MyBaby2Bump Podcast: The Widowed Dad

Here is the link my last ever ‘Grief’ share – it practically includes everything on my checklist, it’s as raw as it gets in all honesty.

It is in the form of a podcast, for those new to this media.

It has no edits, lots on the charity ‘Widowed and Young’.

Enjoy 

Mark


Main link –https://www.mybump2baby.com/podcasts/fiftyshadesofmotherhood/the-widowed-dad
Via Spotify – https://open.spotify.com/show/2ZzMmFzjg1EsPlGZ8mdYyr

Via Apple – https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/fifty-shades-of-motherhood/id1517280582

Via TuneIn – https://tunein.com/podcasts/Kids–Family-Podcasts/Fifty-Shades-of-Motherhood-p1331099/

Via Stitcher – https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/fifty-shades-of-motherhood?refid=stpr

ViaGooglehttps://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9mZWVkcy5idXp6c3Byb3V0LmNvbS8xMTQ0ODIwLnJzcw/episode/QnV6enNwcm91dC00Mjg5Mjcz?hl=en-GB&ved=2ahUKEwip1vORhJrqAhXJilwKHZcYAiUQjrkEegQICRAU&ep=6

The new old me

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!

Inking of you

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.

Mr Judgemental

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.

Widowed Parenthood: Back to the future

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 nightime feeding, teething, learning to eat, immunisations, first steps, first words, birthday parties, playgroup activities, potty training, family holidays… to name a few, where massive challenges. However, it is these moments that make me feel happy too. Happy to have achieved a milestone for my child. Having been through all these moments alone I always sign each one off with “Marky boy, take a bow son”, I always feel proud. I never doubt that in my mind that, if Katherine was alive, she would be proud too.

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.

Dad’s who can

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.

Man down

As I approach the second anniversary of my wife’s death, I anticipate the multitude of emotions that will no doubt, return. There has always been attention paid to grief and its connections to health and illness. My experience and the impact between mental wellbeing and grief was pretty much textbook.

It wasn’t too long ago, I looked at myself in the mirror and acknowledged that my life will never be the same as it once was. I could face the fact that life, in general, doesn’t’ always go to plan. No matter what our story is. My life went in one direction and within a blink of an eye, it faced a different one.

I never planned it, and I never once asked for the direction it went. However, it wasn’t’ just my life that changed direction, it was also a range of other elements, such as my wellbeing.

The concern around my mental health was a common theme in my grieving.
From the beginning, the loss of my wife generated huge vulnerability and mental limitations. It had shaken the foundations of meaning and produced considerable suffering for me. My mind found reality too traumatic to deal with and too painful. My brain spontaneously took the action it needed to protect its host.

I did have days when my head would be overloaded with torturous thoughts and visions. One specific thought I duelled with constantly was how Katherine would have managed if I had been the one to have died. How would she have coped and was I content for me to live in this pain and not her? I also tortured myself during milestone moments with my daughter. I would imagine in my mind just how Katherine would have responded and expressed her happiness observing Margot’s behaviour.

Apparitions would appear during moments when Margot took her first steps, spoke her first words, had her first birthday, went on her first holiday. Even the more obscure and funny moments with my daughter would be bittersweet. It would break my heart into pieces when I’d think about it too much. It really did bring tears to my eyes.

Loneliness was a massive factor in my wellbeing. I always remember when I began to sink emotionally. During the weeks and months after the funeral as most people, apart from family, had started to drift away. The loneliness officially started to kick in. I felt that I was no longer part of the couples’ world and I had no one who understood what I was going through.

At first, I refused to seek help or change course for the deviations I noticed. Instead, I decided to go away with friends for a winter holiday to Spain. My aim was to clear my mind and create some happy memories for me and my daughter. Each day was meant to be filled with fun and laughter in the sun. In reality, I just ended up duelling with my mind more so than ever. I returned home and all of the facades of doing OK came apart and the depression took over. Everything came crashing down on me. I became dependant on alcohol and I cried, a hell of a lot; I was incredibly sad and lonely.

Spain 2018, Daddy & Margot (the brave ones)

After dropping my daughter off at the nursery in the morning, I would drive into work, park my car, sit with my head on the wheel and stir at my knees as my eyes rained onto them. It would take at least ten minutes each day before I could get myself out of the car and go to work.

It was only when I discovered support from the charity sector and from a specialist service that my wellbeing started to change for the better. This didn’t happen overnight, it took dedication and openness to find mindfulness. One key element that really helped me was discovering somebody who had been through what I was going through. Someone who was also a widower and a single parent. I had found someone who had come out the other side and it gave me great hope. Margot was going to be ok. I was going to be ok.

From my support days, I really want to touch upon a broad component of widowhood that I have observed. I had discovered that expressions of grief were sometimes very deeply gendered. I found that some men would grieve in a way that can only be described as a masculine practice. It was almost as if some felt judged and alienated to show raw emotion. All I could think of was the term “man-up” as some adopted a form of toughness. The feeling of crying or even attending a support session resembled some sort of weakness.

I understand we’re all very different and express ourselves in our own way. However, when expressing and releasing grief, I think it’s really important for men to open up. It is equally important to know there’s nothing wrong with tears. It’s ok for a man to cry, in fact, it’s more than ok to cry. I say this in the contest to the perceptions of male grief and the entire ‘Harden up’, ‘Man up’ and ‘Suck it up’ medals of honour.

I can’t emphasise how important all of this was for my journey. Timely support protected me against the risk of poor mental wellbeing. Please don’t have any shame in seeking specialist/professional interventions. Grief cannot simply be suppressed. It will eventually catch with you at some stage in your life.

I recalled a story more recently describing how Prince Harry revealed that he sought counselling after twenty years of bottling up his grief. He had unhealthily suppressed his emotions after losing his mother when he was twelve and came close to a complete breakdown. In an ideal world, I guess if our society was to understand the impact of bereavement better, it would be more geared up to support those in need and to prevent any form of depression from grieving.

The reality of learning to love again

When you think about love, it isn’t exclusive. It’s not exclusive to one thing or one being alone at any given time. Within our short little lives, it is endless and ours to express to whatever and whomever we desire. In terms of experiencing a bereavement of a spouse, widowers can choose to lock it away forever or to eventually give it to someone new. The right is ours alone.

I have read a lot of fascinating stories about how widowers have found love again in short spaces of time. It is very common for young widowers to find sudden love. It was only 2 days ago I was reading a very interesting article on the Huffington Post about how ex-Sky Sports presenter, Simon Thomas found love again within 12 months of his wife’s passing. Another celebrity status widower in the form of Patton Oswalt, again he was engaged within 12 months of losing his wife. Each with their own story on how they heal and embrace their new lives.

Ex Sky Sports presenter and fellow widower – Simon Thomas

Being a single windowed parent in my 30’s I wanted to live my life too. I wanted to live my life the way Katherine would have wanted me to. I was not destined to remain in mourning forever. I did not choose to shut down, wear black and become a miserable and bitter father to my daughter. Instead, I chose to grieve in my way, in my time and to move my life towards my own design – a design that happily included new love and new adventures.

If you have also chosen a similar pathway and you’re equipped to grip the opportunity by the balls. Be prepared to generate a level of shock reaction from others. This will usually come from the people who I like to refer to as ‘observers of grief’. These individuals generally fall into the categories of friends and outsiders. For me, it was mostly a selection of my wife’s friends, 2 even being bridesmaids at our wedding. Exposing just how shallow and selfish some people can be during a time of transition and openness. More than likely they’ll probably want nothing more to do with you or your children again. I have touched upon this topic in my previous post about grief and friendships not mixing.

During my experience, I noticed an array of remarks and comments from various people in the form of “it’s too soon”, “how could he do this to her” and “he’s just not grieving properly”. As if ‘they’ defined a universal grieving time period from their book = ‘The Idiots Guide to Grief’. It is criticism like this that we, the widowers are attuned to.

The reaction of others begged an obvious question from me to them. Since when did ‘learning to love again’ translate into ‘forgetting’ our loved one?

Exactly just how long is ‘long enough’ before we’re allowed to live again in the eyes of the observer. Is it 1 year, 2, 3, 4, maybe 10 or even 20 years until they’re totally satisfied to let us move on in life, to find happiness again? The honest truth is, only we can make this decision and it has nothing to do with anyone else around you. However, no matter what time frame your heart and soul has chosen, you can’t win. It could be in 5 years’ time and the reaction from the observers will always remain the same. I always knew that their reactions would be a selfish one. No matter how you feel just remember that If they had gone through a loss like ours they would never judge a person for wanting to fall in love again.

In broad society, it’s quite common how we accept a stage of our life to be over before we can start the next one. Our thinking is very linear in how we understand our own emotional states. The thought of overlapping grief with love to the observer usually is impossible to grasp. Not being directly linked to the bereavement, how can they? They will feel like you’re being disloyal or minimising the loss of the person. They could even think they’ll fall into this category if they show a level of support towards you.

As widowers we all know we carry our grief with us forever, it cannot simply be removed or forgotten. We are not required to conclude our grieving to begin a new relationship. The love in our hearts isn’t moved to one side to make room for someone new. If and when it happens an addition is built on. The heart becomes greater. We don’t have a capacity or limit to the amount of love we can give in our lives, love is infinite.

Since my wife passed, the love I have for her has never moved, it’s still firmly cemented into my entire being. It will remain that way for the rest of my life and will never go away. Not ever. Not with the passage of time. Not with the introduction of a new person into my life. I am honouring Katherine’s legacies of love and service by continuing to move forward; by modelling the best example that I can for my daughter, by building a family unit and living a life with my new partner, whom I love deeply. By doing all of these things, I am indeed honouring the legacies of love and service that Katherine left for me to carry forward.

I believe that all young widowers can do the same, if and when you choose to do so. There is no time limit when the time is right. When it does happen, and you let it in. Embrace it and carry forward the legacies that were entrusted to you by your late spouse. If you choose it, living your new life can include companionship again… and love. Just choose carefully, choose wisely — and love again abundantly.

Because you can!

Bacardi & coke and a pint of grief, please

When Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome (SADS) first introduced me to grief, alcohol was everywhere. For the first 7 months, during the evening’s, once my daughter had gone to sleep I would frequently self-medicate. I became dependant on it to help numb and avoid my pain. If I’m honest, when the silence came so did the darkness. Alcohol was the only thing I knew I could use to beat grief away just so I could avoid or postpone it that little bit longer. Without it I knew as soon as I took my ‘Dad’ hat off, I would crumble. Grief was a new beast I’d never encountered. I just wasn’t ready for it. Alcohol was my weapon, without it I’d simply be punching smoke.

For me, using alcohol to sedate myself was just one phase of my widowhood I had to go through. Especially when dealing with the sudden death of my wife. It was only last weekend when I started to think about just how cohesive alcohol is in all our lives. It’s so deeply integrated that we don’t even notice how acceptable it is. Life is good? Have a drink. Life is shit? Have a drink. Out celebrating, are we? Have a drink? Cooking a nice steak at home tonight? You don’t have to drive – roll out the bottles of red. At a wedding? Oooh, free drinks. Wetting the baby’s head? Have a drink. Big match on the television? Then it’s beer o’clock. At a funeral? You guessed it – drinks! It’s probably safe to say unless you work in a pub or restaurant, your place of work is the safest place to avoid alcohol.

This grief self-care medicine created a massive gap between knowledge and behaviour. At the back of my mind, I always knew it was a risk to become dependent on drinking the pain away, it wasn’t a healthy coping skill. Being a single parent, I had responsibilities. I had to be Mum and Dad. I knew people would be looking at me to see how I was coping. Plus, who has ever made a good decision when drinking? Somehow, I just found a deeper connection between rationalisation and alcohol. It addressed the symptoms of my grief, not the underlying problems. It made a real exploration of the underlying issues more difficult, masking them with a temporary “fix” and delaying me from addressing the feelings I should address. It put me at high risk for developing dependence. It put a strain on my body and more importantly my mind.


Not the magic healing potion I thought!

I’ve always loved craft beers and fine wines, I still do to this day. I’d be one of the biggest hypocrites in the world to say you have to cut it all out of your life. It is really important to highlight that your grief can always put you at risk of developing a problem. I feel nothing but shame when I look back now. Once I could eventually break the cycle I knew I could embrace my grief and make it part of my life. This is what I described in the analogy of grief I shared last week. I can always recall the groundhog day feeling each morning I would wake up after drinking, the grief was still there looking back at me, it never went anywhere. This is when I soon realised that the only way to release my strong emotions is to feel them. This made me discover more self-awareness and it enforced more moderation of certain things into my life.

Companions in the Darkness

The entire premise of this post is to give some direction to those who are currently supporting a young widower. If you have not had the experience that your friend or family member is going through. There is simply no way of “making it better” when someone has this type of life trauma. The awful truth is that such agony can only be endured, not cured. This kind of pain is inconsolable, but this doesn’t mean your impulse to help is futile. I hope that what I share here will also help those recently widowed too. I urge you to read it, save it and share it.

Katherine and I were like two young trees that grew up intertwined. But then one tree died and was removed, leaving the other appearing deformed. This was the only way I could illustrate to my friends on how difficult the sense of loss was to me. Still, it was simply impossible for my friends to understand the depth of the pain caused by grief. My friends and family really felt powerless to change the conditions that generated my pain. When I go back to the beginning I was so lonely. Being the surviving parent, my daughter didn’t need to grieve, why would she, being just 9 months old. I had to carry the weight of what she’d lost on my back too. Most of my days consisted of an endless one to one loop with her. She had no interest in hanging out with me, being a baby, she was just doing what she was supposed to do, and I don’t blame her.

Spain 2018, our first holiday together.

We all experience grief differently, we respond to it in our own way too. Some days I would become snappy, grumpy and the thought of being pitied would cause me to explode. I absolutely despised being pitied by people. I wasn’t always the nicest person to be around at the beginning. That was just how I displayed my distress. If I’m really honest now, having visitors was one of the things I found comfort in. particularly when they sat and quietly listened whilst I reminisced or verbalised something that was occupying my mind at that moment. I probably wasn’t the best company, but I really appreciated the empathy.

Often the best way to help someone grieving is to just be there. Anniversaries being a key time to arrange for yourself or others to be with that person. Such as a wedding anniversary or a birthday. These are times when we experience the extreme sense of emptiness and sadness. Try not to drift away and leave that person alone for too long. I understand everyone needs space and time, but not widowers – if anything, we need company. Especially a grieving single parent. I was always particularly touched by the actions of one of Katherine’s closest friends, Emma. She took the initiative to regularly visit us and she always asked how I was coping emotionally, she became my soundboard for a lot of things, even to this day. Katherine would have been so proud of her!

Last year I stumbled upon this poem titled ‘Hold me close and go away’ written by Emma Cobb in 2002. This is probably the most accurate way of describing how I became ‘difficult’ company for my friends and family at the beginning. I’d like to think it might also help you understand the mindset of someone you’re supporting.

Hold me close and go away,
Please visit me and please don’t stay,
Talk to me but please don’t speak,
I need you NOW – come back next week.

Emotions muddled, needs unknown,
To be with others or on my own?
To scream out loud? To rant and shout?
Or hide away and push you out?

I smile at you – “She’s not that bad”
I shout at you – “She’s going mad”
I speak to you – “What do I say?”
I show my tears – “Quick, walk away”

It’s not catching, the grief I feel,
I can’t pretend that it’s not real,
I carry on as best I know,
But this pain inside just won’t go.

So true friends, please, accept the lot,
I
shout, I cry, I lose the plot,
I don’t know what I need today,
So hold me close and go away.

The offer of assistance is something to really consider, but like me, many will hesitate to take you up on the offer. You should try to be proactive and take care of something that would be of help to your friend–cleaning, gardening, cooking or even just entertaining a child. Let them know you’re willing to watch their children if they need some time alone or help in other ways.

Here are some gentle but powerful do’s and don’ts that will help you reach out to your family or friend. This information was prepared by the charity ‘Care for the Family’. It’s not going to quell the discomfort of grief. Believe me, when I say, this list is better than nothing. It really helped me and my friends after I shared it with them. It’ll at least help provide you with a starting point on how to support them from day to day. Please also use the links I’ve supplied on the ‘Widower Support’ page of my blog.

Always remember you’re not a bad person for not knowing what to do.

Understanding grief, an analogy

Grief is like a ball in a bucket. To begin with, it fills every space, and there is no room for anything else. But over time the bucket grows. It becomes a room, then a floor, then a whole house. The ball never gets any smaller, but your life grows and you have more space to move around your ball.

Over time there are days when you may not see the ball at all. Other days you open a door in your life and it trips you up. Some days it corners you. But as time passes you have more space to move the ball out of the way.

I’ve heard people say that the ball grows smaller and smaller and eventually vanishes. That is not the case. It will always be the same size.

For me, on anniversaries and similar reminders, I seek my ball out. I carry it around with me, and I hold it. These are the days I want and need my ball with me, no matter how much it hurts. And when I put it down again, it’s no longer crammed into a small space but it’s encompassed into my new life, becoming part of it.

Accepting the new you

One thing I’ve learnt as a widower is that much of my experience has common elements with that of other widowers, but we each also have some very unique components in our individual journeys. For those who are supporting a grieving friend or family member, I’ve got some bad news for you. A life-changing chapter of this category will change that person.

When someone experiences bereavement, especially with a version of sudden death to a loved one like I did. Most of your identity and traits will be stripped apart and they become something totally new. The Mark all my family and friends knew had faded like a dead star, I’m no longer that person they all knew. My daughter will never ever know the person her Dad used to be.

When I emerged from the deepest and most painful first few months, crazy was the new normal for me. I quickly realised that I hadn’t a clue who this new person was. The external labels of ‘widower’ and ‘Father’ were all I had left to define me. Most of my friends didn’t know what to say to me anymore. Though I was off work at the time, I was desperately trying to step back into some sort of routine, but I just didn’t feel the same.  I was confused about my purpose. Everything I knew about my life was set in the old ‘pre-grief’ world. If ever a rationale for temporary insanity was needed, it was certainly found each time I looked back at myself in the mirror. Even during the dark days, I would selfishly ponder if I even wanted to continue as this ill-defined broken-person that remained.

When I think about it, I guess we all experience and struggle with it in indifferently. It just looks different on everyone because we all experience and express it in our own way. I found that once I understood and accepted that my wife was dead I could then begin discovering this new person I’d become.  I felt a level of mixed emotions about the one thing the new me had managed to retain, my sense of humour. I guess that actually sounds ironically funny in the form of the old Mark.

Naturally my outlook on how precious life was had magnified dramatically. The importance of money became pathetic, it was just a plaything to enable some ‘fun’ and get the things my daughter and I deserved. A new garden, a new car, holidays, clothes and lots of toys. Whatever I wanted I bought, I just lived in the ‘now’, tomorrow didn’t exist. This was when I really started to feel like I was losing it.

As the months went by, living as this new person was hard, you have to make your own blueprint to adjust.  I knew I had to keep myself mentally engaged, I wanted to choose life and meaning. I had to quickly come to terms with the new me and learn to adapt to what I was now all about. Having a child, I couldn’t afford to stop because I’ve got someone who depends on me. Every day I could hear Katherine’s voice in my mind saying, ‘You can’t just give up, I won’t let you’.

To process what I’d become, I knew I had to embrace my grief first. None of us wants to be sad, alone, delusional, lost, or without purpose. And yet, that is often exactly what we need to experience in order to process our grief.

I don’t have an exact answer for this topic, I just really want to emphasise the importance of change you’ll experience. Everyone will reinvent and discover the new you differently, this is just my story. You should always do it at your own pace. There is no need to rush it. Always allow yourself time and space to do this in a way that supports your situation. And take comfort, at some point, things should get easier to adjust.  An important part of healing and adapting to your new life is discovering the role your loved one will play in your life after a loved one’s death.

My season of grief has left me a little bit wary, a little bit wise, and a little bit crazy, but stronger!