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

BBC Life After Death: How I coped becoming a widower

Early this year I received an invitation from the BBC to be involved in the creation of a short documentary around the topic of grief. Well, male grief to be more specific with my own flavour. The creation of this miniseries was to bring together a number of people who had been affected by mental health issues and bereavement.

After 6 hours of filming in my home in Southport and down in London. I was expecting a little more than 9 minutes of footage to be included in the final edit. I’m guessing the whole Covid-19 lockdown played a big part, or maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. It really did make me think twice about ever doing something like this again. Especially considering the amount of time, effort and personal information Marco and I had initially put in.

Anyhow, that’s enough grumbles from me. I hope this finds the right people out there, even if it just 9 mins of empathy.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/stories-52910362

Best wishes

Mark x

Chicken Dinner

On Friday 20th September 2019, I was in Liverpool to attend the 2019 Positive Awards ceremony at the Hilton Hotel. Little did I know I would actually leave as a winner in the ‘Resilience’ Category for this blog.

I was always very honoured to have been originally nominated at the beginning. To actually be placed in the final four of the ‘Resilience’ Category and then go on to win it was a massive shock. Especially against so many other inspirational people I was up against.

Receiving this award is just simply wonderful in itself and more so for everyone who knows me and my daughter.

Though my blogging days are over I just wanted to write something to let everyone know I won and to say a big THANK YOU. A thank you to everyone who had taken the time to vote and to write so many lovely words. It means more to me than you probably realise.

You have all made my world a very shiny and proud place to be.

Opening up again

I have (yet again) shared my story of widowhood and beyond – in this week’s Chat Magazine (TI Media). It covers a lot more about that day back in May 2017. I speak more about my duel as a single parent and facing grief. Of course lots of insight into the importance for other young widowers to reach out for support.

Also, I’m currently at the halfway point of my first draft for my book. I’m ‘bang-on’ schedule to have it finished for early next year. Margot and I are very excited about it.

The Positive Awards 2019

My blog has been nominated as a finalist into the Positive Awards 2019.

Overall, my grief support work has been nominated for an award in the ‘Resilience’ category. If you would like to cast your vote and/or share the link with others it would be much appreciated.

Click here to VOTE

**Please click ‘Don’t know’ on other categories if you wish only to vote for me alone**

I’m hoping that its nomination or even chance of winning, will help spread the word with the aim of it reaching more of the people it might be able to help.

Thank you all

Mark & Margot

Birthday Girl

Even though you’re no longer here,
Your memory grows stronger with each passing year.

The end came as an unknown battle,
complete with the utmost emotional shackle.

With little choice but to give in,
your beautiful heart could never win.

With no goodbye before you left,
I’d have told you, you’re my hero and the best.

The happiness you gave, brings tears to my eyes,
Though its lives with me – through the threads of our lives.

For all the walks I take by the sea,
I will always throw a pebble in for you and me.

So many tears before I sleep,
Wishing you beside me, you’d be forever here to keep.

Wishing I could see you just one more time,
I’d shout your name out aloud.

The years don’t get easier; they said the pain would go,
I guess I’ve just learnt how to let my feelings show.

So with your giant rainbow up in the clouds,
I just hope I can make you proud.

Hoping the years will start to soften and just maybe then…
your birthday could feel happy once again.

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!

Deep conversations

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”.

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.

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!

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.