Embracing Unexpected Moments of Happiness in Grief

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. The words I published would also capture the struggles facing a bereaved father and son (my three-year-old child, Jackson) as we learned to balance the emotional conflict of living through loss.

Our once peaceful home became the scene of a tense battle as our heart-wrenching struggle began. On one side was the crippling physical and mental torture of losing the woman we both love, and on the other were the unexpected moments happiness that our new life together as a twosome would bring.

The car that struck and killed my wife only narrowly missed my son and me. As the vehicle mounted the pavement where my little family walked, I saw that it was heading directly towards my son’s pushchair, which was in my grasp. I found a gap – an open gate – and propelled Jackson into it. Through a knee-jerk, split second, paternal reaction, I was able to save my son’s life. And through his gradual, considered, filial response, over the last eighteen months he has been able to save mine. His ability to keep a bright light burning through an often-suffocating fog of grief has made me want to carry on.

When others cried their way through a hymn at Jackson’s christening eight months after his mummy was killed, he broke the ice and made me laugh by replacing the customary lyrics with those from the nursery rhyme Old McDonald Had a Farm.

When everyone else around us that day seemed choked, I chuckled as Jackson stood to interrupt the vicar’s sermon with an update about what he and his friends had done at nursery the week before.

And when I stormed into his nursery late one afternoon following an emotion-clouded day in the office telling him that he’d need to put his hood up to shelter from the rain, he corrected me with a laugh, “It’s not raining, Daddy, it’s happy.” With those six words, neither of us needed anything more. His joyous outlook on what was otherwise and all-round miserable day immediately uplifted my soul.

About a year after that day I went on to publish a book using my son’s delightfully poetic words as its title. I anticipated tension and conflict in my feelings once again: how could the publication of this story be anything to celebrate when its narrative was nothing but a heartbreaking reaction to my wife’s tragic and untimely death?

Nevertheless, I decided to take Jackson to our local bookshop to show him that our memoir, which features his picture and words on the cover, was taking pride of place in its window.

He was excited. My son is a huge toy train enthusiast and, as such, this particular bookshop, with its fully functional vintage track in its window, has become his favourite destination on our local high street. Jackson could stand and stare for hours as Thomas and his many locomotive friends chuff up and down their beautifully kept branch line.

“Look Jackson,” I said, pointing enthusiastically at our book. “What do you think about that?”

“I’m cross, Daddy!” he replied.

“Why are you cross, Jackson?” I probed, suddenly worried that his snappy response might have something to do with the fact that he hadn’t signed a disclaimer permitting me to use his image on the jacket.

“There’s no Thomas!” he raged at the window’s unusually redundant track, completely nonplused by the sight of himself on the book that I had written for and dedicated to him.

I smiled as I acknowledged how impossible I find it not to indulge in the spontaneous moments of joy my child brings. They may be fleeting and they may never be able to completely take away my pain, but I know that by letting them in, Jackson will be able to continue to save my life time and time again.

It’s Not Raining, Daddy, It’s Happy: Surviving Grief, A Father And Son Start Again – is available to buy in hardback and e-book now (published by Hodder & Stoughton priced £16.99).

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