Bereaved when my son was a few months old
Posted 3 October 2017
Eddie is 50 years old and lives in Worthing with his 13 year old son, Connor. After his wife died suddenly when their son was just a few months old, Eddie had to adapt quickly to life as a widowed single parent. Here, he shares how he’s juggled work with family life, and why his son Connor is his best friend.
Asking for help
I became a single dad in August of 2000, when my son, Connor, was just five months old. My wife died of Sudden Death Syndrome. I spoke to her on the phone at 3.30pm, and she was pronounced dead at around 5.30pm. Her heart just stopped.
Becoming a single dad meant I learned to ask for help – not something I would have done in the past! In the early days especially, I had a great deal of support from Connor’s grandparents, women from the local ante-post natal group which I’d always taken an active role in, and of course friends. Connor went to private nursery two days a week between the ages of one and four. This did him the world of good and helped me get on with earning a living.
The challenges of work
I was off work for around three months, coming to terms with what had happened. I’m still trying to come to terms really. I was a store manager of a large DIY superstore in Sussex, travelling about 25 miles a day and working long hours. My line manager was very supportive and had arranged for me to work 10am to 4pm on the road in order for me to be flexible.
About a month after going back to work, I had a call to say Connor was being rushed to hospital with suspected meningitis. I just thought “give me break”. He was in hospital for about two weeks, where I slept on the floor with a sleeping bag as I did not want to leave him. His grandparents helped a great deal, as did my closest friends. We eventually discovered it was pneumonia, which he was to contract again in a month’s time. Again my line manager was very good, and although he put no pressure on me, I felt I was letting my employer down.
Ultimately I had to leave the company as I could not maintain my job role. I don’t think employers expect a man to be on his own with a child, let alone a baby. Nobody seemed interested in giving me a job so I had to try a different route. I had managed to save some money, and decided to buy a cafe, which I renovated and then sold. For the past eight years or so since, I have managed my own property renovations business. This has given me the flexibility with school hours, sickness and holidays that I need to manage as a single dad to Connor.
Combining being mum and dad
Bringing up Connor on my own has taught me a lot. It’s easy to lose your patience with children, but I’ve learnt they have bad days too. So you need to be careful how you say things, and with your facial expressions – they pick up on more than you know. One roll of the eyes can break their confidence, but what they really want is to please you and make you proud.
Juggling everything has been far the most challenging thing I’ve had to do. Work, home, emotions, learning what is the next step in a child’s life and how to deal with it, combining being mum and dad, making sure he gets lots of cuddles, being there when he needs a talk about anything and also just knowing when he wants to be alone. My time management has also had to get better in order to be at the school gates by 3pm to collect Connor. Now at 13 years old, he’s happy to walk home and I can work that bit longer, although I still like to be here when he gets home.
I first heard of Gingerbread and joined my local group in 2002. The local group helped a great deal, and I was in contact with quite a few members at the time. I’ve also used Gingerbread’s online chat forums too.
I have always worried that Connor would feel a little outcast, as not having a mum is unusual. Connor never knew his mum, so I think he misses her presence rather than her as a person. We would make things for his mummy – pictures, drawings and little gifts would be placed on her grave. He has a picture of me and his mum in his room, his way of seeing what we would have been like, I guess. I answer all his questions about before she died, the wonderful five months we all had together, and what she would think now. Mother’s day, Christmas – those are the days he would notice it more. These days I get both Mother’s day and Father’s day presents from him.
Connor’s doing well at school. He was made school council in his first year of secondary school, which was a real proud moment for me, as was seeing him invested as a cub, then a sea scout, where he became a patrol leader. Just to look at him makes me proud and I know his mum would be too. It still saddens me to think his mum never got to see any of it, and that he never got to see her face and meet the wonderful person his mum was.
Courage and pride
When Connor was nine years old his grandpa died of cancer, all quite sudden. After me, he was Connor’s best friend. Connor insisted on going to the barbers to have his hair shaved, just so his Grandpa wasn’t on his own with a short haircut. He wrote a short message that he insisted on reading out at the funeral, dressed in his sea cub uniform. The courage that little boy showed that day will stay with me for the rest of my days.
The main thing I have learned from becoming a single parent is that there is so much more to life than work and money. 13 years ago when my wife died, I was on very good money. I had a regular income, a pension, and a company car. I now work month to month. Being self-employed means a regular wage cannot be guaranteed, which is an enormous pressure. If I’m off with Connor because he’s sick, or it’s the school holidays, or we just need some plain old quality time together, it means no wages.
But quality time with my son wins every time. I adore my son; he is by far my best friend. We spend a lot of time together fishing, enjoying sport or just relaxing. I have just started kayaking with him too.
I still miss my wife, I think I always will. It’s true that time is a healer, so if anybody has been recently bereaved, try to believe in that. I have a wonderful, kindhearted son that I am so proud of. I feel privileged to be his dad. I owe him more than he will ever know.
For detailed step-by-step advice read our guide to bereavement.