Author of Sunday Times Bestseller 'It's Not Raining, Daddy, It's Happy' and writer of the award-winning blog 'Life as a Widower'
On 10 November 2012 my life changed forever. Just after 8.00p.m. I left my friends’ house a happily married thirty-three-year-old father. By 9.17p.m. I was sitting in an ambulance on their street, a widower in shock. I only remember the time because I noticed that the hands on the clock were in the same position as when our son was born two years and three weeks before.
My son and I managed to narrowly dodge the car that killed the woman I’d loved for the last eight years. The woman I’d married just the year before. It killed a wife; a daughter; a sister; a friend treasured by so many. But, perhaps worst of all, it killed a toddler’s beautiful and devoted mummy.
How do you even begin to pick up the pieces after such a tragic loss? This question plagued me. I found myself wanting to share my experiences and find answers from people just like me, widowed young and caring for grieving children. My search for those people seemed fruitless. It just made me feel even more isolated.
‘I’m thinking about starting a blog about losing Dessie,’ I told a friend. ‘It worries me that I’m finding so little out there to help men left alone raising kids.’
‘Just do it!’ he responded, immediately understanding my intentions.
So on 7 January 2013, two months after the death of my wife, Desreen Brooks, I published my first blog post. Within a week the Guardian asked me to write a feature, for its Family supplement, about my experience in helping my two-year-old son understand what had happened to his mum. I was also interviewed on BBC Breakfast and ITV’s This Morning on the same subject. Within four months the blog generated widespread media coverage, amassed a devoted UK and international audience, received in excess of half a million views and won a blogging award for making people sit up and pay attention to an issue that could, ultimately, touch any parent.
My original intention was to try to encourage other men to open up, to challenge perceptions of male grief and to attempt to force a reappraisal of the stiff upper lip being a badge of honour when it comes to loss. The blog, however, attracted people from different walks of life united in their own immediate loss, or their care and concern for grieving loved ones.
All sorts of people started to get in touch: women and not just men; old not just young; people who had lost their husbands or wives within a week of me and my son losing Desreen; parents who had lost children; partners who had not yet started grieving because their terminally ill husbands or wives were still finding the strength to hang on; teachers who had found some suggestions for how to deal with children who had lost or were facing loss; and people wanting to understand how to help their own loved ones suffering the pain of bereavement.
Over the past few years I've attempted, through writing, to give a real insight into raw and live grief. I’ve documented everything as it happened. I decided I needed to start writing soon after my wife died because of an analogy that one day popped into my head: if women could remember every ache and pain of labour, perhaps none would have more than one child. Human beings’ capacity to forget pain is enormous, and in many ways that is a good and necessary thing. Morbid as it may sound, though, it filled me with dread to imagine that I would ever forget the agony of my loss. I was even more worried that I might not be able to explain it to my son when he was old enough to start asking serious questions.
I now explore themes of loss and grief from both my son’s and my own point of view, as well as single-parenting.
My little boy turned seven a few weeks ago. His birthday is always incredibly bittersweet for me. With every year that goes by, I'm reminded of how much further he moves away from his mother's physical presence. She was killed just after his second birthday.
About a year after my wife was killed, I was asked by some newspaper or other to write about my experience of dating as a widower. Having not written a word of fiction or fantasy since leaving high school, I politely declined the offer and rolled my eyes at the assumption that I would be back in the game so soon.
Last week a clock started ticking for widowed parents and bereaved children when the UK Government introduced some of the most indecent and unnecessary benefits cuts imaginable, cutting the support provided to widowed parents and grieving children at a time when they're likely to need it most.
On this particular occasion we had invited someone else who was suffering into the fold. The former England captain and widowed father of three, Rio Ferdinand, was joining us to find out more about how we processed our loss and helped our kids through theirs.
It occurred to me the other day that I don't really see myself as a 'widower' anymore. Nothing about losing my wife feels any different, but it's only really when I have to fill in the marital status section of some sort of form that I think, Oh shit! That's me!
You see, children, like adults, continue to have a relationship with the deceased. What's often not the same for young kids, though, is that they will have to fill in gaps that their memories don't offer up freely. They have to make believe.
In PR circles I suppose I qualify as a 'daddy blogger' because I have a five-year-old son, whom I raise alone. However, if you're looking to indulge in a 'family' blog then you may find mine a little decimated. The topic is more 'struggling single parent' than 'thriving family'.
When my wife was killed my son had just turned two. For the three years that followed I often worried about how he would fit in at school. What would the other children say when they found out his mum had died? How would the teachers handle his loss? What would it be like to be the 'odd one out'?
What father raising his male child without a mother would feel like he'd succeeded in raising him the way his mother would have wanted, if he grew up to believe he was somehow superior to the opposite sex?
Understanding the pressures from society to get 'back to normal' after the death of my wife, it's evident that many women find it very difficult to do just that after breast cancer. The mental and/or physical scars remain, even though the world around sees a person who has 'beaten it'.
A lesson I learned a long time ago was that the build up to what one might classify as a challenging calendar date, tends to be far more challenging than the calendar date itself. Christmas, anniversaries, birthdays, each seeming to grow a little less painful as the years go by. I asked myself, Why would this be any different? It really was, though.
Tell them that at thirty-one years old I was the happiest man alive when I married the love of my life. Tell them that I was utterly bereft when I lost her at thirty-three. Tell them I've thirty-five now and depressed. Tell them that I put a good face on but that the truth is that things haven't really got much easier. Tell them from me how hard it is to be a bereaved single parent.
Soon after my wife was killed in November 2012 I decided to start a blog. Through it I would create a record of raw and live grief as it happened, as well as documenting my attempts at somehow rebuilding my life after the shock of becoming a widower at just 33.
26/05/2014 21:17 BST
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