A story of grief by a man and a boy
It occurred to me the other day that I don’t really see myself as a ‘widower’ anymore. Nothing about losing my wife feels any different, but it’s only really when I have to fill in the marital status section of some sort of form that I think, Oh shit! That’s me!
I guess that might be because I feel single enough to please myself and to not be entirely defined by my past, but – honestly – I think it’s actually because I have a title and status that is altogether more pressing and all-consuming: I’m a single parent.
This is a hard one to explain but I often feel like a fraud. Over the last few years, I’ve experienced this strange sensation – a feeling like I’m not really living my own life – many times. It’s as though I’m playing a role (or perhaps even a series of roles) that I’m not entirely comfortable with.
When I tell people what I do for a living, I feel like I’m not really telling the truth. It’s as though my life changed so much after my wife died that I don’t even really feel like I have the same life or career as I did before I lost her.
On the odd occasions when I’ve said ‘I’m a writer of sorts’ (rather than referring to my more consistently accurate job in PR), I’ve always felt somewhat disingenuous, as if putting forward this accidental identity felt like a rather uncomfortable pretension (strange because pretension was something I was always quite comfortable with before).
Even when an Uber driver pulls up and asks if I’m ‘Benjamin’ (the name I only began to use when I changed my surname to incorporate my wife’s), I chuckle to myself a little and think, Don’t be ridiculous. It makes me wonder if I went for a wholesale identity change to make sense of senseless and now it all makes less sense than ever before.
The one status that never eludes me, though, is that of a sole parent. It’s all too real. You can change everything else – your name, your career, where you live, how you look – but this inescapable responsibility, I’ve come to realise, will entirely define your life.
What I am clear about as a father is that I am blessed; it’s an honour to experience the joy and unconditional love of parenthood. But it’s also hard. And single parenting is incredibly boring sometimes, too. Perhaps doing it alone through the permanence of widowhood makes it that bit more laborious still, simply because it so rarely lets up. I might have the means and support to temporarily run away, but the guilt of depriving my child of his only living parent never fails to pull me back emotionally. How much easier things could be for me if I just went ahead and sought help. And yet how much I know I would make myself suffer as a result.
Of course I’ve reviewed all the options – the long term family support, the nanny, the au pair – but even four years on I find myself steadfastly stubborn. I simply want my home to be my sanctuary and not a environment of egg shells, indebtedness or employment. It’s a parenting checkmate that I sometimes feel has robbed me of myself. A sociable guy left mostly antisocial by situation. The person who would never have chosen to live alone essentially doing just that every day from 7:30pm. Feeling like I’m ‘doing the right thing’ but mostly isolated and frequently bored as a consequence.
I suppose it’s true that we have made progress, but I feel like I have been left on hold. Sure, I have a lot to be thankful for already, but when you know how much more you could be with the time and support you once assumed you would have through the intrinsic partnership of marriage and parenthood, it’s hard to reconcile your unexpected reality.
Living a life that would otherwise be in full flow, but instead has slowed to a pace that makes me feel older than I am and more solitary than I thought I would ever be. Yearning for spontaneity and yet being a slave to routine. Wondering if I’ve had ‘my time’ already or whether I’ll feel like I’m really living again someday. Torn between wanting to give my son the best life I can and not wanting to deprive myself of (another) one of my own. Trapped in a situation that I both love and loathe. Scared to admit how I feel in case it makes me sound ungrateful for everything I still have.