A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
Today is the second anniversary of Desreen’s death. Seven hundred and thirty days have already passed since she was killed and so I ask myself, What makes this one so special? Well I suppose nothing does really. I find days like this often represent little more than a release from the pain of anticipation and dread that precedes them; in many ways today is just another day.
I must remind myself, however, that I set up this blog to offer others insights into the complex workings of grief, and so to dismiss anniversaries outright as insignificant would be to provide a fairly narrow view of their potential impact on others. Today I will doubtless receive more messages than usual from people who care, because we typically use calendar dates as a way to reach out to one another to offer love and support. Just as Remembrance Day gives us an opportunity to recall those who gave their lives in the line of duty, anniversaries provide an opportunity to show people who have lost someone that they are remembered too.
I realise that I am one of the luckiest unlucky people. I’ve been shown so much sympathy and affection that I no longer really feel like I need specific days of remembrance for that sympathy and affection to make itself shown. But these days I tend to only write with other people in mind. I think about those bereaved people who find it hard to articulate their grief. I worry that they might not be offered the same level as support as me because they are doing such a great job of making themselves appear so strong.
I know that grief doesn’t just stop, though. I know that however resilient a person who has lost might seem to be, there is still trouble and trauma below the surface. And so today I’ll tell you how it feels for me two years down the line. This won’t necessarily be typical of another person’s grief, but hopefully it can help show just how deeply someone else you know might be feeling even when they seem to be ‘doing fine’.
It feels like boredom. Boredom because I’ve realised that, however I frame it, I’m a single parent and my only housemate and companion is a four-year-old boy who goes to bed at 7:30pm each night. Boredom because I can’t recreate the buzz that our home had when we were a carefree happy family of three. Boredom because Desreen was the most fun and funny person I knew and she’s gone. Boredom because I’ve accepted that routine is good for Jackson and me but even the word ‘routine’ bores me to tears.
It feels like consciousness. Consciousness because without the anaesthetic effect of shock and the blinding impact of recent loss I can hear and see Desreen more clearly in my mind than I could before. Consciousness because I’m now much more attuned to how difficult life can be.
It feels self-indulgent. Self-indulgent because when I sit down and think about my own pain (for the billionth time) I realise that I am just one person amongst millions who are suffering in a thousand different ways. Self-indulgent because I realise that however much time I spend on myself I just can’t put things right. Self-indulgent because I want to do something with my pain to help others, but I know that I want that to make me feel better too (and yet I don’t really think that it does).
It feels misunderstood. Misunderstood because people often tell me how far I’ve come when I don’t feel like I’m much past the start line. Misunderstood because however much I detail, explain and share my grief, I wonder if there might always be a view amongst others that I should be ‘over it’ by now. Misunderstood because I’m probably not easy to understand; one day I can be the life and soul of the party and the next I don’t even want to show up.
It feels like an excuse. An excuse because I always have something on which to blame my feelings. An excuse because it doesn’t matter how hungover I am or how ill I might get, it’s always grief’s fault. An excuse because I’m not even able to feel under the weather without worrying that I’m slipping into an abyss of depression.
It feels lonely. Lonely because when I feel good or I feel like I should celebrate an achievement, the person who would revel in the moment the most is gone. Lonely because losing her has taken the shine off any positivity I feel. Lonely because it doesn’t matter how much company I keep, no one can ever replace the person I’ve lost. Lonely because I know what it was like to grow up in a busy and buzzy home and mine is now quiet and low key. Lonely because I feel like I’ve lost more than one person and because a big part of me is still missing too.
It feels like acceptance. Acceptance because I think I’ve accepted what’s happened although I haven’t really comes to terms with it. Acceptance because I think of Desreen as being dead but I can’t make peace with that thought. Acceptance because the numbing and often quite comforting effect of shock has completely worn off and left the sting of reality in its place
It feels self-critical. Self-critical because only when I listen to other parents talk about their kids do I realise how hard I am on myself as a father. Self-critical because no matter how much progress my son and I make, it’s never enough (and how could it be?) Self-critical because even when the people in my life show any pride in me, I feel it impossible to feel any in myself.
It feels like regression. Regression because these second anniversary feelings aren’t what I’ve felt all year. Regression because I understand that this time of year may always make me feel worse than normal. Regression because I had a great summer filled with incredible people and lots of fun, but it’s all too easy for the seasonal shift to wash those more positive feelings away. Regression because sometimes I feel like progression feels impossible. Regression because the more time that passes the more acute my memories of that devastating night seem to grow. Regression because I recognise that my behaviour over the last few months has made me aware that my personality is becoming more like it was before I met Desreen than it became after.
It feels like change. Change because acceptance has made me carve a new way forward for my son and me. Change because I recognised that trying to keep everything the same as it was before only made everything feel so painfully different. Change because I’m trying to establish a life that works around the numbers one plus one rather than three minus one. Change because I’ve already realised the hard way that everything changes.
It feels like a partnership. A partnership because I’m beginning to realise that my son is there for me as much as I for him. A partnership because we each affect, rather than dictate, the way the other feels. A partnership because I know that he deliberately does things to cheer me and make me laugh the same way I do for him. A partnership because neither of us really makes sense without the other. A partnership because we often both look across the room at one another and give each other a private wink, which says, ‘I’m okay,’ and asks, ‘Are you?’
It feels like teamwork. Teamwork because I need my friends and family around me to get by. Teamwork because it’s hard to be independent when you become a single parent. Teamwork because sometimes we all need to prop one another up.
It feels baffling. Baffling because I never imagined life could ever work out this way. Baffling because I have moments when I think I’m going to see Desreen again simply because it seems so impossible that she can gone forever. Baffling because I’m constantly perplexed about what happens next. Baffling because I realise the control I thought I had doesn’t really exist. Baffling because losing feels of control often makes planning feel pointless.
It feels different. Different because I didn’t want to think about anything other than the pain for a while and now I find I’d rather spend my time thinking about almost anything else.
It feels less torturous. Less torturous because I’ve realised that I can’t think my way out of my situation. Less torturous because I’ve come to terms with the fact that I can’t be a perfect parent (or a perfect anything for that matter). Less torturous because I now understand the psychology of the parent/child dynamic, which is that we are fundamentally designed to separate, which in turn means that it’s okay, necessary even, for my son and I to spend time apart. Less torturous because that time apart from him no longer leaves me riddled with guilt.
It feels endless. Endless because I know there is no conclusion to grief. Endless because feelings may change but they never stop. Endless because the questions may differ but they never stop, either. Endless because my son just asked if his mummy had a phone we could reach her on. Endless because he wants to know if she has wings and whether they can help her fly back down to us sometimes. Endless because I understand that only when his naivety ends may his grief truly begin.
It feels hopeful. Hopeful because, two years on, I now have a child I can talk to and reason with. Hopeful because we are so incredibly close. Hopeful because he increasing lets others in. Hopeful because I see him smile more often and I allow the smile on his face to spread to mine.
It feels personal. Personal because there probably comes a time when others can no longer comprehend the ways in which grief can change you. Personal because whilst the common medicine for recovery is time, no one can tell me how much I’ll need to take. Personal because the more time that passes, the less I’m compelled to talk about how I feel with others.
It feels like gratitude. Gratitude because I have so much support in my life. Gratitude because I still have so much to be grateful for. Gratitude because I’m humbled by the opportunities that still present me in life. Gratitude because of the countless number of people who have supported my son and me over the past two years. Gratitude because I have my beautiful little boy to remind me of my gorgeous, kind, funny, loving and completely unique wife every single day.