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.

5 thoughts on “Man down”

  1. Hi
    I just can’t imagine what you are going through. I am deeply touched and honour your bravery and the parenting towards your daughter Magot. I hold you in highest praise and honour. You give everyone who reads about you strength and hope that there is always light at the end of the tunnel, I pray for you and Magot that the future will remain brighter forever.

    1. Thank you so much for these words of kindness. I’ve always said that if I can help just one person then it would be mission accomplished. I’ve always found that other men in my position don’t open up or help themselves. Hopefully, I can give some of them a little hope. Take care x

  2. Hi

    I saw your story in the local news and couldn’t help but want to read your blog. I have only read a few posts and I am so full of admiration for you. Not only are you trying to deal with your own emotions but you’re thinking of the impact on Margot down to every last detail!

    I am now 36. I was 2 weeks old when I lost my mum and my dad lost his wife, the love of his life! His world was turned upside down! He suddenly had a newborn baby to cope with, and a house to look after and needed to continue to earn money (be the mum and dad). It was overwhelming. Having two young children myself now (5&4) I understand not just what he must have gone through being a single man (which I feel is somewhat harder than a single mum even these days) bringing up a baby, but also everything my mum missed out on, and is still missing out on!

    I never felt I could show emotion growing up. I didn’t know my mum and felt silly that I could be upset about losing someone I didn’t even know! This opening up was not encouraged at home or at school and so reading your outlook about showing emotions whether positive or negative around your daughter is in my mind, a big step in the right direction. She will one day want to grieve too, when she has a better understanding of the situation. With her Dad’s support she will get through it!

    I hope you have photos and videos of your wife with Margot in them. Margot will treasure these in the future! I would love to hear my mum’s voice but that will not happen due to the lack of technology 36 years ago 🙂 I haven’t got a single photograph of us together either. 🙁

    Margot will need all the support she can get growing up! Teenage years are particularly difficult anyway but possibly even more so. Like you she will have the question ‘why me?’ That may come younger when she realises she is different to many other people. Again with your love and support she will thrive like any other person and understand being different is not negative. I do feel like I missed that from my Dad. I have huge confidence issues and always have. Reading your posts is reassuring that from the outset you are thinking of your daughters feelings and how you can best support her. It is lovely to read! I am the happiest I have ever been now (having a bond with my own children) despite not having much support from my dad. Maybe he didn’t know how, maybe he just wanted someone to support him and I was just a huge responsibility!

    All I can say is you are doing a phenomenal job! You are Margot’s world and keep talking about how special her mum is and how they might be similar and any memories you can think of! Just helps fill in that blank space. One day she will thank you for it! I now know my dad did his best! X

    1. Words cannot do justice to what you have just written. You have no idea how much reading your story has inspired me and made me smile to know there is hope. Bless you, for this. I have taken a lot from it.

      1. Oh there is! My dad still looks back on the happiest days of his life which were with my Mum. He did remarry but it wasn’t the happiest of marriages. Those years with my mum are so long ago they feel like a different lifetime now to him. He enjoys sitting and watching old videos (no sound :-)) and looking at old photos with me. There is a twinkle in his eyes when he speaks of her! Sending you so much love. You will get through it by creating happy memories going forward with your precious daughter!

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