A story of grief by a man and a boy

about time

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.


41 comments on “about time

  1. Cath Barnes
    July 5, 2017

    Bye Ben thank you for the last 5 years I’ve just had a few tears in my car thinking of how hard those years have been but ultimately I think it’s the next 5 I’m really frightened of wishing you lots of love and strength on your onward journey ,we have them with us always in our hearts and in the beautiful little people they helped us create ❀️

  2. Fiona
    July 5, 2017

    Good luck xx

  3. Kathy Hughes
    July 5, 2017

    Bye Ben I hope you and Jackson have a very very happy future. I hope it includes Love and Joy and all the things Desreen would want for you both xx

  4. somekindofwonderful1
    July 5, 2017

    Fantastic post Ben. You always have the right words. It’s wonderful to hear these words and my interpretation is that while you will never forget the past you are ready for a future. I hope you and your lovely sweet Jackson make wonderful memories in the new adventures you are going to experience in the journey called life!! I hope you take pride in knowing that you’ve helped and supported so many people in your journey through grief. That’s something to be proud of. Have a wonderful, happy life Ben x

  5. Strength and Tears
    July 5, 2017

    Dear Ben
    I have been following your blog with great interest. My husband, David, passed away in May 2013 and I was interested to ready how being a young widow was for you, how your father-son relationship managed and how your son managed too (as I have a son who is now 4). I also watched that documentary which I felt was an incredible light shone on a horrid topic.
    I’m pleased to hear you are signing off. I have started doing the same recently. I find myself buried in an online life to form a distraction. ANYTHING other than having to feel. Which isn’t always right as if you block out the hurt you miss the good stuff too. I love this peom.. speaks to me on a deep level when I forget to feel.

    I go amount the trees and sit still.
    All my stirring becomes quiet
    Around me like circles on water.
    My tasks lie in their places
    Where I left them, asleep like cattle…
    Then what I am afraid of comes.
    I live for a while in its sight.
    What I fear in it leaves it, And the fear of it leaves me.
    It sings, and I hear it’s song.
    By Wendell Berry

    I wish you and your son all the best. With him by your side you’ll always have sunshine in your life. Whenever I
    x x x

  6. ericahill1974
    July 5, 2017

    Heartfelt words Ben. I hope you succeed in finding yourself again. Good luck.

  7. Kay Taylor
    July 5, 2017

    Thank you so much for all the times that reading your blog made me feel understood and connected through the worst of times. I wish you and Jackson all the luck in the world.

    I can relate to so much of what you say in this post. It has given voice to my feelings of late.

    Love and luck to you both x

  8. Clare Bullock
    July 5, 2017

    I have read your posts over the last 2 years usually with a tear in my eye. I watched the documentary with ‘the famous footballer’ with a lot of tears and enormous respect. I hope I never have to face what you are living through. I will miss your blog but I hope you and your son find peace and happiness in the future,and maybe even a new love. Xxx

  9. Margaret Jack
    July 5, 2017

    6 years ago if i had a crystal ball and knew what was to come, I’m sure I would had suffocated with fear.
    I still grieve (I think I always will) but also think about what I’ve achieved in the last 5 years, the new people that have came into my life after Andy died and also the ones that have left!
    Most the time I was just keeping my head above water sometimes I still am, even at the grand old age of 50 I’m still learning, making mistakes and trying to forge out a new life for myself
    Keep putting one step in front of the other
    Wishing both you and Jackson wonderful adventures in the future xx

  10. Wordsmith Susan
    July 5, 2017

    Dear Ben,

    I’ve been following your Blog for the past 3 years since my mother died suddenly. I found comfort in your words and the discussion on these pages. It also propelled me to first start a Blog and the write a memoir about my relationship with my mother. I’ve listened to you on the radio, seen the TV doc and all your other public performances. Throughout them all, I’ve wondered about some of the things you’ve written in this last Blog. You are a young man, with a young child and you need to live again. It is so much easier to wrap ourselves in the cloak of our grief than to face the enormity, but potential wonder of an unknown future.

    This last post of yours is extremely profound and expressed in the simplicity of eloquence. Good luck to you as you step forward. You will be able to find happiness again and see the world in all its glorious colours.

    best wishes

  11. Hugo
    July 5, 2017

    Ben, I was always silently watching how do you get on with your life and your progress. As a father of 5 now almost 6 yrs old girl, I want to thank you as well. Though the things are still tough and fresh 1 1/2 yrs after my wife’s death, I think you made my progress to recovery much much quicker. By recovery I mean , … you know what I mean πŸ™‚ . Thanks.

  12. Celia Marszal Iannelli
    July 5, 2017

    I became a widow for the second time five years ago…..I have followed your journey and am probably in the same place. .I have learned to honor the dead we must go on…and I have to the point of taking a chance in a new relationship….All the best to you…

  13. Susanna
    July 5, 2017

    Who said life was easy? Who said this life grief would ever get easier? No one did, as well all deal and learn from how our lives changed that horrible dramatic day! Mine was 14 yrs ago! If I could go back and tell myself what it would be like now! I wouldn’t have believed it.
    Take care sad to say life does go on, learn from it x x

  14. The best of everything to you and yours, Ben. Again, please tap me on the shoulder if there is ever anything I can do for you. My love, Mel x

  15. shazna ali
    July 5, 2017

    Your lovely wife would want you to smile again and find happiness. I lost my husband in November, so understand your pain only too well. Sometimes you have to give yourself permission to be happy even if just for short while…..

    Take care of yourself.

  16. helenvecht
    July 5, 2017

    Thank you so much for the last five years.

    Sail on into the future! Wishing you a productive journey!

  17. Paul Richard
    July 5, 2017

    Congratulations on taking the next step in your recovery. Life has always been and always will be about the living, but we need to take time to address our grief when we lose a loved one. Everyone follows a different path and timeline. Your blog provided insight into my own grief, I was 9 months into mine when I found your blog. It was a blessing to find, but now that it is time to end, may you find many blessings in your future life.

  18. Joe Milwood
    July 5, 2017

    Good luck for the future Ben. Although I don’t know you the person you have been my best friend for the past five years. When I was at my lowest ebb after losing my wife you came along and shone a light into the darkest of tunnel. Because of you I can stand proud and face the future with confidence. Thank you!

  19. Joe Milwood
    July 5, 2017

    Good luck for the future Ben. Although I don’t know you the person you have been my best friend for the past five years. When I was at my lowest ebb after losing my wife you came along and shone a light into the darkest of tunnel. Because of you I can stand proud and face the future with confidence. Thank you!

  20. james mccartney
    July 5, 2017

    Ben I got a lot of comfort from your blog after losing my beautiful with & soul mate Tracey back in November 2015 to breast cancer. The documentary was very hard to watch for me as it opened so many wounds but I think it has made me kinda stronger since watching it though. I found love again soon after my wife passed, too soon for her family but nevertheless I’m happy and smiling again, this doesn’t mean I have forgotten my passed life! They way I see it I have been very fortunate to have loved a beautiful woman who blessed me with 2 wonderful sons but I now have another shot at another life with another amazing woman.

    Good luck

  21. Sue
    July 5, 2017

    That’s wonderful!! Here’s to a very happy future for you and yours.
    Best wishes
    Sue McCarter (who has been following your blog throughout) 😊

  22. Sophie
    July 5, 2017

    Hi Ben, thank you for all of your insightful posts. Being on the same awful journey as you has been made a little less lonely when you know others are suffering too. Wishing you lots of love and happiness for your future, regardless of whether it was one we wanted and imagined we’d have.

  23. encounters
    July 5, 2017

    Ben, part of me is sad to see you go because reading your post was uplifting from the day I read your first post and followed you from then on. Part of me is happy for you, because you dealt with your loss and grief in the most humbling way. You shared your gorgeous son Jackson with us all which was a privilege.
    I will certainly miss your line of thought in every single post you wrote and the brilliant way you articulated the issues you were highlighting in every post. I am sure as you move to the next phase of your life there are many opportunities for you grab and see where that takes you. What ever you do you will make a success of it.
    I hope some how our lives will cross again. It was great to get to know you, although we never met physical I feel I know you. I wish you and Jackson a bright future full of laughter and great things.
    Thank you it was a joy to walk alongside you in your journey.

  24. Kerry Gowland
    July 5, 2017

    Thank you Ben for sharing the last few years with us all. I hope we have been able to help you a small amount, in the same way that you have helped so many. Congratulations on raising Jackson to be the boy you describe to us today. And good luck to you as you venture on the next stage of your journey together. I wish nothing but love, happiness and fun for you….I’ll miss your posts, but am so happy that you feel ready to leave your blog. I’m sure Desreen would have been so proud of you, With much love and admiration, xx

  25. Chris Tomlinson.
    July 5, 2017

    It has been good Ben and not only for you xx

  26. Katy Hill
    July 5, 2017

    Beautifully written – as ever.
    You’ve helped so many people, now you and Jackson can take time for YOU with your whole, “yet to be written” future ahead of you. X

  27. Jules
    July 5, 2017

    Dear Ben. I speak with the utmost respect for you & what you’ve said & done on the subject of grief & have followed your posts and saw the programme. I understood every second through experiencing my own grief. I was widowed in 2010 and was often angry and upset when people who had never been through this awful experience gave advise saying “time is a great healer” etc, etc, we know ‘it’s not’. It took something that another widow told me in a bereavement group to help me understand how to cope & move ‘forward’ by explaining the “jar scenario” (as I’m afraid there is no moving ON). Grief does not shrink, it stays the same & at first your grief is squashed into a jar and touches all sides, there is no getting away from it, it hurts all the time. Make the jar bigger every day by going places, doing things & speaking to people about anything and everything other than grief and soon the jar will get bigger and your grief only touches the sides of the jar a few times a day, it still hurts as much when it does, but it doesn’t hurt as often. I am so pleased that you are starting to make your jar bigger. Your grief will not disappear and what is important is you can choose to visit your grief whenever you choose, as sometimes we need to visit that place as it’s the last place we were close to our partner and where we feel closest to them & the love we felt for each other.
    I wish you and your son all the best for the future, you can move forward, just keep putting one foot infront of the other & keep making that jar bigger. Love & hugs X

  28. alliumsativum
    July 5, 2017

    Congratulations! What a fine progress you’ve made! All the best to you and your lovely son. I wish you’ll find whatever you’re looking for! Much love and happiness! Anja

  29. Margaret
    July 5, 2017

    Wishing you and your beautiful son a wonderful, long and happy life.

  30. sharrongordon
    July 5, 2017

    Thank you Ben

    For opening the door

    For allowing us to scream and shout and let it all out

    Un- shaded eyes, Thats progress indeed.

    Take care Jackson you will have lots of reading about mommy as you grow into a young man. ( you always made me laugh through my tears bless you)

    Take care Ben… Live Laugh and LoveπŸ¦‹

  31. Irene marotta
    July 5, 2017

    It’s about learning to dance again x

  32. Fiza tarannum
    July 6, 2017

    yes, its all about time. and im happy that you have decided for a better and bright future, you deserve it.

  33. Holly
    July 6, 2017

    What a lovely post, and so true. You are a remarkable person and an incredible dad. You are giving your little one an amazing life. I don’t know you, but if I did I would be so proud to call you a friend.

    Grab life by the bollo*ks and enjoy your time with son, friends and new adventures. The world is your oyster xxx

  34. Sandy Weatherburn
    July 7, 2017

    Such positive post. Powerful and brave. x

  35. Christopher D B Gowers
    July 8, 2017

    Thank you Ben for all you have done for yourself, Desreen and Jackson …. and for me to help me, a widower too, to find myself by writing and making sense of my life.

    My I wish you and Jackson all the happiness and the best for the future.


  36. Bill Wright
    July 11, 2017

    Best wishes to you and Jackson, Ben. Your blog was an invaluable resource and online community to me in the first year of losing my daughter Anni.
    Thank you,
    Bill Wright

  37. Jan
    July 23, 2017

    Dear Ben,
    I have just finished your book five minutes ago. Your enduring love for your wife has in someway changed my life forever. Many blessings for you and your son and am I glad that its time for hope to gently lead you forward.

  38. Blinky
    August 15, 2017

    An outstandingly inspirational and beautiful young man, thank you Ben for your blog. Much love.

  39. Tina
    September 1, 2017

    I just want to thank you Ben for being able to express and share your grief so openly – it was the only ‘real’ help I ever experienced through my grief. I SO wish you all the best for the future – I have a feeling good things will happen for you now – you’re ready for that. You have been and always will be an amazing parent to Jackson and I’m so glad it feels time for you to move forward together. I wish you all the very best and cannot ever thank you enough for how you’ve helped my personal journey. Take care and good luck xx

  40. Ten Thousand Days
    September 13, 2017

    Great job with your writing. I am many years ahead of you on my journey. I sure wish I could have been writing way back then. I just started recently…and wow it feels good. Blessings to you.

  41. Pingback: WRITING THE FUTURE

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