Life as a Widower

A young widowed father opening up about living with loss

Our story

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 18.53.23My name is Ben. On 10 November 2012 my life changed forever. Just after 8.00p.m. I left my friends’ house a happily married thirty-three-year-old father. By 9.17p.m. I was sitting in an ambulance on their street, a widower in shock. I only remember the time because I noticed that the hands on the clock were in the same position as when our son was born two years and three weeks before.

My son and I managed to narrowly dodge the car that killed the woman I’d loved for the last eight years. The woman I’d married just the year before. It killed a wife; a daughter; a sister; a friend treasured by so many. But, perhaps worst of all, it killed a toddler’s beautiful and devoted mummy.

How do you even begin to pick up the pieces after such a tragic loss? This question plagued me. I found myself wanting to share my experiences and find answers from people just like me, widowed young and caring for grieving children. My search for those people seemed fruitless. It just made me feel even more isolated.

‘I’m thinking about starting a blog about losing Dessie,’ I told a friend. ‘It worries me that I’m finding so little out there to help men left alone raising kids.’

‘Just do it!’ he responded, immediately understanding my intentions.

So on 7 January 2013, two months after the death of my wife, Desreen Brooks, I published my first blog post. Within a week the Guardian asked me to write a feature, for its Family supplement, about my experience in helping my two-year-old son understand what had happened to his mum. I was also interviewed on BBC Breakfast and ITV’s This Morning on the same subject. Within four months the blog generated widespread media coverage, amassed a devoted UK and international audience, received in excess of half a million views and won a blogging award for making people sit up and pay attention to an issue that could, ultimately, touch any parent.

My original intention was to try to encourage other men to open up, to challenge perceptions of male grief and to attempt to force a reappraisal of the stiff upper lip being a badge of honour when it comes to loss. The blog however, attracted people from different walks of life united in their own immediate loss, or their care and concern for grieving loved ones.

All sorts of people started to get in touch: women and not just men; old not just young; people who had lost their husbands or wives within a week of me and my son losing Desreen; parents who had lost children; partners who had not yet started grieving because their terminally ill husbands or wives were still finding the strength to hang on; teachers who had found some suggestions for how to deal with children who had lost or were facing loss; and people wanting to understand how to help their own loved ones suffering the pain of bereavement.

My aim now is to give a real insight into raw and live grief. I’ve documented everything as it happened. I decided I needed to start writing soon after my wife died because of an analogy that one day popped into my head: if women could remember every ache and pain of labour, perhaps none would have more than one child. Human beings’ capacity to forget pain is enormous, and in many ways that is a good and necessary thing. Morbid as it may sound, though, it filled me with dread to imagine that I would ever forget the agony of my loss. I was even more worried that I might not be able to explain it to my son when he was old enough to start asking serious questions.

The blog explores themes of loss and grief from both my son’s and my own point of view. It also frequently features guest posts about bereavement, loss and grief of all kinds from anyone who has an interesting, thought provoking or touching story to tell.

222 comments on “Our story

  1. cheesesightseer
    February 3, 2015

    Your story is getting out there. I have now randomly seen pictures and accounts of your story across social media, the news and in magazines over a period of time. I hope this is helping you cope with the grief I cannot imagine. Strangers are listening and thinking of you.

  2. antoniagodber
    February 4, 2015

    Lovely Ben. In case you ever have five minutes:http://mamassunshine.com/2015/02/04/nominated-for-a-liebster-award/

  3. anguskatie
    February 4, 2015

    Just watched your BBC Breakfast interview and you are the most incredible speaker. My boyfriend has recently passed away at the age of 28 and I just want to thank you for sharing your story. Grief isn’t talked about enough and it is something everyone will eventually have to go through. Such an honest approach to it is so refreshing.

    Katie x

  4. angel
    February 11, 2015

    Your story brought tears to my eyes.
    Its very very nice of you to share your story with people.
    It takes so much courage to write about your own pain but it will help others to know they are not alone.
    Thank you for your story
    God bless you

  5. victoriawhyte
    February 11, 2015

    I don’t know how I never heard of you or your blog until today – what cave have I been living in?
    Mind you, while in that cave, I’ve been blogging my own journey through grief since the death of my child in January ’14
    https://victoriawhyte.wordpress.com
    I’m loving your blog – can’t stop reading it – thank you so much for sharing your story.

  6. Eric nissenbaum
    April 21, 2015

    My wife is currently in hospice and has a few weeks to live. She is coming to a close on a 3-year battle with breast cancer. Our son is 6 and is just beginning to understand what is happening. I am trying to figure out what is next for us. Your story makes me feel like I am not the only one.

  7. Christine Henry
    August 29, 2015

    Hi Ben, I have just started reading your book this week. I heard you on Irish radio last year, the Ray Darcy show, I lost my husband to cancer in Feb last year. 2014. He had been sick less than eight weeks and died from cancer leaving behind me and our two beautiful sons, then aged five years and six and a half months old! To say things have been very hard is an understatement, hence I have been looking to read your book for help in dealing with all of this. Between the heartache of losing your best friend and partner, looking after your children, trying to find time to look after yourself and then the financial stress and worries and so much more! I keep asking people grieving and my counsellor – when does it get easier? Everyone says it doesn’t you just find a way of living with the new situation – I am finding this second year worse than the first, I think I was running on adrenaline for the whole of the first year! Anyway I love your book and your blog, keep up the great work xx

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  10. Mick
    November 6, 2015

    Got tears in my eyes, such a beautiful family and you’ve faced the challenges with such dignity. I have to agree, jail is not the answer for the perpetrator. He didn’t willingly break the law, he’s probably just incapable of operating within it due to natural, age related degredation of his faculties.

    I’ve signed your petition to try to have anyone aged 70+ retested for driving comptency and would encourage everyone else to do so – it could be one of your nearest and dearest to suffer next.

  11. Yasmin
    November 10, 2015

    Ben I’ve always believed people come into our lives for a reason, either to teach us something no-one else could have taught us or to help us bring forth the inner strength and resourcefulness that we find difficult to see within ourselves…Desreen was a catalyst to you finding your true self and your true calling…The love you shared with your wife and carry on to share with your son is a love that is so rare in this world…Through the tremendous difficulties of her passing and beyond, you found the strength and willpower to use her untimely passing to make a difference in this world, most people in your place would have turned to alcohol or drugs for comfort..this shows your resilience a man and a human being…Your poem, your blog and your words in general carry warmth, deep love, affection and caring for the people God placed in your life whether its your wife, your son, her relatives or the elderly gent who unfortunately became the catalyst for Desreens passing, if only people can see beyond your petition for the change in law (for drivers over 70) which is positive cause in itself and learn the true lesson of compassion, forgiveness and the power of what true love can achieve in helping us to weather storms we find ourselves with dignity and self worth…Ben you have restored my faith in humanity…I wish you and your gorgeous son all the best for your future, you are a wonderful dad and I know your wife’s soul is at peace knowing that her sons upbringing is in the best hands possible… much love and light to you both..x

  12. sandie942S
    November 10, 2015

    Wow..What an incredible response! I am deeply humbled by the stories and lives within this space. I am new to the tragic loss of Desreen as I have only today stumbled upon the story while I was in my own little bubble that is life. I hope you all find some solace, peace and comfort from sharing your experiences with each other and reach out to Ben and everyone else with love. xx

  13. Colin Andrews
    November 12, 2015

    Dear Ben,

    Being in the age group affected by your petition I reacted impulsively and negatively on receiving an email asking me to sign the petition, without having read it properly, or the background. I feel I must offer my apologies if my response to change.org does get back to you.

    I had erroneously understood you were calling for a compulsory driving test every 3 years after the age of 70. A basic health & competency check of sight & satisfactory response time is not unreasonable, though I would have concerns about the way it might be implemented.

    Your petition has given me real cause for thought. As I pass my threescore and ten I face the question of how long I will be able to continue driving. It’s a particular worry in my area of poor or non-existent public transport. I would not wish to drive, however, if it were evident that I would be putting myself and other people at increased risk by doing so.

    Best regards,
    Colin

    • Life as a Widower
      November 12, 2015

      I really value this message, Colin. Thanks so much for getting in touch.

  14. Candice
    November 24, 2015

    I have been searching the Internet over for someone with a similar situation of a very close friend of mine who was wicked last month when his wife of three years was killed in a car accident leaving the eight-month-old baby to survive by some miracle. I know his personality and he’s not one to go to any kind of support group that’s why I was seeking out someone that had such a similar experience hoping that maybe they could talk to him or guide him.

  15. Oraka Timothy
    January 29, 2016

    I would remind my husband when he ignored to take his heart medicine.”please think of me and our children. That fatal morning when I walked into hospital room. He fought so hard to live and my heart sink at very moment seeing his battle for survival. I left him the previous looking well and now I am seeing someone fighting for his life.I feel deep pain and have not recovered.

  16. Mel Fishley
    June 1, 2016

    Dear Ben

    I have just seen your article on the Myleene Klass Single Parent documentary and was touched by your story…

    Your positivity and strength is commendable.

    I hope this continues as a foundation for your son Jackson.

    I am a single parent although not through a passing of life. However I do find that life is difficult without the security of that partnership as I continue years later to try to remain positive and forward thinking.

  17. Belinda Bin Johnston
    June 19, 2016

    I heard you on the radio and I had just posted on FB: “Remembering Dad and the fun times. He died aged 56 yrs and I hope that our support and understanding of subjective wellbeing has improved; so that fewer individuals decide that suicide is the best option”. It may seem odd and inappropriate that i am writing this but I wanted you to know how grateful i am that you have been raising awareness of grief and the journey that you have been taking. Our mother died at 37 yrs and Dad was left with 5 children under 16 years old. We all believe that had he been able to experience and share his grief with emotional support he would have been with us to see his children and grandchildren grow up. Happily times have changed and by sharing your story you are helping others to realise that they are not alone despite how they feel and that life is worth living…..Thank you.

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  19. Kym
    November 26, 2016

    My 32yr old daughter in law was run over and killed in London on her birthday last month. My son Ben and Laura had only been married 6 months. I wish they had had a child, so he has somebody to love and get out of bed for in the mornings still. The grief is endless, bottomless.

  20. Justin Lankester
    February 4, 2017

    Hi, my lovely wife Sharon passed in the early hours of Saturday the 21st of January2017! I’m in absulute pieces as she was the love of my life, she was just 40years old and had apparently successful surgery to remove her brain tumour on the 24th of November last year, she was getting stonger by the day until that fateful night.
    We didn’t have any children but it has hit me so hard as iff I’d been punched by world breaker hulk! I’m getting on OKish with the help of family, friends and our two cats.
    I’m hopeful that I can keep her memory alive and also move on? I’ll never forget you my gorgeous Sharon xxxx 💔💔💔💔💔

    • vp
      March 9, 2017

      hi Justin,

      I am so sorry for your loss !

      My beautiful brave wife passed away on the day of your writing, of metastatic cancer that she had been fighting for eleven years. The fact that we too didn’t have children,that she too was young at 48, and that I too am devastated, makes me believe that the grief of losing a loved one, and a spouse is so infinitely devastating that it can be understood only by those who have been in a similar tragedy.For me, no psychologist, spiritual healer, understanding family or concerned friend can even begin to replace the cold fact of her departure or the lonely twilight and the empty nights that I face with a glass and a pill. I am not able to relive the positive moments of happiness because the only memories are the painful moments of her final days and the sad look in her eyes, and the courage she had even as she drew in her final breath.
      As every night becomes lonelier than ever, Im struck with the cold truth that I will never be able to fill in that black hole in my heart…even if there is still a heart thats left. I have dedicated my life from here on to keeping her with me..from the clothes she wore to the books she read and the music she heard and the dog she loved. I cannot beat the enormity of the pain so I am going to embrace it. And as the years stretch before me, I will do the things she wanted me to..in grief and in her honor and the rest of my life will be dedicated to one day being united with her.
      So my way is to embrace her loss with never ending grief and the bed that is soaked with my nightly tears may also become a tribute to the infinite meaning she continues to have in my existence,

  21. Claire Sweeney
    March 27, 2017

    Just heard you on the Jeremy Vine show & looked you up.Amazing you have opened up a subject that is so hidden and tucked away & brushed under the carpet! My dad died suddenly age 42.I was a very young 20, my sisters 13 and 16.It was 1993.In Ireland where my husband is from death is so open and talked about! Even the coffin is open at the wake!! Here curtains drawn.I remembere no one came near our house and mum said people she knew crossed over the road when they saw her to avoid her as they didn’t know what to say.Culturally in the U.K. death and grief is dealt with so poorly and is so awkward!!! Others don’t k ow how to behave to you and you don’t feel you can be open as it makes ppl feel awkward.Thank you to people like you, Jeff Brazier,Darren Clarke, and Rio Ferdinand for talking publicly and openly.It will help other grievers so much and help the general public understand this happens and not to run away from the grievers or be awkward.

  22. Wordsmith Susan
    March 27, 2017

    Claire, your comments resounded with me. I heard Ben on Woman’s Hour a month or so after my mother died very suddenly in January 2014. I read his Blog, which inspired me to set one up myself, then subsequently to write a memoir about my relationship with my mum. I’m still revising the end of it as I was advised it hadn’t come to ‘a resolution’. I found Ben’s story and his subsequent memoir so moving and inspirational. So little is talked about grief in this society. It’s an embarrassment for so many. Your comment about people crossing the road is exactly what happened to me. Some of my neighbours who had known my mother well suddenly started crossing the road when they saw me. Soon after her death, a neighbour put a card through my door but tried to run away because I’d opened the door just after she put her card in my letter box and she didn’t want to see me face to face. Why is it that we can’t accept grief and death? It will happen to us all. In the case of Ben and Rio, they lost their partners at such a young age, and with small children. My heart goes out to them. It is tough at any age, but in my case, at least I had my mother for a number of years. Not that this makes the grief and pain easier. I think you never ‘get over’ it. But you find a place within to accommodate the pain, but it is always there ready to raise its head to remind you of the rawness.

    Yesterday was Mother’s Day – always difficult since mum died. I planned to make a lemon meringue pie for my son, in memory of my own mother as this was one of her signature dishes she made for us since we were small children. I’d never made one before, so I Googled a recipe. Just looking at the recipe reduced me to tears. Daft really, but suddenly I was once again hit with the realisation that I’d never taste mum’s lemon meringue pie, or see her again. So, even after 3 years, my grief is still just under the surface.

    I thank Ben and all the other contributors to his Blog for sharing their stories. I think it is helpful and comforting for others who are grieving. Maybe there should be a ‘Grieving Anonymous’ Society or group?
    Susan

  23. james mccartney
    March 27, 2017

    Hi Ben

    I heard your interview today on radio 2 and so much of what you talked about I can relate too.

    I lost my wife Tracey to breast cancer on 21 November 2015 after a year long battle, that was her second battle as she fought and beat it back 17 years earlier when she was only 29! She left behind 2 fantastic boys Jay now 8 and Ross now 23.

    I went on to meet another fantastic woman shortly after my wife had passed who has supported me through the grief that followed, this however that has caused some problems with Tracey’s family who I now have no contact with, that’s tuff as we were all very close.

    When I heard you talk about your wedding vows and till death you do part really hit a cord, I loved my wife with all my heart and will never forget her. Listening to you today spurred me to find your blog and reply to your story. Thanks James

  24. Adrian
    March 28, 2017

    Hiya Ben,im Adrian lawford and I have 3 children.On November 24th i tragically lost my wife.she died of an aneurism to the thoracic aorta.it took 40 secounds, or so.didnt even say goodbye coz it was that sudden.she was 41.life will never ever be the same and I’m seriously struggling to come to terms with it.im strong for the children but it’s super hard.do you have a group i could talk to or have a chat with you please?thankyou adrian

    • Life as a Widower
      March 28, 2017

      I’m so sorry to hear that, Adrian. Are you on Facebook? I can add you to our private group if you are.

      • Adrian
        March 29, 2017

        Yes I am on Facebook Adrian lawford.its horrific,it’s like living in a bubble and nothing is real anymore.

      • Adrian
        March 29, 2017

        Hiya yes I am on Facebook.its Adrian lawford.its horrific coz it’s like living in a bubble and nothing is real.thankyou

      • Life as a Widower
        March 29, 2017

        Can you send me a message via my Life as a Widower Facebook page so I can find you please?

  25. sharrongordon
    March 29, 2017

    Rio Ferdinand:
    ‘Being mum and Dad ‘ was a remarkable documentary. Emotions are such a difficult thing to process and when you suppress your feelings its even harder.
    It re- reminded me that we are only human but thank you all for written and visual help and support to carry on.

  26. Todd
    March 30, 2017

    Hi Ben. Just learned of you through Rio’s documentary. I lost my wife six years ago and four days after the birth of our son. My/Our story is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMW-oc014uc&t=3s. I’ve done work as a patient advocate with a foundation here in the US and have helped other widowers who have lost their spouse just as suddenly, whether connected by mutual friends or the foundation itself. However, I’ve never truly connected with others to process any of this. Would love to be able to join your Facebook group even though I’m not in the UK. Ironically, I work at Disney World in PR and Rio was here a couple months back. There was an opportunity to potentially cross paths but unfortunately it didn’t come to fruition. Thanks for your consideration.

  27. Kester Richards
    April 4, 2017

    Hi Ben

    My wife died 4 months after her 40th birthday, on 6th February this year. She’d been in hospital for just short of 3 weeks. We’d been together for 16 years, married for 14, and had a 10 year old daughter. I’ve had to get on with things for her, and until now, hadn’t found anybody else in my situation. I work for the ambulance service, and am currently off sick.
    I’m taking a sabbatical from social media at the moment, but would be interested in joining your FB group upon my return.
    I’m slowly making my way through your blog, and finding it good to know that there are many others out there, who share a similar story.

    Cheers,
    Kester

    • Life as a Widower
      April 4, 2017

      I’m so sorry to hear that, Kester. When you do find your way back we’ll be there. Just send me a message and I can add you to the group. There is support out there for your daughter too if you’d like me to point you in the right direction.
      Ben

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