Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

the couch

I’ve started seeing a counsellor again. I first tried psychotherapy a couple of months after my wife was killed but it just didn’t work out. I suppose I had it my head that therapy fixed problems and so I resented my assigned therapist immediately. How the hell do you think you can make this situation better so soon? I thought as I looked at her from my chair. Fourteen months on, it’s clear to me that she actually didn’t.

It took a lot of soul-searching, time, experience and research before I realised that counselling isn’t really about remedy or resolution, at all. Of course it means different things to different people, and there are thousands of different types of psychotherapy to choose from, but this time I’ve opted for a kind that feels right for me right now. This time I think I know what I’m expecting from it, too. After all of these months I’ve finally figured out what it means to me.

It means unraveling my thoughts and feelings, and talking them through without judgement. It means giving myself time to focus on me without feeling selfish or self-indulgent. It means identifying how losing my wife is affecting me mentally and physically, so I can better understand why I am so frequently ill. And, increasingly, it means having a space in which to try to understand what I’m all about.

If I were reading this post as anyone but its author, I would probably have switched off at that last sentence. I think I would have judged its writer as excessively self-involved. Yet I don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed to open up about these thoughts and feelings because they are helping me to better understand why I’m so tortured by grief.

In this week’s session I identified something – or perhaps everything – that makes living with such a close and significant loss so oppressive: it’s the enormity of it. I’m slowly beginning to realise that becoming widowed doesn’t only mean that I’ve lost my wife. I’ve also lost the mother of my child. I’ve lost my best friend. I’ve lost my girlfriend. I’ve lost my housemate. I have no one to make long term plans with anymore. No one else really cares about the little things that we both loved. I have no one to talk meaningless, yet such significant, gibberish with. There will be no second child. There’s no looking forward to retirement or old age. I’ve no ambition for the future. The goals I had – that we had – have become redundant.

I am, of course, the person I was physically, but the personality that made me who I was mentally has completely changed. Ambition, focus, hard work, energy, drive, image and humour were important to me. And now? Well I just don’t really care. I don’t have any real professional or personal goals, and, oddly, I’m not even all that bothered. Maybe my focus has become not having any. I’m not particularly troubled by what people think of me, either. Whether people have something good or bad to say to or about me, I seem to remain fairly unmoved. So when I say that I no longer really know what I’m all about, it’s because I truly don’t. I know what I once was, but I’m not sure what I am right now or what I’m aiming to be in future.

This week I realised that it’s not just my wife I’ve lost but my own personal identity and any surety about what now makes me tick. Perhaps that sounds like bombastic claptrap taken straight from the couch, but I wonder if maybe you need to sit on it for a while for these sort of thoughts and feelings to start to make sense.

22 comments on “the couch

  1. makemeadiva
    March 13, 2014

    Meeting a soul mate changes us. Losing one changes us too, perhaps more. Finding who we now are amongst the wreckage of a life created jointly takes time. Therapy is one way to experience that time with another person and oneself. Good luck. Going back myself next week.

  2. Glenda Gaskell
    March 13, 2014

    Once again you have said it like it is.

  3. Lib572
    March 13, 2014

    A very moving post …I so wish you well

  4. Anne
    March 13, 2014

    Was it Henry Reed (I paraphrase) who said we are ‘the sum of all our experiences’? Your recent experience is so traumatic and overwhelming it must feel that is all you are, the left over shell. I believe you will always carry your wife within you and she will guide you to find strength when you are ready.

  5. Emily
    March 13, 2014

    Unravelling is so painful but will help so much to create some space for you.

    You need this space to be able to function, to be able to cope, to be able to accept, to be able to give…….to be able to live.

  6. handikwani02
    March 13, 2014

    When I had my own tragedy the one thing I wanted to do was to talk and express the frustration that was eating me inside. Like you say Ben that it was about unravelling your thoughts and feelings and being ale to talk through them.
    When I went for counselling, I was grateful thay my counsillor did not judge me but gave me the space to shout out my frustrationand anger, I remember sobbing for minutes on end because I did not know what I was about any more. I was pleased I did that because then I freed myself from pent up emotins which were going on inside.
    I wish that you will get to that point intime Ben that you will be free of all hese feelings which at this time are very fresh and alive and are part of you at the minute.
    all the best.

    March 13, 2014

    I have started counselling for the first time since I lost my husband in November 2012. At first it made a seeping wound a hell of a lot worse. But then it revealed to me I was just so bloody sad about the whole thing. Obvious I know but you don’t think to much about yourself when you have kids. Now,I do feel a shift of sorts. I know I am likely to sink back to the depths of despair in an instant but I also know that it is ok to let the sadness go. To hold onto the love I had and not the pain the loss of my love has caused. To enjoy things for what they are and not be in anguish for what they were. I sincerely hope you get something positive from it to if only for a moment as it is nice to know that feeling still exists x

  8. Bill Wright
    March 13, 2014

    I wish you well Ben, your rationale for and expectations of counseling chimed with mine. I’ve gone back to it myself after a break from it as I felt I wasn’t happy with how I was managing my grief. It’s been a great sense of release to have that space back to express myself.
    With regards to the apathy, I think it’s something that must afflict many of us at this stage, so much energy is expended just getting through the day. Nothing lasts forever, it could all come back in 1,3,5,10 years, who knows? I just know that I don’t look too far into the future anymore and try to live in the moment.

  9. Katie
    March 14, 2014

    I lost my mum in sept 2011 and initially i was set against the idea of antidepressants and counselling for a long time feeling i was a strong person therefore i didnt need them, i started going for reiki which was certainly helpful short term with regards relaxation but didnt have long lasting effects, my boys were 4 and 2 at the time so that all added to my stress, but it all came to a head last summer and in aug 2013 nrly 2 years after my mum had passed i finally admitted to myself that i couldnt do it on my own and started anti depressants and bereavement counselling at my local hospice. It was the best thing i couldve done, 7 mths on im feeling vaguely human again the sadness never goes but i feel better equipped to deal with it now and have started yoga, satayanga, one with lots of meditation and deep relaxation, last dec. it has given me space to breathe and take a step back from my grief i hope that your counselling gives you some space and would highly recommend yoga and meditation for calming and destressing mind, body and soul, with love n light to u n your beautiful boy xxx

  10. Kelly
    March 14, 2014

    Far from switching off after reading the last sentence, I wanted to read more. At almost the 3 year mark for me losing my partner in an accident I can recall a time when I felt emotionless, a big fat nothing about everything, the only goal I had for a while was to make sure it didnt effect the way my child grew up as they pick up on our cues very young, having a baby was the only reason to smile, to get up everyday. HE is my Motivation.

    Not judging just guessing that the way you lost your wife, your everything, was so tragic that the only way you can start to feel anything again is to let it go, as harsh as that sounds….love to us all x

  11. Curving Toward Joy
    March 14, 2014

    I’m nearly one year into this grief journey; I can’t believe it’s been a year since my husband died. I’ve put off counseling, but inside I know I need it for the very same reasons you listed: I don’t know who I am anymore. But I need to know because I have to keep raising the beautiful little girl my husband and I created, and it’s not fair to make her tiptoe around the abyss of my grief. I was smart enough to get her involved in play therapy to address her grief, and now I just need to think about carving out some time for me. You’re spot on, as usual, and I wish you and Jackson the best.

  12. Ruth
    March 14, 2014

    I’m pleased you are having some counselling. I love the way you write, you are so articulate but not everything can be written in this blog. Talking, crying, letting it all come out won’t make it better but can help, as you are in a safe environment. You are so strong as we have to be for our children but you need time just to be and work through the pain. I’m nearly at the 3 year mark and counselling helped me with my grief. love to you both

  13. Larry W
    March 14, 2014

    Its been 13 months today since I lost my wife. Thanks for putting into words what its like day after day. My only reason to go on is for the sake of my three children.

  14. Eric
    March 14, 2014

    It is 9 months for me, when I lost my wife, leaving me and my 4 yr old daughter. I went to counseling and group session at the beginning, at my local hospice. And thank God I did, because I would be a basket case. I even went to my doctor and he started me on anti-depressants.

    Well, by January I stopped taking the meds and the counseling was finished. I figure I was all better and ready to move on. Big mistake. By the time the meds worn off, I crashed again. By February, I was basically a basket case, on verge of having a nervous break down.

    I called my counselor, met with her again and also began my meds again. I am still struggling, but I think I am slowly coming back to normal.

    I realized, I am not as strong as some others may be. As matter of fact, I do think I am very weak in my grieving and I need all the help I can get. I am beginning to see, it is going to be a long journey in my new life as a single dad widower. I did not ask or seek this. It just the way it is now.

    And thanks for your blog and everyone posting their comments!

    • Bill Wright
      March 14, 2014

      Hi Eric, just wanted to say that I don’t think grieving is a sign of weakness on any level. Always tempting to compare our grief to others, but everyone is different and has their own very personal relationship with their bereavement – and we’re all probably a lot ‘stronger’ than we realise. To be open about one’s vulnerabilities is a an act of bravery that many are not capable of.
      Keep going.

  15. Fiona Lockheed
    March 14, 2014

    The thing I learned to realise is that however you feel, in any moment, is just fine. Angry, sad, happy, furious, numb, empty…whatever you feel is totally fine. The struggle is to not let the negative thoughts or the apathy or emptiness take hold of every moment. Only you know how you feel, so you must do whatever you feel is best. I promise that eventually the good memories will come more easily than the bad.

  16. Viv
    March 15, 2014

    It is 6 and 1/2 years since I lost my partner in a motorbike accident. I went to a local funeral directors help group. Everyone was older than me but it was the best thing for me at the time as we were all in the same boat. Nothing makes “it” get better but time and life does carry on and I want to give hope to you people that have lost loved ones more recently. In short the old adage time is a healer is true. I never believed it when people told me but honestly although my life is not how I ever wanted it to or thought it could be, it is OKAY, even HAPPY. I have had relationships (I never dreamed I would) and although I would give my right arm to be back where I was, I am as happy as I can be given the circumstances. If you need therapy, its OKAY, if you need medication its OKAY, if you find new love its OKAY. . There are no rules for grief

  17. Paul R
    March 16, 2014

    I first went to see a therapist a month after Laura died. I don’t really understand why I did, other than my manager recommended it and pointed out that my medical plan covered the visits. At first the visits were very infrequent, because I kept running away from our home and visiting family. Something my therapist pointed out to me, once she thought I was ready.

    I feel fortunate that the therapist I found worked well for me. She was the third one I called and the first to agree to see me. The first one didn’t answer the phone, the second one said he dealt with bi-polar and “didn’t do grief.” My biggest requirement when calling around was one that was close enough I could walk to the office.

    I spent just over a year working with her. By the time I told her I was ready to stop therapy, we had migrated from all my issues, including anger, over Laura’s death and were talking about what I wanted to do with my life.

    I’ve talked to others who tried the therapy route and they didn’t have any connection with the therapist on that first visit and so they stopped. Personally, I’m glad it did work for me. And I hope you have found a therapist that works well with you. Knows when to bring you back to an issue, when to let you coast, when to ask the probing questions.

    Just one more thing, after living with someone for 28 years it takes a long time to shift your speech habit from from us and we to I and me. Even the simple table Grace that we said before each meal.

  18. Andy
    March 16, 2014

    Think you have made a wise choice here Ben. Counselling is not always for everyone but for me has been invaluable.

    Unravelling your thoughts has been mentioned which I think is a great analogy. I have always thought about it as being able to compartmentalise my thoughts and feelings, to be able to store them in the right box. I first spoke to a councillor when I lost my best pal aged 24 and it helped me massively at the time. When my wife died last year i sought some professional help as soon as I could.

    I have some truly great friends and family who I can off load on to any time i want but having some one professionally trained and emotionally unattached to the situation in my experience has helped me so much. It takes big balls to open up your soul to a stranger, it takes bigger ones to tell everyone else that’s what your up to.

    In my own experience a definitive stage of grief is when you become able to turn your own experiences into support and help for others, wether they are suffering bereavement or separating what ever it may be.

    This has happened to me recently when I found myself becoming the supported to the supporter to a dear friend. For me you’ve been smashing that stage for a long time through your blog.

  19. murielle
    May 3, 2014

    It’s exactly how I feel since losing my partner almost 3 years ago. But I haven’t found the “right” therapist for me and I don’t have any support from my family. I understood it all by myself. In losing him, I lost 11 years of my life too – the private jikes, the memories, bits of my personality and so on. I’m not the same person as I was before and no one is ready to accept it, yet.
    Getting sick and tired – literally – of people telling me it’s time I move on and I met someone else…
    Anyway. Good luck to everyone on here going through the same.

  20. Alicia
    May 13, 2014

    I stopped by your blog because grief is such a deep subject and few people chose to explore it thoroughly. I lost my husband 15 years ago and it has been a long journey to where I am today. Thankfully I have been able to move on and start over. I’ve been married for 12 years to my new husband and we have an amazing life together. I became a counselor after I was widowed and now help others with their losses, Unfortunately grief and loss are never discussed enough and that doesn’t help the is inevitable that one day that will include everyone since we cannot go through life without many many losses.

    I want to encourage you and all the others who can live through this, it will never be over, but you will learn to live with it and to live fully again.
    God bless you,

  21. californiawilliam
    November 16, 2014

    Thank you for hosting this site. I lost my wife of some 36 years two days ago and completely understand the “set adrift” feelings, the mental confusion (and fatigue). As you say it’s the “enormity” of the change that teeters you on the brink of the maelstrom.

    If old habits are difficult to break, so are all the “habits” you form with a life partner, the daily events, sharings, and schedules (eat dinner, watch TV together, etc.). Each of these habits naturally remind us of the shared experiences with our deceased spouse which deepens the grief and sense of loss (while seeming to comfort with memory). But I think you have to consciously begin to form new habits to replace the old ones. Or return to some of the personality you were before that relationship.

    Talking about the old relationship may or may not be cathartic. For some people, “moving on” requires an almost total “eclipse”; others may be able to neither forget nor obsess, but “get on with life” somehow (slow and steady). But it cannot seem that any new relationship is some kind of replacement of parts. It has to be contexted as “new” — not a do-over. Just some ramblings, I’m afraid.

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