A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
When my wife first died late last year, one thing that really struck me was just how many presents our son received. Everyone was so generous but I couldn’t help but think about how confusing it must have been for him to have lost a mum and then to have suddenly gained so many toys. From the look on his face I wondered if he felt like he was getting a rough trade and a bum deal.
These days I don’t really care about material things. I’ve come to realise just how little they mean when what really matters has gone. Perhaps vacuum-packing hundreds of items of my wife’s belongings made me realise just how fleeting things can be.
I guess, if I’m honest with myself, I responded in much the same way. I’d go to Hamley’s to pick the very latest trains for his already huge collection thinking it was the right thing to do. But when I look back I wonder if I was just trying to temporarily escape from reality: I had a grieving child to care for but I needed a break and what better way to mask my flight than with a trip to a toy shop? I now realise that what he needed was for Daddy to couple up to him, not for Thomas to acquire more carriages.
In three weeks Jackson turns three years old, two weeks after his mummy should have turned 34. I imagine it’s going be a tough time. Last year we held a big party with lots of friends and family, a face painter, cards, cake and presents galore. Jackson spent the last hour sulking and skulking in the corner. He’s remarkably like Desreen and me when we were children – mostly sociable but secretly he hates a crowd and will disappear for some privacy or quiet time at the earliest opportunity. Since his mummy died he likes a party even less. I don’t think he’s a big fan of all the happy kids and present mums. He’s given me all the no-party-this-year-please signs that I need to know that over-indulging him is the wrong thing to do. So this year I’m stripping it right back. His birthday will be an intimate affair with just a handful of people who he sees all the time. I’ll learn how to make him a cake in the shape of a train and I’ll buy him a few things that I know he’ll love rather than a tower of gifts that will just leave him hungry for more. Personally I hate the way children respond to an excess of gifts the way dogs might their first taste of blood – it’s just no fun for anyone involved.
Doubtless I will still be asked what he’d like for his birthday, but the answer is pretty simple: nothing. He doesn’t actually realise it’s his birthday in three weeks. He doesn’t really get that he’s turning three and I don’t think he really gives a shit either. I mean, why would he? He’s already a ‘big boy’, apparently, and as soon as he realises that he’s three he’ll no doubt want to be four. He can also have cake whenever he want and he gets more gifts than most already, perhaps because giving material things is the easiest way for people to show they care.
But he’s got me for that and how much stuff can a three-year-old possibly need? I for one know that what he’s going to need more than any toy is attention, love, care, understanding and support throughout his childhood. And that’s why I’m running the London marathon next year. Instead of lining the coffers of the companies that can afford to buy advertising space on kids’ TV, I want to help fund a charity that can’t. I want to be able to use this charity in the future to support my son, knowing that I have also been able to support them in return. And I suspect that what he needs to get him back on track is emotional and psychological support, not more trains.
So if anyone who knows us well wants to buy Jackson a gift then there’s no need, I’ve got it covered. But if anyone wants to do anything to support him or other children who have lost a parent too soon, then here’s a link to sponsor the 26.2 miles that my friend Ben and I will run on 13th April next year for Grief Encounter.
That’s one long journey but then so is supporting a bereaved child through their grief. I’ve got a hell of a lot of training to do before I’m fit for purpose for the task ahead. And I’ve got some running to do too.