A story of grief by a man and a boy
I’m growing accustomed to – if entirely frustrated with – the crashing lows I suffer as a result of experiencing more upbeat times. Sometimes I’m actually tempted not to bother trying to seek any pleasure or respite from grief, but having a little boy to raise makes me realise that I really must. He deserves a happy life and I understand that I have a fundamental role to play in helping build that with him. Others can assist, too, but I have to be willing to let them. And that’s why I decided to start accepting some of the invitations to get away with Jackson, which I frequently receive from the people I love.
Over the last few days we’ve holidayed with friends and family and it has been great. I’ve been able to catch up with my best mates, my brother and my sister-in-law, and Jackson has bonded with other kids: his little pal, Albie, and his cousins, Reuben and Willow. My son’s once overwhelmingly evident distress at being away from home seemed to have gone; his discomfort in the hands of other kids’ mums little more than a bad memory. He has been playful, cheerful and contented, and I, for the most part, have, too. And yet the buoyancy I feel from this kind of pleasure one day usually leaves me drowning in grief the next. My body feels heavier, my mind conflicted and my mood dark.
I think that the infinite nature of death dawns on me most when I’m in company. Spending time with other couples seems to accentuate my status as a widower. I enjoy our time together but ultimately they go back to their lives with their partners and I return to my home without mine. Being in the company of other parents and their children can also hurt. I love watching my nieces and nephews and my friends’ kids develop and grow, but it often stings me, too: the times when they reach out for their mums and they are there, the moments when their dads can’t seem to offer the solace they need. Their progressive stages from infant years to almost adult age make the realisation that I will experience all of the phases of my son’s childhood and adolescence without his mum all the more acute. Parenting alone can be a very lonely business at times.
A few weeks ago a friend and I were speaking about the birth of his second daughter. I asked how tired he was from having a toddler and a baby to take care of. He seemed to take it in his stride: ‘The days are long but the years are short,’ he mused. This sentiment really touched me. It made me realise how precious the time I have with my son really is. But in practice this week made me feel differently again. Spending time with children years older than Jackson reminded me just how much of his childhood there is still to come. As a father I am delighted and quite unphased by this thought, and I already want the clock to slow down because I feel as though my son is growing up so fast. And yet I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that I am more than just a dad. And when I take another look at myself as a bereaved husband, I realise that the time that appears to be going by so quickly also all too often appears to stand completely still.