Coping with grief & loss: a man's perspective

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WAY member Mark Wilcock lost his wife suddenly two years ago, leaving him with an eight-month-old daughter. As a blogger, he has written about his experiences and emotions to help other young widowers. Here's what he's learned...

There has always been great attention paid to how we grieve and its connection to our mental health and wellbeing. Grieving is how we convey and release our loss. Its expression is physical, emotional, and psychological. Dealing with the sudden death of my wife, my life had gone in one direction and within a blink of an eye, it faced a different one. My mind found this reality too traumatic to deal with and too painful. This impact on my mental wellbeing from my grief was unbearable.

My outward release of tears and silence were physical and identifiable. My mental state, on the other hand, was psychological with no noticeable expression to others supporting me. At first, I refused to seek help and I didn’t want to change course. As time went on, I suffered alone. All the facades of “I’m doing OK” came apart and the misery took over. People started to notice, and 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.

I often wonder how things might have gone if I didn’t have my daughter and a strong network of family and friends to give me strength. The strength to look in the mirror and acknowledge one simple fact. I needed to make changes, or else I wasn’t going to be the dad my daughter needed me to be, and she wouldn’t grow into the person I wanted her to be.

 Accepting help

When friends and family offered help, I learned to accept it. At first, I didn’t know how they could help me and they didn’t know what to say or do. My ‘to do’ list was as long as ever and having to think about how others could help me was just another thing for me to think about.

I shared a support resource from ‘Care for the Family’ with my nearest and dearest. This explains all the things they can do to help a young grieving widow/widower. Covering simple tasks like helping with shopping, cooking a meal or even cleaning the bathroom, it’s not going to quell the discomfort of grief, but it will help you and your friends like it did mine. It will provide them with a clear starting point on how to support you from day to day. 

This resource also helped me organise my home whilst grieving. Some of the family routines had been my wife’s domain, but now it had fallen upon me to take them all on. The more I made routine tasks more “automated”, the easier the transition became for me. When I eventually managed to schedule my weekday evenings for things like laundry, shopping and cleaning, the more single parent life became manageable. I discovered that when I could get these tasks completed in the week, it took a huge amount of stress off the weekends. More importantly, I work full time. This enabled me to experience more fun and quality time with my daughter.

The importance of exercise

One of the hardest and most important wellbeing factors during our grief is the ability to look after ourselves physically. Like me, many new widowers will probably neglect their own physical, mental or emotional health while going through grief. Before my wife passed, I was an active runner. I would run 3-4 times a week. When she left us, exercise seemed like the most impossible element to maintain in my life. I rightly focused on my daughter and not me. I drove myself into the ground. I didn’t exercise. I didn’t eat right and when the nights came, I drank too much too often.

Include as much exercise as you can, even if it just playing in the garden or going for a walk. I purchased a treadmill and I would purposely set my morning alarm an hour before my daughter would wake and run 2-3 miles before breakfast. For me, running was very personal, it was more like meditation. It would allow me to ponder my thoughts and let me focus on the day ahead. Maybe a simple walk, cycling or something else would appeal to others?

I managed to include these changes to my life whilst grieving. These efforts of support and self-recovery were not in vain. They were helpful, healing and positive things in my life that I could keep on doing for my body and mind.

Support through WAY

When I became a member of WAY, I managed to exercise my mind and thoughts as a widower. I discovered various support routes by speaking to others in the same position as me. This gave me the support network to soundboard and benchmark a road to some sort of recovery. To gain an insight into the experiences of maintaining and improving life whilst grieving.

The advice and support I received helped me to understand and accept all the heavy and hard stages of grief. I’ve waded through each one in my own time until I was ready to move onto the next wave. Being able to accept the support I needed has also helped me become a better dad to my daughter. Finding support for my emotions has also meant I’ve developed a warmer, more nurturing and sensitive side for her to enjoy.

Despite what has happened in the past, I have always put my family first. This has made me feel good. Good in the sense that I have confronted the reality of my new life. As an adult, I reached out for support when I’ve needed it. As a blogger, I’ve also strived to communicate as effectively as I can to everyone around me. Now I can start to see the outputs of my decisions and actions. The positives in my life are really starting to shine through. Timely support protected me against the risk of poor mental wellbeing.

If you are recently widowed you can find lots of support, help and advice within WAY. You will no doubt need to follow your heart when you feel you’re ready to accept it. At first, it will be difficult to see any horizon. By taking the process slowly and naturally, you will be able to move through this most difficult of situations and transitions in a more positive way than you might see presently.

Looking at how far I’ve come in two years. I’ve realised that I’m now at a point where I am balancing the demands of my grief, my wellbeing and the demands of my child. I understand we’re all very different and express ourselves in our own way. My journey didn’t happen overnight, it took self-dedication and openness to find mindfulness and some empathy from others who understood what I was going through.

You can read Mark’s blog at https://www.norainnorainbows.net