A story of grief by a man and a boy
Exactly 1,641 days ago I wrote several hundred words that would ultimately shape my life for the next four and half years. I sat staring at my laptop’s screen, desperate to find other men trapped in a similar situation to mine – widowed young and suddenly facing an intimidating and unwanted new life as a brokenhearted single parent. I searched and searched and found nothing, and so I decided to take things into my own hands. I began writing.
One post became two hundred and sixty-nine and a small audience of loving family and friends soon swelled to a million people I had never met.
One other widowed dad found me and then we set out to find and connect some two hundred others, one at a time.
One phone call from a publisher gave me the opportunity to translate my story into a book and become an author.
One meeting with a brave widowed footballer made me a consultant producer on the most beautiful television documentary.
And then one conversation a couple of weeks ago made me stop and take a really good look at myself.
The first blog post I ever published was written with what then seemed a fairly lofty ambition: to encourage other men, once silenced by society, to open up about their grief. I can say with confidence that it certainly helped open up that conversation for many, but has it had the same impact on me?
It’s a tricky question that someone, albeit inadvertently, asked me a couple of weeks ago. I had waxed lyrical about what had happened to my wife – and the many things that had followed as a result – but I had never once mentioned her name. When asked what she was called, I experienced an immediate sense of self. I saw something that I had been blind to for so long. I felt a pang of suppressed pain and a simultaneous feeling of relief. I immediately recognised that I had been hiding my true, intimate feelings for my wife – for Desreen – behind a wall of public grief. Sure, I’ve seemed open – and what a brilliant (if entirely subconscious) front for the real agony of losing the woman I love.
My suffering has been hiding in plain sight for years. I have grown accustomed to living my life in the comfort of familiar discomfort. Candour has acted as a veil, masking my own innate reserve. I’ve isolated myself in public, giving myself to others and yet retreating further into myself. Unknowingly craving the validation of others while treating myself with utter contempt. Loving others and loathing myself.
And so I’ve decided to call time.
It’s time for me to say ‘thank you’ for all of your love, support and patience, and to wish you all well for the future. It’s time for me to step away from this blog and focus on mine.
I’ve recently taken some time out to try to make sense of things and I’ve learned a great deal about myself.
I’ve realised that while I’ve fought against the notion of ‘manning up’, I’ve also lost my ability to play and be playful in my mission to be grown up enough to take on the responsibility of being a single working dad.
I’ve noticed how I’ve found myself more sadistically attracted to my heartbreaking past than I am emotionally committed to building a joyful future.
I’ve been telling myself that some people live their lives while they’re young while others get the opportunity in later life. That I had already had my chance; that it was over.
I have been in hiding for so long that I nearly lost myself.
I am given to self flagellation and I am aware that I sound like I’m beating myself up right now, but that’s not what this is about.
This is about me making progress.
It’s about me learning to respect myself and the life that I still have.
It’s about me finally being able to say that I am proud of what I – with the help and support of countless others – have been able to achieve.
It’s about taking all the kindness I have experienced from others and making sure I learn to give some to myself.
It’s about learning to have fun again.
It’s about me still wanting to help others but not needing to give myself away entirely in the process.
It’s about prioritising and saying ‘yes’ to myself as much as I do to everyone else.
It’s about being okay with saying ‘no’ when necessary, too.
It’s about being less distracted and more mindful of the time I have with my son while he is still young.
It’s about retraining a brain that has grown so accustomed to focusing on pain that it has struggled to find pleasure in anything other than short term fixes, which ultimately make everything worse.
It’s about being open to a new life and all that it has to offer.
It’s about having aspirations to step into the sun and write from the light side of life rather than hiding in the shadows and storytelling in the dark.
It’s about nurturing genuine intimacy rather than retreating to the remoteness of a life lived online.
It’s about spending more time with the people I love rather than withdrawing from them and isolating myself into a lonely life of sadness.
It’s about how I’ve begun to see gratitude rather than grief when I look around at everything I still have.
It’s about looking to the future and seeing opportunity rather than fear.
It’s about having an identity as a man and not just a widower.
It’s about reopening my eyes and being curious again.
It’s about learning to let go.
It’s about changing the conversation.
It’s about treading a new path.
It’s about learning to love again.
It’s about opening my heart.
It’s about hope.
It’s about time.