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smiley faces

I’ve felt a great degree of tension about how to best raise my son since my wife was killed. Immediately after her death I did my very best to act happy in front of Jackson during the day and then later retreat to my room to grieve honestly and alone. He was only two years old at the time but he was never daft; Jackson was aware of the change in me from the night his mum disappeared.

For months afterwards our relationship was challenging. When I felt at my lowest he was often at his most buoyant; when I felt okay his mood and behaviour clashed with mine and brought me back down. I think we both found it hard to deal with the fact that we weren’t always able to provide each other with a substantial enough dose of happiness to take away the pain of such intense grief. But I made a decision to be honest about my feelings with my son. I kept hearing stories about how children who had lost their mothers at an early age weren’t allowed to talk about them again in case they upset their fathers. I realised that I wanted to raise a child who understands that it’s okay to express his feelings, and that for me to hide mine would probably only end up demonising his.

Thankfully I am able to say that things have softened a little, lately. I suppose that through the struggles I’ve experienced in coming to terms with losing Desreen, the time I’ve taken off work, and my constant analysis of Jackson’s behaviour, I have probably become a better parent. I’m more patient, attentive and happy to admit when I’m the one in the wrong. It took me some time to realise that when he got the worst of me, I got the worst of him. Just today I noticed how much he retreated when I told him off for something that wasn’t really his fault (let’s just say he could have given me a little more warning before he did what he needed to do). I’m having a bad weekend because of a good night out on Friday – an all-too-frequent emotional response that hits me every time I try to enjoy myself, leaving me wondering whether I’d be better off boarding up my front door and living life as a hermit. When I saw Jackson’s reaction to my stern words – his back turned, his eyes refusing to meet mine, and his lips pouting deliberately and comedicaly – I knew it was time for me to apologise and when I did we were quickly friends again.

When Desreen was alive she often used to get asked what was wrong because she had a habit of contorting her face in such a manner that gave the impression that she was cross. I knew there was nothing the matter with her at all, but when people quizzed her about her mood it was then that she would get mad. ‘This is just my face!’ she would exclaim in a tone that only served to justify the enquirer’s concerns. Well I’ve thought of that face all weekend because of something that Jackson keeps saying to me.

‘What’s wrong, Jack-Jack?’ I’ve asked him several times as he has appeared to retreat from me. ‘Daddy’s not got a smiley face,’ he keeps replying, sadly.

And he’s right, Daddy’s not got a smiley face. But what’s a man supposed to do? I suppose I could ‘put on a brave face’. I guess I could ‘be strong’. Lying about how I feel is an option, too. I think there’s tension in all of the decisions we make about raising our children alone, just as there is evidently tension in my face. Perhaps in so conscientiously trying to build a happy life for my son and myself, Jackson notices more than most when his daddy seems sad. Maybe other kids say this to their parents all the time, too. It could be that I think too much and that if life hadn’t dealt me this hand I would dismiss his remarks as ‘funny’ or ‘cute’. But I suppose if I can take anything positive from his rather heartbreaking observation it would be that he’s not asking me why I am smiling. Thankfully he’s still familiar enough with that facial expression for it not to be his source of surprise, shock or even sorrow.

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butterfly sanctuary

This is a guest post written by Emilie Adams

Emilie, 44, is from France and lives in London with her family. She was happily married to Rob until 24th March last year when he was tragically killed in a scooter accident off the M25. They had been together for 23 years and had three sons, Thomas (now 14), William (12) and Hector (six). Their previously perfect life, like many of this blog’s followers, was turned upside down in a split second on that Saturday evening. However, Emilie hopes to inspire some fellow grievers to carry on living with a smile on their face from time to time, as that’s what helps her get through the day. 

The last 14 months have all been about grieving, coping and readjusting. After we marked the first anniversary of Rob’s death two months ago, now seems like a good time to reflect and take stock. Of course there have been moments of despair and extreme sadness but I do not want to focus on those here. Overall, faced with the excruciating loss of a wonderful husband and father, I would say that we have ‘coped’ as well as we could have and this gives me hope for the future.

Rob was a fun, energetic and positive guy who lived life to the full. Spurred on by his appetite for fun, I felt after his death that I owed it to him and the children to continue living in the same spirit we were always accustomed to. I could not give up on life just because he was no longer there and I could not mope around all day. With this in mind and Rob’s driving force behind us, we have in the last year managed to maintain our same family routine, gone on exciting trips away, continued rugby training throughout the toughest of winters, given and attended parties and made jokes the way we always did when he was around. I also deliberately find little things to look forward to and brighten up my day (my midmorning latte, my lunchtime yoga class or a chat with my girlfriends) and thrive on previously unattainable and insignificant achievements (changing the ink cartridge on my printer or checking the pressure on the car tyres). Bust most important of all, I have discovered that the two major forces in my life now are my children and my positive nature, and that amazingly both have shone through in the last year.

I also decided a few months after Rob’s death that I needed to keep a written account of our story, for the children and for myself, to make sure that we do not forget what has happened to us. Writing has been strangely cathartic and has helped me focus on the positive.

This is an extract of my ‘work’ that I wanted to share on Life as a Widower:

I’m sitting in the car with Hector one day on the way back from school just a few weeks after Rob’s death when he bursts into tears out of the blue and confesses that he would have liked to show his butterfly to Daddy. They had been hatching butterflies at school for a few weeks and after much hype and excitement by all the children, today was ‘releasing’ day. We had released balloons into the sky for Rob after his memorial service and some people have suggested that Hector drew a parallel between the butterflies and the balloons and that the comparison was just too much to bear. It is a possibility, although I query whether five year olds are sufficiently clued up on metaphors. But either way, on realising how affected Hector is by the whole experience, I am driven back to the depth of my own grief as a mum and as a wife and for a few minutes it is unbearable.

Hector calls his butterfly Calypso, after his friend’s dog, and once I’ve pulled myself together manage to make up this story that Calypso has gone to Sark (where Rob has been buried) to see Daddy. Being spring, and Calypso being the most common of all brown and orange butterflies, we see ‘him’ everywhere and he becomes a hugely positive influence in our lives. My mother in law also confirms regular ‘sightings’ in Sark and this is all the proof we need to substantiate our story. In this case we have managed to turn a very sad event into something really positive and Hector is delighted every time he sees Calypso. I love it too. He has become a messenger between us and Rob, he follows us in our travels and goes back to him to report on how we are doing. The symbolism has become so embedded in our lives that, where we would not previously have noticed them, we now see butterflies everywhere. Real butterflies during the spring and summer of course but also butterfly prints on clothing, cushions, bed linen, school bags, pencil cases, jewellery, in books, films, TV, newspapers, on sandwich wrappers, and the icing on the cake, I kid you not, I even spot a nail file in the shape of a butterfly! You name it, we’ve seen it, our butterfly is everywhere.

At first I am amazed, I see at least one a day and it is almost like a sign from Rob. I am not a religious person but perhaps I do have a spiritual side deep down after all so I hang on to this thought very preciously. I even burst into tears of joy in a one to one school meeting with one of William’s teachers because she’s displaying a pencil case with a butterfly on it and I am imagining it is Rob’s way of saying he is with me in the meeting (how do you explain that to a French teacher without sounding completely barmy?)

However, as the months go by, I see not only my ‘butterfly of the day’ but several butterflies every day and all my friends get in on the act to fuel the crazy fantasy. I am given a butterfly scarf, a butterfly Christmas bauble, a butterfly candle and countless butterfly birthday cards, most of the time deliberately but also at times purely accidentally. Butterflies are surprisingly omnipresent. In the early days, I feel compelled to buy anything butterfly related for me and for others: mugs, fancy bracelets, I am drawn to the items like a bee to honey. However, if it is Rob sending us ‘signs’ (rather than unbeknown to me just the ‘year of the butterfly’ on the London fashion scene), I need to ask him to slow down. There’s only so many ‘signs’ I can deal with before my house becomes a weird butterfly sanctuary! Also, as I am pondering very pragmatically whether it could be him, I really can’t get to grips with the nail file incarnation! Darling if you’re listening, I think of you all the bloody time, there’s really no need to go to all that length to try and grab more attention!

Two months ago on my way to work on the tube, and just a few days after I wrote this piece about the butterflies, I stumble across an article in the paper: ‘UK butterflies suffer a catastrophic year in 2012’. My first thought is: ‘What, that can’t be right!?! Rob what have you done, have you been interfering with nature?’ Propelled by the sense of urgency emanating from the title and anticipating another ‘sign’, I do not waste any time reading the article. Apparently most species have been declining this year because 2012 was one of the wettest years on record. Phew, nothing to do with Rob then (not according to that study anyway). The High Brown Fritillary, the Heath Fritillary, Black Hairstreak, White-Letter Hairstreak, Green Hairstreak, Common Blue, Large Skippers (I could never have named so many species of butterflies a year ago, bereavement is obviously good for your general knowledge. I must register for next year’s school quiz!) have all been declining significantly and could now be critically endangered. My friend Mark who has also spotted the article and is aware of butterfly mania in the Adams’ household, emails me on the subject. His poetic contribution fills me with hope: ‘As Rob was a big lad he’ll be producing loads of butterflies and should singlehandedly be able to reverse the trend for 2013’…and he thinks we’ll be good for 2014 as well!

I like the idea of Rob’s dead body producing butterflies to save the eco system of Great Britain. I hang on to this thought and spend the rest of the day with a big smile on my face.

Rob would have been 44 years old tomorrow. This post is dedicated to him on his birthday.
Rob would have been 44 years old tomorrow. This post is dedicated to him on his birthday.