant,
Mostly dull.

Wholly wanting to feel whole again.
Wholly living with a hole within.

I’m less patient, less happy and less fun than I was before. I’m not angry by nature but I’ve realised that I’ve become snappy and quick-tempered since Desreen died. At the very best of times it’s hard not to snap back when someone snaps at you, even if you know that you should probably try to act like the bigger person. It’s harder still when times aren’t good and when you’re constantly on the brink of breaking. But when you actually are the bigger person it’s probably a time to cut some slack. I mean, if I was sat smoking a joint whilst I told my son never to take drugs I’d gladly take to the stage to accept my Hypocrite of the Year award. And yet I expect my son to stop shouting at me when I shout at him. It suddenly doesn’t make sense.

I see many a friend’s child brought into submission by a raised voice or a sternly pointed finger. Not my son though. He serves no one. Most days he tells me that he’s the boss so I’ve given up on trying to be seen to be the one who’s in charge. A chief executive can’t run a company alone though. And more often than not it’s the CEO’s PA who does all the work. So I’ll be delighted if I can help him to implement his vision for a happier, less fractious life. I’m going to try to support his leadership with the gentle art of persuasion rather than positioning myself as a second iron-spooned cook around an already too small broth pot. I’m going to attempt to be the diplomat even when he wishes to be the warmonger. And if Jackson wants to take all the credit at the end for ‘his’ successful peacetime strategy then that’s more than fine by me. He is ‘the boss’ after all.

The boss, apparently

The boss, apparently

15 comments on “the boss

  1. Tracey
    September 26, 2013

    Wow what a gorgeous poem. So heartfelt, so touching. Jackson will find his way, he’s angry, hurting and needs someone to lash out at. It’s hard enough for an adult, how is a child supposed to rationalise their emotions? I wish you both peace and happiness beyond measure. Tracey

  2. Curving Toward Joy
    September 26, 2013

    Perfectly said. Sounds like a great plan moving forward. I saw that comment and had to question myself: Is my daughter getting the same mother now that she would’ve gotten had my husband not died? It’s an interesting question, because of course I’ve changed — his death is now part of my life.

  3. Jenni
    September 26, 2013

    I cannot begin to imagine the impact of losing your wife and mummy for both of you. However, having read both your posts I can identify with the meltdowns and the parental response. My boy is 4 and lives just with me as he always has done, 7 days a week and sometimes it is hard for both of us. Full time school has introduced some epic meltdowns in him and some alcohol / headbanging desires in me. I have also realised that sometimes it is looking in the mirrror. The asking a question 3 times before a response is forthcomingis not so different to my absentminded “maybes” or half listening when I multitask. As you say we tell them “don’t shout at me” forgetting we raise voices in anger. I think what I am trying to say is single parenthood is bloody hard for anyone without loss, and grief on top. Be patient with yourself and Jackson.

  4. Ruth
    September 26, 2013

    I wish my son has this emotion. At the hospital, I was asked ‘does anyone want to see David’, my son said ‘yes’. He told me that he wanted to see dad on his own.

    He saw dad, dad was dead, he said goodbye and life moves on. His own words.

  5. Violet
    September 26, 2013

    What I am about to say might sound crap to you, but it might work for Jackson.
    Years ago, my Aunt adopted a child who had an extremely bad start in life. My Aunt told my Mam that on recommendation from Q’s psychologist, that if Q was ever Sad, Mad or Bad, the adult in charge was to go up to her, and put their arms around her and quietly wither swaddle her and hold her tightly or just hold her tightly, and offer no recriminations or explanations until Q felt and acted calmer. That way Q couldn’t hurt herself or others, and felt secure and only then could they talk through Q’s feelings. Apparently it is a throwback to how you feel secure in the womb. I don’t know if this would work with Jackson, but it got Q through a lot of tough times and I used this process with my own children too.

  6. menelikcharles
    September 26, 2013


  7. menelikcharles
    September 26, 2013

    Many Rivers To Cross….Jimmy Cliff…check it out.

  8. Judy
    September 26, 2013

    I have never suffered the same kind of loss you have, but I will tell you what I have told my children (now mostly grown)- I did the best I could with the information I had at the time and never forget that I love you…

  9. menelikcharles
    September 26, 2013

    Many rivers to cross

    But I can’t seem to find my way over
    Wandering I am lost
    As I travel along the white cliffs of Dover

    Many rivers to cross

    And it’s only my will that keeps me alive
    I’ve been licked, washed up for years
    And I merely survive because of my pride

    And this loneliness won’t leave me alone
    It’s such a drag to be on your own
    My woman left me and she didn’t say why
    Well, I guess I’ll have to cry

    Many rivers to cross

    But just where to begin I’m playing for time
    There have been times I find myself
    Thinking of committing some dreadful crime

    Yes, I’ve got many rivers to cross
    But I can’t seem to find my way over
    Wandering, I am lost
    As I travel along the white cliffs of Dover

    Yes, I’ve got many rivers to cross
    And I merely survive because of my will…

  10. menelikcharles
    September 26, 2013

    Sometimes a melancholy lyric says it best…

  11. Diana
    September 27, 2013

    The loss of loved ones does take a toll, unfortunately it changes you for ever. I lost my mom to cancer in February and my father to a stroke in November 2011. Today I am different person altogether in a not so good way. I look in the mirror and I can barely recognise myself. I suppose Jackson to begin with is struggling with his personal loss firstly of his mommy and then you being a different person. Things have changed around him and its abit much to process, understand then deal with. It will take a while for both of you, baby steps is what you both will need. Somedays you’ll feel like you have walked a mile but others will feel like you are right back where you started from. In the end somehow you’ll find some peace.

  12. chaim silver
    September 27, 2013

    i lost my wife 5 1/2 years ago to a hijack. i was married for 45 years. at first i was stunned out of my mind. but then i thought a bit. i decided to go forward and live my life to the full. if i could turn the clock back, i would be wearing a younger man’s clothes.

  13. Fiona Lockhart-Ball
    September 27, 2013

    It is awful when you realise you are not being the parent you so desperately want to be. I am lucky that I have not suffered a loss as awful as yours but I suffered from bad post natal depression and can relate to the feelings you are describing. But my health visitor gave me some wonderful advice. She told me that sometimes I needed to cut myself some slack. That I was stuck on a bad situation that I hadn’t asked for and couldn’t control. That sometimes it would be unbearable and that when I got better and back to my ‘normal’ self I would probably struggle with the guilt of remembering when I wasn’t the best Mum in the world. But she said that I should look at my son and see that he was fighting for us to get through this as much as I was and that together we would find a way. She was right. Sometimes just getting through the next minute will be tough for both of you but together you will do it, your bond is too strong to fail.

  14. Jo
    September 28, 2013

    Enjoy your joint Ben, you deserve it!
    Your poem made me cry, what really hit my heart was the realism that, it is only a quarter of parenting; patience, tolerance, love, energy and mental energy is given to my 3 year old and 8mth old. They lost there hands on father as well as half of me, now they are left with a quarter of parenting while I’m grieving and trying to run a business, household and my socializing is taking a back seat to my children. I’ve decided I need to do something for me in order to be a better parent and person, so I’m training for the Bondi to bronte swim in sydney. I love swimming I feel free and alive and motivated. Which is ironic because this is how my husband lost his life. I’m going to enjoy a glass of wine now.

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