A story of grief by a man and a boy

rising again

I’ve been going to counselling on and off for about two and a half years now. It’s not for everyone but I really value it. My experience of it now makes me believe that it’s something that needs time. It’s a bit like making bread. If you just threw all the ingredients in a bowl and then ate the dough immediately expecting it to satisfy you, you’d be bitterly disappointed – repulsed even. You might judge it on that one experience and, as a result, decide never to try it again. If you persevered and let it breathe a little and then ate it, it might be a little lighter and slightly easier to stomach, yet still barely more satisfying. If you were patient and followed the advice you were given on how to get the best results, however, you might finally get a taste of what you were hoping for.

That’s where I am now. After skipping my regular sessions for several weeks, I paid my counsellor a visit on Thursday morning. Having got used to laying its emotions bare regularly, my mind seems to get a little confused when it doesn’t get its weekly workout. This is going to be epic, it says as I make my way into the building after a few weeks off. It never is, though. The time out from any kind of mental analysis – the formal kind at least – seems to allow me to take stock.

To go back to the baking analogy, the therapy is like kneading – the tiring but necessary part that takes it out of you. The time out from it, however, is like letting the dough rise – the break in the task that gets the results you want despite complete inaction on your own part.

In this modern world where we’re always ‘on’, sometimes we need to switch off to achieve our goals. I’ve worked as a creative director in PR agencies for the last few years and I can honestly say I’ve never had an idea while staring at a computer screen. It would be a tough sell to my employers, but I think they would get a much higher return on investment from my salary if I simply sat on a bus thinking for eight hours a day. In fact, as I write this blog post I’m sitting in seat 23A on a return flight to Gatwick and this is only the second time I’ve had the headspace and time to pen my thoughts this year.

I’ve got a hangover the size and shape of Barcelona so I’m rambling more than usual, but all this musing about my mental needs (and baking kneads) does actually have direction. When I sat in my therapist’s leather armchair in her attic office in Marylebone on Thursday this week, I found myself contentedly talking about how I am beginning to appreciate my own sense of happiness. I don’t believe that ‘counting your blessings’ in a time of crisis is a tonic for your pain, but in a time of calm an unprompted acknowledgment of fortune can be a gift from the mind – a cognitive voice that whispers, ‘You’re doing alright, mate.’

I would, of course, like to be living the life I expected when my son was born five and a half years ago and when his mum and I walked down the aisle together ten months later, but life isn’t interested in our hopes or expectations. Ironically, acknowledging the fact that life is disappointing has made me more content than I’ve been in years.

Idly waiting for fortune to come your way is a foolish in-endeavour. Using fortune as a medicine for the pain, in my experience at least, is about as effective as using sellotape to heal a wound. But being able to see the abundance of your own life, however diminished it may be, is an incredibly telling sign of recovery.

And now tears have come from nowhere. I guess that embracing disappointment, rejecting happiness as life’s only aspirational emotion and being open to what life has to throw at me has made me rather unfamiliar with myself. It’s quite exciting not knowing exactly where your day is heading, though.

It’s a bit like homemade bread – it can be unbelievably shit or the best thing you’ve ever tried. One thing’s for sure though: it’s not going to bake itself.

25 comments on “rising again

  1. Paul R
    April 30, 2016

    I also believe that counseling helps. However, if you don’t click with the first person you see, then try another.

    I will say that on my last session I mentioned that I didn’t think I needed to come back any more and the counselor responded that she thought that was true for the last two sessions, but that I had to reach that decision.

    • Life as a Widower
      April 30, 2016

      You’re right. It needs to be treated like a job interview at the beginning – if you’re not sitting in front of the right person, they don’t get the job. You got good feedback there by the sounds of it.

  2. mummyandjack
    April 30, 2016

    I’m only 4 months (nearly) into this journey but i’ve certainly learned that it’s a rollercoaster. Not had any counselling so far, not sure if thats a good or bad thing x

    • Life as a Widower
      April 30, 2016

      I didn’t find it helpful in the early days. I expected too much from it and just ended up more frustrated by the whole process.

      • mummyandjack
        April 30, 2016

        If its working for you now then thats a good thing. Right now i’m ok with writing things down as a cathartic measure x

      • Life as a Widower
        April 30, 2016

        As I did too. That was therapy in its own right. For me therapy is all about giving thoughts some order and coherence. Writing is a great way to do that x

      • mummyandjack
        April 30, 2016

        It also saves time in saying the same thing to different people over and over again! X

      • Life as a Widower
        April 30, 2016

        And money!

  3. Luci
    April 30, 2016

    I agree Ben. When life throws curve balls….the devil’s not in the detail!

  4. saxtont47
    April 30, 2016

    Once again you’ve been able to articulate what I could not….and once again I feel fortunate to have come across your blog while in the depths of despair…its been 3 years now and my happiness is somewhere in between where is was 3.5 years ago (loving love) and 2.5 years ago (despair beyond belief). Most days it shades towards the high end and while I may never feel as happy as I was with Jovette, I know I’ll never be as low as I was in the aftermath of her death. Thank you for sharing.

    • Life as a Widower
      April 30, 2016

      I think I know what you mean. I think of it like innocence lost. It’s easy to be happy when you’re innocent, but once that’s gone it changes the shape of everything.

  5. Kathy Hughes
    April 30, 2016

    I have dipped in and out of counselling over the last 6 years when I had a serious life changing accident, I have had a very mixed success and failure from it due to the financial constraints of the NHS – they limit the time you can have and it takes so long to get there in the first place. I had an emergency assessment which concluded I urgently needed some counselling and waited for over 6 weeks for an appointment by which time I was angry with them so it took ages to get into it! But when it works it really works. Good luck with your journey Ben x

    • Life as a Widower
      April 30, 2016

      I’ve been there too. Just when you feel you need attention you find out there isn’t any to be had until you don’t need it anymore. Beyond frustrating.

  6. brucuk
    May 3, 2016

    I had my one year anniversary on Sunday. The “Year of Firsts” has been hard, but then some things have been easier. There’s an old German proverb that says “Fear of the wolf makes the wolf seem bigger”, and I have found that over and over. I know one thing, Gwen would have wanted me to live my life to the max, and if others have problems seeing me do that, it’s their problem. I know I’m not doing things to hide, I’m doing them to survive, and carve out a new life for myself, a life that was not planned, but IS, and WILL be enjoyed as much as I can.
    Big man hugs to everyone out there.

  7. Christine Henry
    May 4, 2016

    Hi Ben, I love your blog and the comments you make as I can relate to them so well. Two and a half years along this journey and my late husbands 44th birthday yesterday there are times I think when is this going to get easier? Having two young boys it’s so hard at times to find time for yourself to think, I find counselling invaluable in that it gives me time for me, writing is also a great help even for ten minutes before bed, it helps to get stuff out of my system and not annoying my good friends who are there for me every day but you get to the point where you get fed up listening to yourself and you think your annoying them. Some days I start writing off with a gratitude list, not to be all happy and smiley or wishy washy but sometimes it helps me to feel that even though grief and loss of my best friend/husband/boys Daddy is terrible, there are things (mostly our two boys) that make life worth living and spur me on to keep going. Keep your posts coming Ben, they touch and help so many people. XOXO Christine

  8. victoriawhyte
    May 4, 2016

    I always appreciate the things that you share, thank you Ben, even though my loss is different to yours. I had counselling for 18 months after Leah died, which helped me enormously as it was my personal private space to be completely honest, without worrying about the impact that my pain could have on others.
    I’ve recently returned to counselling, as I was struggling to support other family members and I needed someone to support me while I support them.
    I also find writing very helpful, both my private journal and my online blog.

  9. Pam
    May 13, 2016

    Thank you for the blog post. It really hit home. I lost my partner of 12 years unexpectedly 16 months ago, and I’m still grieving — I do need to go back to grief counseling, so this really helped. And, it helps to share that not everyone is over the grief right away. I can’t seem to get back int the swing of things . . .

  10. Renne
    May 18, 2016

    Ben, I lost my husband 7 weeks ago suddenly and tragically . He was 30. I am 29. We have a 4 year old daughter. My world is completely torned and I am devastated . Please help!

    • Life as a Widower
      May 23, 2016

      Hi Renne. I’m so sorry to hear about what’s happened/happening to your family. It’s so hard to find anything that helps so soon after your life is torn apart like this. I just wrote and wrote. If you go right back to the beginning of this blog (the first post is called Opening Up), you might find someone you connect with i.e. me three and a half years ago. I’m not sure where you live but there are online support groups out there too, which may help.

  11. David Kelly
    May 19, 2016

    It’s interesting to read your views on counselling Ben and I love your bread analogy. Can I pilfer that for use with my clients? đŸ˜‰
    I haven’t visited your blog in recent times as it’s been too painful during my wife’s battle with cancer. It was too painful to come here, empathise with other’s grief and put myself in the shoes of a widower. I dreaded the thought of my wife losing her battle and life as a widower. Well, now I’ve achieved the first ‘first’ – the first day as a widower and what a surreal day it was: mixing the practicalities of what needs to done after a death, moving out of the hospice after it became home for a few weeks and the coming back to a home which now felt like a place that was oddly familiar but quite different at the same time. And to finish it off, I spent ages trying to console my emotional 10yo son as I put him to bed.
    It’s then the enormity of it all hits you and the self doubt kicks in: How am I going to cope with all this? How am I going to support him through all this? Will I be good enough for him? And I guess at that point I started recollecting reading similar worries in your book a few years ago, and so felt drawn to return here and embrace the site again.

    I look forward to getting to that ‘doing alright’ moment but I know that’s quite some time away given I’m only starting this journey.

    • Life as a Widower
      May 23, 2016

      I’m so sorry, David. Your message slightly knocked me off balance. I’ve just had one of those days when an awful lot of memories from when it all happened suddenly poured over me. It used to quite irritate when people said ‘I don’t know how you do it’ as if you have a choice, but as I read your words I thought the same thing about you (and then me in the past tense). I honestly don’t know how we do. My thoughts are weigh you and your son.

    • Stuart G
      May 30, 2016

      Hey David, sorry to hear your loss. We share a date sadly, my wife had a massive haemorrhage and cardiac arrest on 19 May and passed away at 12:30.

      We all work differently but I understand some of what you are going through. That day was calm/numb for me and the next morning waking up alone probably was the worst day of my life. Up and down since then with some very calm/numb points in between.

      Never written so much and my little black moleskin is filling up rapidly.

  12. Wendy
    June 3, 2016

    I lost my husband a year ago when my daughter was two and I was pregnant with our second child, a boy, now 8 months old. He was just 33 and died as a result of a condition no one knew he had. It all happened in less than 24 hours.
    Last week I posted on Facebook for the year anniversary and received the most incredible responses from friends. They all tell me I’m an inspiration but I’m just fighting every day because there is no other way as far as I’m concerned.
    By coincidence I then became aware of your story.
    We were living in Australia at the time so I have just returned home and literally started again with the support of my amazing parents. Fortunately having them around takes away some of that awful sadness of not being able to share my children’s development/funny antics with him.
    So far I have found an enormous amount of strength, because of the children I guess but also the love and stability I had growing up and continue to receive from my parents. Most (not all) of the time I can appreciate the things I do have rather than focus on my loss – my children, family, friends, health, fitness/sport, my brain(!). I try to see the ‘not knowing’ as exciting but of course it is also terrifying.
    My children are full of smiles and simply delightful. They are my priority but I am accutely aware of rebuilding my own life and happiness.

  13. jeanineprlt
    November 3, 2016

    Thank you for sharing. I myself have lost my husband 2 years ago and have found myself feeling the grief more this time around than last year. I haven’t been to may counselors, they all have the same empty looks and same empty voices behind them. lol
    I believe I got more peace from loved ones than going to a counselor. One thing I found to be true for myself is to give myself the most ultimate love and care that he would have wanted for me. That’s the bright side that has been keeping me from feeling depressed. Well, also my 2 kiddos of course.

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