As it is ‘Men’s Health Week’ and also the run-up to Father’s Day I have shared my story of widowhood and beyond – in this week’s Bella Magazine. In the article, I speak out about being widowed, facing grief and the importance for other young widowers to reach out for support.
Being lonely is one of the worst feelings. Nobody should be lonely, yet it’s part of the grieving process when we lose a spouse. I found loneliness was the hardest battleground to enter. In the past, no matter how great my day went, loneliness would trap me into its daily duel with my feelings and emotions. This was especially intense during the evenings when the world went quiet and dark.
Being at one with your thoughts in grief is a dangerous place. I would think a lot about the future and where it would take me. I had discovered so many stories about widows and widowers who had found love again. I often wondered if my life would go down this path. Would I even want it to? A lot has changed in those two years and I have really learnt so much about my life as a widower. What I actually discovered was when I lost Katherine it didn’t get easier, but it got better. In the sense of learning to pick yourself up. To live a happy life and to learn about love again.
Presently in my life, I am in a position to make lonely become ‘lonely’. By this time next week, the second chapter of my life will begin. Next week I will be married to a funny, loyal, gentle, kind-hearted beautiful woman, who I love dearly. I did hesitate to write about this, as I imagine it will shock some widows and widowers who read my blog – especially those who recently lost their spouse.
When I was newly widowed, I found the idea of another relationship alien and abhorrent. Mentally and emotionally, I was still married in my mind. Though it was only for 2 years, it was really strange for me to change this viewpoint. This made me assume, even at 37 years old, it was highly unlikely that I would ever want to meet anyone, and even if I did, it would never be as good as what Katherine and I had.
I believed that my single parent / widowed status was a clear deal breaker for any woman to even consider me in the future. It made me feel like I was ‘damaged goods’ for a long time – too damaged for another to love. It was like I had a screw loose or a blown fuse in my head that prevented me from fully feeling and enjoying the company of another. Like so many assumptions I have made, I was mistaken.
For the past year, I have been able to grow a life of love and kindness with my daughter and my future wife to be. Over time I have realised that there is no hard-and-fast “timeline” when it came to my ‘hardboiled’ grief. This also applied when it came to giving myself another chance at happiness. I can remember back in 2012, when I first met Katherine, it wasn’t planned, it just happened. We met, and we fell in love instantly – it was so natural and pure – not forced. My new partner and I experienced the exact same situation. It reminded me that we don’t always get to choose when something happens.
For all my family and friends, they understand the importance of my next stage in life. They understand I can’t stop, they understand life has to carry on. Not just for me but for Margot, my soon to be 3-year-old daughter. My nearest and dearest have all reminded me that Katherine would not have wanted me to suffer – all she ever really wanted was my happiness, and this is so true. If our situations had been reversed, I would have wanted that for her.
I can’t say thank you enough to all the people out there who have journeyed the widow/widower’s path to seeking a new life. All the information shared and the people I have spoken to have helped me understand my feelings immensely. I hope my story can help others.
This week I’ll be in full flow of turning our wedding preparations into actions. I can only predict that my next blog post will more than likely be on Father’s Day. Even now I can sense a new breath of hopefulness. I’ll have so much to write about as the next stage of my life is about to start. I hope my posts can now describe second chances, moving forward, hope, happiness and the challenges of raising a little girl.
If I could leave one piece of advice when you find love again. Please don’t get caught in the drama of being the victim or the martyr. Become the Phoenix and rise from the ashes. The journey will make you stronger and life will unfold for you in many new and unexpected ways.
My daughter is thriving as am I. Regardless of the past, she is shining like the brightest star in the sky and emerging as a beautiful, happy and kind person. 💜
Since I began this blog, I have tried to cover as many diverse areas of my grief as possible. From the dark beginning, all the way to the present moments of hope. As a grief blogger, my entire purpose is assured when I learn that I have helped someone, somewhere in the world. If I can aid a grieving person to understand their own grief from my experiences, then everything I write is justified. If I’m honest, for me personally, the moments that leave me stunned are when I receive feedback from those supporting a grieving person.
For the bereaved, our grief is a backpack we have to carry, and this is a very true analogy. It’s a very big and heavy load with a lot of painful things sticking out of it. From the comments I have received, I tend to pick up on how these ‘supportive friends’ possess the desire to share the load. Sometimes they can even identify that we, the widowed, have to sometimes learn to carry it alone.
Many grief support sites describe how we should “Ask for help”, “Be with the ones you love” and “You can’t do this alone”. In reality, not everyone is fortunate enough to have friends who can fit this category. Sometimes when a tragedy occurs we actually discover who our real friends are. At the beginning of grief, people will automatically say “If there’s anything I can do, just let me know”, “If you need anything, blah blah blah”, then all of a sudden you will never hear or see some of them again. This is the pinnacle point from our crisis that will go on to separate the genuine from the fake.
When I became a widowed single parent drowned in shock. I was thrown into the deep end with a 9-month-old baby. Without any focus, I started to question myself. What do I do next? Why has this happened to me? Why did it happen to her? How the hell do I look after my baby? How do I even look after myself? Fortunately, I was blessed with a lot of amazing people in my life. Support even came from the people I had least expected it from.
I found vast amounts of emotional therapy online from organisations like WAY (Widowed and Young). By talking to people, I had never even met, I discovered a virtual solace. The magnitude of love and support from everyone within the days and weeks of Katherine’s passing was staggering. The only downside is – it didn’t always come from the ones I expected, and if it did, it certainly didn’t last for long. For my daughter and I, our life didn’t go back to normal after the funeral as theirs did. The prime example of my experience is based on the level of support my daughter and I received from some of my wife’s friends.
As time went on from the funeral, their support decreased dramatically. Most turned out to be fair weather friends that became intertwined when my wife was alive, but distant in her death. The lack of empathy and understanding made it very difficult for me not to take things personally. Although I believed everything was peaceful and tranquil between me and Katherine’s friends, the death of my wife turned things upside down for me and my daughter. Somehow, I tried to keep in mind that these people were also mourning our significant loss. Regrettably, in this situation, bad things had the ability to come out of their mourning. Bad things that had arisen onto me, such as fears, and anxieties caused by these types of friends.
These fears and anxieties were real too, and not simply imagined. When I lost Katherine, the relationships with some of her friends became tricky and, at times, downright complex and stressful. Previously I had a very positive interpersonal relationship with all of her friends. To my surprise, within a few months after the funeral, I discovered a less-than-supportive tie with most of them. These people had been in my wife’s life for a very long time. They had been part of our wedding and more importantly bridesmaids to my wife for our big day. Sadly, all that Margot and I had left to face was a barrage of hostility, anger, rejection, and spitefulness.
It all started when my daughter and I were no longer invited to events and gatherings. Events that my wife and I had always been a part of. The levels of separation intensified as time went on. The visits, phone calls and messages all gradually stopped altogether. Being just the dynamic duo, their lack of empathy also applied to my daughter. When it came to Christmas, Easter, my wife’s death anniversary and sadly, even my daughter’s Birthday. None of these people had any time for her, which was the hardest part. The small cost of a birthday card and postage stamp had simply become too much. Too much effort for a baby that had lost the Mother she’ll never know. Their own lives became paramount over ours.
Whilst I was grieving ‘heavily’, the level of ignorance and lack of empathy shown towards both of us was very difficult to digest. I often wondered what Katherine would have thought of their reactions, which made it so hard not to take it personally. It wasn’t rocket science to conclude that those people no longer desired to have any sort of relationship with me or my daughter. As the distance of time became greater I became more philosophical about everything. I realised that those friends had treated my wife’s death in the same way as a divorce. Strangely, I sometimes wondered if these people may not have liked me in the first place, maybe they just tolerated me because I was Katherine’s husband. I cannot emphasise the sadness, stress and exhaustion it caused me. At a point in my life when my ‘to do’ list was as demanding as it had ever been.
It had also occurred to me that the change in my social relationship must have been considered a loss to them. I became aware that they had treated me as a “secondary loss,” meaning my wife’s death was the primary loss. The change in my social relationship was secondary to them because it happened as a result of the primary loss = Katherine. In simple terms, once Katherine had passed, my daughter and I didn’t matter to them anymore. This made it very clear for me to see their true characteristics.
I initially wanted to try and save the friendships in honour of my wife, but sometimes the damage is just too unrepairable. At this point in my grieving, I was fully armed with an offensive and unstable state of mind, it was so easy for me to overreact in these moments. Being in the early stages of shock, pain and grief, my actions could not heal the fractured relationships. Due to my spiralling mental health, I took the moral high ground and I decided to completely disengage from everything that was troublesome for me. I achieved this in a peaceful manner, there was no confrontation, just words. They gave me a lot of excuses, which I viewed for what they were; excuses.
Not too long ago, I was made aware that these friends had purchased a memorial bench in honour of their friend, my wife and mother of my daughter. This was no ordinary memorial bench; its location was a mystery and its sole purpose was just for them and them alone. All family ties to Katherine had been excluded from the entire purpose. It was a clear message that its existence was not intended for family.
When I first discovered what had taken place, it barely phased me. By this point, the damage had already been completed and I was fully aware of their priorities. My initial thoughts focused on what type of people I thought they were and the reality of what they actually are. These are people who wouldn’t ever admit their wrongdoings or faults – even in the death of my wife. If I could take something from their actions, it would be this. The private memorial is a beaming signal of their broken promises to Katherine, their deteriorated friendship, their guilt and their inability to ‘just be there’ for support. My commitment is now galvanised for the day when my daughter will ask me “Daddy, who are those people in that photo”.
At present, I’m in a very different place compared to back then. I have since accepted the choices they have made and the sad circumstance that Katherine’s death had brought an end to the friendships that were so meaningful to her. When I look back and reflect on this traumatic period, I can somehow pick out one positive outcome, my healing. I have always kept in mind that my healing was going to take time. Looking back in hindsight, my healing was far too valuable to be placed into the hands of these types of people.
Margot and I have survived the loss of Katherine with the people that matter to us. We’re not exactly made of stone, yet, but we can make it through whatever life throws at us.
The past week has been especially good in so many ways. Firstly, the north west of England has received some lovely and welcomed weather for me to enjoy with my family. You can’t beat a clear sky, warm sun and a breeze no stronger than a breath.
I have also started to feel different – I say different in the sense of self-change. A welcome change in ‘me’ that has happened spontaneously from out of nowhere. For the first time since Katherine passed, I’ve started to feel less dark and twisted. I have noticed the return of a few old characteristics and values in my personality.
In the last two years, I have always done my best to avoid certain ‘things’ that trigger me emotionally. Especially ‘things’ that can remind me of what I had in the past and how they make me feel now without them. The outcome of these effects can be varied in the sense of happy and sad emotions. To make this sound even stranger, these ‘trigger’ moments are a strong reminder of how my outlook was before widowhood, compared to where it is now.
My sense of humour was one of the main victims when I lost Katherine. A big part of it died when she did. I started to became quite a serious person to a certain degree. Previously, my levels of humour happened to be quite mischievous. When it came to my comedy values I never acted my age – more my shoe size. I would find some of the wackiest and childish things hilarious. Katherine being the sharp comedial type too, she used to always say to me, “it’s one of the reasons why I love you. If you didn’t make me laugh, guess what, we wouldn’t be having this conversation”.
Another adjustment was my view on people. The old me never passed judgement on others unless those affected me directly. Now, it is all about my status as a young widower amongst every other young adult in my life. Being left out of the ‘couples club’ by friends I became some sort of social misfit, I started to compare my status of separation to everyone else. I even tormented myself with people who had got divorced.
When a friend finsilised his divorce, I thought to myself, their family was no longer a tight unit and yet they could all move on. I knew he would still see his ex-partner, the other parent of their kids, the person he once loved; but when you’re widowed, that partner is just gone. When you’re divorced, you can be angry, call the other person names and maybe throw things around. But when your loved one is dead, who can you be angry at? Being a young widower was the most singular kind of displacement I have ever experienced in society. No one could understand this analytic outlook unless I talked to another widow or widower.
I also developed a judgmental view of unseparated people too. In my mind, I was very bitter towards a lot of innocent strangers. Occasionally when I was in public I would ‘people watch’ (we all do it). I would scan and spot an old couple holding hands, just walking by innocently. Judging by their age and body language, it would be obvious to me that they have been together for a long time. I would cripple myself mentally as I would visualise their history in my head. I would think of how they’ve experienced all the happy and sad moments together over a long period of time. Compared to the two years of marriage I got with Katherine.
A flood of envy would fill my mind as I’d consider the endless years of wedding anniversaries they’ve been lucky enough to celebrate as a couple. All the children they could have possibly raised together and the potential grandchildren they could immerse themselves in. Internally, this envy would slowly turn into a fit of deep dark anger and rage. I never shared these feelings and thoughts back then, why would I? Who would understand it? I felt like an outcast once grief had changed me and my outlook.
When I look at the situation that my mental outlook was in. I think it’s important for me to remember that the experience of sudden bereavement had shaped who I am, it’s inevitable due to the magnitude of shock. I honestly thought that all of these new dark traits would be here to stay, it disturbed me as this isn’t who I am. I thought my original values had been lost completely. I hadn’t been prepared to deal with what I’d lost as a person, the surreal comparison of ‘before and after’ really stunned me. I can’t quite comprehend what this stage of grief was about. I often wonder if it even is a stage of grief at all?
The entire point of what I’m sharing here is about my experience of change this past week. As well as experiencing days of sunshine with my family, I’ve also had a milestone return in the ‘old’ me. For the first time, I have started to notice parts of the ‘old’ me coming back. I have observed elements of my old sense of humour return too, just through conversation and triggers that have made me laugh and smile. My entire outlook on people, in general, doesn’t trigger any feelings of irritation, self-worry or stress anymore. They have simply disappeared.
I have thought about why this change has happened. As a person I have managed to focus on what I have achieved over the last two years. I do feel stronger than I was, even today. Maybe a part of this change is how I have observed my grief. Even though I lost a massive part of who I used to be and my self-belief. I’m going to take this as a mini victory in my grief. I have even managed to open up more and share it with my nearest and dearest.
I have decided to use this opportunity as a positive starting point to build myself back up, bit by bit. I understand it is never quite the same whatever it is we’re dealing with, when we rebuild something, but it is always stronger than before! If I can gain some strength from this point, I can stand tall for my daughter and breath deep for the life I have in front of me.
I’ve learnt that the difference in me is the difference that has allowed me to find happiness despite missing Katherine. I have a greater willingness than my ‘old’ self to embrace life, no matter what it brings. I now accept myself without criticism.
Old married couples are a sight of beauty too!
Tattoos can sometimes translate or describe a person’s story or point of view. From my experience, I’ve yet to meet anyone who didn’t have a thoughtful and compelling story behind their permanent mark. My own tattoo is almost two years old this month. Recently I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’ve been thinking about how, still to this day, it inspires me every time I look at it. It truly is a slice of mindfulness. It’s also quite common for a lot of widows and widowers to have them for different reasons. I guess I’m no different.
After Katherine’s funeral, I started to develop a desire to have something unique to represent my wife’s memory in a special way. The seed of this idea was originally planted from a conversation I had with a close friend. I remember how he presented me with a picture of a stunning tattoo his wife had done. She had it inked on her arm in honour of their daughter, who they had lost not too long ago. When describing the reason for her choice in design, I became captivated in his description of “it will always remind her of the happy moments”. From that point onwards, it was never up for debate.
Like many of the choices I’ve made in widowhood, several of my friends and family had their own options about it. I had to bang the old “you haven’t been through this, you just don’t know how I feel” drum. I just wanted something that was externally visible on my right shoulder. Something that wasn’t concealed deep within my heart and mind. I wanted to engrave a memorial to Katherine on my body for the rest of my life.
Contrary to popular opinion, memorial tattoos can be more than just names, sayings and angels. They can be more beautiful and meaningful than any tribal tattoo or fashion sleeve. If you are considering something like this then you must be prepared for some pressing inquiries if you plan to consult family and friends about the idea. At first, many of my nearest and dearest missed the opportunity to see the beauty of my design and its symbolism. Not that it really mattered, it was going to happen whatever they thought. However, as time went on I did manage to ease some tensions when I explained the reasons behind my choice.
My design was about a lesson I identified during the grief process. A lesson on the desire to have hope.
The Hawaiian palm tree is thriving and positioned in a place of beauty, signifying the full, beautiful life I have experienced both then and now. However, as nature will always remind us, nothing will last forever.
The beach is where my old life ‘was’ and will remain.
The rear-facing edges of Diamond head mountain represent the emotional heights and struggle from experiencing the loss of Katherine. My outlook is, that by conquering these ‘heights’ could lead me to find happiness again. A life I can be proud to lead; One filled with purpose instead of suffering, gratitude instead of envy, life instead of death.
Ultimately my tattoo is a symbol of my past and all the choices I have made since Katherine passed. Choices which have made me who I am today. Choices that remind me that I am far stronger than I know. It is my reminder of love and healing that will always be with me. It can’t be broken, lost or changed; It is a very clear and simple reminder of the beautiful person who left a deep impression on me.
Broadcast courtesy of BBC Radio Merseyside with Sean Styles. Aired on 13th May 2019
Generally, it’s never a great conversation for anyone when we talk about death and grief, it terrifies us, especially when it’s someone else’s grief. It was only last week I was having a conversation with a friend over a few cold beers in a local bar. The good thing about alcohol is that it tends to make the personal topics more meaningful and detailed, by slowly lowering our social barriers as we sip away. My friend wanted to talk about me and how I’m moving forward.
Forward, in the sense of how I was moving on. Moving on with love and grief after losing Katherine. People tend not to ask me these type of questions, so I indulged. I started off by comparing how I felt at the beginning and how I feel now, in regard to loss.
As the moments of this super dull topic went on I could sense my friend starting to lose value in the entire theme. I didn’t blame him as the dialogue started to diminish as I went into the detail of my grief. Its so hard for someone to comprehend what I say. Especially when they haven’t been through it. I gave him some added confidence by stating “Look, mate, just remember everyone you love has a 100% chance of dying before or after us, so really, everything I’m describing applies to both of us. Not just me”. The bottom line was he just hadn’t experienced it yet. However, I did my best at that moment to explain in detail my outlook on losing a loved one further. I understood he literally had no idea how messy and impossible the entire experience of bereavement is to master – it still is for me after 2 years.
I explained that we have to be fully aware that all day, every day, all around the world, terrible things are happening all the time. I said “A lot of people in this bar will probably know how I feel. This conversation isn’t just about me. You haven’t experienced it yet, but you will. It’s going to happen”. He began to realise my point and became instantly comfortable with the uncomfortable. I had to point out that every person in the world from any walk of life is going to experience a formative and traumatic loss at some point in their life. Because that’s just how life is. How we deal with it is down to that individual. I could only share my experience.
We then began to talk about my future. I described how my future had become this totally new chapter in my life. A really good chapter, in fact, one which I have opened my heart to. One thing about this present moment is that it actually makes me smile. This is because I know that I have a massive opportunity in front of me. The opportunity to live a life of happiness with my daughter and my beautiful fiancée, Nicola.
Falling in love and connecting emotionally with Nicola has really helped me understand the enormity of what I lost when Katherine died. And equally, it has helped me realise that my love for Katherine and my love for Nicola are not opposing forces. They are different energies that are simply connected to the same thread in my life.
However, one really interesting point did come out of the conversation and it’s the point I want to make here. It was when I heard the term “how do you feel about the whole moving on thing”. I knew it wasn’t meant to be received in a disrespectful way, so I immediately started to mutter my description about this term ‘moving on’- for me, in grief, all of it’s characteristics are wrong.
I found myself instinctively pointing out that “I haven’t’ moved on at all”. I’m just simply “Moving forward with my life”. I meant this in the way that whatever I do for Katherine or say about Katherine, it will always be said in the present tense. This is because I’ve not moved on because that doesn’t’ represent all the moments and feelings we shared. They can’t simply be forgotten in my life. I am only where I am now because I loved Katherine and because I lost Katherine.
Every moment I have been through with her has marked me permanently. She is and always will be present in everything me and my daughter do. When people speak to me, they will hear me say things like “Katherine is” because, for me, Katherine still is. I never refer to her as ‘Katherine was’ when I talk.
The term ‘moved on’ really doesn’t do justice to my experience. Grief is incurable and becomes part of you as much as any other of life’s insane wonder’s. Grief is as powerful as any big moment we will experience in our lives. It could be milestone experiences such as the first time you find real love or the moment you meet your first child. It is so powerful and you’ll never forget it. I mean this in the sense that you won’t understand it until it actually happens to you. Then you’ll get it.
Ultimately, Katherine’s love, life and death are the elements that have made me the person who Nicola wants to marry and spend the rest of her life with. I always think it is important for people to remember that a grieving person is going to laugh again and smile again. I am a very lucky man to have found love again and I am embracing the ability to move forward. My life is a journey in which I have to keep moving. Holding onto every life lesson Katherine has given me. There is no turning back and definitely no “Moving on”.
How hard could it be to raise a child alone? Plenty of women do it on their own and they do it well! They usually do without much praise too, society just accepts women for picking up the pieces and just ‘getting on with it’. However, turn the gender round and a male single parent becomes a ‘Brave superhero’.
Soon after people heard my story I would get this a lot. As nice as it would sound on the ears, I never really agreed with the praise. Sometimes I would feel like I was being pitied, out of all my feelings I really didn’t want that. I would often feel insulted when people would praise me. I wanted to give all of this praise to the vast amounts of brave single parent women around the world – each doing an amazing job and not being recognised. I felt both men and woman in this scenario should get an equal commendation. Not just me, for being a man. I’m just doing what any decent parent would do for their baby.
At the beginning of my widowhood, I would observe so much in other parents. I encountered lots of men and women who didn’t have any confidence in their poise as a moral parent. Being a very hypersensitive widower at the time – It really bothered me.
A classic example of this would be the standard social media status we’ve all witnessed. They go something like this…
“AAAAAH HELP, I’m a single mummy this week, Matthew is away with work, send me wine and wishes”
From where I was stood, my internal monologue would spout “WOW! So, being alone to care for your child has created a short-term predicament. Whilst your husband is away doing his job to financially support your family”.
They just don’t get it.
‘It’ meaning how lucky they are for having a living and breathing spouse. For their child to have both, Mum and Dad. It was moments like these that would make me feel uncomfortable for other people. At the beginning I was harsh on people, this was just how I repressed my grief and released my emotions. I was a grieving man in shock who didn’t know how to grieve properly. A man who didn’t know how to adapt to this life in hell. I was so judgemental on people for taking everything for granted and for presuming too much about me.
I used to love making random people feel uncomfortable. Back when I was off work I would attend NCT (National Childbirth Trust) daytime events with Margot. I’d always be the token male in each meetup. As we’d all warm up with the hello’s, the small talk would commence. Being this lone male figure in an all-female cast. All the women would flock around me and say things like “are you a stay at home dad?” or “have you taken a day off work to be with your baby”. I’d casually reply “no”, they would then follow up with a question about her mother, I would then drop the concise “She’s dead” bomb and watch them pick their own indecorous jaws off the floor. Cruel, I know.
It wasn’t the lessons of time and widower wisdom that brought me to be more understanding. It was my daughter that carved me into the person I am now. The biggest lesson Margot taught me was not to focus too much on the past or the future. She lives so much in the present. She deals with her emotions and thoughts – in the moment – unless it’s going to affect her in the next few hours, it’s been dealt with and she moves onto the next thing. I had never ever lived like this in my old life. As time has gone on since we lost Katherine, this small human has taught me so much about living in the now and not to worry about what if’s, could be’s, and especially what other parents are doing and thinking.
Of course, I’m different now. If you’ve followed my posts, you’ll know how much I’ve discovered in accepting my grief and how I’ve reinvented myself around it. The biggest part of my influence is my daughter. At the tender of age of two, she has given me a lot of good life lessons. It’s not something you’d contemplate, but she has taught me so much about this new life.
I’m now more gentle, more kind hearted and less judgemental of others.
So here we are, two years since Katherine left us. Two years since I said goodbye to my love, my best friend, wife and mother to my daughter. Two years since I became a new person. Two years since my heart was broken. Two years since I experienced the loneliness, the depression, the shock and the MMMBop.
It was only seven days ago I had to carry the weight of our fourth wedding anniversary. Today is another hurdle to get over. It also marks the end of the second cycle and the beginning of the third. Margot and I have been through the first of everything important without Katherine and we’ve already begun to encounter them all over again – birthdays, Christmas time, family holiday’s, Mother’s and Father’s Day, numerous anniversaries. We’re still here, getting stronger and I’m still writing about it. I think I’ll be doing this for a long time. It is by far the best tool I have discovered to express my feelings. Not only for me but for others and to help my daughter in the future.
When I look back at the last two years. It doesn’t get any less painful to have lost Katherine, but it does slowly get easier to get through each day. Because of all the incredible support Margot and I received from our loved ones. After surviving the first year, people often asked me “how are you so positive?” or even “how did you get yourself out of bed every day?”!
Well for me, it came in three parts. Let me break my experience down for you.
In simple terms, I had no choice. I’m both Mum and Dad to my little baby girl. I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself and it wasn’t going to get me anywhere in the process. I had to eventually let the grief take hold of me. This is the most important and hardest part to discover. By embracing it all, it has made me more logical today.
I’ve always said that everybody deals with grief very differently, a partner’s grief is different to a parent’s grief or a child’s grief or a friend’s grief and everybody copes in different ways. My philosophy on this still remains the same two years on. I cannot change what has happened, no matter how much I want to, so I need to try and make the best of my situation. If I can swing my legs out of my bed in the morning and I’m feeling well, and my daughter is healthy and happy, then anything else that happens that day is just a big fat juicy bonus. The important factor is, you let it take you. Don’t repress it.
This came from the experience I gained from dealing with the first anniversary. This is what really helped me mentally and emotionally get to where I am now . Back then, I made a conscious decision not to be around our family home. Or even the UK for that matter. By that point, the memories of sadness in our family home had hugely top trumped all the happy ones we created. The darkness was too much for me to handle. Instead, I had devised a masterplan. I chose not to challenge the inevitable pain in the battleground of our home. I had to face it head-on in a more positive environment. To essentially balance this beast of sadness with a little influx of happiness.
I chose to endure the first anniversary within the realm of fantasy, magic and make-believe! This came in the form of Orlando, Florida, USA.
For Katherine, Orlando was the happiest place on earth. It held so many joyful memories for us and for her childhood memories. We had got engaged at Disney’s Magic Kingdom back in October 2013. We also spent our honeymoon here at this exact point in time back in May 2015. Another reason why I wanted to rekindle my fondness of the time we had together.
On the flipside of all of this, my brothers 40th birthday was approaching the week before Katherine’s first anniversary. I’d realised that I hadn’t bought him anything for this monumental birthday. It also occurred to me that in the forty years of our brotherhood, we had never actually been on holiday together. Just the two of us.
I’m very close to my older brother Karl. He’s the only brother I have and the funniest person I’ve ever known. If anyone could attempt to lift my spirit to cloud #9 during this spell- it was him. Katherine adored him, and he adored her. The perfect brother and sister in laws. This opportunity was so right in every way. Not only to take my best man from our wedding but to also have my best and closest friend by my side each step of the way.
A deep downside for any victim of Sudden arrhythmic death syndrome (SADS) is the fact that the heart of the victim is inspected to discover the cause prior to the diagnosis of SADS. I hadn’t received Katherine’s heart back till after the funeral. This meant that all of her original ashes had already been buried at this point in time. When I eventually received her heart back from the pathologist, I managed to have it privately cremated and presented to me in a small but beautiful box made of pure English Oak.
I remember one evening sitting in my kitchen, just stirring at it for a long time. Realising how perfect it was in size and weight to travel. Here, the perfect opportunity had presented itself to me. I could spread the ashes of her beautiful and kind heart within the domain of her favourite Disney resort. Two had suddenly become three for the trip.
Words could not describe how amazing the two-week adventure turned out to be. I experienced vast amounts of high and lows from both theme park rides and the triggered memories of my wife. My brother and I had also been given the chance to connect back to our own childhood. It was simply ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’.
I’ll always remember one specific moment in Orlando when I gained a slice of mental ‘closure’. It was midday at Universal Studios, we’d just finished our lunch in a restaurant by the entrance to the park. As we began to leave, my brother Karl expressed the need to use the restroom. He went back in, as I proceeded to wait outside. In true Orlando fashion, it was the most stunning day. No matter how I felt on the inside, my outside was being drenched by the most beautiful rays of happiness. I casually leaned against a wall and watched the world go by in its droves.
For just a short moment it went bizarrely quiet, my senses started to sharpen, it really made me take more notice of my surroundings. I thought of Katherine and just how much she would approve of my actions. I pondered just how much she would love everything Karl and I were doing. At that exact moment, a song pierced through the air into my ears from afar, the melody was catchy and uplifting. I didn’t have a clue who the artist was nor the title of the song. If anything was spiritually possible, these unknown lyrics had just given this moment a voice. It made me cry and smile at the same time. It was exactly the kind of words she would say to me. It was a really bizarre but happy experience that gave me so much strength.
Near the end of the trip and thanks to Google, I eventually discovered the details of the song (Anywhere by Passenger, released in 2016). Since then I’ve added the song to my funeral wishes in my will. One day, my daughter Margot will appreciate reading this explanation for my choice.
So, going all the way back to the original question here ‘how are you so positive?’ I’m trying to make the best of the situation I find myself in. I can’t change it but I’m sure as hell not going to let it ruin me or my daughter. It’s now two years and our lives still need living too. Since I became a widower I’m definitely more of a ‘cup half full’ sort of person. I always look for the positives in everything now, I reflect a lot more and I’m very grateful. Grateful that I had Katherine in my life, grateful for her legacy – our daughter.
For me, everything I do and describe in my words will explain how much I loved her. Sadly this is also why the pain of my grief is so deep. I guess we’re all in the same boat as survivors of bereavement. To have felt love like this means that unfortunately, as widowers, we’re going to feel such hurt when we have lost that person. Which leads me to the famous quote by Rose Tremain; “Life is not a dress rehearsal”; one chance is all we get.
Some may wonder why I have used the song title ‘MMMBop’ as the main title of this post. The reason being, it carries a weight to the meaning of Katherine’s passing and to what I’m saying now.
‘MMMBop’ as a word, represents how time and life goes by in an instant. If you have ever listened to the lyrics in the song. I am hoping most will have figured this it out. You have to hold onto the things you’ve got. Live for the day and let that special person know how much you love them. Enjoy each moment together and every once in a while, take a step back and disengage from your ego, just stop and take a look around. Everything moves so fast in life. If you have never noticed the meaning in the song I can only suggest you give it another whirl and listen carefully.
This year, I’ll be in the UK for the second anniversary, in my new family home remembering Katherine. I’ll be giving thanks for having so much support in my life. Giving thanks for all those who have supported Margot to develop into the most gorgeous and humorous little girl.
Margot continues to give my life meaning and I find the strength to put one foot in front of the other. I’ve put all my energy into loving and caring for her, I’m so grateful that I’m still able to. I’m very humble to have so many opportunities still present in my life. I look forward to taking them all, day by day, month by month and year by year.
I’m sure those who knew and loved Katherine will give some of your time to her legacy, Margot. I’m sure you’ll all raise a glass of prosecco, make chili con carne for tea, eat some chocolate
Just remember, life never goes to plan, if it did I certainly wouldn’t be here writing this post. You probably wouldn’t be reading it too. 🌈
‘Hauoli la Ho’omana’o’ is Hawaiian for ‘Happy Anniversary’.
Hauoli la Ho’omana’o to
Now, it’s just an anniversary without the happy. There’s nothing to celebrate. If anything, it would be the 738 days we enjoyed as a married couple. To celebrate the love for someone that I will always be grateful to have found.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to write something meaningful for today. I just haven’t found the right words.
Apart from deeply missing Katherine within each day of my life. The craziest part of days’ like these is the thought of not receiving a card containing her handwriting. It’s just something really sacred and personal we had in our relationship that I would really look forward to. She wrote the best cards with the most thoughtful messages. As much as I tried, I could never compete with her words of happiness for the love we shared.
Last year I decided I didn’t want to ever mark this anniversary for the reason that 7 days is all that separates it from my wife’s passing. However positive I try to be, it’s just been too hard.
I was woken up a little earlier than normal by Margot this morning. So I decided that before I went to work, I was going to spend more time than normal with my daughter. We played, chatted and had breakfast together. We enjoyed lots of special ‘squishy’ cuddles and I told her how much I love her. I attempted some light toddler talk to explain just how much she means to me.
You just can’t help but laugh when your child delivers a response like “stop being silly Daddy, you’re a good boy and I’m a good girl. We can both have chocolate eggs today, ok”. I guess we both wanted to start our day in jubilant fashion. We did eventually manage to set off to her Nana’s house with a chocolate egg, secretly stashed for later this evening.
After I dropped her off, I then drove to my place of work. I shuffled Spotify in my car and ‘Telephone Line’ by ELO started to play. I didn’t feel the need to press the shuffle button again. I just listened as I drove.
I hadn’t heard this song for a long time. Ironically, it made me think about just how much I wanted to speak to Katherine again, even if it was just over a telephone line. I even managed to make myself chuckle as I imagined just how much the phone bill would be.
I miss her so much.
I thought about the meaning of today and made the decision that going forward, Katherine’s birthday should be the date I mark with my daughter. A day to smile and celebrate.
Maybe one day in the future I’ll tell her the significance, but in many ways, today is just another day for now. And yet, when I think about it, today could also be a day that changes everything for someone else. I’m here writing about my thoughts on it. Sharing my reasoning and experience with other people. Possibly helping others that could be searching for stories to help their own life after the loss of a loved one.
Maybe this is something meaningful after all?
I always try to understand that my scenario of bereavement was totally out of my control. It can’t control me forever too. So for now, today has nothing to offer me but pain. It is definitely not about others behaving any more lovingly towards me or Margot. It’s certainly not about cards, gifts or gestures anymore.
- For me, it’s about being thankful to have had the 738 days of marriage to Katherine.
- For me, it’s about the people who came to Hawaii that are still in my life.
- For me, today’s a day I give special thanks that Katherine made me a Dad to such a wonderful little girl.
- For me, It’s about being the one who’s lucky enough to be able to spend another day with my daughter.
- For me, it’s about dropping my daughter off at her Nana’s and she was happy.
Last week I went back to the future. I had one of those spontaneous moments when we bump into someone we haven’t seen for a while. For me, it was an old work colleague. I hadn’t seen this fellow for a very long time. We managed to avoid most of the pointless small talk, it was one of those good and meaningful catch ups. With the added highlight that he had recently become a stay at home Dad. Despite my single parent widower status being the only variance in circumstance, we exchanged our parental knowledge.
Regardless of us no longer working collaboratively, we gradually discovered just how much we still had in common. We found alignment in our views and all the parental pearls of wisdom we had gained. Later that day, I started to have mixed emotions around the whole conversation. As nice as it was, it was hard to swallow the fact that we were still different in a big way, he had a wife and his child had a mother.
I knew I had to remember the positive outcome of the conversation. We were just two young men, each doing a job as a parent without making a fuss, but should we be making a fuss? I started to think about how Dads could have a positive side effect on how we see men in general. In truth, the stereotypical view of Dad’s in our society has come a very long way from when I was a child. Yet I accept our society’s view hasn’t fully changed. I know I could easily start a debate if I asked a majority of parents if they thought a Dad’s job was to earn money, and a Mum’s job is to look after the home and family.
By stepping up to the mark, have I defined a more positive view on what we think is typical of the average man. On reflection, Yes, I have. Should I be writing about it? Absolutely!
I can walk around with a happy face on most of the time, but in reality, I do live in a crazy world. I have learnt to become the master juggler of nursery drop-offs, pickups, running a clean and happy home, giving out buckets of unconditional love, making meals and working full time. Somewhere in the midst of all that chaos, I do actually find some ‘me’ time too. Is it tough? Of course.
I can honestly say that I don’t like it at all, I absolutely love it!
The past highlights of the
I don’t like writing this, but I feel I should point it out. Sadly, there will always be families out there with both parents at a disadvantage. Some children might miss something from a family with both parents. Maybe it is out of the parents’ control and they have to work around the clock, or they work nights? Could it be one of the parents isn’t actually interested? Maybe love isn’t expressed openly in a family? My point being, in some cases many single-parent families are doing a much better job raising children than families with both parents.
I want my little girl, Margot, to grow up knowing that raising children isn’t a man or a woman’s job but it’s the job of a parent. Social class or status means nothing in terms of life and happiness. I want her to understand that men and women can be whatever they want. I’ve absorbed both the Mum and Dad roles into a hybrid version of myself. What I have turned into has extended beyond all those traits considered to be the stereotype of masculinity.
Does this fit your situation, or can you relate to what I am describing? Then you should know it’s going to be ok for your child or children. You’re going to be ok. I used to ponder how I was going to get through it all. I’m here and it’s all working out, in it’s own strange and adapted way. We should all feel proud to be a Dad. Even within the hardest years.
For me, there is no better description of how it feels to be a parent than in the words of the author, Elizabeth Stone. Having a child is like consenting to have your heart walk around outside of your body! And this is why we put our heart and soul into our role. Especially with being a widowed single parent Dad challenging traditional stereotypes of masculinity and fundamentally redefining what it means to be a man.
Over the weekend, I took my little girl out to the local amusement park, Pleasureland in Southport. This is what I like to class as ‘quality’ time together. We generated lots of fun and laughter. It had generously refilled my love, happiness and content levels to the brim. I also, subconsciously had my writing cap and the day got me thinking. Without sounding morbid. As widowed single parents, how sad are we, and how sad have we been? And why is it people like me, that like to let you know.
I know that the real factor behind this thought was that I now have a long-term outlet for my grief, my blog. I have the ability to reach out to fellow widowers. My intention was never to discover the answers. My aim is to communicate the themes of loss and grief for men. I want to provoke some thought into my experience. To support people just like me and give some insight into the answers I originally fought for.
By the end of the day, it became apparent that my initial feelings had led me to see just how far I’ve come in 2 years. I’ve realised that I’m now at a point now where I was balancing the demands of my full-time job and the demands of my child. She was only adapting to this new world. A world where she doesn’t even know her Mum or the events that have occurred. Yet, she is the happiest little girl that any parent could ask for.
Despite what has happened in our past, I have always put my family first. This made me feel good. Good in the sense that I have confronted the reality of my new life. As an adult, I reached out for support when I’ve needed it. As a blogger, I’ve also strived to communicate as effectively as I can to everyone around me. Now I can start to see the outputs of my decisions and actions. The positives in my life are really starting to shine through.
I gradually started to reflect on exactly what were my actions and how did I employ them? By the end of the day, I thought to myself, “I need to get the main points out of my head and onto paper”.
Intervention when I needed it
I’ve managed to get through the heavy and hard stages of grief. I’ve managed to accept them as they’ve come. I’ve waded through each one in my own time until I was ready to move onto the next wave. I’ve allowed myself the time I needed to also heal some of my wounds. I’d sought counselling when I needed it. My process of learning to cope without my wife was and is a tough, complex and complicated path. Being able to accept the counselling I needed has also helped me become a better Dad to Margot. I’ve developed a warmer, more nurturing and sensitive side for her to enjoy.
I also joined various support groups for those who have survived the death of a spouse. One was with the national charity, Widowed & Young (WAY). I was always aware of WAY, I just never got around to explore the organisation at the beginning. However, this is where my self-assurance in widowhood really started to grow. They offer a vast support network tailored for young widowed men and women. When I discovered how members sought to understand and help others, the feeling of isolation seemed like a thing of the past. Peer support from someone who suffers from their own pain of bereavement is probably the most selfless and noble ability I’ve witnessed.
Since the beginning, I desired the ability to communicate with others in my position. It was here all along, physically and virtually. My only regret is that I never became involved earlier.
Accepting help from my friends and family
When help was offered to me, I always accepted it. For me, there are few things in life more tragic than losing a wife and the mother of my child. My family, friends, neighbours and extended family members all offered help to me. I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t been willing to accept it graciously and allow others the opportunity to serve my family.
I kept traditions alive
No matter how big or small, I maintained our family traditions. Though traditions are predictable in certain points of time. Amongst the chaos, for me, they brought real stability in my home. Decorating the Christmas tree early was a thing; I chose not to ignore the tradition as much as I didn’t mentally feel like doing it. I even ensured I took my daughter away holiday once a year, even if it has to be modest to be affordable. Whatever the traditions are, hang onto them as a family.
I organised my home
Getting yourself organised as best you can be tricky whilst grieving, for obvious reasons. Some of the family routines had been Katherine’s domain, but now it had fallen upon me to take them all on. The more I made routine tasks more “automated,” the easier the transition became for me. When I eventually managed to schedule my weekday evenings for things like laundry, shopping, and cleaning, the more single parent life became manageable.
I discovered that when I could get these tasks completed in the week, it took a huge amount of stress off the weekends. More importantly, I work full time. This enabled me to experience more fun and quality time with my daughter.
Healthy body = Healthy Mind
The hardest and most important balance of them all is monitoring your health. Like me, many newly widowed fathers will neglect their own physical, mental or emotional health while going through grief. Before my wife passed I was an active runner. Each week I would run 3-4 times a week. When she left us, exercise seemed like the most impossible element to maintain in my life. I rightly focused on my own daughter and not me. I drove myself into the ground. I didn’t exercise. I didn’t eat right and when the night came so did the drink.
If and when you can. Try to include as much exercise as you can. Even if it just playing in the garden or going for a walk with your child. At one stage, during the early days. I bought a treadmill and placed it in an empty part of my house. I would purposely set my morning alarm an hour before my daughter would wake, I’d run 3 miles before breakfast. For me running was more like meditation. It would allow me to ponder my thoughts and let me focus on the day ahead.
If you are a recently widowed father. You can find lots of support, help and advice. You will no doubt need to follow your heart when you feel you’re ready to accept it. At first, it will be difficult to see any horizon. By taking the process slowly and naturally will allow you to move through this most difficult of situations and transitions in a more positive way than you might see presently. I have listed a few of the services I’ve used within the ‘Widower Support’ page of my blog.