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.
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.
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.
Someone once said that being a widower is like living in a country where nobody speaks your language. I hope I can translate one of my bad experiences into something you might understand or have been through. I feel it’s very relevant as no one seems to give it the time it deserves in widowhood.
We all lose friends and gain friends throughout our life. Whether you have been friends for six months or 30 years, you do not know how your friendship will hold up during a crisis. Some friends step up and the bond becomes unbreakable and they’ll be there for the long haul. Despite what you may have thought, some friends will leave you when you need them the most. Perhaps they just don’t know what to say or how to act.
After speaking to other widowers, I’ve realised that we all faced unique and similar circumstances with our friends. It had only been a matter of months after my wife had passed. Some of her friends started to drift away, going back to their own lives, having babies, taking holidays, having parties – life just carried on and I could taste the lack of empathy in the air. Occasionally some would text, but the cards and visits stopped, especially for the important days, even for my daughter. I guess in my mind I knew what Katherine would have expected from them?
For me, these friendships had officially strained at the seams. Promises of help and support had been made without any intention of delivery. Katherine deserved so much more from them, we deserved better. Frankly, I was sick and tired of the stages. I’ll always recall the additional ‘unofficial’ visits I’d received from my child’s health visitor, she was unbelievable. Sadly, this is where I discovered strangers possessed more compassion than these people.
Some can’t handle the losses of others and so they draw back. It really is one of those ‘life events’ that will show you who the true friends are. You have to just go through every experience that comes your way, face it, feel it, try to learn from it and then continue to carry on the best you know how. Just remember the good people keep coming back!
Many people will want to help you, but very few know how? I’ve already started to document an array of ideas and materials which I can share next week.