Our year is coming to a close and like most I have been looking back. What a year. What a beautiful, breathtaking, heartbreaking, perfectly imperfect year. I could tell you what I have learned or what I gained or what I lost. Much of that is pretty obvious. So instead, I feel like telling you what I now understand.
1) Pure joy and love. I always thought I had a handle on this one. I am a joyful person I think…I take pleasure in small things, I am easily entertained, and I love with my whole heart. I had moments of this on my wedding day as I married my best friend. And when we found out we were pregnant with Bennie last January. But the moment I heard him cry, just that quick, I understood what so many people before me had tried to explain. That all encompassing, whole hearted, never ending, instantaneous love and joy. It is like nothing else. And each day after, every one of those 25 days we got to spend with him…they were full of that exact feeling. Even the hard one. I will hold that feeling close forever. Easily and without effort. It beats all the pain, which is saying a lot. Hands down. That’s how big it was and will continue to be.
2) The blessing of a good partner. Sean has always been a good husband…from the very first day I met him, I knew he was a keeper 😉 He has a huge heart, he is funny, he is kind. For all these reasons and many more, I fell in love with him. However, after this year, I understand what a gift it is to be his wife. I understand how strong he is no matter the circumstance; and on days that maybe he couldn’t be, I could try. He is an amazing father and his openness and honesty about his love for his son is inspiring, both to me and others. His ability to find the good in even the worst moments helps me to find it too. We are a good pair, the two of us. What a blessing to have found him and to have him in my life everyday.
3) The importance of friends. Throughout this year, both in the good and the hard moments, our friends and community have lifted us up. They have heaped our joy and our sorrow up on their shoulders and kept us afloat in both a literal and figurative way. The line between friends and family blurs when you are going through a crisis. And those friends who came and became one of Bennie’s people are solidly placed in our family from now on. Those who mowed our lawn and built our patio and cleaned our house and cooked us dinner and donated breast milk in Bennie’s memory and took in our mail and paid our utility bills and sent cards and made donations and created and hosted a benefit and washed our clothes and made us priceless momentos and sent us flowers and held us while we cried…and so much more. That is something we can never repay because it was all done out of love, to make an impossible situation a little more bearable. Wow. That’s all I can say. Thank you.
LPA football players put ‘Benton Strong’ on their helmets for the season in honor of Bennie and Sean
4) The love of family. I have always known my family loves me…they are not shy about telling me! Which is great. This year, though, their love has shown me that family knows no limits. My mother, who came the moment I called, even though dad was in the hospital and going through his own challenges. Who stayed, days and days, coming in and out, washing clothes, visiting with others when we needed our own time, baking cookies at the Ronald McDonald House because she was there so much, all the while feeling helpless because she understood what this meant, she understood how hard this must be even if, gratefully, she hadn’t had to experience it. My sister and brother in law, who came and stayed and keep coming now, even if we aren’t always good company. The joy of their children who have brought us so much comfort on our hardest days. Who can stay sad when a 3 year old is singing Jesus Loves Me or Jingle Bells? No one. We have been surrounded by love on all sides. And they will help us keep Bennie alive. There is nothing better than that.
Hazel wearing Benton’s baptism hat on her baptism day
Grandma Solveig reading Benton stories
5) The power of the human body. Prior to pregnancy, my body had always been a bit of a challenge…lots of chronic conditions, endless doctors, unending tests and treatments. I never liked it much. I remember seeing a pancreas at the “Body Worlds” exhibit in Cincinnati and thinking, “That stupid little thing has caused all these problems?!” Uf. Then I got pregnant. And the doctors visits and tests increased 100 fold. And I was nauseous and had heartburn nonstop and was swollen and felt like my bladder was a trampoline and my little ninja baby kicked me in the ribs so hard I couldn’t stand up sometimes. Yet, despite all of that, I really started to respect my body in a way I never did before…to really listen to it and care for it so that I could care for Bennie. And then he was born. And even though in my head I understood the idea, the reality of a person coming out was still the most amazing thing I have ever experienced. During Bennie’s struggle, my body went through it’s own transition. That was not so fun. But his little body, wow, what a miracle that was. After we got a scan and really realized what was going on with him, we knew what an absolute miracle he was, more than we had known before…he was living with 5% lung capacity. And cooing and squirming around just like any baby would. There is absolutely no medical reason he should have lived more than a few hours. Yet, because of amazing doctors and nurses and, in the end, his enormously strong will to live, his little body gave us nearly a month of memory making. If you ever doubt that you can do something, just think of that. Our bodies can do amazing things.
6) The strength of grief. Grief is a force that takes over your life in ways I cannot even begin to explain. It has the potential to crush your spirit and your body and your relationships and your beliefs to a point where they will never recover. It can suffocate you with its weight and leave you without memory of how you have spent your time, for hours or days or weeks or months. I really couldn’t tell you anything about the month of October besides Bennie’s services that first week. In grief, however, you do reach a point where you have to decide if you are going to let it win…or if you are going to stop fighting it and understand that it can co-exist with the rest of your life. You can be grieving and find joy, or love, or peace. It can happen. But, even after you decide that, the strength of grief never dissipates. It just gets rearranged. I think it will always be there.
7) The importance of a foundation of faith. Whether you are a practicing believer or not and really, whether you believe what I do or not, there is absolutely no way to get through what we are going through without a solid foundation of faith. Faith in a bigger power who decides about life and death. Faith in a larger universe where the souls of those who have to leave us can go and find peace. Faith that you are loved, even in your darkest hours. Faith that someone or something walks beside you in those moments and helps carry you through. Faith gives you the ability to absorb what is happening to you in a way that science never can, at least in my opinion. There is no reason, there is no sense to losing a child, no matter the circumstance. It is not the right order of things. But, at least for me, faith has provided comfort in a way that no person or thing can. It comforts my heart, which really is what needs it the most. It helps me to be gentle with myself on days that I feel like I can’t go on. It helps me to be kind to my husband and my friends and my family when what I want to do is lock myself in a room and never come out. Every morning I say, “God, thank you for this day and please help me through it.” And every night, “God, thank you for this day and for helping me through it.” It helps me to understand that even the things I never thought I could handle I can. Because I’ve got help. I am thankful for that beyond measure.
8) The power of music. Music has always been a big part of my life. My grandma was a piano teacher, my mom the church organist, my dad and grandpa love to sing. Bennie loved anything with a good drumbeat. He kicked and kicked whenever we played any 70s and 80s hair metal (particularly AC/DC) and this continued when he was born! We played music to him that we wanted him to hear…the Beatles, lullabies, Dave Matthews, classical songs, and others. We sang to him (not always well!) and some of our friends brought songs for him as well (thanks Missy <3). His room was full of sound, both from the machines he was on and from the music playing. Many of those songs we listen to now and they can pull us back to that place, with him in our arms. This is a good thing. There are others that have stuck with us for strength to make it through the day or because they make us smile when nothing else does. Or let us cry when we need to. Music, literally, has been soothing our souls.
9) The comfort of a furry friend. We have two cats. One is big and round and cuddly. One is small and quick and a bit more standoffish, unless you have treats. When we came home without Bennie, which was so awful and hard, there they were, at the door, meowing and purring and telling us how happy they were to see us. I remember very little about those first few days, but one thing that sticks out in my mind is that both of these furry friends jumped into our bed and stayed. They let us hold them, a warm living body in our arms that felt so empty. They let us cry into their fur. They licked our tears away. They followed us wherever we went and loved us, unconditionally. I cannot tell you how theraputic this was then and continues to be now. Animals, even when they drive you nuts, are so kind and purehearted. They understand what you need even when you don’t. If you don’t have one, get one. You never know when you will need them.
10) The value of the small things. It’s easy to get busy and lose track of what matters. Work and life take over and pretty soon, you’re at the end of another year and trying to figure out how the time went by so fast. And what do you remember? You remember getting up and going to work and coming home. You remember a few moments with family and friends. You remember the big stuff, like births and deaths and marriages. I look them up for people every day at work. But while you are busy doing that, you miss life. I never understood how important it was to live in the moment until I met Bennie. I spend my life “living” in the past. I value that history. But, after Bennie was born I understood that every single moment, each breath, each wiggle, each blink of an eye was just as important as all those larger things. So, really, in the end I understand that I need to be present in whatever I am doing, whether that is watching TV or filling up my gas tank or holding my son. I need to hold on to the value of those moments because those moments make up a very big life that at the end of this year is beginning again, just not how I had planned it.
Bennie’s cute little wrinkly toes
So, as 2013 ends I think I understand life more clearly because of death. What a strange and beautiful journey this has been and will continue to be. Going forward, I think there are some more things to learn. But I think the most important is this…the pain of losing Benton will never outweigh the joy of having him. And that joy never ends. It will come with us into 2014 and be with us in our next adventures. I miss him. Everyday. I love him. Everyday. This year and every year. Forever and always.