Death, grief, life and love by Benjamin Brooks-Dutton
In June last year I attended Britmums Live with 7 month old C on the Friday. There was a brilliant atmosphere in the room, a real buzz of love and the sound of laughter rang out. After drinks and canapés it was time to take our seats for the BiBs (Brilliance in Blogging) awards ceremony. This being my first Britmums Live I didn’t really know what to expect but it all felt very Oscars-esque and exciting.
The first category was for “Fresh Voice”, I recognised a couple of the blogs, but not the one that won. A blog called “Life as a widower“, written by Benjamin Brooks-Dutton.
One of the few men in the room went up to collect the award and then made to sit down immediately without making any kind of acceptance speech. I was only half paying attention as I was trying to breastfeed an over-stimulated 7 month old at the time. But I saw him turn back and go back to the stage after some encouragement.
I had no idea who this man was. At the best of time I don’t read/listen to/watch the news, or the “catastrophes” as Hubs calls them. But on top of that C was born on 12th November 2012, which means I totally missed hearing about Benjamin Brooks-Dutton’s life crumbling on the 10th November, focussed as I was on each contraction, and whether I was going into labour.
What he said next, at Britmums Live, totally floored me. I can’t remember the exact words but the gist was that he didn’t want the award, as the award was for a blog that he had started because his wife had died, and he would rather she hadn’t died, as then he wouldn’t have started the blog and therefore wouldn’t have won the award (if that makes sense in my regurgitation of it). It was obvious that he was still suffering very much from raw grief.
Then he explained a little bit more, that his beloved wife, Desreen, had been killed 7 months previously, hit by a car. He said this as I sat bouncing my 7 month old on my lap. It really made it hit home. The time I’d had with C, where my life had been turned upside down with the demands of a newborn, somebody else’s life, just a few miles across London had also been turned upside down, but by the death of a loved one.
I couldn’t get it out of my head. Later on I logged on to his blog, Life as a widower, and I read his story and many of his blog posts. And I cried. I kept wanting to leave a comment but what do you say that doesn’t end up sounding totally trite?
If you’re not in the world of blogging, you may have heard his name, as on the 8th May, Ben’s first book, “It’s not raining, Daddy, it’s happy” was published by Hodder & Stoughton.
I’d heard about the book, but had decided I just couldn’t handle reading it. I couldn’t handle being exposed to someone else’s pain and grief.
Then two things happened almost simultaneously. I read an interview with Ben in Red Magazine, which made me think that I really should read it. But in a bit of a “duty” way. As in, he’s gone through this awful event, and taken the trouble to write about it, the least I can do is read it. But still not in an “I want to read it” way.
Later that same day I was reading Katy Hill’s blog and stumbled across her review of the book here, where Katy urges her readers that if they are going to read one book this year, then this should be it. I commented about how I thought it would be a hard read, to which Katy replied that I MUST read it. So minutes later I downloaded it to my Kindle.
It still felt like a duty to read it, and I wasn’t sure I could face it. But I knew if I was going to read it I should do it before Britmums Live on the 20th/21st June as Ben is speaking at it this year.
Yesterday was my me day (Hubs and I have a me day every week/fortnight, read more about that here) and once I’d finished the book I was reading, I decided to start Ben’s book. Fully expecting to read it slowly over the next few weeks.
I read the introduction just before lunch at 12pm, and then read it, and read it, and read it some more. Until I finished it at 9pm, more or less reading it in one sitting.
So, is it hard to read? Yes and no. In the early pages when Ben recounts Desreen’s death, his raw grief and pain is unbearable, and I was literally sobbing uncontrollably as I read the details of her sudden death. But then Ben introduces you to this amazing woman, Desreen, his wife, the woman he met as a 25 year old, partying in London, and who he quickly fell in love with. And you fall in love with her. And you wish she were your friend. And you fall in love with Jackson, Ben and Desreen’s now 3 year old son.
And through the course of the book Ben takes you on a journey and teaches you things that everyone should know: things to say/do/not say/not do to someone who has been bereaved.
As Ben explains, everyone grieves differently, but he does make you realise that saying the usual phrases that people trot out at such occasions doesn’t help.
In my 38 years I have lost all 4 grandparents, 2 grandparent-in-laws, a step father-in-law and an uncle, so have been to my fair share of funerals. I have also talked about death a fair amount at home with my mum. As she used to work as a nurse in a hospice and volunteered as a Cruse bereavement counsellor when I was a teenager, death was a common subject of discussion.
But this book made me realise how I’ve not been sensitive to bereaved friends in the past, and hopefully it has made me aware of how I can change this in future. That, for me, is one of the most important messages in the book, dealing with other’s grief.
The second message is about love and about living. And more importantly about living more like Desreen, his happy, positive, confident wife. His eulogy at her funeral is reproduced in the book, and is all about how we should try and live like her.
There is no way that this blog post can do Ben’s book justice. So I urge you. Go and buy the book now. Read it and learn from it.
Many people I know feel like me, that it will be too hard to read, that they can’t bear the pain of reading his pain. To them I say – read it as you won’t regret it. Just prepare yourself for the first chapter or so when you will need a big box of tissues.
I apologise to Ben if anything in this blog post is incorrect or insensitive, my head is swimming with everything I’ve read.
Ben talks about the charities and organisations that have helped him and Jackson with their grieving process which I’d like to share here too:
You can also donate money to Grief Encounter via a Just Giving page that Ben set up for his London Marathon run here.
I only have one thing left to say, if anything were to happen to me I would hope that Hubs managed as well as Ben has, and that he also reads Ben’s book.