A story of grief by a man and a boy

fading butterflies

Some months after my wife died I realised that my son needed the sort of attention and affection that I wasn’t going to be able to provide whilst working full-time, so I resigned from my job to be with him. Not wanting to cause further disruption to his progress and development, however, I decided that he should continue to attend nursery a couple of days a week. On our days apart I would write and catch up on grown-up stuff.

Despite giving up my salary my decision appeared to pay off. Financial incentives made way for emotional rewards; I’m positive that we have grown happier together than we ever could have done apart. But I now also realise how important it was for me to find something other than childcare to occupy my mind. Without another focus I think that making the shift from having a consuming career to becoming a stay-at-home dad would probably have been too great a shock to my system. Writing filled the void left by my absence of work.

Two weeks ago I made my very final amends to a book that I wrote during (and about) the twelve months that followed Desreen’s death. My publisher sent a courier to collect my marked pages two days later and I then realised that, for the first time since leaving university in 2001, I was truly unemployed. Despite the horrific circumstances that led me to the position I now find myself in with my son, I’m as fulfilled a full-time father as I could hope to be. And yet it didn’t take me long to feel a little empty and discontented during the hours Jackson spent away from home. It wasn’t long before I made the decision to try my hand as a freelancer and fill the days he spent at play with some sort of work. Without realising it at the time, I’ve suddenly registered that this decision must have been really quite significant for me. It must mean that I feel ready to make a leap. It must mean that I can see a future that doesn’t involve trying to get back to my past. It must mean that the lethargy, disinterest and disengagement I’ve been feeling about almost everything for so long has shifted and made way for something altogether more motivating, stimulating and new. And I should probably feel good about the progress I appear to have made but, really, I don’t. In fact I feel something else entirely.

On the face of it this week has been really quite good: Jackson has been happy; I’ve found work; and I’ve had positive news, which, in normal life, would thrill me. But instead I’ve had this spasmodic feeling in my stomach, which, until now, I’ve found hard to define. After giving it much thought and identifying the sensation’s trigger as a kind of excitement driven by achievement, I realised that the feeling is a lot like butterflies – only not that good. These butterflies are definitely there but they don’t seem to have much life left in them. I can feel them flutter but only with the reflex of something that is fading quickly. They are many in number but instead of feeling light, excitable and invigorating, they keep weighing me down. They appear to be a morbid reminder of grief’s presence at times when it would be nice just to be able to feel good.

It would be nice to feel many things, though. It would be nice to feel the same sense of joy from life as I once did. It would be nice to feel some sort of satisfaction from the things I do once in a while. It would be nice to feel at peace. But maybe it’s just too soon to expect any kind of monumental metamorphosis. Perhaps I just need to remind myself that whatever progress I’m slowly making within grief’s stifling cocoon, it’s as much as I can hope for right now.

8 comments on “fading butterflies

  1. Alan
    February 9, 2014

    At your stage of grief I realised that my ‘job’ was my children, I did the same as you and gave up work to be the security my 3 children needed when my wife past away. At 31 it was a shock. After 2 years of the grief cocoon I went back to education to fulfill my needs of being someone. I now run my own consultancy 10 years on after studying psychology, to help me and my children understand what we were going through. I didn’t have a plan I trusted that the universe after giving me shit to deal with in making me a widower and loosing the love if my life would eventually provide something positive. It has happened and I am on a new path with children that are secure. I suppose that I’m saying, what you are doing is for now and acceptance of that will help you find a new path. Hopefully to love and happiness again. Carry on being strong. From a man with a scar on his heart that understands your grief.

  2. Ruthie
    February 9, 2014

    I have spent this afternoon with a close friend whom lost her life partner at Christmas, just days after we lost our baby.
    Your writing really moves me and I heard something beautiful this evening when I was watching ‘Call the Midwife’ (which moves me to tears every week… ) which I wanted to share with you.. “Life will get easier. You have to carry on living until you feel truly ‘alive’ again.”
    There are no rules about grief. That’s what I find so hard. I need a book sometimes that tells me what to ‘do’. But there is no ‘doing’. Just accepting.
    However there are expectations that we all have of ourselves and, those perceived expectations that we believe others have of us I think. That’s tough too.
    You’ve achieved so much in such a short time and from what I can see, you are a fantastic father whom has made some very selfless decisions which do mean that there are sacrifices and a ‘not knowing’ what comes next can throw alot in to question. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. It’s just time for reevaluation maybe.
    Sometimes a space and a void can be overwhelming and especially after ending something like your book or a project that really ‘took’ something to complete. However, as Alan says above, I believe that the universe (whatever that force is.. I’m not religious per se) takes care of us.
    I was advised to listen and wait for inspiration. It does come but I can so relate to your butterflies! It’s a slightly numb, empty echo of a feeling that feels somewhat displaced. You know what it does feel like but that feeling is far away. I have no doubt it will come back though.
    Follow your heart and your intuition and the rest will come in time, through connection with people I expect. You have a gift that’s helping many already. Here’s to your book becoming a best seller!!! I am looking forward to reading it. x

  3. Jeff Threlfall
    February 16, 2014

    Thanks for you post. I am in my late 30s and the one year anniversary of my wife’s passing is February 28th. Like yourself, I have been jobless the past year and become a full time father. But what is next? The rest of my life is a long long time to continue looking at the shadows. I am hoping to gain the courage to get back into writing myself, being a former TV news producer. The sorrow keeps getting worse and worse the past few weeks. I am really starting to worry about myself. Anyways, thanks for helping confirm that I am not alone.

  4. colin
    February 16, 2014

    to ruthie and all the other people who are lost in their overbearing grief of the loss of a loved one .I too lost the love of my life in june 2012 after a long battle with cancer . my wife was 43 we had been together 24 years .I have two lovely children a lad of 17 and a daughter of 13 i,ve been through some really dark days trying to do my best bringing up the kids and working and I too know there are no rules on grief but there is a book i,ve read that has changed my life .The grief recovery handbook by John w James and Russel Friedman .Please to every one out there who is suffering the loss of a loved one read this book . Good luck to all and stay strong

  5. Wellbeing London
    February 18, 2014

    My wish for you would be that, amongst all the other amazing feelings, experiences and things you may have, you once again find peace. All the best. Your blogs are great and congratulations on the book. It’s gonna be a mega success, I’m sure. Keep shining your light and inspiring others.

  6. delia
    April 26, 2014

    You write so beautifully, I cried for 6 months everyday after the loss of my loved one. The last paragraph resonates with me, to just take each day little by little and be proud of every small accomplishment (I know this is difficult) and to always do good in life and seek gratitude. I never feel joy or happiness either, but I am grateful and I think that in itself is just enough.Stay strong.

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