Hello. I’m Ben and the handsome little chap in the photo above is my son, Jackson. You might have read about us before because our story received quite a lot of attention when I started a blog about grief in January 2013 after the tragic death of my wife, Desreen, just two months earlier.
I was thirty-three when it happened and our son was only two, so I found myself totally at a loss. I had no idea how to deal with the grief, where to turn to for support, how to cope as a newly single parent or process the madness that was going on in my brain.
I took up running to begin with, which seemed to help for a while, but every time I put trainers on my bruised feet, my head started to ache with words. I had all these thoughts circulating around that I didn’t know what to do with at first. So I started writing in order to deal with it all, which was something I’d never done before. After a few days of scribbling down all my thoughts, I realised that they might be of use to other people. I suppose the writing began because I couldn’t find anyone in my situation – widowed young and raising children along – to talk to. There seemed to be no one else speaking out.
When I published my first post on the blog, Life as a Widower, I was aiming to encourage other men to open up, challenge perceptions of male grief and also attempting to force a reappraisal of the stiff upper lip being a badge of honour when it comes to loss.
What happened next was completely unexpected. I thought that just a few widowed men would read it and that everyone else would recoil from the honesty and pain of the words. But that wasn’t the case at all. The blog hit the headlines immediately and was read and shared by millions of people. It gained notoriety and won awards. Fifteen months on, thanks to the success of the blog, I published my first book – It’s Not Raining, Daddy, It’s Happy – which explored themes of loss and grief from both my young son’s and my perspective. It has now been published in four different languages and in eight or nine different countries.
On top of that I was also invited to consult on the incredibly moving BBC One documentary Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum & Dad, which I appeared in alongside a number of other widowed fathers (and friends) that I met through my blog.
I still write features on bereavement and single parenting for a number of newspapers and magazines, too. And, perhaps most importantly, I continue to campaign for better emotional and financial support for bereaved families in partnership with a number of UK charities.
So, what now?
It’s nearly five years since Desreen’s death and my sense of humour and heart are both firmly back intact. And that’s not because time is a magic healer but because I’ve worked really hard to attempt to help my son and myself make progress.
I tried all sorts of things: throwing myself into work, taking time off and travelling; counselling and a retreat (more on that some other time); time with family, time with friends and time alone; detox and retox; new friendships, new relationships and online dating; extremes of intense exercise and total relaxation, even laziness.
I kept an open mind and tried anything that might help me begin to live well again. And by ‘living well’ I don’t mean enslaving myself to yoga practice, a vegan diet and a future of abstinence from any vices – I mean making the most of a life that was so abruptly interrupted (two lives in fact if I include my son).
I am, without doubt, more conscious of life as a result of such a significant death. I’ve suffered depression and come out the other side. I’ve spent so long ruminating on the past and now it’s my time to concentrate on the future. Because when someone dies, the thing people most want to be able to say is that they lived well. And I don’t believe that happens without trying.
So I’m going to learn how through everyday lessons, in whatever form they choose to arise: conversations with friends and strangers; experiences that I haven’t yet tried; the little, yet often profound, remarks my son so often makes; other people’s inspiring attempts to better themselves or improve the lives of others; observations made by keeping my ears and eyes open to the word, and who knows what else?
And I really think that my first step towards living life well is about spending more time with my very favourite things: words.