Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

summer sabbatical

In July last year I decided to leave my job to be with my son. Actually, I’ll correct myself, I think it would be fair to say that life made that decision for me. I was in a lot of pain following the sudden death of my wife, and our son was upset, angry and confused about where she’d gone. Back then it felt like there was no other choice; I couldn’t imagine another time in Jackson’s life when he would need me more. For me, it wasn’t so much the right thing to do as the only thing that could be done to try to begin to rebuild our lives. I’m generally pretty hard on myself, though. Looking back over the last eighteen months has made me realise that I’m prone to making anxiety-fuelled, insecurity-masking, self-deprecatory comments, too. ‘What are you doing with yourself now?’ people would ask once I’d left work, to which, depending on my audience, I tended to reply, ‘Fuck all,’ or, ‘I’ve taken early retirement.’ Either way, I answered with a smile of apparent self-satisfaction. I was dying inside, though. My life had been torn apart and my career appeared to be in tatters, too. I couldn’t function the way I knew I needed to in order to feel good about myself. And nothing was able to make me feel good about myself, either – perhaps especially not the stupid comments that kept spilling from my out-of-control mouth, which trailed wasted words with the nauseating sound of my own fake laughter. I suppose those flippant remarks may have been my way of trivialising the task in hand in an attempt to make it feel less excruciatingly challenging. I needed to try to mend the cracks that I could see in a little boy who could barely articulate how he felt, all the while dealing with my own loss, grief and the seemingly incessant bouts of illness caused by the unfamiliar slow-sinking feeling of depression. It seems absurd that I would dismiss this endeavour as ‘nothing’ when I now understand that it was in fact everything. On top of taking on what I have since come to appreciate was everything to me, I took on a little more, too. I wrote a blog and a book; I bought and decorated a house; I faced all the anniversaries, which newly bereaved people often come to dread in that first year; and I trained for and ran a marathon. Essentially, I did everything I could to keep myself sane and healthy for my son and myself. I would later come to realise that I inadvertently created one to the most fertile phases of my life as a way of filling the enormous void in my life left by the death of my wife. Looking back, I believe that this prolific period was what I needed at the time. Right now, however, I can’t escape the feeling that it has taken its toll. I feel exhausted and overwhelmed, and all too frequently frustrated and irritable about next to nothing. I now know that it’s time for a proper break. ‘I can’t help but feel bad that I took six months out last year and yet I’m saying that I need another break already, though,’ I explained to my best mate the other day. ‘It wasn’t fun, though, was it?’ he replied. I laughed; his way of making things simple never fails to give me the clarity of thought that I often need. And it really wasn’t fun; it was hellish. It wasn’t a break, either; it was gruelling in ways that my previous career of choice could never be. Having suddenly realised this, I’m now looking ahead at life knowing that I want to do everything I can to make my little boy – whom I can see growing up too quickly, perhaps because of the circumstances that have befallen his life – have more happy and playful times ahead. But I don’t think that I can give him those with the sincerity he deserves unless I make happiness and playfulness part of my life, too. Right now that means I’m putting on my ‘out of office’ for the summer. I’m going to have some time off and create some space to just be. I’m going to play with my son more than I play with my phone and my laptop. I’m going to indulge in his wonderful observations about life, such as the moment he told me that the clouds were dancing as he gazed out the window of the high-speed train on which we were travelling earlier this week. I’m going to focus on living my life rather than documenting it. I’m going to start reading newspapers again and stop writing for them. I’m going to go on holiday with Jackson and spend more time with our family. I’m going to enjoy watching my friends getting married in the months ahead. I’m going to see what it feels like to have some proper time out for the first time in years. I’m going to find out if I can indeed begin to feel happy and playful again if I try to shift my focus from sorrow and sadness for a while. Perhaps I’ll let you know how we get on after our summer sabbatical. Until then thanks for your incredible support, take care and goodbye for now. Love, Ben & Jackson. ben-27

60 comments on “summer sabbatical

  1. Bill Wright
    June 20, 2014

    Take care Ben

  2. lottiesc
    June 20, 2014

    Thanks for all what you have given and good luck on yours and Jackson’s journey – I wish you all happiness you can manage to get, it is possible and I am sure that if anyone can, you two will make it happen!! Lottie xxx

  3. lottiesc
    June 20, 2014

    Thanks for all what you have given and good luck to you and Jackson on your journey from here. I wish both you all the happiness you can get, you both deserve it, and I know it’s possible even if sometimes very hard but I am certain you’ll make it. Warmest wishes, Lottie

  4. Wendy
    June 20, 2014

    Do come back and let us know how you both are x

  5. Kathy Hughes
    June 20, 2014

    I am so glad you are at last thinking of yourself and Jackson of course, a break from helping others will be good for you. Perhaps you will have a chance to talk about the future, perhaps you will be able to rest……. Good luck xxx

  6. heeleychris@yahoo.com
    June 20, 2014

    Thank you Ben you describe well the level of anxiety fuelled decisions made during deep grief.
    It is a comfort to know that someone else is trying to face life and carry on.
    I had 50 wonderful years with my husband and I know I have been so lucky
    Chris
    Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

  7. Martin
    June 20, 2014

    I know how you feel. 13 years now for me and it still hurts. But life does move on and eventually you will realise you didn’t think about her today, then you will feel guilty. I wish the two of you all the luck and good fortune in the world and love from me and my son (now almost 18).

  8. kaowen2013
    June 20, 2014

    I don’t blame you at all for needing a proper break. And I doubt it’ll be the only time you’ll find yourself having to get away from the world and just focus on you. I’ve done it myself and it’s a good therapy to just live for a while and enjoy your family. I did keep a notebook handy during this time and jotted down thoughts that might or might not become blog posts one day. It’s a good way to clear your mind and also not feel you’re totally abandoning your writing, until such time as you’re ready to begin again. I truly hope your summer brings you brighter days (mixed with the eternal grief) and that your beautiful wife shines through each of them.

  9. Helenpatience
    June 20, 2014

    Ben, your blog and book have done a great deal of good for the many bereaved out there, and I’m sure your journey the past year in particular has enriched your life greatly, despite the immense loss you’ve suffered. Now though you’re quite right in saying it’s time for you and for your little boy. It’s no wonder you feel overwhelmed after how busy you’ve been, and I’m sure Jackson will love to have even more daddy attention that he gets already. I’m sure every one of your followers will wish you well this summer and realise that although we’ll miss you, it’s what’s right for you and the lovely Jackson, and that’s what’s important. All the best, Helen x

  10. Sue
    June 20, 2014

    Ben & Jackson

    How I wish I had done half what you have in these 18 months of hell grief shit times
    you take the time for yourself & Jackson

    It may lead to more things to come.
    having enjoyed your blogging & posts on facebook, they have been encouraging for so many including myself of 11 yrs without my husband.
    I truly thank you
    Sue

  11. Lorna Baker
    June 20, 2014

    Enjoy and make some wonderful memories

  12. julie
    June 20, 2014

    X

  13. Lisa Craig
    June 20, 2014

    Thank you for sharing with us and letting us share with you. My love to you both as you journey onwards x

  14. Tom Grey
    June 20, 2014

    I hope you and Jackson have a fantastic summer!

  15. Lisa bain
    June 20, 2014

    Enjoy, be happier and most importantly look and listen and make beautiful memories
    Lisa

  16. Pat Fordyce-Gale
    June 20, 2014

    Have fun and adventures with your little boy, if you feel like coming back with your blog please include me, if not so be it and take care of yourself and Jackson X

  17. James
    June 20, 2014

    Hi Ben

    My wife died coming up five years, this September and I feel your pain, the first year is a killer and so are the next few, it’s funny but the anniversaries I dread but now seem to cope with, you go through them with deflector shields up.

    I tend to be thrown by unexpected memories or reminders and still have the odd sunglasses day.

    I also have gone through the learning cliff that is being a full time dad, I don’t know about you but my wife did all the heavy living when it came to raising children and there’s a level of detail that escaped me until I had to do it myself.

    I still have the occasional terror, especially when things are going well, that I’ve forgotten something terribly, terribly important.

    Take care

    James

  18. Hannah
    June 20, 2014

    Enjoy your time together , you’re an amazing person and father. Enjoy each other and making new memories in your time off 🙂 well still be here if you come back to share with us no doubt 🙂 take care

  19. Sarah Martin
    June 20, 2014

    Have a wonderful summer Ben. And look forward to hearing from you when you get back. xxx

  20. Caroline
    June 20, 2014

    Sounds like a plan xxxxx

  21. Blinky Bustard X
    June 20, 2014

    Hi Ben, enjoy your much deserved sabbatical you are a truely amazing man and a terrific daddy to Jackson, time for a little joy. X

  22. Lynne
    June 20, 2014

    Dear Ben, Thankyou for your honesty and the posts you’ve shared. I lost my husband very quickly to cancer five years ago & was left with four young boys to bring up. I am at the stage you seem to be at now, having filled my life with every possible distraction. I wish I had realised earlier how much I needed to ‘just be’ and allow myself the time to be with my boys. Don’t ever feel guilty. I’m enjoying my break now & loving being with the amazing people my four boys are turning out to be. I wish you so much love and strength & hope you can find some peace & laughter together with Jackson away from the spotlight. All my love to you both. Lynne Moss x

    >

  23. Cazzy knight
    June 20, 2014

    Hi ben and Jackson how i admire you for being a great father to Jackson may u get to know each other have a brill holiday and take time out to play smile and enjoy xx love cazzy and david

  24. Tricia
    June 20, 2014

    Dear Ben. Thank you so much for your writing and please enjoy your time with Jackson and your family…and let us know how you are after the summer. Love Tricia xx

  25. Felicity Wilson
    June 20, 2014

    Our minds can be crazy, slippery, hard to control silver shapes. It does now seem that you are having moments in the “now” dear Ben.
    May the come to you more frequently in your time out, and may they bring you comfort that you can share with the mighty Jackson.

  26. Louise
    June 20, 2014

    You have shared so much of yourself with us, time to take some back. Enjoy your summer and hope to see you soon xx

  27. Dean B
    June 20, 2014

    Great decision! Good luck and wishing you and your son the best 🙂 x

  28. Katy Hill
    June 20, 2014

    Good for you Ben! Sounds like an AMAZING idea. See you on the other side! x

  29. Lori
    June 20, 2014

    No good comes from sorrow…. Your late wife would want you to move forward and continue to live… Humans are luck to be given hearts that can can love to infinity… Fill your heart and teach your son to fill his too Live.Laugh.Love.

    P.s. This is the best blog you have written yet.

  30. Debbie
    June 20, 2014

    Enjoy your time together x to make beautiful memories xx you are an amazing person and a fantastic daddy to your gorgeous son Jackson x now it’s your time to shine xx

  31. Charlotte
    June 20, 2014

    I have followed your blog from the beginning and it has moved and inspired me. Thank you for sharing with us and I hope you might let us know how you’re doing sometime. Wishing you and Jackson all the very best.

  32. Sarah
    June 20, 2014

    Enjoy the sandcastles.
    All the best Ben. Thank you for the help your writing has given me. Xx

  33. Emsx
    June 21, 2014

    Have fun x

  34. Natalie
    June 21, 2014

    Bye for now Ben.

  35. Alex James
    June 21, 2014

    Hi Ben and Jackson

    Just wanted to say thank you and take care

    Alex James

  36. murielle
    June 21, 2014

    Have a good time off. Your son has the “chance” to have a dad who can afford a sabbatical. Make the most of it.
    I’ll also have a thought for the ones who can’t leave their job or struggling to make ends meet whilst greeving.
    (Am sorry if I sound flippant. )

    • Life as a Widower
      June 21, 2014

      Of course. I do appreciate that I’ve been fortunate enough to be able change the way I work around Jackson, too.

  37. Belle365
    June 21, 2014

    Enjoy each other xxxxx

  38. bethbone
    June 21, 2014

    Have a wonderful summer – which ever path you chose, I’m certain that there will be happiness x

  39. Julia Pool
    June 21, 2014

    I will miss your blog but it sounds like a brilliant decision for you and Jackson. You have done so much in the face of the most horrendous loss of your beloved wife. But now you must feel ready to face things more quietly and more privately. I wish you all the very best. And thank you for helping me to understand the horrors of grief and death and to break down one of our society’s big taboos. I really appreciate it.

  40. wendy
    June 21, 2014

    Thank you for giving so much of your time to highlighting how life is for widdoed parents. Have a lovely time with your beautiful son. Although it is hard at times I pray you will find joy in those ordinary moments

  41. susan jane
    June 22, 2014

    enjoy …..will be nice to just be…sounds simple uh..its only hard if you think about ..

  42. Claire
    June 23, 2014

    Hope you both have a lovely summer.

  43. Alan Howard
    June 23, 2014

    I wonder sometimes whether I should have done what you did after my wife died. I did the mourning and then went back to work. And while I am back into a routine and my son is older and does not have the understanding issues that Jackson has…..nevertheless I feel like my job is pretty hollow, full of people who have no idea what is important in this life at all. And I also worry I am not spending enough time with my son at a critical time when he needs it. Still like all widowers, I will continue to muddle through.

  44. angry brat
    June 23, 2014

    Good luck and remember that grief often has its own timetable. Take all the time u need!

  45. Eamonn
    June 23, 2014

    Hello Ben,

    As I think you know I was unable to attend the Britmums event this weekend and so unfortunately missed your keynote speech (which I understand was a great success!) I have been trying to catch up with all the goings on at the event and see that you are taking a summer sabbatical to focus on the living part of life.

    The journey you and Jackson have been on over the last couple of years has clearly been all encompassing, and your record of it has been a huge commitment, even if it was one that you had no choice but to undertake as part of your own bereavement process. I may be completely missing the target here, but from my own experience, having chosen to walk a public path, there have been times I have felt an obligation to keep going. The fact that you have managed to touch and help so many others is a wonderful thing.

    Nevertheless, I cannot tell you how happy it makes me to see you laying down some of those loads for a while and focusing on nothing but you and your son. I’m sure the mental space and time will allow you to come back refreshed and with a whole new perspective to share with the world.

    Good luck to you both and enjoy your time together.

    Eamonn
    (www.whothehelldoeshethinkheis.com)

  46. handikwani02
    June 23, 2014

    Hi Ben, thank you for allowing us into your lives and emotions, you may never know how your opening up your life has meant to so many people struggling with circumstances beyond their control.
    Just reading this your bog I see an individual who has faced difficult circumstances head on without trying to get a distraction of not dealing with the problems. I am sure you will have a great time with Jackson because you have l dealt with issues you needed to deal with. Selfishly I do not want you to stop, but in order to enjoy your blogging you really need this break to recreate your mind and like you say enjoy living your life again.
    I am glad I did come across one of your early articles in the paper which led me to be following your blogs which have been very well thought out. Promise that you will continue to blog in your own time it would be a pity not to read your blogs again.
    In the meantime Have yourself a fabulous time with CUTE Jackson!!!

  47. Luci
    June 23, 2014

    Wish you both a great summer and love life as much as it loves you!

  48. Warrior - Not Widow
    June 23, 2014

    Hope your summer sabbatical is everything you want it to be.

  49. laurenashleyhorne
    June 25, 2014

    Good for you. Take care.

  50. sharrongordon
    June 30, 2014

    YEAH XXX It has been an emotional experience being part of your family’s grief, If only as a reader, but like I said to you before. I remember hearing the news. I remember that feeling of loss in my stomach, I remember the Christmas tree placed next to the TV looking like a total insult as the newsreader unfolded the events of that fatal afternoon and I have followed your blog since. I have cried with the thought of how you must feel and laughed with Jackson’s antics ( he is one funny kid Ben)…. Im proud of you for the reasons why you decided to share your pain with us and I feel really proud today after reading this that your now taking time out to just BE, it is important to have some balance after this roller coaster ride!…… Enjoy the summer you two. Ben I know you might now see your lap top as your friend, but NO… leave it alone now enjoy the simple things without having to report back . The touch the feel the smell whatever your doing … embrace the simplicity. So I started with the word YEAH because you have analyzed and realized that its now time for YOU. That is not a selfish comment. You have to feel good in order to take the next step to take care of Jackson. Gonna miss you both but YEAH HAVE A REAL GOOD SUMMER TOGETHER. see you both soon take care xxx

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