A story of grief by a man and a boy

nativity play

One of the things I really struggle with as a widowed dad raising a toddler alone is that I find myself constantly questioning what my son’s behaviour would be like if his mum were still alive. Take this evening, which was his nursery’s Christmas play, as an example. When we arrived he went straight to one of the carers to have a hat placed on his head to assume his role as a star in the nativity. He seemed a little coy as he walked into the church hall filled with other children and parents, so I offered to come to the front of the room with him and join in with the play. He took my hand but I could sense that he wasn’t keen to participate. First he removed his star, then off came the bobble he’d be given to tie his hair back, and then came the temper, which suggested to me that it was game over. I knew there was no way he was going to take part; I know exactly when my son has passed his point of no return.

It doesn’t really trouble me if Jackson goes through life without attempting to play to a crowd, because I know that his mum and I were both exactly the same as children. I am troubled, however, by the questions that rush into my head when I see him in a situation that seems to be making him uncomfortable. While other smiling parents and grandparents watched tonight’s festivities unfold, I wondered if it was the fact that all the other kids’ mums were there that was making him irritable. I wondered if the situation was bringing back memories of this time last year, when we attended a similar service just five weeks after his mummy was killed. I wondered if perhaps I was pushing our son too hard by surrounding him with so many happy families at Christmas time. And then I wondered if was just overthinking everything; perhaps the fact that he’d spotted a huge pile of cakes on his way into the building meant that he couldn’t focus his mind on anything other than eating them. Perhaps grief didn’t come into it all for him; maybe it’s just my plaguing grief that makes me question everything.

Once I had Jackson settled and filled with more sugar than a child of his age can handle without going crazy, I turned my thoughts from what was going on in his head to what was going on in mine. I took a moment to consider how I felt about being there.

I felt happy to see all of the other kids having fun. I felt proud of my friends’ three-year-old daughter – Jackson’s best friend – for narrating the whole nativity play from memory to a stunned audience. I felt pleased for the other parents that they were able to enjoy the moment. I felt sad for Jackson that his mummy wasn’t there with him. I felt sad for my wife that she wasn’t there with him too. I felt sad for myself as well. I felt a bit out of place. I felt a bit like I wasn’t really there. I felt like I was in the scene in A Christmas Carol when Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present and taken to witness various joyous festive celebrations – but tonight my outlook felt bleak and weary like Ebenezer’s. I felt like I was looking back at the ghost of my own happy Christmas past. I felt gloomy about the spirit with which I’ll approach our Christmases yet to come.

As I stood at the sidelines holding my dejected child in my arms, I noticed one of the other dads beam at his son, who was singing to the audience, as the boy’s mum wiped a tear of pride from her eye. In that single moment I witnessed everything I expected early parenthood to be. And while others returned home with the warmth of Christmas in their hearts, I could focus on little else than the torturous questions tormenting my mind.

Perhaps Jackson wouldn’t have wanted to join in even if his mum had been there too. Perhaps all he wanted was to get his hands on the buffet. Perhaps he just doesn’t like getting up in front of a crowd. Perhaps I wouldn’t have given any of these things a second thought if grief had never come our way. But it has and I can tell you that it’s bloody hard work.

Catching a fallen star

Catching a fallen star

7 comments on “nativity play

  1. kristym809
    December 19, 2013

    I spoke someone today who went to their son’s first nativity and the minute he saw her he burst into tears and wouldn’t take part. And I’ve sat through endless school performances where usually gregarious children are stunned into nose picking, fidgeting silence by the bright lights and crowd.

    Being a parent is bloody hardwork and being a lone parent is approximately 1,000,000 times harder. But don’t forget you are an amazing parent and sometimes kids just “are”.

    Krusty xx

  2. Andy
    December 20, 2013

    Hi Ben,

    Can totally empathise with this…..My own nativity experience this week following a similar build up of mixed emotions cumilated in my boy full on falling asleep on stage whilst dressed in tights and tinsel as a little angel! The comedy of it i guess in the hope I get to pull his leg about later in life kind of took the edge of yet another difficult milestone.

    Broke up from work today too and have never felt so numb about the whole thing before. Like some kind of self punishment had the tune tune “driving home for Christmas” running round my head in the car on the way back. Reflecting back whilst i write this note perhaps i was day dreaming about what life could have and should have been like.

    As you well know this growing up fast as a widower and single parent lark is an extreme test of everything you’ve got. Based on what i know of you from your blogs your doing great caus you’ve got the lot.

    Stay strong and best wishes this Christmas,


  3. Jay
    December 20, 2013

    I guess we will always question whether our children’s behaviour is as a result of their loss. My kids are now 24 and 22, the youngest has spent more than half of her life without her Dad and the last 11 years have been a real challenge at times. I try not to dwell on the what if’s (not always easy) but focus on the fact that both of my children have grown into wonderful young adults with some amazing qualities. Neither are at all materialistic, they are kind and caring and have great empathy for their fellow human beings. I believe their loss has in a way given them an edge it terms of their relationships with others and how they view the world. Of course we would not choose for our children to lose a parent but it does make them very special people.

    Best wishes for Christmas Ben and Jackson.

  4. Kelly Innes (@domesticgoddesq)
    December 20, 2013

    To be honest I have a lot to learn from you. My kids are like Jackson: they didn’t want to take part but I made them. They won;t thank me for it. Jackson will thank you. Parenting is impossibly hard. You are doing an amazing job.

  5. KT
    December 20, 2013


    Keep baring your soul. You touch so many people’s lives. In a good way. You are ‘making a difference’. And that’s inspirational. Even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. Shine on.

  6. Annabelle Talbot
    December 21, 2013

    This year was the first time I attended Cleo’s Winter Concert at school alone (after finding a babysitter for my 2 yr old). As proud as I felt as she stood with the choir singing Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’, I eventually broke down in tears seeing all the proud daddies recording the event. It made me realise that just 3 months on, I am just not ready to be surrounded by happy families. On the other hand I can’t let my girls miss out on Christmas traditions just because mummy gets sad.

    I still have a huge mountain to climb but must put our girls before my grief. Daddy is watching over us and I must make him proud too. I promise him every day that I will do the best I can and always put them first.

    Best wishes over this difficult time Ben & Jackson. My thoughts are with you.

    Annabelle x

  7. Rachel
    December 23, 2013

    Fallen stars are the best, they have history, feelings, real lived experience, a story to tell and so much to give and share. Sometimes, they take a little more time to shine, sometimes they don’t shine for every occasion or when it’s expected but the twinkle and the glow is always there.
    Happy Christmas boys, sending lots of love. X

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