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.

232 comments on “Our story

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  4. YaRa
    February 9, 2014

    So touch by your story. Thanks for be the healer of so many people who lost some significant other(mother,father,etc) at 2012. As you heal we weal.

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  7. Robatsu
    April 6, 2014

    For some reason, I recently wrote about the loss of my first wife and the years thereafter which were very difficult for me, I did not cope well with widowhood. She died 22 years ago suddenly in a car accident. I can assure you that though you will eventually spend most of your time thinking of other things, you will never forget the agony of loss. Even this much later, when I do revisit things, it is every bit as sharp/painful as it was the day she died. Forgetting about it is the least of your worries, IMO.

    • RAM
      November 11, 2014

      Dear Robatsu,
      I read about your tragic story of losing your wife to a car accident.Friend i have seven months back lost my wife in a tragic road accident.I survived along with my 12 years old son.Since than i am shattered, even i feel it’s all over for me and am never able to sleep and feel good, now that she never will be with me again.

  8. Anthea
    April 11, 2014

    You sound like a brilliant father. I’m sorry for yours and your son’s tragic loss.

  9. Deepak
    April 13, 2014

    I lost my wife a month ago. I don,t know what to do. I had a terrible past… life in harsh boarding schools… broken family…She was the only one I had…I felt life through her… she gave me hope…made me complete my masters…she used to feed the people in the slums, take care of kids abused, visit orphans…. i was a true fan…Now i have nobody…she was only 27….she used to utter the name of God every time she said something but she found no miracles… now I live the life of a zombie…..

  10. afsheenanjum
    April 16, 2014

    May Allah bless you with patience and hope.

  11. Ian Millthorpe
    April 27, 2014

    So sorry to hear of your loss Ben, Reading about your story i feel your pain only too well, I too lost my beloved wife to cancer in 2010, i’d been with Angie from our first date as fourteen year olds, i loved her with all my heart, me and Angie have eight children, Angie was first diagnosed with breast cancer after our third child was born in 1991, Angie was just thirty years old, but five years later Angie was given the all clear and the first thing she asked for was to have another child, she like me just loved the enjoyment our children brought into our lives, 17 years and five more children later her breast cancer came back and tore our whole world apart, i was left grieving from the very day we were told her cancer was terminal, i tried to keep strong and hide my grief from my wife and children, often leaving the house and driving somewere quiet to cry without anyone seeing, Angie passed away over three years ago and still the grief is as raw as the day she died, i’m now raising our five youngest children aged from fourteen to six alone, without the children i don’t think i could have coped, they give me the strenth to carry on living. I too wrote a book about my story which also helped me cope, writing the book made me realise all the wonderful memories i have that no one can take from me, i wish you and your child all the best for the future Ben.

  12. Lindsey
    April 28, 2014

    You are truly one of life’s inspirational people! After reading the extracts of your book in the Daily Mail I felt incredibly moved by what I had just read. The devotion both towards your wife and son shone through, you have a very lucky little boy, not only did he have and will always continue to have a fantastic and beautiful mum but he also has an amazing dad with a heart of gold! I have felt incredibly humbled by how brave you have been, your wife would be so proud.
    I wish you and your beautiful young man all the luck in the world for your future, you truly deserve it.

  13. Anne-Maire
    May 7, 2014

    I can’t imagine the pain and grief, confusion and anger you and your son have gone through. Grief, mourning for someone you love, dealing with the surreal aftermath of the death of a loved one truly is the hardest thing you will ever go through in life. Thank you for sharing your story. Your wife would be proud of you xx

  14. John
    May 7, 2014

    My half hour bus journey into work is a mundane affair. Today i read The Metro to pass the time. I got off at my destination sporting tear stained cheeks and red eyes. Ben and Jackson, your story is such a mixture of sadness and of strength and beauty. A real mixed pot of emotions were ignited in me. May i say how much your strength shines through in dealing with such a testing time. That beautiful little boy is blessed, to have such an amazing Father. My deepest good wishes to you both.

  15. Lesley Day
    May 8, 2014

    I have just watched your story on loose women… What a lovely man you are and your little boy is beautiful… Good luck with your book I will certainly be buying it… Your beautiful wife would be very proud of you….sending you my best wishes.

  16. Fatima
    May 9, 2014

    I have tears running down my face reading your story.I heard you on Vannesa show this morning.On the 13 October 2013 I lost my dear friend of 27 years suddenly and with no warning.Just two days before her funeral on Thursday 24 October I lost my other dear friend Asha of 40 years she was killed also by a car whilst crossing the road.I was making arrangements with Asha on the very day she died to attend Lisa funeral.Just like you i went to counselling too soon.The grief is very raw still and i find it all very unreal.Everybody says stay strong as I am a strong character.The biggest sadness is that I miss picking up the phone to both of them and talking just talking!
    May Allah bless you and your son Jackson!

  17. Jo
    May 12, 2014

    Wow! An amazing man. Ur a fantastic husband to Desreen and daddy to Jackson
    I’m addicted to the blog and am intrigued by yours and Jackson’s journey through your unimaginable grief. Yours is a true love story – and hearing how in love you were – and still are is absolutely heart breaking. Although I don’t know your family I have had many sleepless nights thinking about the 3 of you. Take comfort from the connection you will forever have to Desreen through your gorgeous son.
    Love and best wishes to you both xxx

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  19. triciatallen
    May 12, 2014

    Thank you for your willingness to share your story with the world. You may not realise it but you are empowering many in the process. Keep up the good work 🙂

  20. 6 weeks ago I lost the love of my life unexpectedly, and have been writing quite a bit about it in my blog. A friend recommended that I read yours. I’m looking forward to seeing where you are emotionally, since you’re further along in the grieving process than I am. I think it’s wonderful that you’re sharing your story, and I’m sure it’s helping a lot of people. Keep up the good work.

  21. Wordsmith Susan
    May 13, 2014

    Ben, What a tragedy for you and your beautiful son. Also of course for your wife’s family and friends. I am so sorry. Nothing can possibly have prepared you for this. I heard you speaking a couple days ago on Woman’s Hour, until then I was unaware of your story.
    I think it’s a great thing you’re doing with this blog and I totally identify with what drove you to create it. My mother died suddenly at the end of January and although of course she was old, it was unexpected. I decided to write a Blog, more as a conversation with her, than anything else. I haven’t posted much recently as it seems to have sparked a bit of a war with one of my siblings. And I have done nothing to publicise it. I’ve now decided to write a Memoir about my mum and my relationship with her. Writing can be a great healer and helps clarify your emotions. At least that’s what I think.
    What I’ve realised is that this society has no idea how to deal with death and grief. It’s as if the bereaved have to bundle their feelings away into a sealed box, so as not to offend or embarrass others. I keep wanting to say that ‘it’s not catching’! This is another reason why your Blog is such a great thing to do. Your son will really thank you for it when he’s older. And you, will be able to read what you wrote and smile in the memory of your great love. It will also make you cry I suspect, but crying is good. What I think is strange is those who feel it’s totally normal to deny your raw and profound sadness when someone so close dies – whether it’s sudden or not.
    I will visit your Blog regularly and really wish you and your son strength and love.

  22. glennmhumphreys
    May 13, 2014

    Thanks for doing what you do. I lost my wife in January 2011 and began writing last year about my experiences in widowhood. What a journey it has been so far. Thank you for having the courage to share your experiences with others.

  23. Dominique
    May 14, 2014

    So touched of your Story! God bless you and your son!
    Greetings from the cold Germany!

  24. RUBBY
    May 15, 2014

    thank you for the encouragement, i got married on 5th Aug 2011, on 5th Aug 2013 i buried the love of my life, our son was only a year old.i have cried and cried, its comforting to find encouragement from people in my shoes.God bless you and your son.

  25. Shane
    May 15, 2014

    I’m off work today and not usually a daytime TV watcher but think fate allowed me to be at home to see you on The Wright Stuff. Truly inspirational. Hopefully I will never have to approach the heartache that you have but if I do, my thoughts are that I may be able to approach it with as much happiness and grace as you. Have just ordered your book and looking forward to reading
    God bless you and yours

  26. paul
    May 15, 2014

    i lost my wife 11 years ago to cancer she died in my arms…and that will stay with me for the rest of my life….but when you are left on your i was like i was in a dream…but as time went on it was’nt a dream….and it hurt so much knowing i lost the woman i loved for 31 years…i was 48 when she died..and i listened to people who had also lost a loved one..and they all said you will never forget but in time it will get better……i dont want to forget i always think of her and talk to her when i go to the cemetary …when she died i was at the cem nearly every day…..but i dont go as i did then..i still have a big photo of us on my wall in my home..and i look at it and think of the good times we had….i never ever thought about what it would be like to be a widower, then i was one so quick i didnt know where to go or who to talk too… kids didnt understand…they thought it was just them who should grieve…but i grieved more than them….they just didnt ask me …..but life has to go on…..and i take every day as it comes….and enjoy it as much as i can…..just like my wife would have…….

  27. Michele
    May 19, 2014

    Thank you! Your book has taught me so much, I lost both parents last summer within a couple of months and there is so much that I’m feeling that I didn’t even know was grief – still on the waiting list for some counselling!!

  28. Shamz
    May 24, 2014

    Hi Ben I recently listened to radio 4 and heard you on there telling some of your story. I actually parked up and had a cry. Crying is good for me cos I find it very hard to do it. I lost the my amazing husband on the 29th April 2012. Our daughter turned 1 yr old on the 13th April 2012. We also have 2 boys. I relate so much with your story and others on here. I’m literally a complete mess one day goes into another and yes it’s 2 yrs recently since Kali’s presence left me, but it feels like today, the pain is so raw. I miss him so much I wish I could hug u all cos u all understand. Your blog has given me a lot of strength and an avenue to cry. Thank u so much.Jah bless u x we will see them again x

    • Life as a Widower
      June 2, 2014

      Thanks so much. I’m so sorry to hear about what’s happened to you family, too. I’m glad you’re able to draw something positive from the blog x

  29. Alison Moss
    May 27, 2014

    What an incredibly touching story, and a great message. I just heard your interview on Radio 2. I think the way you handled it was admirable, what you told your son about his mummy, not confusing him with religious messages etc. I also thought it was an important message to us all about asking for help. It sometimes seems easier to be strong and say “I’m fine” when really all we need is help. Hats off to you and best of luck for the future. Your son is obviously surrounded by a whole lot of love.

  30. Ralph E Snape
    May 27, 2014

    Ben, Your heartbreaking story brings my own sadness into stark focus once again. I to lost the love of my life to Cancer when she was just 38 years of age. We had two fabulous daughters aged 11 & 8. Like yourself I had to become practical in order to raise them. The first thing I did was to stop drinking all alcohol as I felt it would be so very easy to drown my sorrows. The one thing I found, very quickly, that children are very honest and accepted that their dear mother was not going to be in their lives except in their memories. I have kept her memory alive for my daughters and we speak of her frequently. This year will be 25 years since her death and I still so desperately miss her. This sadness will never leave me despite the joyous times my children and their grandchildren have given me. The pain of her loss will never go away I have just learned to live with it. Ben, I wish you and Jackson all the happiness in the world.

    • Life as a Widower
      June 2, 2014

      Thanks so much, Ralph. It’s always very reassuring to hear from people who have made their way through and raised children well despite their devastating loss. It means a lot that you got in touch and I wish you only the best, too.

  31. Chantelle
    May 27, 2014

    You brought tears to my eyes today. Hearing your explanation of your dreadful situation to your Son was so moving & your story gives us all a wake up call to enjoy life as much as you can with the ones that you love whilst you can. I wish you and your Son all the best for a future filled with as much happiness as you can get without your Darling wife & your Son’s special Mummy. xx

  32. Karen
    June 19, 2014

    Omistars! Your story was published in a Sydney paper today, and I have tears rolling down my face. How incredibly sad for you and your son. I haven’t lost anyone significant in my life yet, but I felt i was living your pain as I kept reading. I imagine you are touching more lives in a positive way than you ever imagined. Bless….xx

  33. Jacqui
    June 19, 2014

    Hi Ben,

    I’m from Australia and I just read your article in our local papers today and your story touched my heart. I lost my father when I was a toddler, from an illness, and I never saw my father in the last days of his life as he didn’t want me to remember him the way he was before he passed away. At the time I was 3 years old and it wasn’t until I was in my early teens did I realise who my real father was as it was never spoken about in our household. I grew up with who I thought was my father, but ended up being my uncle who stepped in and took over his brother’s family and gave up his own love to support a young family my father left behind. Given the weird family arrangement, it was an awkward topic for both my parents to discuss, and I was left not knowing who he was. The first time I saw his photo in my early teens, I did not recognise the person in the photo. Besides the obvious family resemblence, I was looking at the face of a total stranger.

    Last year, almost 40 years after he passed away, I went and saw a clairvoyant who does readings from photographs and I had a photograph of both my parents when I was only a few months old. She told me more about who he was as a person and how he died than I’ve ever known from either of my parents. She also told me that he has been around me all these years and have heard my words to him when I get frustrated with myself and need to bounce words off someone. She told me that I suffered from trauma when he passed away, and thus being the reason why I have no recollection of him at all, even though I can remember some things about myself even earlier than when he passed away.

    My point is, don’t be too frustrated about your son’s inability to remember his mother. Trauma is likely, and it is great that you remind your son about where his mother is, who she was as a person, and just give him back those memories of her to not let trauma set in. It took two clairvoyants for me to understand who he was, as it has taken me years of wondering and thinking about all the what-ifs and wishing I had known him better to understand who I am. To this end, I am going to find your book and read it. Like you, I have written my young son a personal letter/book about my life, my family, my father, and everything in my mind that I want him to know about in the event I forget or something happens to me. We don’t know our fate, we just know how to live life to the fullest, so enjoy the time you have with your son and never forget her.


  34. springwatr762
    June 21, 2014

    I lost my husband this year, we have five kids. I don’t wish this on anyone.

  35. letta bogatsu
    July 5, 2014

    Hi Bennie.I jas read ur story rite now,on page 92 of YOU Magazine in S.A. As I was reading ur story,tears jas rolled down my face.I cunt hold da pain piercing in my heart bcos of da pain u mas hav felt.I read meni mags.but.I neva came across such a touching story as yours.ur level of honesty cannot go unnoticed.u jas speak frm da heart.cheer up my brother.nothing last foreva.der is indid a season for everything under the sun.GOD will wipe off ur tears¤and replace dem with tears of joy¤

  36. letta bogatsu
    July 5, 2014

    As I was reading ur story.I came to notice how much u lavd ur wife en son.we are produ to have bradas of ur calibre! So responsible,laving en caring!

  37. Dear Sir
    it is so resembling and so different stories, actually I am from Egypt a young father for two kids I do lost my wife 29/4/2014 I cannot cope life without her she was everything to me and kids, I never thought that I will be so independent, we here in Egypt start our life in marriage in a way that differ from yours abroad
    what am saying that life may need another way to deal with that differ from my style , that concentrate on work ,I need more time for the kids and their needs

  38. essa
    July 10, 2014

    you are such a special human being..God bless you and your son…may the sun always shine upon you thus giving you the strength u need to carry on!!much love

  39. Charlene
    August 3, 2014

    It’s been five years, since I lost my husband of 39 years…tonight…I googled “widow loss of intimacy”…to see how others dealt with this “no one to hold me when I cry” situation…I miss his presence so much…his smell, taste, touch and voice…Our children are grown with children…but I miss him so much thank you for sharing

  40. Billy
    August 3, 2014

    My heart goes out to you and your son . I lost my partner Sally to Cancer jan 2012, our Daughter was only 2 at the time . We were together for 18 years she was 42 .
    We were told she had incurable Cancer on the 9th of Jan , she passed away the following day .
    I dont think I will ever get over losing her, things are getting easier but I have really bad days sometimes .
    My Brother told me about your story , I have just sent for your book , although it will be very painful reading , I am sure it will be a great help to me .

    I think more people in the same situation should write about there experience, I feel that it helps to share our grief .

    I wish you all the best

  41. mim
    September 15, 2014

    Hi Ben, your story is incredible. You have given me some strength in the darkest time of my life right now. My husband died suddenly of a heart attack 5 weeks ago. He was only 36. There was no warning signs, he was healthy happy we had such big dreams for our future together. Im 5 months pregnant with our son. Sometimes I wonder how im ever going to get through this grief right now let alone raise our son on my own. Thank you for sharing your story.

  42. Charlene
    September 19, 2014

    There are no words to convey what I have to say..while this is a very dark time in your Life…let the Light Shine for your Son…the nausea, the pain, your loss..but your husband left you with a wonderful gift to carry on. You WILL survive and be the very best Momma for your Son..and give him memories to carry him through his Life of his Poppa..You were Blessed to have had the Dreams and Happiness…the nights are horrible…my husband of 39 years died 5 years ago…We were blessed to have three wonderful, beautiful daughters…but that does not fill my emptiness…even with my 3 grandchildren…TAKE CARE of yourself, GIVE yourself time…don’t if, but or and, – Hold tight to today and look forward to tomorrow…It doesn’t go away…I hope you have someone special who will help you through this next year…HOLD ON…Keep you precious memories close..You are a WOMAN…and YOU can do this…Hugs for you and your unborn baby

  43. Jose
    October 26, 2014

    Thanks so much for your blog man,
    I too lost my wife. She passed away from a sudden cardiac arrest on November 10th 2013. Exactly one year after your wife’s passing. She left me with our 3 year old and 2 month old daughters. I’ll tell you there is something about suddenly being so busy with providing single parenting care for your child/children that in a way grief takes a back seat. Anyways I just wanted to say thanks for your blog and sorry for your loss.

  44. Sue
    October 30, 2014

    Hey Ben,

    A friend just shared the link to this page with me and I just wanted to say hang in there. I know it sounds cliche, but it will get easier to live with your hurt. I was 27 when my husband drowned in a freak diving accident in 2004. He was only 26 and a healthy man, starting off in a promising position as wine-maker at a top wine farm in Cape Town. Our beautiful son was just 6 weeks old. I have no clue what went wrong and have had to just accept that some things just are what they are and I can’t change what has happened. I think I could’ve gone crazy asking myself questions over the years.

    We all deal with our hurt and loss in different ways, but 10 years down the line, I have a wonderful, kind, caring and very supportive boyfriend who is crazy about my son and I. Life is good and I have a little bubble of excitement within me again. There was a time, when I couldn’t think further than getting out of bed to feed my child, but now the future is exciting!!

    Keep on blogging, keep on writing and venting and you will look back in time and be amazed by how strong you are!

    Thanks for sharing your story.
    Sue x

  45. John Webb
    November 13, 2014

    Thank you. I consider it a privilege to have been shown this page and to share your own very private thoughts. It is of some comfort to learn that there are others finding it just as difficult to face the challenges as I am doing right now. I have learned during the past two years that there is no easy answers and there can be as many bad days as good ones. Looking back on the positive thoughts and many loving years we had together before parting company does wonders making the good days great, while not forgetting the very difficult years as she faced the final enemy. I have to accept that I need to re-start my life, not change it or compare it with the good times, but remembering to keep the memories. Good luck to all who have to take this challenge on….. it is not easy.

  46. Samantha Taylor
    November 18, 2014

    Hello, I am feeling very, very lost. I lost my husband 10 days ago. He has been ill for 29 months, with pancreatitis (not alcohol related) I was his care giver/career for the last year. I, no, we never expected him to die. It’s a long story. We have no children together but I have 2 wonderful step granddaughters whom I love with all my heart. I have been their nanny since before they were both born. Their wonderful grandad will live on in them. I can’t quite describe how I am feeling and I am finding this process very hard. I don’t know what I should be feeling? Can anyone offer some advice on how to handle this. I don’t want to crack and crumble but I had a very teary morning. And then Just suddenly broke down on the phone talking to the girls at tea time.

    Thank you in advance

    Sam 😦

    • ella
      December 3, 2014

      I lost my husband 17 October just a few days before you. We didn’t have children together but I am Nanna to his son’s children, 2 little girls. I just let the tears come when they do and have had many a teary interrupted phone call. It is very difficult if not impossible to describe grief. And there is no way you should be feeling, no should at all. I too have had a very teary day. Sometimes I can get through a few hours without, even a whole day but then it all comes over again. I feel a bit more under control if I have company. But my family lives on the other side of the world and the granddaughters live about 2 hrs from me. My husband was ill and we lost touch with friends.

      I do hope you will feel better soon Samantha.


  47. Thandie
    December 3, 2014

    I’v just read about your story. Sorry for you loss, I can relate to this as I lost my husband over 3years ago at the age of 25 and while pregnant with our second child. There is no word to describe the pain. Looking at our babies as they grow up with only pictures and stories about him is heartbreaking. I find myself always asking ‘Why’ …I feel so lonely and incomplete. There are good days and bad days. On a good day I laugh just thinking about him trying to dance- Mr had no rhythm whatsoever! Haha

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  49. Dana Colbourne
    December 24, 2014

    You are truly amazing and i hope in time your pain fades. Thank you for sharing your story.

  50. Mark Hawkins
    January 10, 2015

    I have just started to read your book. My name is Mark (36) and on 31st October 2014 whilst on holiday in florida my wife Victoria dropped down dead on our last day. There was no warning. After 2 postmortams (1 in America and 1 in England) I found out she died of myocarditis (a virus). We had been together for 15 years but only got married in the summer of 2013. I have a 16 year old stepson and a 9 year old daughter. I can’t explain how many times my heart keeps breaking. My sense of guilt is unbelievable on a daily basis. I know it’s still early as people keep telling me but…………. I can’t seem to get my head around how the beginning part of your book I can relate to. The last 2 months felt as though I was the only person in this nightmare of a world that death of a loved one has happened too (I was wrong).

    I hope one day the pain will ease as being on this earth is a true nightmare

    Thank you for sharing your story


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