International Men’s Day: Ben's Story

November 2022

The theme of International Men’s Day this year is “helping men and boys”. This date in the calendar is an opportunity to highlight positive role models and raise awareness of men’s well-being. We wanted to share some powerful words of advice from widowed Dad Ben who is raising his son while learning to live with their own grief.

Ben’s story

Being just 32 years old and suddenly losing my wife whilst pregnant with our second son, I knew I faced an immediate future of unimaginable challenges. Our 4-year-old son’s future was entirely dependent on how I managed to step forward from that very moment.


Ben and son

I found being a widowed man came with its own challenges. I had always played the role of being there for my family, being strong when support was needed and providing for my wife and son. Feeling like I suddenly ‘needed’ people around in the initial weeks and months after my wife died – and not having that clear path of how I was going to move forward with this new life we had thrust upon us – was a totally alien feeling on top of everything else we were facing. 

Supporting my son with the most unimaginable loss he could ever face was my priority from day one and always will be. The pain of having to break the news of the sudden death of his Mummy and knowing, from that moment forward, nothing would ever be the same, is without doubt the hardest thing I’ve had to do. But I also know that, without my son, I would not have taken the steps I have taken to be able to deal and process what I have by this point. 

I knew talking openly and honestly – in a child-friendly manner – was so important for George at his age. But I was initially at a point where getting words out was impossible and the thought of being able to go through photos and videos together felt so far from what I could manage. But this made me push to get myself the support I needed and was the reason I reached out and took up peer to peer support from the charity StrongMen, which supports men after bereavement. 

Joining the peer support network WAY Widowed and Young, I also found it really helpful to hear the stories of other young widowed men and women via the WAY Facebook groups. Hearing from people at all different stages of widowhood – from the early stages to further down the line – was really helpful, as well as also knowing that, if I did have a question, the WAY groups offered a great place to get advice and opinions from others working through their own losses.

I also did some trauma therapy. Although talking and going through the work involved in processing the trauma in therapy was not what I felt like I wanted at the time, I knew deep down it was what was needed to be able to allow me to be the best possible Daddy I could be for George. And that has always been the deciding factor. 

By doing this probably a lot earlier than would have been expected, I was able to talk to George openly, have the conversations that come up naturally, help to make sure his school has the support they need so in turn he has anything he needs there and do special things like the continuing bond and memory-making ideas I had.

As much as George luckily has been happy to talk to me and let out what is on his mind, I also introduced play therapy when I felt the time was right for him and he has now undertaken 14 sessions with his therapist, Rebecca from Lily Pad Play Therapy. They’ve built a lovely bond and he knows there is that safe space outside of me where he can also go in years to come should he wish to express the thoughts and emotions that arise.

Looking back at the early months, I’m so grateful I had to do those many things early on – knowing they were needed in order to support George, as I probably would have avoided the pain of them at that time if it wasn’t for him. 

Why do you think it’s important for bereaved men to reach out for peer support?

From my experience, I found that it just wasn’t natural for me, as a man, to be able to fully open up to those around me. I felt the instinct of dealing with things myself and not putting more worry and stress on those around me stopped me from truly opening up fully. 

But I also know that not talking properly ended up being simply not an option. I remember vividly the exact moment where I just knew I needed to talk to someone that ‘got it’. It was like a kettle boiling and I knew I had reached boiling point and I needed an outlet.


Ben

When I reached out to StrongMen, I didn’t know what to expect, whether I truly believed it would help me, but I knew I had to try. I had my first call with one of their co-founders Dan, and from that moment I had my first glimmer of hope to cling to and that outlet to 100% honestly say how I was feeling and what I was worried about without the fear of not being understood or judged because I knew he’d been in these shoes.

Knowing how much it helped me, and in turn allowing me to be the best support for my son, I am now myself a peer-to-peer volunteer through StrongMen – supporting other men from my experiences. If there are men out there suffering from bereavement and not sure whether to reach out or if it’s for them, all I could say is just try and you won’t regret it. Speaking to someone who gets it has been invaluable for me.

Do you have any advice for other young widowed dads?

BE KIND ON YOURSELF! It’s definitely one of the things that is easier said than done in my experience. Your brain does strange things during grief and you may be feeling like you’re not doing everything right, not doing enough, thinking you’re missing things. 

Learn to take time to think about everything you have done, every good decision you’ve made, notice the big and small things that you may have not been able to do a week, month or year ago and use that to drive you forward. 

I found keeping a short journal really helpful early on. When I had overwhelming thoughts and emotions, it gave me a place to write them down and almost get them out. In time it also served as something to look back on and reflect on how far I may have come by reading those entries and remembering just how I was feeling in that moment and how I’ve managed to move forward from that point.

Find out more about the support available through StrongMen.