Moving forward? OR 2 km/h
Project Sky ... that was the title of Ben's second trilogy he had started. Five chapters into the first book in the series ... then permanent silence. Like the title, the sky is forever changing, forever evolving, never quite the same. Sometimes simple, sometimes serene, sometimes a beautiful work of art, other times ominous, looming disaster and other times pure chaos and destruction. The sky doesn't dictate our feelings always but it can certainly be compare to our lives. It's ever-changing image can describe our days, our sentiments and our lives.
Though Project Sky was just getting started it reflects the way Ben's life ended; abrupt, unfinished, unresolved and tragic. But what was left was beautiful, vibrant and inspiring. I constantly recall various parts of Ben's life and the things he did but mostly his attitude towards life. He always had a positive outlook no matter how dark things got. Even a simple misunderstanding between two people, he would come in with his positive twist on everything. You couldn't help but feel his energy, his outlook that things will work out. His calming nature, filled with humour and compassion was always there, not just for his family but for anyone that felt down, confused or in need of a hug.
A new year begins and time marches forward. No matter how I drag my feet, either on purpose or subconsciously, I cannot stay with the time when Ben with with me. There's no possible way to stay put and freeze time. There's no way to go back or reverse everything. Time is linear. Memory only holds blinks of time from our past and the more we blink the more the picture fades. It's just like an image you have in your mind, the more you look away and back at the image, the more the colours fade until things are distorted and you can barely make them out. The emotions last longer. They are not tangible and they are hard-wired into our being.
The holidays were as expected; difficult. Much emptiness. Everything is not the same anymore. That fleeting glimpse of having a family, sitting around a table, and laughing and sharing stories felt like a brief flash, then it was cut off. Reminds me of when you fly in a plane and you take off in cold, rainy, gloomy weather and then you pierce the clouds. Suddenly everything is sunny and then you return to the dark ominous clouds again except in my case, it felt like the sunny part lasted 3 seconds.
I know all this is sounding so sad and tragic. It feels that way. When I push myself to "have fun", it feels like it's happening to someone else and I'm watching from far away. All I want to do is share new things and try new jokes and finish each other's sentences with Ben, like we used to. It's just so sad for him. Being so alive and fun-loving to having all that stripped away within 30 days. Seeing that person you once held in your arms trying to put him to sleep at night, deteriorate is something I would wish on no one. Reading the same bedtime story to him because he wanted to hear it over and over, is a special memory. I still read it from time to time but it's just too sad now.
The other day I looked up artists that are specialists in drawing what kids would look like when they are adult. I'm just wondering what he would look like now. What he would be doing? Would he be with someone? Would he still be playing his video games? I try to capture every aspect of you he was before he left us. He would probably be finishing up his university studies soon. Where would he be working? Would I still have that bond I had with him? Would we be going snowboarding or sailing or biking together? Yes, many people would say, time to move on, and in a way, they are right. I have my life to live as well but when my life was so much better with him in it, I can't help but look back. I know my life will never be the same but it hasn't gotten any brighter. I know Ben would be here pulling me out of this cave of despair if he could. maybe I should listen to him and try and be like he was, forever the caring optimist.
Strange how every time I start a new paragraph, I try to start it on the positive side but then end up falling into the "self-pity" spiral.
December 25th, 2020
Another holiday season is here and the fifth one without Ben. The memories seem to be farther away, but the hurt is always close by. It seems like I had another life when Ben was here and now, I’m living this one. One where I just put one foot in front of the other and basically waiting. Waiting … waiting for what, I don’t know. Perhaps more signs from Ben; perhaps to feel a strong presence from him; perhaps just waiting for things to fade away. I know some parents that have lost a child start over and try to find a new life. Some run away from the places where their old life took place. Some keep busy with new adventures and new beginnings. I can’t. I need to be where Ben was. I need to feel him close to me like we were in that other life. The more that time goes by, the more I realize that this could never happen again. I just find it impossible to grasp that notion; the fact that he will never be here again.
I’m not feeling sorry for myself as much as I am feeling sad for Ben for not having done so many more things he was good at or experiencing the joy of growing up, of finishing high school and traveling with friends. Working towards a career, getting married … and the list goes on. He worked so hard at everything he did. He put so much love and effort and time into all his endeavors and I know he would have been so successful at anything he set out to do. That’s one of the things that hurts.
I feel like I need to escape but with the Covid pandemic, I can’t. I need to wander this Earth in search of some kind of clarity, some kind of truth and reason to go on. Is the reason out there? Will I ever find an answer? Is there even an answer? What happened to Ben doesn’t make sense. It’s not right and it’s not normal. Why? Why does this happen to kids? I’ve spoken to many parents that have lost a child and they feel the same. The emptiness. The despair in the world. The absence of moving forward.
Yes, it sounds like I need help, but I’ve received it. Many hours of talking to professionals but there really isn’t much they can do besides listen and give you ways of coping. But when the hurt is so deep, it can never be fixed. Time is the only thing that can stop the bleeding but is it because of fading memories? Is it the distance from my life with Ben? Is it new memories piling on top and burying the old? Argh! Maybe I need to write a book. My father did. Ben did. Maybe it’s time I fill up some blank pages to try and reason through this nightmare.
One of the things that get me through some tough days is my job. As you know, I’m a teacher and have been for 36 years. I’ve taught all ages from 7 to 85, from grade 2 to university. The job itself is very stressful. As most teachers would attest, you have to be an educator, a psychologist, a doctor, a cheerleader, an entertainer, a police officer, a counselor, a parent and the list goes on… This is what keeps my mind on my job and out of my sadness. If any parents of my students are reading this, please don’t worry, my role as all the above is not compromised. In fact, I am even more empathetic to the children’s needs both from an educational as well as personal standpoint. But every day, yes, every day, when I walk out of the school and look at the sky, the flood of emotions hits me like a train and I get that slap in the face of not going home to my son.
As I look at photos and videos of Ben, I smile briefly remembering the time the photo was taken. Then the wave of sadness floods and buries the joy. I know many have said this before but it’s true, you just want one more minute with the one you lost; one more hug and chance to say how much you miss them and think about them and wish they were here.
I’ve said this before, but Ben would say I love you at least 20 times each day, every day. He would make a joke, as he had a great sense of humour, about me filming him and say, “Are you filming me?!”, in a deep menacing voice, and right after, in a calm, happy voice he would say, “I’m kidding, I love you.” I miss that.
*sigh* - …. for those who have continued reading up to here, thank you for listening. Thank you for being patient with my rambling of my feelings.
So here we are, the 5th holiday season without Ben. Can’t believe it’s been 5 years – five! I wish I owned a cabin somewhere remote so I can get away from everything for a while.
Happy Holidays and keep positive – life will return to “normal” soon. Take care and stay safe.
A lost boy (dad) ...
The winter has been rather mild and sunnier than most this year. I know in other parts, it's been the opposite. Here I go talking about the weather... moving on...
It has been a different year this year without Ben. The feeling of emptiness and sadness hasn't changed. What I mean by that, and I'll try to explain, is that it seems to have been harder than usual this year. I'm thinking missing him is even more pronounced since it has been 2 years and 9 months since he left us. It's been that long since I hugged Ben or hearing his voice in the house and hearing his jokes and singing to himself. Everyday it's been tougher not seeing him. Maybe I'm fearing forgetting the feeling of having him around; the feeling of looking at the couch and seeing him sitting there with his earbuds listening to music off his computer. This may account for the daily playing of various recordings and videos I listen to and watch to connect and retain that feeling I had when he was here. The photos, audio and video recordings are ok but they are the same. I almost want him to say something new, an expression I haven't heard yet. Perhaps a song he sung to himself which I've not yet heard. It's like listening to a song over and over until the "special feeling" it gave fades slowly. Don't get me wrong, hearing his voice is always special but I wish I had an entire day recorded to listen to how he reacted to things.
The house is so silent. It's like the life and colour was sucked out of it. Us three now exist in a stark white house, dressed all in white, mechanically going about our daily routines day in, day out. It's a bland, insipid series of events that fill up our days. They say that you have a different life after losing a child and you can never go back to your old life. Well, I couldn't agree more. The life, I am so desperately trying to hang onto cannot be kept anymore. It does not, nor will it ever, exist again. It is slowly slipping through my fingers. But that is the life I had with Ben, when he was here. That is the life I need to keep my sanity. The life I need to relive my happier moments with him. That is why, it seems, that I am after something that I can never attain. Only memories remain ... and those are fading ever so slowly. I've tried going to different places and standing in the very spot where he stood hoping to get a feeling or some kind of divine lightning strike or a vision, but nothing. Just a quick, flash of him standing there.
Though it has been difficult for all of us, I suggested to Steph that we should go to Disneyland to try and kick start the happy metre again. It seemed we needed this. She wanted to bring a friends with her; besides possibly Ben, what other teenager wants to go alone with their parents to Disneyland? So we brought her friend along. They had a great time. It was nice to see her enjoying the rides and the sites. For me, personally, it was extremely tough. Many of the places we went to, we were last there with Ben. The places had a different meaning. It was an entirely odd feel. First of all, much of the time, Steph and her friend went off on their own getting in as many rides as possible, while we walked around mostly saying I remember Ben was here and he said this, or he bought that. We tried not to show our mixed feelings. I think Pam was better at this than I was. We went on a couple of rides with the girls but we couldn't go on others, first of all because of the wait times at the lineups, but also because of the memories. Thunder Mountain Railroad was one I couldn't do. Maybe one day but even though it's been almost 3 years, it's still like it all happened yesterday,
On the "Ben's Blog" page, I mentioned a few things that Ben did when he was younger. I've been finding myself looking at all those older photos and trying to remember the feelings I had with Ben. It's strange how the sad feelings and the saddest day of all, when Ben left us, slowly erode away the memories of the good times at different ages. Perhaps those will come back in time. But then I'm getting older and maybe I'll have trouble remembering things? Living in this house that holds so many memories, it's hard to move forward. I can understand how some people need to move away so it won't hurt as much.
So starting this "new" life is not easy. You're held back by the memories you don't want to forget yet pushed forward by your survival instinct to move on with your life. Does this get any easier, because I certainly don't see that. I thought of moving to Europe and staying with cousins for a few months to change my thought process. I thought of taking off on the motorcycle for a few weeks to jump start this "new life", but I'm not sure what will work. Maybe it's time I joined a grieving parents group, though this is a personal journey. I know I need to get back in shape, perhaps that will be another option. Maybe all of the above? I know that getting back to nature always puts things into perspective. As the weather warms up I'll be able to get outdoors more. Any suggestions?
Meanwhile, the hunt for rare and amazing photos, videos, drawings and memories of Ben continues. They're all I have left of my best guy!
Time doesn't always heal...
Everything is still fresh, like it all happened yesterday. Often I find myself feeling guilty for waking up in the morning. I made it through a night of sleep or unconsciousness (though I don't sleep through the night anymore.) and I'm waking up from it. I feel guilty for being here while he isn't. I guess this is typical of anyone who has lost a child. How life can be so unfair to the child leaving the parents feeling lost and constantly asking how could this happen?
Wow! It certainly makes you think about why we are here? Is it something deep and profound or is it just that we're here because life happens. Is the constant state of the universe devoid of life? Are there just small glimpses of life scattered around the universe? It's not here for some special purpose? Does life just reproduce itself as long as it can until it can't anymore? And not because it's going somewhere to a final destination. If a large asteroid were to hit Earth and completely annihilate life, it would sooner or later start all up again. Is there a purpose? Don't know?
All I do know is that the natural timeline of things was not what I've experienced. It's not what "normally" happens. Losing a child is not "normal". Ben has left us so many great memories. He was someone with so many talents, abilities and potential. He taught us so many lessons. It's just so difficult to accept sometimes that he's not with us anymore. He gave so much of himself and never wanted anything in return.
Here I go talking about Ben as I usually do. I know I should be celebrating his life more than being sad about losing him but maybe I'm not there yet? Maybe I'm just too sad still? I know it's be 2 and a half years since he left but it's just like yesterday for me. I relive every little moment I spent with him, at least the ones I remember. I still wake up in the middle of the night feeling him tightly squeezing my hand the day he left. I guess that will never leave me.
So many memories mostly great but many sad ones because of the so many times he spent at the hospital, in operation rooms or getting radiation or having to take chemo at home.
My den has turned into a shrine for Ben. I have photos of Ben (& Steph) everywhere. There are candles in front of each photo. Many of Ben's special things are on the shelves or framed. I guess this is all I can do to have him around now. I just can't get enough of watching videos of Ben. I miss my old life with him in it. I know there's a special bond between father and son and with Ben it was so much more. We got along so well. We joked together and he and I would finish each other's sentences. We had the same tastes as far as sports and creative interests. It's like meeting your soul mate and then never seeing them again. Not being able to see then grow up... I wish I knew what he would look like now. What would he be interested in? What would he be doing in university? I guess I can now only imagine...
Can't go back...
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.
A Dad who's had to deal with the struggle and death, from cancer, of both his parents and his amazing son.