Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

timing time

About fours weeks ago I decided to wrap up my blog and write my final post. I told myself to wait, though; I needed to figure out whether my decision to stop was based on time or timing. Sometimes emotions can run so high in a single moment, but then grow tempered as time passes by.

I asked myself whether my resolve to shut things down was because I’d enough of analysing everything in my head, or whether things had simply run their natural course, in which case perhaps my mind was probably just adapting accordingly.

But why do I use up so much energy trying to reach ‘black and white’ distinctions between things that are probably inseparable, I wondered. For example, the question of analysis or adaption – why do I need to conclude which of the two is the reason for my not wanting to write? Can’t it be both? Why do so many of us ask ourselves questions that can’t ever really be answered satisfactorily or beneficially? After all, would I (or even should I) be happier with one inherently tragic decision over the other?

I’ve begun to think that sometimes acknowledging a question is more important than answering it.

I don’t want to write right now, I realised as I began drafting this post on my journey to work yesterday morning. I stopped and acknowledged that thought rather than torturing myself about whether it meant that my inaction was a symptom of depression (all too often my go-to scapegoat for any sign of tiredness, fatigue, boredom, lack of motivation etc.)

Having put it to the back of my mind all day at work, I hopped on the bus home last night and started to capture words that were now more freely and willingly entering my head.

Once again I wondered, Is it a matter of time or timing? If I sometimes feel better as time passes, I thought, then perhaps I’m starting to concede that time does in fact heal. I’ve fought the cliché so fervently in the past, could I even bear to admit that to myself now?

The answer, I now conclude – but simultaneously claim the right to ‘un-conclude’ whenever I choose, what with my previous point about acknowledgements being more valuable than answers – is both ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

Time has shown itself to soften things for me. It has enabled me to do something akin to getting used to things that I thought I never could. It has helped me realise that it’s alright to feel okay sometimes, and that it’s not dishonourable to not grieve around the clock. It has allowed certain aspects of my grief to begin to heal.

So if I acknowledged that time can, to some degree, heal, what should I make of timing?

I started writing this post as a way of sharing the reasons why I have actually decided not to completely stop writing this blog. The main reason for that, I guess, is because I called this site ‘Life as a Widower’ and not two or three years as one. My intention was to document my experiences for the benefit of others, and when I saw a major milestone looming on the horizon, I realised I ought to carry on.

My son starts school next week. He’s four right now but he’ll be five in six weeks. A few weeks after that will be the third anniversary of his mother’s untimely death. I guess I want to share how that all feels from both his point of view and mine in case anyone out there can draw anything valuable from it.

I want to share my observations about time versus timing, too. I’ve been feeling okay about my son’s first day; I’ve bought his uniform, had labels made to put into his clothes, met his teacher, as well as other kids and parents – so far it’s all gone to plan and I suppose we’ve both been doing alright.

Then yesterday happened. I’m working on a breast cancer awareness campaign at the moment (I work for a PR agency) and yesterday afternoon I met a lady who was receiving treatment for the disease when her four-year-old son was also about to start school. No one noticed but I cried in the meeting. As I bit my lip and quickly dabbed my eye with the paper napkin that came with my lunch, I asked myself why I’d become so abruptly emotional. I quickly recalled my new mantra about the observation being more important than the answer.

I was crying because I was moved. I was in tears because of the timing. I was emotional because I’ve recognised that time can make things less entirely excruciating, but that it can’t entirely fix what was once so absolutely shattered. People talk about grief coming in waves and, just as the moon exerts a gravitational pull on the tides, timing can also tug on emotions that we thought time had begun to allay.

The woman I met yesterday told me about her road to recovery and how she would never be the same person she once was again. She told me that sometimes elements of her healing felt harder than when she had the focus of her treatment because the symptoms were less visible, meaning that she often shouldered the mental anguish of it all alone.

“It sounds like grief,” I suggested – that expectation and hope from others that we’re ‘better’ now, which can never be fully met. It can feel like pressure; it can feel lonely.

Her story reminded me of why opening up about things that are impossible to fully comprehend – unless of course you’ve been there yourself – is essential in helping others understand and offer appropriate support.

We met because together we are helping to write a new crowd-sourced e-book that offers insights into what happens after breast cancer. With pressures from society to get ‘back to normal’, many women find it very difficult as the mental and/or physical scars remain, even though the world around sees a person who has ‘beaten it’. We want to help change the way people think by providing insight into this aspect of breast cancer, which is all too often ignored.

We’re now looking for stories, advice and tips from anyone who’s been touched by breast cancer – whether they’ve been given the all clear, are living with chronic breast cancer, or are somehow surviving losing a loved one to the disease.

The book will be available download online as a free e-book and distributed to breast cancer patients, families and friends of those who have suffered. If you or someone you know would like to contribute, please contact me for more details with your email address in the comments below, which I will keep private.

Thanks,

Ben

50 comments on “timing time

  1. Celia Marszal Iannelli
    September 2, 2015

    Having been widowed twice, I can confidently say that grief never ends, but it does soften and we do go on.. Life is different, but it is still good. I still have bouts of tears that come from some long ago trigger my first husband died 15 years ago and my son is getting married and his dad will not be there, nor “Frank” the man who stepped in….but all and all, this is the fullness of life. There will always be triggers. I am a columnist and write frequently about being a widow…I wish you the best …Frank died the same time your beloved wife did…..I understand completely.

  2. Kerry Shipton
    September 2, 2015

    Hi Ben … I would like to contribute to your e-book as someone who lost their best friend five years ago to secondary breast cancer.

  3. Ingrid Brawn
    September 2, 2015

    “It sounds like grief,” I suggested – that expectation and hope from others that we’re ‘better’ now, which can never be fully met. It can feel like pressure; it can feel lonely.” ~ Dear Ben, I can relate to this statement of yours. I hope that you will keep your blog going! Due to not being very well I am finding it difficult to engage in lengthy exchanges. Multiple close bereavements have robbed me of lots of energy. Finding myself quite alone now with hardly any family around to turn to for help, has turned my life into a constant struggle, while at the same time struggling against depression. It’s good to know that there are people like you in the world who understand! Sadly, this kind of understanding can in most cases only be gained through severe anguish and grief. ~ On the topic of breast cancer I can share with you that a woman friend of mine lost one breast to cancer and is now over 10 years free of breast cancer! ~ I hope that the first day at school went well for you and your lovely son 🙂 !! With all my best wishes, Ingrid

  4. Kim Ferranto
    September 2, 2015

    I’m a 10 year bc survivor and 8 yr thyroid ca survivor. Glad to share, send me an email

  5. Jean Ellis
    September 2, 2015

    I had breast cancer treatment 12.5 years ago & have supported others with breast cancer through breast cancer care “Someone like me” service. I’d love to help. Understand that pressure & ongoing concerns – note I haven’t used “survivor” call me a survivor when I die of something else!!

  6. Claire Evans
    September 2, 2015

    Reading this latest post reminded me to mention school support for Jackson. We have set up support groups for our children who have been bereaved of a parent or sibling – sadly in such a large school we have many. This group not only supports the children, but also offers support to the parent. Thinking also of the little boy and mum who is having treatment for breast cancer, alongside the bereavement group we have a young carers group, as life will be different for these amazing children and being able to have a safe and comforting place to talk can be of great help to them. When we first looked into setting both groups up, the management team were amazed at how many children would benefit. I hope that Jackson’s school have something in place, however, I am more than happy to help in any way. Love to you both, Claire x

  7. karen hanson
    September 2, 2015

    Hi Ben, I’m 2 years at the end of october free from breast cancer, i would gladly contribute if i can be of help, x

    • Life as a Widower
      September 2, 2015

      Thanks very much, Karen. Could you send me your email address please? Thanks x

  8. Rosie
    September 2, 2015

    I hope the first day at school goes/went OK for you both.

    Here’s a tip: if the school uniform allows… polo shirts are so much easier to maintain than crisp white cotton shirts. My sons had the latter for special days (photos/concerts/etc.) but polo shirts the rest of the time. By the time the youngest was at school, I bought him grey ones as the white ones always ended up grey anyway.

  9. LesleyFJ
    September 2, 2015

    Hi Ben, I finished my treatment for BC in May and have been struggling to explain and come to terms with how I am now feeling and why I felt mentally stronger during my treatment than I currently feel. Then I happened to read your blog tonight and can totally relate to what the woman told you about her personal situation and the healing process. This has really helped me understand the feelings I´m experiencing. I would be happy to contribute to the ebook.

    • Life as a Widower
      September 2, 2015

      Thanks for sharing that, Lesley. Would you mind sending over your email address so I can contact you with the details? Thanks

    • LesleyFJ
      September 3, 2015

      Hi Ben, I gave my email address when posting my comment. Please let me know how I can send it to you?

  10. Lesley
    September 2, 2015

    Hi Ben- it is nearing the 3rd anniversary of my brother Johns death( this weekend) and I’ve been trying to work out why it’s harder than it was last year. Taking on board what you say perhaps I don’t need to search for an answer, perhaps there isn’t one. It’s ok to just acknowledge that it is.
    Your blog helped me so much after John died. I needed to read about your experiences and those of the people who commented to help me make sense of what I was feeling ( or rather to accept you can’t make sense of it)
    Thanks so much. X

    • Life as a Widower
      September 2, 2015

      You’re so welcome, Lesley. It’s so exhausting constantly looking for answers and analysing everything x

  11. Jane
    September 2, 2015

    Hi Ben, I had breast cancer for the first time 11 years ago, age 32. Then I had a recurrence five and a half years ago when I was pregnant with my second daughter. I’ve been reading your blog since a mutual friend introduced me – I guess I spent a lot of time wondering how my husband would cope if I died and your words have given me valuable insight. I’d be happy to contribute, if you like. x Jane

    • Life as a Widower
      September 2, 2015

      Thanks so much, Jane. That’s really kind of you. Would I be able to get your email address please? x

  12. hopeoverflowing
    September 2, 2015

    Hi Ben.
    I was diagnosed with inflammatory Breast cancer (the one with no lump) 3 and a half years ago at the age of 29. I blog at hopeoverflowing.wordpress.com and my email address is cathiesales@gmail.com. I will gladly contribute if you are still looking for people.
    Cathie x

  13. Sarah Brown
    September 2, 2015

    I am 44 and a single mother to an 8 year old. My husband left me when my son was 18 months old. I focused on my son trying to get through the hurt and pain of rejection. When he was 3, i feel down a flight of stairs and damaged my spine and have walked with crutches ever since. When he was 4 and I had just turned 40, i was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had to have a double mastectomy and hysterectomy…… every ounce of femininity ripped out of me. I didn’t care at the time. I needed to live for my son. I piled on weight, lost my hair….. but I had to live for my son. The chemo caused me to have a Pulmonary Embolism and caused permanent damage to my pancreas. I have totally lost who I was. I live in constant fear of it return and not being able to see my son grow up. I have lost all confidence as a person. I would desperately love to be loved again, but just feel like a freak now, that no one would want. People pity me, rather than fancy me. It is a very, very lonely path to travel. I have had to tackle it all alone, with no support, while trying to be the best mum ever to my wonderful son. I have not had a relationship since my husband rejected me 7 years ago. I think the physical scars and some mental, from cancer, have made it feel like an impossible option to find love again. I hope one day, the world proves me wrong. It is 4 years since I was diagnosed. I was and hopefully still am, in remission, although they are currently investigating a new lump. I grieve every day for my former life. I want to be a normal 44 year old like my friends. Fill of energy, fitness, health, beauty and femininity, who is loved and accepted. I find myself staring at womens boobs and feeling intense feelings of jealousy and sadness. I don’t even know if I can still have sex, since my radical hysterectomy (which includes cervix) as i have had no opportunity to try. I go on dating sites….. but at what point do you mention it all, oh, and that due to everything else, i now have sleep apnoea too, so sleep with a machine!! You have to laugh or else you would spend your life crying! As a single mum, i just have to dig deep and paint on the smile for the world and be seen to be a happy go lucky surviver. To the outside world, my journey was over when I was in remission. My journey is far from over. The minute i heard I was in remission and everything stopped, that is when the pain and reality kicked in. It was no longer about living for my son….. now it was about grieving for me….. the person I can never be again. Happy to share more. Just message me.

  14. Natalie Hurst
    September 3, 2015

    Hi Ben, as ever your writing is cathartic and it really resonated about acknowledging a question or feeling, rather than having to get to an answer. Sometimes it just “is”. Thinking of you and Jackson starting school – a big year for both of you x

  15. Elke Thompson
    September 3, 2015

    HI Ben, did you get my email? Elke xx

  16. Emilienne Rebel
    September 3, 2015

    Hello Ben, I’ve followed your blog for many years. I hope Jackson had a great first day of school. I would love to get involved with your e-book. I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer at 31 having found a lump whilst breastfeeding my then 7 month old daughter. I started chemo this week 8 years ago when my eldest daughter started primary school and yesterday was her first day in high school! As with every birthday, moments I cherish and never take for granted. On the back of having cancer I am now a single mum and I started a business making Beanie hats for chemo sufferers… I will be awarded with a European Womens Innovation Award in October… am I strong? No, its hard every single day and I question everything. Thank you for your beautiful writing, Emilienne

    • Life as a Widower
      September 3, 2015

      Emilienne, thank you so much. You sound pretty great to me. Can I get your email address please?

  17. lynds1
    September 3, 2015

    Hey Ben its been awhile. I would love to contribute if you let me know how. Still think of you often xxxx

  18. Emma
    September 3, 2015

    Hi Ben. What you say about never being able to fully meet people’s expectations of being “better” is so true. I lost my younger sister to breast cancer 11 months ago, and I’m functioning, but that’s not “better”. I’m not sure what is… But I’d like to contribute, if I can. My email is iamemmagill@gmail.com.

  19. Laura Colosa
    September 4, 2015

    I would like very much to contribute to your book about life after breast cancer. I began following your blog after my dear sister in law died at age 38 of breast cancer leaving behind a grieving widower and three small children ages 9,7&2. I read to find an understanding of how men deal with grief.
    Unfortunately 8 months after she succumbed to breast cancer I was diagnosed with it. My family, my four children and her three were all terrified that I would suffer the same fate. I can’t tell you my fear was in leaving them behind and having them have to watch two people they love slip away.
    Two years later I am here as a survivor, but at a great cost. Life will never be the same. I am grateful for my life and I am always feeling guilty for that same life. Why her and not me?

    People think it’s a switch, you are a survivor- the cancer switch is now in the off position, what they do not realize is it is not that simple!
    We can’t just go on, life is never going to be the same, we have scars, we have nightmares, we have fears, we have lost our sisters along the way! Each time a pink sister is lost it renews our terror.
    The subject of survivorship is something that is never discussed. You survived so now just go on and don’t discuss it anymore, easier said than done!
    I hope to be able to help you with this important project!
    Laura

    • Life as a Widower
      September 4, 2015

      Thanks so much, Laura. Could I get your email address so I can send you the relevant information please? Thank you. Ben.

  20. Life as a Widower
    September 4, 2015

    Thanks so much Laura. Could I get your email address please? That way I can send you the relevant information. Thanks, Ben

  21. handikwani02
    September 4, 2015

    Hi Ben,
    Refreshing to read your post again reflecting how you continue to grapple with things we as humans can never seem to be able to find any answers. I am also glad to hear of how you continue to be a source of comfort to others struggling. I have been following your blog and can confidently say you and Jackson have embraced your loss in very positive and ispiring way which can only encourage others.
    I trustJackson has had a good start at his new school and wish him all the best as he discoveres this new enviroment with a lot of challenges which I know he will be able to navigate his way round discovering many things along the way.

  22. Jill
    September 4, 2015

    Ben, I have followed your posts since your first wrote about that sad day when your wife was so tragically killed and have found such a huge amount of inspiration from your writing. I for one would miss you if you stopped writing but would so respect your decision. I would like to contribute in relation to this breast cancer issue. I was diagnosed in June 2009, had all the treatment. Just one week after I finished my treatment in 2010 my husband was diagnosed with bladder cancer, then in late 2011 when we thought all was well our youngest daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer, her youngest son was just 4 months old. Again, just as we thought we were out of the woods our daughter became very poorly at Christmas 2013 and very sadly we lost her inJanuary 2014 aged just 36. She left a husband and 2 very young sons. Tragic. Still very raw with grief. I feel I may be able to contribute to your current project as currently I am a survivor. I have supplied my email address privately.

  23. Paul R
    September 4, 2015

    I hope that you will keep the blog available and maybe add a tag to the top explaining that it is no longer active, but others are free to browse. Your well written thoughts and honesty have helped me and probably many others. It was probably 2.5 years after my wife’s death that I stopped writing and moderating a grief group on Google+. The writing helped, but it filled a need that I no longer have.

    Good luck with your future endeavors.

  24. JoEllen Pedde
    September 4, 2015

    I lost my mom to stage 4 metastatic breast cancer 10.30.14. She was originally diagnosed in 2006, it came back in 2011 and she lost her battle last year. I was in college, in London, in a study aboard program when I got the call in 2006. We thought she recovered wonderfully, I never imagined she’d be re-diagnosed 5 years later and lose her battle at 58. I am 31, a mother of a 6 year old boy, I didn’t think I could survive without her, but scars and all, I am making it. I would love to contribute to your book – joellen.farrell@gmail.com. I have already written so much about losing her, so I may send you pieces from those raw early months, depending on what you are looking for. Happiness and love to you and your son.

  25. victoriawhyte
    September 6, 2015

    Ben, if you go into the WordPress dashboard – by clicking the W on the top left – then click on ‘Comments’ in the drop down menu, you should have access to the email address of everyone who comments on your blog.

  26. victoriawhyte
    September 6, 2015

    How lovely for that woman who survived breast cancer to meet somebody as understanding and supportive as you Ben.

  27. Emma Fountain
    September 7, 2015

    Hi
    My friend who was recently widowed noticed this on your blog. I am 38 and was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in Feb 2015. It had spread to my lymph nodes but luckily no further. I have completed neoadjuvant chemo and had lumpectomy and axillary clearance 2 weeks ago. I have just been told that I had a complete pathological response which is great news. I still have to have radiotherapy and will continue with herceptin and pertuzumab (in context of a clinical trial) but would be interested in commenting/helping with your ebook. Emma

  28. Gus
    September 7, 2015

    Ben, I like the distinction between time and timing. I was diagnosed with BC 7 months after I was widowed, almost exactly 3 years ago. I found all sorts of similarities between grief and cancer survival, though the literature can look different. Would be happy to contribute to this BC project, file me under “multiple challenges.” 😉

  29. Karina
    September 7, 2015

    I’m a surviving civil partner of an amazing and understated woman who lived with breast cancer and secondaries for 10 yrs, but died last year. I’d be happy to share insights and would love to hear from others with their stories.

  30. Mika
    September 16, 2015

    Hi Ben, my father has been diagnosed with breast cancer three months ago, same as my aunt 10 months before him. As I lost my mother when very young the two of them actually are my only support in life and would like to learn how to support them through this. its touching how you write about your grief – wish my father had done the same for him and us twenty years ago….

  31. Emma Duncan
    September 19, 2015

    Hello there, I lost my Mam to breast cancer when I was 9 years old, she was only 32, she also lost her Mam, my grandmother, to breast cancer, my grandmother was only 42. So I know how it feels to grow up without my Mother, and the emotional impact that has even now 32 years on. We have a gene mutation within our family BRCA1 and I myself have had breast cancer 3 times, first diagnosed in 2003 at the age of 29, I’ve been successfully treated and have been cancer free fire 7 years now, going onto have two children of my own who are now 5 and 3. Someday I’ll have to tell them about my cancer, but they’re too young to understand yet. I’d be happy to contribute to your book, my email address is Littleduncs@Googlemail.com if your still looking for contributions.
    Regards
    Emma

  32. smc68300
    September 22, 2015

    I found this so helpful. I’ve been trying so hard to stop the incessant over-analysis of my feelings in the last few weeks. The reason I started to write was to try and stop the thoughts spinning round and round in my head and give them a place to sit still. The notion that questions can simply be acknowledged rather than answered is one that’s helped to bring me a little more peace in the last few days since I first read this post. Thank-you!

  33. Pingback: Questions Without Answers | Grief Is A Cliche

  34. Paul
    October 3, 2015

    Keep your head up Ben, taking the time to write your blog and writing down your thoughts will help. Since I was diagnosed with a terminal illness writing nearly every day helps my mind. I don’t know how long I’ll be here for but putting my thoughts and memories on my blog just helps me. I do it for me and to leave my legacy behind. You’re a very good man talking about your grief and how you get on with your little man. Even now I don’t write every day but when I get an idea I write the notes on my phone. Then when i’m ready I finish it, edit it and post it. Stay strong, take care and love from me and my family. Paul.

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