I know life throws some wicked curves at you every once in a while. The trick is to adapt and carry on. But some of these curves can happen each and every day. Or they can be spaced out just enough for you to relax and think that there are no more curves, and then bam!
Friends and strangers a like, post lots of great things on social media making you think everything is amazing and fun and life is good. But when you talk to them face to face, things aren't as bright as they seem on their Facebook page. So if this statement is true and my Facebook page is full of sadness from losing Ben, then I guess n real life it's worse. Well, yes and no, I guess. There are days, and they're often, when I look back and ask myself, what was I doing on this day 2 years ago or 3 years ago, But mostly it's been what was Ben doing this time 2 or 3 years ago. Then I end up reliving everything we all went through during that time. Why do I put myself through this? Well, maybe it's because I want to feel a connection of what we did with Ben this time of the year. Maybe it's to feel what it felt like to have Ben around at this time. Maybe it's so I won't forget.
As I write this, it's July 21st 2018. I only went for a bike ride yesterday for the first time this year. Why do I feel guilty for riding my bike which I did with Ben almost everyday in the Spring and Summers? Why do I feel awful riding the same paths we used to go on? Is it all because I can and he can't? I feel like I'm cheating because he can no longer go for a bike ride, or have an ice cream or go for walk in the forest or laugh or sing. I just feel awful even attempting these things knowing that he can't. You know, the feeling I had when Ben was in his last few months (and way before that too) was always why can't I change places with him. I've lived long enough to have a university degree, to have a family and a house, to travel and drive a car... Ben didn't get a chance to do this. Why wasn't it possible for me to change places with him so he can experience life. As a parent who loses a child, you always feel like you're cheating, like you shouldn't be here but rather your child should be. It just seems unfair that I'm around but he's not. He was all that was good and innocent and kind and smart and optimistic. It seems now that all that is gone in my life. My enthusiasm for the simple, fun things is not there anymore. Maybe it's just dormant. Maybe it's been pushed underground and one day will resurface. But I think when a parent loses a child, you go through a metamorphosis, where you are no longer that person you were before. You become a new version of yourself. As much as you'd love to return to those days when your child was here, you can't. It's just not possible. It's sad and tragic and no matter how much you try by visiting places where you and your child frequented or by eating at the same restaurants or doing the same activities, it's just never going to be the same. That's all I really want. Is to have things as they were when Ben was here. Can't I even have that for 10 seconds? So I can feel what it felt like to have him here? To say things to him I've always said but want to tell him again and again? I just hurts so much inside to not get a second chance. Once it's over, it's over.
I want people to ask me about Ben so I can tell his story, so I can explain what a special guy he was. We put a plaque on a bench in a park recently. When I walk by there, I just want to listen to what people are saying as they read his plaque. I want to come up and tell them, "Yes, I'm Ben's Dad". Is that weird? Have I finally gone mad or psychotic? Most days, I don't like this new life. It was way more fun and happy before Ben left. Maybe I'm depressed, maybe I've lost it ... but all I know is I can't change things back to how they were but I want to so badly.
Returning to the bike ride from yesterday, it was very lonely. I would turn around to talk to him but he wasn't there. Just me by myself with Ben in my head. I know there have been a lot of maybe's in this post but maybe one day I'll be able to move on but right now, it's just a slow, moving one-step-forward-and-two-steps-back, kind of a feeling. Time, they say, heals all wounds. Well, this is the deepest one and I have a feeling it won't be healing to quickly or at all. Plus, it was so hard hanging up Ben's bike in the garage last week. : (
Amazing how much we get attached to our kids. From the minute they're born, we are inseparable. The more time goes by, the more we see them grow into themselves with their own beliefs, their own personality, their values and morals. No matter how distinct they may be from us, there is a measurable part of them that IS us. We can see ourselves in them. The way they talk, the way they think, the way they react and make choices, the way they move. Though they are their own person, we can definitely see yourself in your kids.
So when the unthinkable happens and you lose your child, which I certainly wish on nobody, it's like losing an arm or a leg (only worse!). You can certainly continue to live but things will not ever be the same again. Not only is there a physical change in the fact that he or she is gone, it's also the mental and spiritual one. A big chunk of your soul has disappeared. Whatever spiritual attachment you carried around with your child, it is now absent. This gives you that empty feeling where your child used to fill that space. It's like putting two snowballs together. The more you form the two together, the more they become one big round one. Then when you split them into two and one is gone, the one leaving takes part of you away but you also keep part of the one that left you. You are not the same as you were when you were together.
I find this to be very true when I do the things I did with Ben. For example, going to the mall. We used to eat at the food court often. Now, I find it difficult to even sit there or even smell the food. I can walk in the same stores we used to go frequent together, but I just look quickly and leave. I went to the Farmer's Market the other day. When I was with Ben, we would try all the cheeses, walk around and look at the different produce and things for sale and we would spend a good 2 hours there. Now, I walk around, pretending he is with me, but I find no enthusiasm in the things for sale. I buy one or two cheeses without trying them and then I would leave the market 10 minutes after I arrived.
Many people tell me that in time, things will get back to normal. I don't think that is true. My normal is having my son here, sharing everything with him, watching him grow and become an amazing human being with talents and passions. How can things return to normal when he is not in the picture? It's like a scar. You can't totally erase it. You can cover it up with concealer or makeup. You can get plastic surgery to try to make it disappear but it will always be there. Others may not see it but it's there and you know it is. This is the same whether physically or mentally. We carry this backpack of our lives everywhere we go until we die. Some things we can bury in the bottom but they will always be carried with us. This works for both good and bad. The good stuff we want to clip to the outside of the backpack so everyone can see, where we can also see them. Other things we want to hide away and never see them again.
When I was a child, I was so afraid of hearing the teacher call my name. This meant I had to answer a question or talk in class. I was so shy, I would get sick from getting nervous when I was called upon. I would turn red and start sweating. When I was in my last year of high school, in Ontario, we had grade 13, which was a preparatory grade for university. Within the first 3 weeks of class, I found out I had to do an oral presentation in Biology. I dropped all of grade 13 because of having to do that presentation. But after starting university, I came to a point where I told myself that I am denying myself all these classes and opportunities all because I can't stand up in front of people and say what I have to say. It just got unbearable. So I started teaching small art classes and I found it so much easier to talk to kids. Then I continued to push myself and started doing oral presentations in front of classmates at university. Soon, I was teaching 4th year university courses and doing workshops in front of hundreds of people. Sure I would still be nervous at first but once it got started, I felt better. Now I teach in front of kids and adults as a career. I pushed myself.
Losing Ben is totally different. It's not something I can overcome. It's not something I get over or push through to go beyond. Sure, I can push myself to do the things he and I did together, but I will never "get over" this lose. I will never be the same me, without him. I know ... You're probably thinking, "Well, weren't you your own person before your kids came along?" Yes, but with kids, you become another person. You no longer do things for yourself only. Most of what I do, I do for my kids. At least, that's how I do things. Even when I'm teaching, I will go out of my way to help a student feel better, or succeed, or overcome adversity. As a parent, your focus becomes your kids and everything for the good of the family. It becomes an entity. So, when I lost Ben, it was like my entire focus shifted into a blurry, spinning mess. Of course, I have my daughter, which I care so much about and will continue to focus on, but the entity that once was a system of four has now changed to a group of three. The dynamics is all different, not just for me but everyone in this entity. A long adaptation process needs to run its course.
Many days, I don't want this new situation to continue and I want to return to the old familiar family we had. Death is so final. There is NO going back. You have to turn the page, collect the memories and more forward. You have no choice. It's like going to school for the first time. You don't want to go but once you do, your everyday will forever change for the next 12 years and beyond.
All I know is that when you're so close to a child like this and you've spent so many years taking care of him, not just as your child but especially when he's been sick for so long, it's so difficult not to be able to take care of him anymore. It's difficult knowing his future stopped at 17 years old. All the future milestones, that he so deserved and should've had, he will never experience. When you see such a bright future, millimetres from his grasp, cut off forever, it's devastating.
I just hope there is something after all this where I will get to see Ben again and hold him one more time. As I've done most of my life as a father, I can only hope...
I am noticing lately that I have been looking and feeling more like what Ben would do in a certain situation. How he would look at the positive and breakthrough the sadness to help himself and others. That is where the courage comes in. That is where attitude and integrity come out on top. Imagine you were told you have less than a year to live. How would you react? How would you get through each day? What would you want to do? Where would you put your priorities? Ben had to face that, point blank. He chose to have as normal a life as possible. He wanted to continue going to school for as long as possible and see his friends. I'm sure he felt that coming home was difficult at times because he would have to face talking about doctors, taking his pills, going to the next radiation session. It takes courage to deal with all that and still smile and laugh. He didn't avoid facing it at all, he just chose to put the positive ahead of all the challenges. Try doing that as an adult...even more impossible to do that as a child. Often, we don't have control of how things will unfold. What we do have control over is how we choose to face these events, challenges and obstacles. We often don't know how much courage we have until something happens where we have to dig deep and find that positive energy. Many people don't have to face tough challenges, others have nothing but one challenge after the other, yet still others have a bit of both and never show the challenges they face. All require courage, hope and a positive attitude.
Another thing I've learned from all this is that the things we worry about really don't matter. The essential is health, family and friends. We so often take those things for granted. We get caught up on diets, trying the latest cleanse, antioxidants, healthy fads... etc. Sure there is some merit to those things but in the end it may not make a difference. Cancer doesn't pick and choose who's fit, at the right weight. If you're going to get cancer, then you are. Of course, I'm not at all saying everyone will. It reminds me of a guy I met at the Cancer Agency when my mother was getting treatment for lymphoma. I was in the library and started talking to him. He had cancer but he was fit...he ran marathons, always ate organic and was at the perfect weight. Yet he had cancer. Yes, take care of yourself as much as possible but don't go to the other side of the spectrum and deprive yourself of the food you like because it might cause problems.
I went for a bike ride on Saturday for the first time in over a year. It took a lot of courage to do that without Ben, but it was good to do things that he and I did. The warm weather has been difficult especially with everything that went on last year at this time. I've been told, "it's what he would've wanted" but it's easier said than done. I know there's a time when I will accept that but the emotional attachment is the difficult part that holds me back. Yet, I'm starting to look into myself through Ben's eyes and push myself. Im trying to remember the happy things we shared and trying to think less of the difficult few months he (we) had before he left us.
Hug your kids, visit, text, call or email your friends and be kind without expecting anything in return. Life is too short.