BW 071: Resilience in the Face of Tragedy: Life Lessons from a Widowed Father

widow interview Dec 14, 2023
 

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The Transcript is below.


Content warning: metastatic breast cancer, Death 

Ben Sperry, who gives us a unique take and perspective on what it means to be a young father, raising young children and.

taking care of a wife who was diagnosed with cancer multiple times, uh, which is obviously devastating. But he brings a unique perspective on, on being a widow, widower and some words of wisdom that he has in living for the moment, living for the day, making new memories and really just Ensuring that you are taking care of yourself so that you can best take care of others.

 think you're going to enjoy hearing what Ben has to say. So let me introduce you to him. Ben Sperry is from Jacksonville, Florida. He's a 46 year old widower with a 10 year old boy and a five year old girl. His wife passed away August 31st, 2021 from metastatic breast cancer.

Ben recommends: 

  • I would just recommend, you know, I think, like, with what we went through, through  two battles of cancer, the living day to day, day, Was very helpful for me.

  • Doing, like meditation, that's something I never did before, but I did a lot of breathing exercises  just to get myself  grounded more.

  • Embracing past hobbies and things that you love to do or discovering new ones, or just taking the time to engage in a hobby or something creative that actually helps work the same part of your brain that emotions are processed.

Quote: ''I realize how important memories are because with thinking of my wife, um, that's all I have now is memories,''

''living for the day and is very important. And obviously in the real world, it's good to  towards the future and like five year plans, 10 year plans and everything like that. But when your  significant other is going through something like that,  really what matters is today.''

''don't, don't stretch yourself too thin, um, because it's all just going to backfire on you''

''.You still have residual emotions on everything. just  do things that you've never done before, I think that's such an important part of life,''


The Brave Widow Community is a place where you can connect with other widows, find hope and healing, and begin to dream again for the future.  Learn more at bravewidow.com.  


Hey guys, I’m Emily Jones

I was widowed at age 37, one month shy of our 20 year wedding anniversary.  Nathan and I have four beautiful children together.  My world was turned completely upside down when I lost him.  With faith, community, and wisdom from others, I’ve been able to find hope, joy, and dream again for the future.  I want to help others do the same, too!

 

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Transcript: 
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Emily: [00:00:00] Hey, hey, welcome back to episode number 71 of the brave widow show today, we get a different take on what it means to have lost your spouse and to be raising young kids. And today we're going to talk with a young widower. We'll talk with Ben Sperry, who gives us a unique take and perspective on what it means to be a young father, raising young children and.

taking care of a wife who was diagnosed with cancer multiple times, uh, which is obviously devastating. But he brings a unique perspective on, on being a widow, widower and some words of wisdom that he has in living for the moment, living for the day, making new memories and really just Ensuring that you are taking care of yourself so that you can best take care of others.

I think you're going to [00:01:00] enjoy hearing what Ben has to say. So let me introduce you to him. Ben Sperry is from Jacksonville, Florida. He's a 46 year old widower with a 10 year old boy and a five year old girl. His wife passed away August 31st, 2021 from metastatic breast cancer. All right, let's jump into the episode.

Emily Jones: Welcome to The Brave Widow Podcast. I'm your host, Emily Jones. We help young widows heal their heart, find hope, and dream again for the future.

Emily: Hey, hey, welcome back to another episode of the brave widow show today. I have a special guest with me, Ben Sperry, and I'm excited for him to share his story and some of the insights he's learned along the way. So Ben, welcome to the show and, uh, thanks for coming on today.

Benn Sperry: Definitely. Yeah. Like you said, my [00:02:00] name is Ben Sperry. My story started in 2009 where I met My wife, Beth, um, we lived two blocks away from each other, and she was walking her sister's dog in front of my place, and we just ended up chatting, and then I got her number, and we just started talking, and it took about three to four months before we actually met up, which was kind of weird that it took that long, but, Because we talked a lot before that, and we only lived a couple blocks from each other.

But, we Once we started hanging out on a daily basis, it was inevitable. We were both people that we, uh, just were both people that thought we would never, ever get married, never have kids. Um, and as soon as we started dating, air quotations is,[00:03:00] within three months, we already moved in with each other, which was, we're not very spontaneous people, so it was kind of funny.

And then. Within a year after that, we moved to a different city to be close to the beach and just we could do it with our jobs to move. And then a year after that, we got married and then a year after that, we had our first child, our boy who's 10 years old now. And yeah, I mean, everything was.

Normal and, happy and, um, and then in 2016, three years after we got married, um, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and, we went through that, we did a very good job on just getting through it and day by day, she went through chemo, radiation, mastectomy, hysterectomy, full mastectomy.

Just to be on the safe side for everything. And, you know, they said that everything went [00:04:00] into remission after seven, I think it was seven months. And, you know, we thought, there we go. We got the rest of our lives. And,, about a month before everything shut down with the pandemic, she was just getting very nauseous.

And so I think it was in what, like March or February of 2019. And I, I ended up just driving her to the ER because, she was just that stubborn and, um, they said 70 percent of her liver was filled with cancer and her bones had cancer in it too, and she had to get a brain scan and all that stuff, which I think I was negative, um, with the brain scan, but, you know,

our world was kind of shattered because, you know, we just hear stage four cancer when it metastasize you, automatically just think, you know, worst case scenario, um, dying, you know, but we still, [00:05:00] we were very positive people and, just push through it and live in day to day. Like I was telling you earlier before, you know, we were just people that were used to living day to day and being thankful for what we have now.

Um, and not worrying too much about that final outcome. And, but my wife passed away on August 30th, 2021. And, you know, three to four months before that, she's got really sick and it was just really hard for her to get out of bed. She kept working until. She's a teacher for 21 years, uh, for ESC students, and she tried to do as much as possible, with the kids, but a lot of it was hard.

We have, uh, our kids are 5 and 10 now. Like I said, we had the boy,, And then she was diagnosed with cancer and had a hysterectomy, so we couldn't have, we became faster parents and we adopted our daughter, who's [00:06:00] now five, was three when my wife passed away. And, yeah, I mean, August 30th, we had to go to, uh, Mayo Clinic here in Jacksonville, Florida.

And. To get a tube put in, she had to go under, and that just sent her body into shock. And, they released her from the hospital, and I was driving her home, and when we got to the front door, she collapsed into my arms. Luckily, I was behind her. And I carried her into bed, and, an hour and a half later, she had died in my arms.

And, you know, that was, yeah, the worst day of my life. Sure. It is for most anybody that's lost a spouse or somebody they love. But, uh, yeah, so with having two kids, it was that's in my opinion, it was, yes, it was challenging for me to lose that. That was my one goal in life was to grow old with my wife.

[00:07:00] That was my main goal in life was to grow old with my wife. And just raise our kids. But, um, you know, I think the biggest challenge and heartache that I've had is. With the two kids, and not being able to put myself in their shoes on what they're going through, my parents are still alive and I try, usually I'm pretty good about being able to do that, but I can't, I can't, I can't fathom and imagine, you know, my five year old is very vocal and she talks about her mother every day and, um, You know, cries and is very open about talking.

My 10 year old never talks about his mother and he was a mama's boy. Um, you know, that was, that was his person. You know, so that's been challenging is just trying to be there and not push the envelope. I haven't pushed the envelope in two years. It's been two years and [00:08:00] two to almost two months, since she passed and I still haven't pushed the envelope we've done therapy.

Play therapy, regular, you know, sit down, talk therapy, and stuff, but, which has had some benefits, but, you know, I, I just think as a kid,, I'm 46, it's hard for me to even remember what it's like to have those emotions and it's totally different in today's times, in my opinion, but, I think as a kid, you just want to have some normalcy in your life and with, especially my 10 year old, he's, not considered normal.

So I don't think that's why he talks about it, in my opinion.

Emily Jones: And he was pretty young when she was initially diagnosed with breast cancer, right?

Benn Sperry: Correct. Yeah, he was what? 16. She would have been three years old. So he doesn't remember too much about that. On there. So yeah, I mean, he remembers bits and pieces of it, but not that much.

But the second go around [00:09:00] with everything she had to go through. Obviously, he remembers all that. And, there's a lot. I think that's one of the things that, you think of soon as Your significant other passes away is like, you've already gone, you don't even realize you're going through trauma while they're alive and grieving, like how much grief you're going through, you don't realize it's grief that you're going through while they're going through that, you know, and they're here, and then you go through a whole nother round of grief,

When they pass, um, that's one thing I didn't even think of, but you, when you look back on it, you're like, you definitely are going through a major grief that you don't even face that you just like hold in for however long they're, they're sick and, I would say with having children, it has kept me on my toes and like, I've had to be more active.

Then I guess if I wouldn't have had children, I've [00:10:00] definitely stayed busy. We've traveled, we've, you know, I'm, I'm a, I'm a busy body and I, we love the outdoors. So we're always going to the mountains. We're always going on trips to outdoor activities and stuff like that. And just traveling to new places that we, I love adventures and trying to create new memories for them.

Been doing, we went on a 15 day trip around the great lakes. Up in, uh, Michigan and Wisconsin and all those states I've never been to, but, yeah, I would just say that, you know, this is. It's something you definitely, in my opinion, you, not that you become numb to everything, because it's still constant, but you realize that you have to, that you have to live and you have a different appreciation on life.

You, you know, in my opinion,

Emily Jones: yeah, I think you really almost have a new lens or a different perspective in how you look at life. [00:11:00] And I know, like, for me, I don't get agitated about stuff as much as I used to.

I'm much more You know, tolerant and forgiving of people's behaviors and things that might have aggravated me in the past. And I just savor each moment more. Um, so I think that's, you make an excellent point there. And I love that you are actively trying to create new memories with your kids. And maybe even some new traditions of how you do things.

And, um, that you're taking really a proactive approach into healing and, and helping them as they continue to live.

Benn Sperry: Yeah, I think that's one thing also, like having a different perspective on life, but you,, I think you realize how important memories are because with thinking of my wife, um, that's all I have now is memories, you know, so you from like the smallest little idiosyncrasies to the biggest thing, you know, things [00:12:00] that we did, it doesn't matter.

They're all memories, but they, yeah, You know, just creating those new things and with them, and for me, you know, they're a lot more important now, memories are definitely a lot more important to create those with, um, to have a lasting effect because in the end, you know, it's what we have, you know, is memories, um, in my opinion, so those become more amplified.

Um, more so than they did before for sure. I would say so.

Emily Jones: Yeah, I, I definitely agree. And that's when I'm still trying to convince some of my kids of this, that experiences are more than things and more than gifts, like the trips and things at the end of the day. At the end of the day, those are the things that we remember and we hold on to for sure.

So I have to ask you as, you know, a father of young children and, someone who's trying to juggle it all, I'm assuming with work and [00:13:00] caring for your wife and then, uh, and losing her, what. What advice would you give to people? Let's say they know someone who was in your situation. What would have been the best support or what was a good experience for you that was the most helpful?

Benn Sperry: I would just say being present with, um, you know, in my situation, like I said, we My wife and I actually talked about, like, the final outcome of everything, like, and I think that put a new look on our life, so I was more present and more caring, I would just recommend, you know, I think, like, with what we went through, through two battles of cancer, the living day to day, day, Was very helpful for me.

It definitely, made me appreciate every day that I know it's very cliche, but, living for the day and is very important. And obviously in the real world, it's good to towards the future and like [00:14:00] five year plans, 10 year plans and everything like that. But when your significant other is going through something like that, really what matters is today.

So I think that's one thing that. Was very helpful to us and not focusing too much on the final outcome. Yes, like I said, it was talked about, but we didn't, it wasn't a constant thing that was on our mind because we were trying to just go do something simple, um, together on a daily basis, like whether go to a new, a new park.

We try to hit every where I live at. There's a lot of outdoor trails. There's a lot of, um, outdoor stuff to do. And so we were constantly doing stuff like that. But definitely, I think one thing that helped me out was doing, um, like meditation, that's something I never did before, but I did a lot of breathing exercises just to get myself [00:15:00] grounded more.

I did a lot of mantras, like the things that I needed to work on interpersonally to be a better person and a better husband, a better dad, a better, you know. Everything because we all need help and just any things that can get you grounded are things that I definitely recommend.

Emily Jones: Yeah, that's great. And we talked a little bit before we hit record about the importance of taking care of yourself so that you have. Even just the emotional and mental bandwidth to help take care of others, especially your kids as their. They have different levels of understanding and they're grieving in different ways.

But sometimes that's hard because as parents, we tend to put ourselves on the back burner and try to make sure that everyone else is taken care of before we release or we, um, process the grief. Uh, do you have any tips for people there or any suggestions on how [00:16:00] to prioritize your own? healing and grieving while still feeling like you're giving your family what they need.

Benn Sperry: I think the biggest thing that's been, which I can just speak personally about it is, is just not doing too much. I know it's funny to say that since I just started college classes, I'm working full time. And, but, um, you know, and I think just saying no, learning your boundaries, boundaries is something that I've never, ever thought about, but luckily.

I kind of grasped it like from an early, from early on in my grieving, um, of setting boundaries of just saying that's not a priority of mine to people. And, um, as harsh as it sounds like. And not that you're trying to be mean to people, but, you know, setting boundaries with people, um, like your family, even, um, you know, that you just have to do that to keep your [00:17:00] sanity.

And I think doing self checks with yourself, um, is a huge thing just to, you know, you definitely, like I was telling you before you hit report that it, it's the old cliche is if you can't take care of yourself, you can't take care of other people. So. You definitely is as selfish as it might sound. You have to take care of yourself before you could even take care of your kids, because otherwise you're just a slippery slope that you're going to go down where you're losing your control with your kid

like, you know, your attitude with your kids and it's just, you know, they're a mirror of you. That's just going to rebound and come right back to you and bite you. Um, you know, so I think just remembering the things that you love. Like, I grew up surfing, so I always tried to make it a priority to go out surfing.

That's something, like, when I was taking care of my wife and the kids, because when my wife was going through cancer, I said, [00:18:00] you just worry about yourself. That's all, that's what I told her to do. So, for two years straight, that's like, I took care of the kids as much as possible. Um, you know, did everything at the house, did every, and I did not care about doing that, but.

You know, I lost a lot of like stuff that I love to do. Um, of course, cause I didn't mind doing that, but, you realize how much you need that stuff in your life, like the things that you love, like whether you like doing art or just reading a book or, um, an outdoor activity or sport or a hobby that you love, I think it's good to.

Either a find, um, like I play soccer and that's like my therapy. I play on a team I've played, um, for the past two years every Sunday. And it's like, that's my time to just go let it out and just like run and just not have a kid, not think of everything else that's going on in your [00:19:00] life. It's good just to have, I guess you could call it escapism, but it's therapy in my opinion.

Like when I go out on the ocean surfing, that's. Therapy to me just to clear my head. Um, you know, not have the worries of whatever's going on in your life.

Emily Jones: Yeah, I think that's extremely helpful. Whether you're embracing past hobbies and things that you love to do or discovering new ones, or just taking the time to engage in a hobby or something creative that actually helps work the same part of your brain that emotions are processed.

So those things are very much like therapy. You know, to your point and doing that, um, as you've thought about now your new future and what that looks like, sounds like lots of soccer and surfing, which is exciting. Um, what inspired you to go back to school at 46 years old, you know, looking at a new college degree, like what [00:20:00] was your inspiration there?

Benn Sperry: I mean, I've always wanted to go back to, I've done art my whole life. I went to art school when I was younger. And, I think me personally, I like weighing the pros and cons of that is a, I have two kids that, uh, you know, school has summers off that has so many breaks. If I can have a job where I am matching that schedule, that's a pro of it.

But also just, I think that one thing that I noticed is like, in, from my perspective is it felt like I was starting from scratch all over again. Here I was, I shared my life with somebody for, we were together for 13 years.

You know, you become in sync with that person, and when that other person's no longer physically there, you're, in my opinion, like, I was starting from scratch as a new person, like, [00:21:00] I had been working with the same company for 15 years. And I was just like, I want something more gratifying. That's, I've always wanted something more gratifying, like where I feel like I'm giving something more to the, to the world, to the community.

And that was just a simple way of doing it. That was a pro for me. Like, you know, if I could teach kids art, um, you know, that's a, that's a beautiful thing. And also like, you know, little, Thanks to help them guide them to be a better human being in this world. So, um, as compared to working for a huge insurance company, it's like, it's way more gratifying, in my opinion.

So that was, that was a huge thing. And just, like I said, this is. It's a process, but it's also, and that's why one thing I definitely recommend to anybody that is going through grief and going through all these new feelings and all this new, this [00:22:00] whole new life is you are starting from scratch in most situations.

Um, you know, why not take your time and why not take the right steps? It's not, it's not a, it's not a sprint. This is a marathon in my opinion. Um, and I definitely think, you know, I'm two years out, August 30th of this year. From when I lost my wife. And, I'm just that type of person that I believe that you should take your time to make sure you think things through, especially when you're starting a whole new chapter of your book, that you still have.

Emily Jones: Yeah, I, I completely agree. And Um, I was married almost right at 20 years and it's hard when you've spent, you know, 10 plus years with someone that's a significant chunk of your adult life and it's hard to think about. Starting over and having a new future and you've thought about a future together for so long, it's like, I don't even know what I would want on my own.

So [00:23:00] it does take time to figure that out, but I love that you're embracing things that you've enjoyed in the past and that you're exploring things that you want to do for your future. Um, I mean, I really just want to give you kudos. It sounds like you've really tried to do a lot of things proactively to help heal and to help.

figure out, you know, what that future path is going to look like. And, um, some people are afraid to do that. So I think it's great that, that you've done that.

Benn Sperry: I mean, I definitely think that's important to, to kind of obviously not jump into the pool without knowing how to swim, but like just putting you slowly, putting your foot out there,

Just do things that you've never done before, I think that's such an important part of life, it just. in aspects of just, like I was saying, creating new memories. And memories are usually things that you've never done before, um, you know, that you remember very [00:24:00] well. Um, but yeah, I definitely think it's important to try new things because this is a new you.

In my opinion, so

Emily Jones: definitely agree. Well, Ben, I have another question about being a widowed father. You know, I think most widows that we know are overwhelmingly women, um, and sometimes mothers. And so, um, you don't often see a young father. Um, as a widower, but are there any unique challenges or things that you've seen or any words of advice that you would give to other, uh, young guys that are trying to be dads to kids that are still at home and maybe facing some unique challenges that, uh, we women don't necessarily see.

Benn Sperry: Yeah. I mean, I think like. Just, I keep saying from my perspective, cause it's all I have, but it's, I think the thing I've tried to do for[00:25:00] me is I've tried to, try to be like, be both roles at certain times, like be the mother and be the, um, father.

My wife was just very, I'm, you know, people say that I'm patient, but I'm really not that patient. But my wife was just very graceful, very patient, very, a lot more caring than I am. So I've tried to be that person. Like it takes a lot of being conscious of, and trust me, I hardly ever get it right. But it's something that you.

You have to be a lot more conscious than you normally would, um, is my recommendation. And it, it's hard. It's, uh, and for lack of better words, it sucks because you're stepping out of like comfort zones of how you're used to being the father figure and that, you know, the, you know, and that's how it was for a long, since we had children.

. You carry those [00:26:00] roles, um, and you balance them and you both, you know, hit on all cylinders together, but you have to have that balance when that other person's not there. It was definitely something that's been challenging. I would say to this day, um, and it's something I try to be conscious of and I'm not enough, but, um, you know, I definitely think of a lot.

Um, I think just the, the biggest thing that I always think of, um, you know, it's like being a father, a solo father of two kids is just being present and just slowing down some, and I can just speak from my perspective is that I'm a person that's always been go, go, go, go, go, go, um, through this, like even the first two years, the first year, especially is like.

I don't like to put times on things, but like, I've just had to like slow down some, [00:27:00] um, like with afterschool, for example, normally I would take him to go do something, but like now, like we just need a break, like just to, slow down and just stop for a second and just like, kind of have like a, just relax.

Something I'm not used to doing. But, I mean, being present is probably the biggest thing that's important as a, as a single father, single solo father of two kids is probably the biggest recommendation I have because. Your time is worth more than anything, you know,

Emily Jones: yeah, that's a great point. And, uh, I think we try to be both parental figures and, you know, I know gender roles is a hot topic in our culture today, but, uh, regardless of people's views on that, I think, you know, most people could acknowledge you and your spouse have strengths and weaknesses most often than the other does not. So, um, to [00:28:00] your point, we have to be very conscious of trying to still provide either those same things or same instruction.

You know, my husband was much more of the disciplinarian and, uh, staying on top of the kids to make sure they get things done. And I hate micromanaging people. I hate micromanaging the kids, but sometimes it has to be done for them to get those things done. So you're right. It is. much more effort, but sometimes that's what's needed.

Or else, uh, they may not end up being well balanced and rounded out kids. And it is hard for, um, the high achievers out there to, Reduce the expectations on yourself to put in boundaries to say, you know, I don't need to do all the things. We don't need to go to all the places. Uh, that is really difficult.

But I know for me, it was a saving grace, especially in those early days.

Benn Sperry: Oh, yeah, I, I remember so many days I was just. Like my kids [00:29:00] have been fed and they're alive, that, that's good. That's perfect for me. Like I had to be like, I set my standards on that, like a lot of days that, you know, my kids are love fed and they're alive, like good, like that, that was enough for me, just, you know, and you slowly start to, um, step out of that.

To, you know, When you, start stepping out of the fog, then you start to realize that I need to start doing this and you just do babies, that's what I'm talking about, baby steps like, just don't, don't exert yourself too much, don't, don't stretch yourself too thin, um, because it's all just going to backfire on you.

You still have residual emotions on everything. , like I was telling you before you hit record, my wife's birthday's tomorrow and I've been feeling. You know, emotional this week and like, um, and I couldn't put my finger, of course I should have known it was because her birthday is tomorrow, but you don't think that day is going to affect you over to [00:30:00] you, but it does.

Like it, there's a lot of subconscious stuff that, um. Still affects you that you just don't even realize. And if you exert yourself that you're going to get pushed over the limit a lot easier than most people, in my opinion.

Emily Jones: Yeah, it's sometimes those unexpected things or unanticipated things that surprise us the most and can be.

Challenging like those dates that are coming up that we subconsciously think about, but maybe haven't consciously prepared for. So, well, Ben, thank you so much for coming on today and being willing to share your story. Are there any final words of wisdom or any pieces of encouragement that you would leave people with?

Benn Sperry: Yeah, I mean, I, uh, like I was telling you before, just, you know. Life is short and as cliche as that is and just be thankful for the time that we've had with each other and be thankful for the time that we still have, you know, and[00:31:00] You know love your children as much as possible and just love life as much as possible.

Emily Jones: Awesome Well, thank you again so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate it. Yeah.

Benn Sperry: Thank you very much for having me

Emily Jones: Hey guys. Thank you so much for listening to the Brave Widow Podcast. I would love to help you take your next step, whether that's healing your heart, finding hope, or achieving your dreams for the future.

Do you need a safe space to connect with other like-minded widows? Do you wish you had how-tos for getting through the next steps in your journey, organizing your life or moving through grief? What about live calls where you get answers to your burning questions? The Brave Widow Membership Community is just what you need.

Inside you'll find courses to help guide you, a community of other widows to connect with, live coaching and q and a calls, and small group coaching where you [00:32:00] can work on what matters most to you. Learn how to heal your heart, find hope, reclaim joy, and dream again for the future. It is possible. Head on over to brave widow.com to learn more.

 

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