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Making Lemonade Blog

This week I reached out to my counsellor to book a block of sessions, having not had them for 7 or 8 months. It would seem that I have been reverting to type and that I'd stopped doing the things that had helped me to move forward previously, I've stopped talking, I've stopped writing (hence this blog), I've closed up, avoided situations and emotions that have felt challenging and it has heightened my awareness that progression in a post bereavement grief journey isn't linear.

In an ideal world the further we move away from a point of impact, in my case Lauren's death, the less it should influence us and to the outside world this may have appeared to be the case for me. But the reality is somewhat different.

I've written and spoken before about Tonkin's model of grief and how contrary to popular belief the size of your pain doesn't change or heal over time, that over time you just manage to build a bigger life around it, meaning that you don't experience the pain as frequently. However, when you do experience those grief related emotions, they hurt the same as they did at first and drag you back to the middle of the grief pool, treading water just to keep yourself afloat.

This model is the most accurate way I've found to explain my experiences of grief and bereavement. However, more recently I've been reverting to my typical pre-bereavement coping strategies and have been sub-consciously choosing not to feel or deal with the pain when it arrives. Allowing for it to build up like a rhythm beat of pressure without realising it was happening and moving further away from all of the things that had helped me to keep moving forward until now.

Allowing this to happen has in turn having a negative effect on my relationships, significantly reduced my patience, challenged my concentration span and ultimately led to me feeling like I'm not really doing very well in any aspect of my life at the moment. I have to caveat this with the fact that I am my own worse critic and so am generally much harsher on myself than others would be of me. However, as I sit and write this blog, I am not ok, I'm struggling with getting out of bed in the mornings, I'm not sleeping, I'm finding it difficult to get out of my head and process a significant flurry of emotions that have poured out in a concentrated attack on my ability to be my usual positive and upbeat self.

In itself this realisation has been surprising because at what feels like just a click of the fingers, I've gone from feeling like I was the master of my domain to realising, again, that we really have very little control over life, the directions it chooses to take us and our feelings. But, in the learning it has made me realise that progress isn't a guaranteed upward trend and that actually sometimes we take what feels like a backward momentum that actually builds our resilience and propels us on to take another set of steps away from the point of impact.

Much like the picture above, in a perfect world, we would move along the line of progress in a continual and very smooth journey toward our goal, or in my case re-building my life post bereavement. However, the reality is different and regardless of the fact that things feel heavier than they have for a while, that I'm clearly struggling with the weight of my emotions and that I've not dealt with this wave of strong feelings particularly well, I'm trying to remind myself that it's ok for that to happen. That actually Rome wasn't built in a day and that we can feel our grief, experience set backs and feel as though we're going backwards, but it doesn't mean that we haven't made any progress or that we won't continue to make progress.

Obviously I love and miss Lauren and that'll never go away, but I accept the reality of the situation, I have done for quite some time and although I need to be more open with these emotions, so much of what triggers me nowadays is related to Molly. Being the amazing little girl that she is, she continues to excel and thrive in a life that has been unfairly unkind to her and every little achievement, bit of praise from the her teachers, positive bit of feedback from friends, family and often passers by, creates the most of extreme dualities in me of pride and pain.

Unlike the picture above there is no finish line, I'll dip into the grief pool regularly for the rest of my life and the reality of the situation is that I cannot run away from the pain that I feel and, even though it has gotten me through 33 years of life so far, to the point where I don't even realise I'm doing it, I'm not able to shelve it or hide from it. I need to learn how to feel this pain and not run away from the things that trigger it, whilst re-building my life in the best way that I can, knowing that pain for what has been lost and happiness for what is to come are not mutually exclusive and can (and must) be experienced at the same time.

The overwhelming levels of stress, anxiety and emotion that I'm experiencing at the moment, has me feeling a real sense of escapism and is something that I'm still learning how to manage. The mental health struggles that I experience are something that I've only realised I battle with in the last 2 years and actually as a stereotypical man that likes to shoulder the responsibility of everybody elses feelings and stay strong, being this vulnerable is something that takes a lot for me to do. But one thing I have learnt is that talking, sharing, supporting and being vulnerable is what helped me at the start of this journey and is something that I need to get back to doing.

Thanks for reading and being a part of our journey!

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I'm a bit behind schedule with this one being that the anniversary of Lauren's death was now 6 weeks ago. A large part of that delay has been because I've been so busy trying to balance running a business with solo parenting, running a home and finding time for me to be me. But another reason for the lack of sharing recently has been because I've actually been trying to navigate a particularly complicated set of emotions around being in another relationship along with the dualities and sensitivities that has created.

This blog follows on from the one I wrote at 6 months after losing Lauren and the difference in me and how I view life and grief now compared to then is vast.

I closed the last blog by summarising that 'widowed life sucks!' Which is no lie. However, as I moved through from months 6 to 12 I've managed to rediscover myself, find pockets of my life where hope is starting to reappear.

As I entered March and on the night before my birthday I had, what at the time I had written down as a visitation dream. I could hear Lauren's voice saying to me 'Before I met you, I never knew how great you could be.'

I woke in the middle of the night, having had quite vivid dream about Lauren and I, and it was this sentence woke me up, it felt as though she actually said it to me and even though I couldn't recall much of the dream by the next morning I could still hear that sentence.

To me, I took it that she was telling me about how I'd exceeded all of her expectations of what it felt like to be loved and what the role of a husband, partner and father should be.

When I think back now it was at this point I started to think more about my own value in life.

Shortly after that I posted this video to my Facebook page about how for the first time since Lauren had died I felt genuinely positive and felt less intimidated by the idea of rebuilding the crumbled pieces of my life.

When I read back on the content I was sharing around this time, the narrative had absolutely started to change, I began talking more about living life positively and making the most of the life that Molly and I are blessed with.

Month 8 and Easter arrived, the thing with these days, especially when they are family focused ones, is they are a reminder of the fact that Lauren isn't able to share in the excitement of these activities anymore, but despite Easter causing me to feel quite 'griefy' I posted about the launch of my new marketing consultancy and my first efforts to begin to work for myself in an attempt to add something positive to the day.

As May arrived I started to talk more about being 'empowered by grief', using it as a motivator to live a full life, rather than being pinned down by it. On recent reflection I was telling my Mum about how the worst thing about widowhood was the complete loss of hope for the future. After all, everything we do today is generally for a better tomorrow and losing your partner makes you feel as though tomorrow can never be better. But hope is what drives us forward and it was at this point that I started to feel hopeful that I could find pockets of happiness for me, rather than just using Molly as my sole purpose for existing and that shift from just surviving the days to living was pivotal and it was around late April/ early May that I opened myself up to the idea of a future relationship.

It wasn't something that I was going to go looking for, but at just 33, I'd like to think I have plenty of life to live and actually hoped for someone to share the highs, and the lows with. So if somebody came into my life that made me feel like I could embark on a new relationship then I'd be open minded and open hearted about the situation.

As we entered June that's exactly what happened. I started to date Jess, who has been a breath of fresh air, she's approached my situation with maturity, compassion, understanding and patience and I couldn't even begin to imagine what it feels like to be in her shoes and striking up a relationship with a young widow. But, credit to her she has handled it impeccably and has, in a very short time, added so much positivity to my life.

From there June, July and August have been somewhat of a whirlwind in which, with Jess' help I've rediscovered my smile, found that I'm able to find a place in my life to live for me and rebuild in a way that I actually never thought I could.

With that said and whilst it has been a positive move forward in my life, it hasn't been without its emotional challenges. Not necessarily because I feel guilty from the perspective of what it means to Lauren, I gave her all of me and I know that she'd only ever want me to do what makes me happy. But more so for the amazing family that had welcomed me with open arms since the day that I first met them all those years ago, to a family that have had the pain of losing their daughter, sister, niece and cousin. The dualities of feeling positive for me, but worrying that the decisions I make could, and most likely will cause upset to these people, people that I love dearly has been particularly challenging and still is. I know that they'll all want me to be happy, it's the least I deserve, however I also know that my ability to find love again is a reaffirmation of what they've lost, and that thought causes me much distress.

I can only hope that it's clear that I've been trying desperately to rebuild my life for me in a way that doesn't dishonour, disrespect or disregard the life and love that I've lost. It has been an incredibly delicate balance to which there are no right or wrong answers and I hope that it's something that I'm managing to achieve although at times it feels like I'm not.

When I think about the journey that I've been on, going from the time after losing Lauren where I felt like I was just waiting to die and would never have even contemplated another relationship, to where I am now and feeling positive and hopeful for the future feels good and with so much uncertainty about what's around the corner I feel it's important to lean into what feels good. I'll forever carry the love and the grief I have for Lauren, but, as I've mentioned in previous blogs, the size of grief doesn't change, we simply create a bigger life around it so that it doesn't catch us out as frequently.

In addition to learning how to live for me again the last few months have been nothing short of chaotic! My business has been successful much sooner than I thought it would and balancing that with solo parenting through the summer holidays, attending social events, keeping on top of a home and more recently getting Molly ready to start Primary School has been the epitome of hard work. But I am grateful for the love and support that I have around me and for those that have chipped in to help lighten the load.

I recently received some messages from others that had sadly joined me in life as a young widow and had stumbled across my blog. They were thanking me for sharing and demonstrating that life still moves forward and the truth is that it really does. But what's important to understand is that there are no timelines to this, we are all different, as are our responses to grief. Their messages reminded me of the wider purposes I had for blogging, reminded me that actually it has been one of the reasons I've made it through the journey that I've been on and that I've still got lots to share.

My life has forever been changed by losing Lauren. Emotionally I'll carry that loss forever, physically I now suffer from anxiety attacks, stress and overwhelm which I hadn't before and practically life as a solo parent is challenging. But, the biggest change for me over the last 6 months is that I've rediscovered my desire to live, I'm no longer just surviving and am wanting to waste no time on second guessing what feels good. The truth is none of us no what life has in store for us and in the last 6 months that motivation to live, which is empowered by my loss and grief, has seen me successfully start a business, embark on a new relationship, enabled me to get Molly off to an incredible start at primary school and overall restored my hope that tomorrow can be better.

I'd like to leave this blog with a thought and some inspiration I've taken from the Japanese art of Kintsugi (or Kintsukuroi). It's a technique that they use to repair broken pottery, by using gold to join and repair their valuable items. They believe that by rebuilding something and embracing the imperfections or the breaks it can be rebuilt to be stronger, more beautiful and more resilient than before. The breaks are considered a part of the history of the piece and not the end of its life. I think this is a wonderful way to view life after loss.

Thanks for reading and being a part of our journey!

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I've spoken before about an unnamed chap, who became widowed roughly 4 months before me and despite his own grief extended a hand of support. So when I was asked if I'd write a piece for WAY Widowed and Young on #InternationalDayofFriendship, I was only too happy as it meant I could talk more about Ben and how much his friendship meant to me when I was in the darkest of places.

My immediate experience after losing Lauren consisted mainly of 3 things:

  1. The obvious grief response of inconsolable sadness.

  2. A loss of all hope, which stopped me from being able to see past each day.

  3. The most severe feeling of loneliness and isolation, despite being surrounded by an amazing support network of friends and family.

But, as I was realising that there was little anybody could do and certainly not a word that anybody could say that was going to ease any of these horrendous feelings, I started talking to Ben.

Ben had reached out to me a few days before Lauren died as he'd seen on social media that some of our mutual friends had shared our crowd funding pages, the information about our journey and realised that it sounded very familiar. I'm not sure he truly understood then, the difference he was about to make to me over the coming months.

Between our first message and Lauren dying, Ben shared with me the story of how he'd lost his fiancé Lydia a few months earlier, after she too had been diagnosed with a secondary spread of breast cancer. He offered me advice and guidance around the practical things that he'd encountered and charities that had supported him and his little boy Jack. It was obvious that our predicaments were relatively similar and little did I know that this would prove to be one of the most valuable things that I never knew I needed.

Earlier I wrote about the 3 feelings I experienced immediately after Lauren passed away. Dealing with the grief, loneliness and a complete lack of hope was torturous to say the least. But as the screenshot of my message to him shows, not all hope was lost. Because in Ben I'd found a beacon of light in the darkness, a lifeline even and although I couldn't see how I was going to survive, I had this living example of the fact that you can survive. Ben was able to offer me a comfort that no one else could, because he'd trodden the steps on this same path before me and was still going.

His support, the conversations we were having and the hope that he provided me meant that whilst I was in the midst of dealing with this loneliness that isn't cured by company, I began to feel less alone. We began meeting up with the kids and going for walks in the park and it started to feel as though the support had become a two way street.

It was Ben's gesture of selflessness, the comfort that was provided by our conversations and the openness in which we could talk about grief and bereavement and it's impacts on our respective lives that eventually inspired me to sign up and join WAY Widowed and Young, persuading Ben to join with me too. I felt as though I wanted to pay forward his kindness and help others to feel less alone, but also that I might be able to replicate that same comfort multiple times over by becoming part of a support community of people that 'get it'.

Much like other friends I have made via WAY as our lives have grown around our grief, Ben and I have both started to fill our time in an effort to try and rebuild our lives and our messages and park visits are a lot less frequent, because, ultimately we don't need to check in on each other as much. But, in me he has a friend for life! Ben still provides me with hope now as I watch how he continues to rebuild his life positively, provide for his son and keeps smiling along the way and I cannot express enough of a gratitude for the help and support he gave me, without even realising what he was doing.

Thank you Ben!

Thanks for reading and being a part of our journey!

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