Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

crashing waves

A friend emailed me this morning after reading something he thought I might like to see.

‘Now in my defence,’ he began, ‘I never send you stuff like this, but I stumbled on it this morning and thought of you.’

I appreciated his caution; some days I’m just not in the mood to think or talk about grief. But then once in a while I read something that I feel compelled to share, mainly because I think it might just help someone else. I know from experience that a few words written in the right order and delivered at the right time can make all the difference. I for one have many people to thank for the words and time they have shared with me.

This following piece is guest post of sorts. Four years ago a young man, whom I know nothing about, took to the internet to try to find solace over the death of someone he loved.

‘My friend just died,’ he wrote, ‘I don’t know what to do.’

A stranger replied:

I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not. 

I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents…

I wish I could say you get used to people dying. But I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to “not matter”. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. 

Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.

As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.

Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. 

If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.


18 comments on “crashing waves

  1. Sky
    August 11, 2015

    Thank you for sharing this, Ben. It made me cry but shows our resilience and that hurting deeply means that we have loved, and been loved, deeply too. I hope you are surviving the waves. With very best wishes, Suzanne Wilkinson x

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Jenaluk
    August 11, 2015

    Yes I like that !

  3. dot schwarz
    August 11, 2015

    that s how I exprienced the detah of my daughter to suicide 15 years ago. the metaphor fitted excatly

  4. Strength and Tears
    August 11, 2015

    Thank you for sharing that. Recently I’ve been struggling with my grief (2yrs on now) and the concept of moving on. I am moving on but pieces of me won’t. This has explained grief in such a beautiful way and reminds me that yes grief is painful and sometimes like a handicap. But it’s because of the beautiful relationship that once was. And THAT should be celebrated and not hidden away from sight.
    Thank you

  5. victoriawhyte
    August 11, 2015

    Oh Ben, this is beautiful and so true, I could hardly read it through my tears. Thank you for sharing it.

  6. victoriawhyte
    August 11, 2015

    Reblogged this on My Journey and commented:
    The words used in this blog post to describe grief are so beautiful and so true, I just had to reblog it……

  7. sharrongordon
    August 11, 2015

    Thank you Ben.
    Six months since I lost my son.
    I very rarely talk or laugh
    Crashing Waves is exactly how it feels

  8. sharrongordon
    August 11, 2015

    Thank you Ben

  9. Eileen Oleary
    August 12, 2015

    wow you are a great philosopher! thank you for this…. grief personified exactly

  10. EilishMc Guinness
    August 12, 2015

    Thank you It explains grief so very well. Its 3 years since I lost my 25 year old son in a car accident. I am still coping with the shock and how life can change in a couple of hours. I still find it very difficult.But hopefully I will come out the other side.

  11. Sue Rosenbloom, M.A., C.T.
    August 13, 2015

    Reblogged this on Loss, Grief, Transitions and Relationship Support and commented:
    Shared via Grief Healing

  12. Translating Grief
    August 13, 2015

    Great minds…I literally just posted this on my page. A complete coincidence…if you believe in such things…

  13. evaywong
    August 16, 2015

    Reblogged this on For Hugo For Life and commented:
    The clarity of the ideas here rang loud and true with me, thanks so much for sharing this Ben. The more you have of love, the more the scars will deepen. I am equally convinced that the hurt surrounding bereavement matters but I learnt to let the grief run its natural cycle. I was very close to leading myself down a path of obligated grief due to a deep sense of guilt of not giving the same daily attention to my son as I would have, were he were still alive.
    The concept of scars in my mind immediately drew a parallel to a scene in Cars 2 where Mater was about to get a disguise for a mission:
    “Holly – The disguise won’t calibrate effectively without a smooth surface to graft onto.
    Mater – For a second there, I thought you was tryin’ to fix my dents.
    Holly – Yes, I was.
    Mater – Then, no, thank you. I don’t get them dents buffed, pulled, filled or painted by Nobody. They way too valuable.
    Holly – Your dents are valuable? Really?
    Mater – I come by each one of ’em with my best friend, Lightning McQueen. I don’t fix these. I wanna remember these dents forever.”

    Take care, Simon

  14. Sangeeta
    August 19, 2015

    Hello Ben. Thanks for sharing. It’s beautiful.
    I am the mother of a 20 years old child-man who took his life on the 16th of October 2014 after a brief mental illness which was very poorly managed. I have been writing since the day it happenned. Don’t know how. Here is the link to my blog: It starts from Day 0 in October. Just wanted to share it with you.

  15. smc68300
    August 21, 2015

    Reblogged this on Grief Is A Cliche.

  16. Aubrey Hardesty
    April 2, 2017

    I would like to credit the author of the metaphor in a paper regarding grief. Do you happen to know the name of the stranger who commented with the metaphor?

    • Life as a Widower
      April 2, 2017

      I think it was anonymously posted on Reddit. You may be able to track down its author by searching some of the content of the comment itself on Google.

  17. Kay
    January 5, 2018

    That is a very good example.
    But time is so different for everyone.
    Lost my Mum nearly two years ago
    thought i was doing quite well. Yet
    today found a card she sent me
    and was right back. Thats ok .

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