A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
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.