Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

distant friends

I got a call from a friend on Friday who was phoning to let me know that an ex-colleague of ours had died. The last time I ever heard from her was when she wrote me a letter after my wife was killed in November 2012. By then her health had been suffering for a while but she still she took the time to get in touch and offer her condolences. She was a genuinely lovely woman: kind, warm, welcoming and really quite exceptionally good fun. Try as I might, I simply can’t summon a memory of her with anything other than a smile on her face; I just remember laughing every time we spoke. She had a memorable manner and it’s lovely to be able to recall a person who always seemed so upbeat.

I, on the other hand, have felt really low since finding out about her death. We didn’t know each other especially well, but over the years I’ve learned that you don’t always need to be very close to a loss to feel its impact. I think that sometimes the effect it has on a person has a lot more to do with their own state of mind at the time. Last night I realised that it was the empathy I feel for her husband and children that pains me most. Perhaps at a time like this, when someone we know dies, we should be grateful for what we have and keep those we love close, but I don’t think it’s always as easy as that. I’ve noticed that my mood has changed dramatically since Friday. I’ve been more reflective, introspective, irritable and short-tempered than I have been in some time. I’ve not been good company for my son at all. I haven’t wanted to play and I’ve been snappy at his slightest display of protest, which has made me every toddler’s idea of a complete waste of space.

In being touched by this slightly distant loss, it occurred to me that this is how I behaved for months (if not the best part of a year) after my wife, Desreen, died. Since finding out about this distant friend’s death, I haven’t just felt sad for the people I know must be suffering right now, but I’ve also felt bad for my son. Over the weekend I got a concentrated snapshot of what I must have been like to live with for so long after Desreen’s death. It made me feel so terrible to consciously witness what our little boy must have gone through in my company for all of that time.

I think it’s this sort of observation about how grief can be that makes it so complicated, perhaps especially socially. Over the years I have heard people imply that some don’t deserve to grieve a person’s death unless they knew them well in life, but it’s not always that straightforward. Sometimes a loss can awaken feelings that we thought we had put to bed; sometimes a death can breathe life into dormant feelings we didn’t even know we had buried somewhere deep down. Personally, I also find that many of the clichés that get rattled off at a time like this only serve to make me feel worse. No amount of ‘counting my lucky stars’ or attempting to ‘live every day as if it’s my last’ could stop from feeling the feelings I’m feeling right now. And that, I believe, is because human beings do not really control grief. Perhaps we can manage it, but so far I’ve found neither a switch to turn grief on or off, nor a dial to allow me to turn it up or down depending on how well I knew the person who has gone. There are too many personal factors involved for anyone else to be able to dictate how another individual should or shouldn’t feel when someone dies.

Today I’m just telling myself that I have to just go through every experience that comes my way, face it, feel it, try to learn from it and then continue to carry on the best I know how. I haven’t chosen to act like a miserable bugger since hearing that an old friend died last week and I would much rather not be grouchy around my son, but I tend to find it difficult to snap out of feelings that have completely taken over my mind. I think that if I had found a way to do that I might have stopped writing this blog the day after I started.

8 comments on “distant friends

  1. Emily
    January 13, 2014

    It’s very sad Ben. As you say she was such a warm, likeable character – and was part of a magical, exciting time in all our lives. I hadn’t seen her for a long time, but do feel very sad just knowing that she’s not around anymore. And if I feel sad, from such a distance, I can’t imagine how losing her must be for her husband and kids. Lovely to hear your nice words about her. x

  2. makemeadiva
    January 13, 2014

    I think it’s ok to show children a range of emotions. We adults tend to judge the painful ones as negative – I’m not sure children do (in others) quite so much as us. I think you are right to feel as they arise; they say what we resist, persists. Far better a sad father now than keeping a lid on a pressure cooker for later? Sorry for the loss. Any loss is sad.

  3. koolkreationsblog
    January 13, 2014

    Hi Ben, we all deal with grief and loss in our lives differently. My way of defense, the wall, is humour. Not that I’m making light of anyone’s situation, or mine, just that we shed so many tears sometimes we need to realise you don’t have to feel guilty when you laugh. I know my way is not appreciated by all and I think I may have upset you with it but that’s me. My fault is that sometimes the situation doesnt need humour but empathy. But again that can also be overbearing hence again why I try to make people laugh.  Although he is so young Jackson knows you’re hurting just like he is, and when he is older he will read your book and make a clearer understanding about everything. Don’t beat yourself up sir, we can’t be superman everyday. Regards always Karl

    Sent from Samsung Mobile

  4. Sarah Pointer
    January 13, 2014

    I have been reflecting a lot lately on my first year, especially how my kids have come through it. They are loving, warm, mainly steady and very funny and I have been wondering how with the year we have had and the times they have seen me cry. But two things struck me. Firstly, they know through my pain how much I love/loved their dad. Secondly, so many people stepped forward with their love and support in the first few months that I think it plugged a hole when I was beside myself. So don’t be too hard on yourself, we are only human. I am sorry for the loss of your friend. X

  5. Kim Dwr
    January 13, 2014

    Ben I’ve felt exactly the same since hearing the news. I was a mess on Friday and so short tempered with my kids. I hadn’t seen chandree for so long but had that feeling of it only being yesterday. I knew I had no right to be so upset – god I didn’t even know she was ill – but I weirdly always regarded chandree as a good friend – even if we’ve only seen each other a few times since red days. People were saying that at times like this ‘you need to appreciate what you’ve got’ and whilst I knew I should have been showering my boys with kisses and cuddles I too was just irritable with them and couldn’t give them my time. So even when you know how you should be acting you simply can’t help how you feel. Anyway lots of love x

  6. Ben Dyke
    January 13, 2014

    Ben, as with all your blogs, I can relate directly as to how losses affected me in very different ways after experiencing THE loss, which was for me my wife. A few weeks after my wife, her dad also died and then in that same year I also lost an auntie, a good friend died (whose children were in classes with my kids) and then finally a child in my sons class died. Prior to Hannah’s death I wouldnt have been affected so deeply but following on from losing Hannah it broke me to know what others would be experiencing and took me on all sorts of unexpected emotional ‘journeys’! Grief is a wierd animal that cant be tamed in my experience – you are better to just run with it, not worry what people think and deal with it all in a way that seems to fit you.

  7. Greet Grief
    January 14, 2014

    I believe that each subsequent loss after our worst loss, makes us revisit the feelings we need to investigate more deeply and the things that were left undone when our grief was fresh. But those that do their griefwork benefit and those that unravel the “knot” can weave yet another life…

    January 19, 2014

    I lost a beloved cherished wife on Christmas Day2012 after being together for seventy blissfull years
    I am still devastated
    I wrote this poem.



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