Early this year I received an invitation from the BBC to be involved in the creation of a short documentary around the topic of grief. Well, male grief to be more specific with my own flavour. The creation of this miniseries was to bring together a number of people who had been affected by mental health issues and bereavement.
After 6 hours of filming in my home in Southport and down in London. I was expecting a little more than 9 minutes of footage to be included in the final edit. I’m guessing the whole Covid-19 lockdown played a big part, or maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. It really did make me think twice about ever doing something like this again. Especially considering the amount of time, effort and personal information Marco and I had initially put in.
Anyhow, that’s enough grumbles from me. I hope this finds the right people out there, even if it just 9 mins of empathy.
This is a guest article I recently wrote for Metro – describing exactly how I felt about finding love again as a young, widowed Dad. This is the first piece I’ve worked on since finishing this blog – I think it’s as worthy as all my previous posts – thus the share.
On Friday 20th September 2019, I was in Liverpool to attend the 2019 Positive Awards ceremony at the Hilton Hotel. Little did I know I would actually leave as a winner in the ‘Resilience’ Category for this blog.
I was always very honoured to have been originally nominated at the beginning. To actually be placed in the final four of the ‘Resilience’ Category and then go on to win it was a massive shock. Especially against so many other inspirational people I was up against.
Receiving this award is just simply wonderful in itself and more so for everyone who knows me and my daughter.
Though my blogging days are over I just wanted to write something to let everyone know I won and to say a big THANK YOU. A thank you to everyone who had taken the time to vote and to write so many lovely words. It means more to me than you probably realise.
You have all made my world a very shiny and proud place to be.
I have (yet again) shared my story of widowhood and beyond – in this week’s Chat Magazine (TI Media). It covers a lot more about that day back in May 2017. I speak more about my duel as a single parent and facing grief. Of course lots of insight into the importance for other young widowers to reach out for support.
Also, I’m currently at the halfway point of my first draft for my book. I’m ‘bang-on’ schedule to have it finished for early next year. Margot and I are very excited about it.
I have decided to wrap up my blog with this final post for my rainbow of love, loss and the pot of hope found at the end of it. My thoughts have gone into overdrive for this, complete with the countless speed bumps of contemplation on my entire decision to stop.
It was only last week that I was sat in my home in Southport where I started to piece together my thoughts for this post. I told myself to “maybe I should wait a bit longer”, though; I knew I needed to figure out whether my decision to stop was based on it just being ‘the right time’ or something else?
No matter how I observed my feelings, I had to be honest with myself. I realised that all the anguish that made me start writing my blog at the beginning, has now changed shape. It has now morphed into something that is making me want to hold back my energy. Maybe it is just the obvious and simple fact that I need to concentrate all my energy on writing my book. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it and I certainly can’t ignore how I’m now feeling.
So, at this point, I stopped thinking about what I wanted to write down. I got up out of my chair and made a beeline to the kitchen counter, where there was a plate of cookies that I’d been avoiding all day. I ate the whole plate.
Then I thought to myself, “how could cookies not make me feel better?” Then all of a sudden, I started to think about Katherine’s love for cookies.
When she was alive she would never settle for just any old cookie. They would have to be the soft doughy type. The ones that just melt in your mouth when you chew them. Of course, they could only be worthy of her full praise if they came with the chunkiest chocolate bits concealed inside them.
As a child, Katherine and her family set the goalposts high for the ultimate cookie eating experience. In the past, her family went on holiday to Orlando, Florida, USA. They had discovered the grocery chain called ‘Publix’, which they’re cookies became the holy ‘Cookie’ grail. Since this discovery, every other cookie was adjudicated against the ‘Publix’ experience.
So, I then started to think about the purpose of my blog in the same sense as Katherine’s ‘Publix’ cookie test. In a way, it has been my own ultimate experience for my grief. It had been my best support tool all along, releasing my thoughts, my emotions, my pain and my hope. It has helped people to understand and to know what life was truly like behind closed doors of a widowed Dad and Husband. Nothing else compared to it.
I then questioned myself whether my resolve to wrap my blog up was because I’d had enough of analysing everything in my head, or whether all my topics of grief had simply run their natural course. In which case, perhaps my mind was probably just adapting accordingly in preparation to write a book. Could writing my book be the very nature of Katherine’s ‘Publix’ cookie test? It could initially be judged against the power of my blog when it is released. Complete with all the chunky blocks of love I intend to put inside it.
It then occurred to me that “yes, this is it”, this was the next logical step. I now have the opportunity to build a legacy for Katherine on behalf of our little girl by capturing the special moments of her life for her to cherish forever. It was the right time to finalise the blog once and for all.
I started this blog from nowhere. I have pushed it hard and I’ve found lots of others who were searching for the same thing as me. One of the most beautiful things about the empathy of others was the fact we have all helped one another, and we remain to do so continually. I think that reaching out to the people I eventually found was probably the most significant step I could have taken in helping myself through the pain of grief.
Something I have never told anyone is my personal feelings when I reached my fifth post in my blog. I felt that all the readers would think I was just being a dictatorial dick about grief. I would even think some would even see me as an attention seeker and just simply want me to “shut the fuck up?” But that simply wasn’t the case, it was all in my head when I began to connect with others.
I must admit, things progressed quite quickly with all my truthfulness in grief. I have had the opportunity to go farther into the public domain: radio appearances, media interviews, life Insurance adverts, articles in newspapers, magazines and now my final piece, a book. It was really interesting to observe how people, in general, are interested in reading and sharing it. This was one of my other purposes for it I wanted to help the many who haven’t even experienced loss.
Despite my division of opinion, today is a good day to move onto the final stage. I now have to make a promise to myself to crack on with the final legacy for Katherine. I can’t see myself writing both my book and blog together. My body and mind simply won’t let me. My emotional energy to write can sometimes run so high for a single moment, and then grow hardened in the next period of time.
With time in mind, I also want to concede that time does, in fact, heal dramatically. I find this strange to say, but it did occur to me the other day that I don’t see myself as a ‘widower’ anymore – it’s just a label. Maybe with all the time that has been and gone, I don’t want this label to define me now, for the rest of my days. Even without this label, nothing about losing Katherine feels any different inside my heart.
Over the last few months, I’ve experienced this strange sensation – a feeling like I’m starting to live a happy new life again. My love for my wife Nicola is a magical thing and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to live and love again. I feel like I’m not playing an uncomfortable role anymore, but yet I can still hold and love my past in my heart and my head. I will never forget the life and love I have with Katherine.
It’s quite funny how I’m reminded of how my life is now. I had to fill in the marital status section of an online form last week. I spotted ‘Widowed’ within the drop-down list. I thought, Oh shit! That’s not me anymore, I’m married! Then a smile appears on my face.
I guess the smile comes from how I feel. The feeling of content is enough to gratify myself and to not be entirely defined by my past, but – honestly – I think it’s actually because I have a title and a status that is altogether more pleasing and delivers responsibility to my life: I’m a parent and a husband again.
For my daughter, Margot, she’ll start school next year. She just turned three last week and by the time she comes to read all the things I’ve written. I’m hoping she’ll understand that I’ve tried to create a narrative of the early years. I am sure she’ll comprehend how we never asked for the horror that life had thrown at us.
We’ve moved forward in the right direction and I want her to appreciate that it was only I who could judge and deem the most appropriate way forward for us both. I have found the strength and ability to reinvent myself, for reasons that she will eventually understand. I hope she will embrace the happy and sad times ahead of us. I can’t even begin to piece together the emotional rollercoaster of the discussions we’ll have throughout the years.
One thing I do know, and she’ll agree on. Nicola has won the gold medal for the Mother of the year award. The relationship they have is just so beautiful to see.
I called this blog ‘No Rain No Rainbows’ in admiration of the final line of the Hawaiian rules. I guess the ‘rain’ resembles all of the tears I’ve shed over the years of losing Katherine. The ‘rainbow’ of course is something Katherine admired deeply in life. It also carries the hope for the future out of sadness.
Let’s not forget that one can’t occur without the other too, which is important to remember. You can’t know what happiness is until you’ve tasted it. This is what I’ve always wanted my blog to describe too, in so many different ways. All of these experiences I’ve shared are for the benefit of others. I never thought I’d have to write or share my thoughts, I’ve never had any desire to, but I have made my choices and it has helped me immensely.
Life never goes to plan. If it did then I certainly wouldn’t be writing this blog for someone to read. It has been a really interesting life lesson, one that has gone down easier with a big plate of cookies.
A few days ago, a fellow widower asked me “I need to
address a few things, I’ve shelved so many feelings of my wife’s death because
I just don’t know how to deal with them,” “what did you do Mark?” I was so
unrehearsed for this query, I realised I hadn’t even asked myself this
question. I was even more off guard with it being off the back of our laid-back
chat about Football. So, my reply went “Wow, that’s some question. I’ll
tell you what, read my blog next week and I’ll try my best.”
I’ve thought long and hard about his query every day
since he asked. With him being at such an early stage of his grief, I wanted to
give him the one tool that helped me the most. I had previously done and
strained so many different types of therapeutic practices around my own grief.
After some deliberation with my past and present efforts; I now feel poised to
give my best and probably my most obvious response.
Now, before I share this, let me start by just stating that my grief has been so overwhelming for me since day one. Whatever support or therapy I’ve received, I have never expected to just wake up one morning to realise that all my grief had just vanished into thin air. It will never do you any favours as it certainly doesn’t’ work like that. Instead, the reality is, it will continue to be a drain on you, but on different levels, as time goes by. Always remember, self-therapy will just soften your emotions and teach you to understand them.
Even as I pace through my third cycle since Katherine’s
passing. I have found that early grief had always made me feel confident about
my emotions at one stage and then desperately insecure with them in the next. Confidence
may not be something that everyone associates with bereavement, but it’s
something I have certainly felt more of as time has gone by. Maybe this is just
how my therapeutic practice has helped me embrace my past and my future.
So, if I could share some insight into my best emotional therapy. It would be this. I found and used a tool that we all have at our disposal. A very important tool that can potentially help any of us cope in any situation: writing.
Writing down my thoughts while grieving boosted my entire
immune system and increased my emotional and mental health. This was even
before I started sharing them on my blog. During the beginning, when I first
started to document my thoughts. I noticed straight away that it triggered my
strong emotions. I would even go as far as linking its release to the same
sensation as crying or like the moments when I have felt extremely upset. It
gave me a self-therapeutic benefit for just “letting off steam”.
Especially when I didn’t want to speak to anyone about them.
I always had to remember that most of the people around
me found it uncomfortable to discuss. Especially when it came down to the
nitty-gritty details of Katherine’s death. My friends would talk to me about
“getting through it” and “moving forward” and “healing.” They would shy away
from talking about her actually passing, not out of cold-heartedness, but out
of natural fear. I guess most people just don’t want to say the wrong thing;
death is just downright scary overall. This made me understand why there is so
much coverage of celebrity grief and movies about loss: they seem to create a
public space where everyone can safely talk and feel something about another’s loss.
As the weeks and months went by, my writing was now the
instrument of self-exploration, self-expression, and self-discovery that
provided me with a safe space to simply be the grieving single parent widower I
felt like. I didn’t need to attempt to talk to others as It was catering for
all the things that were left unsaid, my unshared emotions, and those tricky
questions for which I had no closure.
Of course, all my written efforts had to happen mostly in
my head. Maybe this is one reason I wrote about my loss in real-time, so to
speak. Writing seemed to help me puzzle through my bewildering change. It
sparked my strength to let go of Katherine’s funeral and to help me bridge the
stark boundary between my inner sorrow and my outer functioning.
I like to view everything that I’ve written on my blog as
an internal psychological exploration of my grief. I have always felt that I
wasn’t just writing about the loss of my wife and my daughters Mother. I was
also mapping the intimate contours of this mysterious transformation I was
experiencing. I even decided to share it with a lot of other people to, like
yourself, reading this post now.
I’m no expert and I am not saying that writing is a
substitute for professional therapy, it’s simply not! It has just provided me with a pathway to
explore and discover my journey and all the courage and strength I’ve gained to
build myself back up again. This was
what I ultimately wanted, a more resonant description than any of the stages of
grief could offer. One of the most beautiful things about it was the fact that
no one could even judge me too.
While writing, I noticed that it became more of a ‘state of mind’ to address and reflect on what is actually going on, logically. Writing down my thoughts and feelings after I lost Katherine allowed me to express myself freely and safely. I had discovered a very rare and safe place to reflect on the meaning of life and death, which relieved me from my shackling thoughts and released a heavy burden in my chest.
With this massive release, it has been a lot easier to
not only make it through the day but the weeks and the months. Easier, in the
sense that I have full acceptance in the way everything in my life is now. Most
of the ‘head banging’ questions have gained some much-needed closure too.
I guess if I hadn’t documented my grief I could have
possibly been left slightly paralysed, muted and unable to comprehend my loss.
Yet, I am now able to speak — to breathe, to sleep, to eat, to go for walks in
the sun, to find myself laughing with my family and friends — to fall in love
again — to even marry again.
So, maybe you’re thinking of writing about your grief? I’d say go for it, or even just give it a try?
Here are some concepts I used. Maybe they might help you
if you don’t know where to start:
• Always write down thoughts and feelings about yourself and the one you’ve lost (Carry a pen and paper with you or use your phone).
• Try to sort and list any conflicting emotions.
• Develop an understanding of things that have been suppressed inside.
• Make room for other thoughts and feelings.
• Try to be honest and think deeply about what you would want your loved one to know and acknowledge.
• Always express your regret as a way to bring closure
• Respect any change of thought and feeling you have about death and yourself.
• Reflect and understand yourself in a new light.
• Simply just be yourself. Remember your words will remain private and confidential and wouldn’t be published for public consumption. Unless you want it.
Here’s a question. As a young adult, which one of these insurance policies is the last thing you would pay for?
A: Travel B: Car C: Home D: Life
I’d happily say for the majority that option D, Life insurance, is the one you will contemplate the most! I don’t’ know the exact facts but I’d hazard a guess to say, young people, particularly in their 20’s and 30’s are underinsured when it comes to life.
So, let me break it down.
Legally we have to insure our car to drive it, that’s not up for debate. In reality, we will also look to insure our holidays when we go away. Just in case anything happens to us when we travel abroad.
We might even need to insure our latest, overly priced smartphone. Why not, it’s a valuable piece of kit that captures and records the good times and all the happiness. Plus, in real time it also keeps us in touch with our loved ones too.
Of course, our home is indeed very important. What would happen if it was burnt down whilst being away on that insured holiday? Our home is the place where we spend most of our lives. Happy memories are made there, and we wouldn’t want to be without it, so we insure it.
So, we have the option to protect a lot of things in our lives, but not always the single most important thing– our actual lives! It’s also rather amusing to point out that option D, Life insurance, is the only thing that will pay for all the others if anything happened to us.
When I look back at my life, I find it fascinating how I used to think about life insurance as a young adult. When Katherine was alive I would view the whole meaning of life insurance as redundant. Being in the frame of mind that we were both young, fit and healthy, we had no doubt we would live for another 50+ years. We simply weren’t going to die. We would both naturally suppress any thoughts of our own mortality and we didn’t even want to think or talk about it. As far as it went, Katherine and I were invincible.
Of course, that is not always the case for young adults, sometimes there just isn’t a future – I’m living proof of that. We went out for a walk one day as a family of 3 and returned a family of 2.
Back in mid-2016, Katherine was heavily pregnant with our daughter and we had just bought our first house. Katherine was also due to take maternity leave from work, so as you can imagine money was going to be tight for the next 12 months. We had little choice but to manage on my salary alone. We also had very little in the sense of savings due to our mortgage. So, the thought of even talking about or even purchasing a life insurance policy just wasn’t on the agenda.
Fast forward less than 12 months and Katherine had now been taken away from us. I was left widowed and a single parent to my 8-month-old baby girl. We had no life insurance and the mortgage still needed to be paid for the next 25 years. All of a sudden everything I had never thought about, came straight into view. The entire reality of Katherine’s death and the future consequences had finally hit home, harder than ever.
Throughout this period, the institution I work for couldn’t have been more understanding and accommodating. I was lucky enough to take 6 months leave from work with full pay. I also had the ability to extend my leave further on half my salary. The two big downsides to this were, A) Financially, I couldn’t afford to be off more than this length of time. B) It was only at the 6-month mark that I had only just started to grieve properly.
So here I am, with little choice but to go back to work at a very difficult and dark time in my life. All at the same time as giving my daughter the emotional support she needed and searching for the support I needed. I had to ensure the mortgage and bills got paid and I wasn’t quite ready – but I knew had to secure the future for me and my daughter. I still had to earn money, with everything else going on at the same time too.
The flood of financial worry was the last thing I needed whilst experiencing an explosive tidal wave of grief. It was so tough to balance.
For me it wouldn’t have been about the money, it would have been the greater options open to me whilst grieving. I guess if we had a life insurance policy then everything would have been a lot different. Different in the way that I could have taken more time to grieve with my daughter and to bond to her needs.
This made me realise that we, as partners or parents, don’t buy life insurance because we’re going to die, but because those we love who are left alive are going to live. It’s not for us – it’s for those we love most. So, after Katherine passed there was no procrastinating about purchasing life insurance for myself. It was the first thing I did to protect my daughter’s future.
Like most things in widowhood, I’ve learned the hard way. If every partner or parent knew what I had to learn, there wouldn’t be a single family without life insurance. It gives so much peace of mind to us, the living. It allows us, as spouses, partners or parents to show our love and care posthumously. No matter your age, protecting your family shouldn’t be an option – it should be a priority.
Last Friday, the second chapter of my life began as I married a caring, amazing and beautiful woman called Nicola. It was the most astonishing day that we both shared with all the people we love.
Being a widower who has become open to love and happiness a second time around. It has not only given me something I was ready for, but it has also given me something new in common with lots of other widowers. Teasingly, I can now put myself in the same category as the great Sir Paul McCartney.
For many reasons, remarriage is simply one of the various paths we can choose from grief. I hope my experience can prove that after the life-changing of loss, you can introduce love back into your life. However, I do understand this is only if we chose or allow it. I know not everyone who has suffered a bereavement of a spouse will wish to find a new love in this life. I have met and spoken to so many people who have made peace with their permanent loneliness, and this is ok.
The path we eventually chose is just how we deal with our lives in our very own way. Every emotion and choice we make is so complex and personal to each individual. For me, the path of my grief has navigated me to a new life that accepts my grief, in a world of immense love.
When I first felt prepared to remarry, two things determined my own readiness: firstly, I had accepted my loss and I was interested in sharing more than just a bed with a woman. I was interested in sharing my life, my love, and my family. The droplets of grief were starting to fall far less frequently at this time. The waves of emotion that radiated out were more manageable. I was getting stronger than I could ever have imagined.
Secondly, as I was a widower who wanted to remarry I had to acknowledge and process the natural guilt I felt at the beginning. This guilt had no effect on my feelings for being in a relationship. This was purely a new outcome from taking the next step. It manifested from my grief and for my old life with Katherine. With time and patience, it eventually became more natural to be with someone else.
Like most things in grief, none of the above will come with a timescale. The important thing for me was that I recognised how I felt. Whether I’d waited two years or twenty years to embrace love again, I always knew I would have felt the same. It was important to self-identify and to process it.
Looking back over the last two years of my journey, and all the challenges of grief that I’ve acknowledged. Losing Katherine has changed me in so many bizarre ways. None of my journeys was planned or expected but I’ve faced them all head on. Katherine had left a better man than the one she had married. I know Katherine’s life’s purpose wasn’t to leave me a better man. What I mean by this, is the fact it is all a side effect of her loss. Lessons in grief and love!
I am very happy to reproduce the happiness of my first marriage. I consider myself very lucky to have been able to do it twice in the same lifetime. Some people don’t even find it at all.
It’s Father’s Day here today and a lot of families across the United Kingdom will assemble to celebrate the fathers in their life — that’s if they were lucky. I guess some aren’t quite as fortunate to be surrounded by their loved ones. I always like to think that someone, somewhere, has that special parent who is both Mum and Dad, whatever the circumstances.
I have never been a massive advocate for Father’s Day until I was widowed. Before I would have just viewed Father’s Day as 1 day out of 365 that was blatantly saved for us to express how incredibly grateful we should be to have a Father. The old me would usually say something like “we should show how much we appreciate our Fathers every single day of lives. The world would be a better place.” I literally viewed all of the “Hallmark” holidays as inventions for commercial promotions.
One strange personality transformation I experienced from loss is that I now live in the present, the ‘Now’. Forget about tomorrow, every single event in life is important. All of ‘Hallmark’ holidays have actually – in reverse, made my world a better place. They have all become completely intensified, no matter which one. They offer me a platform or should I say an excuse to celebrate the important things in life. Not that we should really need one I suppose – but still every day is precious?
My daughter, Margot, is a ‘present’ being too. She even taught me about this life lesson. For the past few months, a day hasn’t gone by when she hasn’t hugged me and said, “I love you so much, Daddy.” For a Father, beautiful words like these are all I need to hear. Though she doesn’t need to say it. She shows it naturally in all her actions. The reason I know this, is in the way she expresses her feeling or emotions in the exact point it’s needed. It leaves no doubt in my mind how my daughter feels about me being her Daddy. It’s visible when she begs me to spend time with her. It’s shown when I see her ‘super’ excited face each time I pick her up from Nursery. She shows me when she jumps with joy when I tell her I’m cooking her favourite meal in the whole wide world.
This Father’s Day, I am surrounded by the most important people in my life as I have come to the realisation I’m one of the lucky ones. I have a father and a new father-in-law, and I am a father too. So, I’m hoping today will be a happy and grateful day for me. This is all the appreciation I need this Father’s Day and beyond.
We may not have Katherine in our lives anymore, but we do have her energy, her love and her humour around us at all times. We have recently started the next chapter in our lives, our second chance, with my wife Nicola. I now have someone to tell me how they appreciate me, to tell me I’m doing a good job with Margot, to thank me. Which is so different and revitalising – as a Dad on Father’s Day I never really got the chance to experience this until today.
Nicola is someone who Margot can appreciate too, someone who Margot can call upon to write me a card or buy me a present. Gone are the days when I would use Margot’s savings and say “gosh Margot, your taste is impeccable” – as I opened the Father’s Day present I bought myself.
For those who haven’t, it might either be a time for reflection or time to avoid the television, restaurants, pubs or any other outlets that inadvertently make us feel worse than we already do by treating us all as if we’re the same. Maybe it’s time to celebrate that special Mum you might still have. The one who became Mum and Dad, the one who gave you everything she could?
For those of us who are lucky enough to actually have a father, it’s probably time to send a thoughtful card, pick up the phone or make a visit to show him how much you care. So, to those of you reading this – go and thank your Dad for all that he does and make sure to remind him how much you love him.
• Thank him for the countless times he might have driven you to Football practice
• Thank him for the countless times he taught you a life skill.
• Thank him for paying your mobile phone bill or for that money you needed to borrow.
• Thank him for calming your Mum down when she went crazy because you haven’t’ been pulling your weight around the house.
• Thank him for being there, when you needed him!
• Thank him for everything little thing he does for you. This is what we call ‘unconditional’ love.
Dad if you ever read this — I love you. Thank you for everything.