A story of grief by a man and a boy

truly privileged

I took on a train journey with my son yesterday. It sounds like a simple, everyday kind of thing to do and it was once. But some things that used to be habitual and unremarkable have sadly become complex, anxiety-inducing, psychological issues. Without realising why until today, over the last few days I’ve actually made myself ill and overwhelmingly emotional just at the thought of getting a train from A to B. I’m 34 years old, I’ve been on more planes and trains than I can even remember, and yet I now find myself reduced to a state of panic at the thought of travelling on public transport. And I’m not even a snob; I don’t even own a car. And what’s really hard is that I can’t pinpoint what makes me grow so worried about journeys like these. I can’t decide if it’s because I’m leaving home behind, whether it’s because that makes me feel more distant from my wife, if I’m concerned that Jackson won’t behave or because I know that when I get back home it’ll be as a sad a place as when I left. But the mental torture and anguish crushes me whatever the case.

One thing I do know, however, is that these days the problem is rarely my son. We get on the train, play and read together, eat cake and get some time without anyone else around, and it’s fun. We chat, we laugh, we pull funny faces, and it’s a pleasure to be together. In fact it’s often very much like it used to be before Desreen died: I’d get on a bus or a train and people would remark about what a good and striking little boy my son was, and I’d beam with pride. But when she died that all changed: he’d shout at people for no immediately apparent reason, he’d get angry if a young woman took the seat next to me on the bus, and he’d throw things from his pushchair if people he didn’t like the look of seemed to like the look of him. It was a stressful and painful time and it often still is.

Yesterday was different though. I took Jackson on quite a long train journey and he was a joy. It wasn’t long until he stood up on his seat and introduced himself to an old man sitting right behind him. ‘This is Thomas!’ he exclaimed, waving his favourite toy train at his new friend. The gentlemen knew Thomas well. And Gordon and Percy and James and Edward. He seemed to know all of the story lines to all of the old episodes voiced by Ringo Starr, but none of the new characters that are regularly introduced to keep me out of pocket. So before too long Jackson had abandoned me in favour of his new pal. He introduced him to Bash, Dash and Belle and handed him a story book that he was invited to read. I was so moved to see Jackson happy in the company of someone he might well have wanted to bite only a few months ago.

It turned out this man had two adult daughters who, as children, shared my son’s passion for Thomas and his locomotive friends. The eldest was about to give birth to his first grandchild. The excitement in his eyes at meeting Jackson reminded me of when I used to see pregnant women on the tube when my wife was expecting. I so badly wanted to say I’m having one too before reminding myself that it’s just not acceptable to talk to a stranger – pregnant or not – on the London Underground. But two northerners sitting on a train together have different rules; we can talk.

When the man arrived at his destination, he said goodbye to Jackson with a broad smile and then turned to me bid me farewell. ‘What a privilege it is to have such a lovely boy’, he said. And with that he was gone.

What a privilege it really is, I thought. It’s bloody hard work, it crushes me that he’ll grow up without his mum and that I’ll grow up without my wife, but it truly is a privilege to be a parent. And it truly is a privilege to be the father of such of wonderful child, who is such an absolute reflection of his truly wonderful mother.

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7 comments on “truly privileged

  1. lottiesc
    November 14, 2013

    Yes was a privilege our children really are and how absolutely wonderful it is to see them as the reflection of their mother/father that no longer is around. To see my boys grow up is the most wonderful and heart breaking thing I can think of and also the toughest job I could ever apply for and they do make me – and would have made their father – so, so proud in amongst it all.

    Once again Ben – remember how much you give for you and Jackson to have what you have and be proud of your son AND so proud of yourself too!!

  2. Kathy Hughes
    November 14, 2013

    I had accident 3 years ago and could not cannot explain how much it changed me. I do not travel away from home now although I used to travel the world.thatnis until my daughter was sick and needed me, she is 24 but still my little girl. Your son will lead you through your unexplained anxieties he will help you heal. Together you will grow. Xxxx

  3. Nicola Lamb Murray
    November 14, 2013

    amazing x

  4. Felicity Wilson
    November 14, 2013

    Many years ago, a friend took her unruly son to see a psychologist. It was suggested to her that she viewed rearing her son as an investment. An investment that some days didn’t pay dividends!

  5. Ana D
    November 14, 2013

    Ben, your posts never fail to move me to tears.
    Continued blessings to you and Jackson.

  6. Caroline
    November 14, 2013

    From experience, the travel issue you talk about may be linked to control. You had you life turned upside down, and had no control whatsoever over the events that unfolded or the consequences afterwards. By staying close to home, in your comfort zone, you are able to avoid any unforeseen events that may cause disaster. In that way you are more able to cope with what you are in control of. So glad you enjoyed the journey though they are so nostalgic xxxx

  7. Lunar Hine
    November 14, 2013

    ‘I’ll grow up without my wife.’ I’m 35 and, especially since my husband died 18 months ago, I’ve been so invested in being the parent and the grown up that I’d forgotten I’m still growing up too. Maybe I’ll give myself less of a hard time now. Thanks Ben, your posts are always worth reading and always resonate.

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