Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

fortune tellers

I’ve heard it said that you should never read your own reviews. Having never written anything that was subject to public critique before I wrote my first book, however, I just couldn’t help myself. In sharing my story and opening up about grief, I’d set out to help others, and I guess I wanted to know if, on any level, I had. It was quite disappointing, therefore, to discover that I felt very little about any of the positive feedback I read. I imagine, deep down, I’d hoped someone could say something that would make my wife’s death seem less pointless. Alas, it turned out that nothing could – or probably ever will – have that effect.

Sadly, I suppose, what people had to say about me did not leave me complete devoid of feeling. It would transpire that a certain sort of criticism stung more than I could ever have imagined.

I wouldn’t have cared if people said that I couldn’t write, or that the language I used was cliched or pedestrian, because I know that I have done very little to justify any plaudits for my use of the English language. I didn’t study English past GCSE-level and even then I was pretty unremarkable. After that I spent the rest of my education studying foreign languages and, if the truth be known, I’m not very good at them either. I’ve discovered that I find being praised for something I don’t feel I’ve put that much effort or energy into really rather embarrassing.

It probably harks back to a time in my life when I read the words, ‘Ben is showing great promise as a musician.’ This sentence was written in a school report by my music teacher some weeks after I first took up the trombone. The fact was, however much as I tried, I simply couldn’t read music. It made no sense to me whatsoever. And because I couldn’t read music, I couldn’t play along in the band. And because I couldn’t play along in the band, I faked it. I’d stand there pressing the buttons (or whatever the hell they’re actually called) and make faces like an overfed gerbil without ever so much as playing a note. The result was I felt like a fraud when I stood up and didn’t play in the band. And I felt like an even bigger fraud when my parents were told that I was good at it. All this time on, after years of guilt caused by a misunderstood brass instrument, I can clearly see the merit in fair critique and the long-tern effect it can have on your mental wellbeing.

Being criticised for something that means so much to you, on the other hand, can be a bitter pill to swallow.

‘He describes being surrounded by so many loyal, understanding, loving family and friends,’ a review of my book began, ‘ yet he doesn’t seem to understand how fortunate he is in that.’

I’ve lived with those words for six months and, truly, as I read them back now, they have little effect on me anymore. When I first read them, however, I remember feeling physically sick. I was being criticised for something I really did care about and for something I put a lot of time, devotion and energy into: my relationships with the people I love. It ripped my heart out to be seen that way at first and promised myself I would no longer read anything else that anyone else had to say.

Some days later, though, it occurred to me that what this person perhaps couldn’t know was that they were not criticising me, they were in fact judging grief. Nothing is more important to me than my family and friends but grief temporarily took that from me. Still now, having still lost my wife and the mother of my child, my grief makes me feel somewhat entitled not to count my blessings.

All day I’ve been wondering why I even feel compelled to share this anecdote so many months on, and I suddenly understand. It’s because as I look ahead at a weekend where Jackson and I will be alone at Halloween – a time of year that Desreen loved – I just want the three of us to be able to hang out together. I don’t particularly want to go anywhere else or see anyone else. I don’t want to feel fortunate to have friends I could visit or grateful for any potential invitations we might receive. I don’t want to feel like my life is in other people’s hands and I don’t want to feel like I have to accept that my independence has gone. Instead I’d just rather laze around the house with my wife and child, take things for granted out and have everything be normal again.

Perhaps the insight here is that only the misfortunate tend to be put under pressure to take any good fortune that remains into account. Maybe only those who feel like all their blessings have been taken away are told they must call a recount. That, you could argue, puts an awful lot of pressure on those who are surely justified in their feelings of hardship and dismay.

I suppose what I can say with hindsight is that fortunately none of my friends or family were looking for anything back from me when I had so little to give. Where our collective fortune lies is knowing that our loyalty, understanding and love aren’t in fact being reviewed. They are just being accepted for what they are, whenever they are and whatever they are going through.

Celebrating Halloween together when we were still able to take things for granted

Celebrating Halloween together when we were still able to take things for granted

10 comments on “fortune tellers

  1. Judy S
    October 29, 2014

    The criticism you received by the reviewer only clarifies what a poor reviewer the person was and not how poorly you are dealing with your grief. It actually infuriated me to read how off base the reviewer was in criticizing your grief. Welcome back…your blog has been missed.

  2. Sarah
    October 29, 2014

    Hi Ben, no criticism here. So glad to read your writing again. X

  3. Daisy
    October 29, 2014

    Hi Ben

    I’ve been wondering why I feel so out of sorts lately, that is apart from the fact my husband died on July the 2nd after a 7 month illness.

    Your post clarified it for me. Being an introvert, I enjoy solitude and doing quiet things like reading, gardening, walking, hanging out with my animals and yoga

    Since T’s death, I see my friends weekly rather than monthly.
    After 4 months, I’m now feeling so fed up with the walks, lunches cuppa’s etc where I’m accompanied and “encouraged” to talk about how I feel. That’s not counting all the “how are you’s” I get when I’m at the supermarket or walking by myself.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m deeply appreciative of the love, support and friendship I have, but none of it feels “right”.

    This week I’ve been feeling like I’m supporting them to support me. I know they are grieving as well, so I’m trying to live up to my part of the deal, that them helping me helps them to feel that they’re doing something to help me, (hope that makes sense).

    This weekend would have been our 35th wedding anniversary, and my bestie has invited me to share the day with her. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but as it’s getting closer, I’m having second thoughts.

    Not sure if I’ll have the energy to put on a brave face 😦 I think I’ll turn off the phones and watch movies all day instead.

  4. Avril Lsmb
    October 30, 2014

    What stands out clearly is that the reviewer has not been berieved, and that comment is made assuming that a berieved person has some kind of normal behaviour boundaries. When we all know the opposite is true. With bereaavement, all normal behviour is gone for months and years. It is a kind of madness. The review comment more than anything underlines the loneliness of the bereaved, judged by society for their erratic and crisis driven behaviour. Thus denying immediately that death has the most profound and unravelling effect on us. I am so sorry that comment hurt, you are still so vulnerable, and in so much pain. Shame on the reviewer for nitpicking on issues of normal behaviour, and not reading the book as a deeply poignant and revealing insight into the inner journey of a bereaved father.

  5. handikwani02
    October 30, 2014

    Hi Ben,
    I just want to say to you, the reviewer is in his own world and may not have an idea of what it means to loose someone who meant so much to you. All you were doing was to express your feelings about that loss never at one point in the book did you express your lack of gratitude for those close to you who have been on this journey with you. The fact which I think the reviewer missed is that while you have all your loved ones Desreen can never be replaced missing her does not mean you do not appreciate those close to you and your son.
    Writing books or blogging is about putting one’s life on the line, I am afraid there are people who may not understand where you are coming from. Hold your head high because you have helped a lot of people who were struggling with their loss through what you wrote, to me that is the review which you must hold on to.
    You have yourself a happy halloween with Jackson however way you decide to celebrate it obviously it will bring some happy memories of your wife and mum.

  6. petrovna4
    October 30, 2014

    Dear Ben, I am sorry you are upset about (this) inconsiderate review. I have read a lot of your blog, not your book (bought it, but can’t read much just now) but in your posts in which you so eloquently express how you feel and deal with life, you have never come across as not valuing your friends for what they are.
    Don’t take it to your heart. I believe that critique has never lost a spouse/partner and has no clue what this hell feels like. I have lost my husband of only a few years and father of our then two-year old in February and I know what this feels like. Why would you not value your friends? I must say, unfortunately it is rather, that many family and friends behave strangely (or well, not the way you had hoped they would), say the most ludicrous things or nothing at all, trying to be ‘helpful’. Ok, understood it is difficult to deal with someone grieving for a spouse, but I must say in almost 9 months, only a select few have hang in there with me and are still there. Most people want you to ‘move on’. I guess it would be interesting to know why this person wrote that, but then again, it is probably not worth the hassle. You are not alone and for readers and especially young widowed people, your book is surely something to hold on to, when at risk of drowning. Hugs to you and Jackson and hope you have fun at Halloween.

  7. philandmandi
    October 31, 2014

    Just tell that reviewer to bite me, you have helped me and I have had more pyjamas days than I probably should. Stay strong Ben, most people are just ignorant or incapable of understanding your love for your beautiful wife. That kind of love comes to the very few and you happened to be one of them.

  8. Andy
    November 5, 2014

    Hi Ben,

    My blood is simmering after reading this one, the reviewer is either trying to be deliberately controversial to make some money or is seriously bitter at having no support network of their own . As you know we have tread a similar path and for that reason I stand shoulder to shoulder with you against anyone that questions your integrity regarding this blog, your book or any other intimate thoughts you have so publicly shared. Perhaps I’ll mellow and adapt your more considered approach once I have fully digested all the posts but for now I shall consider this reviewer of your posts to be a first class bell end.

    Andy.

  9. Greet Grief
    November 8, 2014

    Even though I loath those who would even think of criticizing you, all I can say is – there are those who “get it” and “those who don’t!” If you help one person because of your book and your experience, that is all that matters – and you have helped countless more!!

  10. anguskatie
    February 5, 2015

    Clarinet fraud here. Positive comments also seem to drift over my head as I know how easy it is for people to just say something to make me feel better. Especially when people that didn’t know him say he’ll be proud of me. Your blog is so unfortunately comforting to read…if only it was a makeup blog x

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