Beauty inside brokenness

June 2021

“I’ve become intimately aware of the sacred dance between despair and gratefulness. I refuse to allow the tragedy of his death to negate the beauty of his life, the depth of his impact, and the sheer joy with which he lived his days.”

⁃ Lexi Behrndt


I’m having one of those horrible anxious agitated weeks – pacing, not sleeping, eating too much! It’s not a special date or a specific memory or even a particular time of the year. But something has knocked me off par and when it happens it robs me of joy and leaves me feeling restless, deflated and unable to function.

I’m sure if you’ve lost a child you will know exactly what I mean!

It may have something to do with the widely publicised near death experience of Danish footballer Christian Eriksen who went into cardiac arrest on the pitch in the middle of one of the Euro 2020 games last weekend!

Without warning and for no apparent reason he collapsed and fell unconscious – just like Ben.

He was attended to immediately – just like Ben.

They used a defibrillator and did CPR – just like Ben.

Thankfully the medics managed to restart his heart and amazingly he’s alive…

But our darling boy died.

My children’s best friend and brother died!

I’m genuinely pleased that Christian’s family still have their son – they’ve been spared the terrible agony and separation of death. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t envious. It’s brought everything back and is a painful and brutal reminder that there could have been a different ending to our story.

There has also been a flurry of other wonderful accounts from cardiac arrest survivors and I’m truly happy for each one of them yet my heart breaks for all those families (including ours) whose stories don’t have that longed for happy ending.

I want to shout out that tragically (on average) twelve healthy young people in UK die every week from sudden cardiac arrest!! That’s twelve broken families added weekly to our horrible club!! Approximately six hundred and twenty four shattered families every year struggling to survive without their precious child.

And… that’s not even counting all the children and young people who die from road traffic accidents, suicide, disease, murder…

Of course I’m agitated!!

In the almost three years since Ben died I’ve been trying to find beauty even in the midst of all this heartache – trying to function normally under a heavy cloud of oppressive and debilitating sadness whilst also trying to hold on to the ‘sheer joy with which he lived his days’.

But it’s hard trying to look and act normal when you don’t feel normal. It’s tiring trying to suppress the complex array of emotions that simmer just beneath the surface. There’s a fine art in knowing how to be real, who to be real with or simply when it’s better to just wear the mask and pretend. Forcing myself to smile when I’m groaning inside gets easier with time but it definitely doesn’t mean I’m over it’ or have moved on!

Yet however it may appear, it isn’t all doom and gloom and I’m truly blessed with an abundance of beauty in my life. Moments of unexpected loveliness – a hug a sunset a flower a friend a gift a card a smile a touch a memory… bring so much joy. My family are incredible. They really do help counteract the ache in my heart. But often I find beauty illusive – tantalisingly just out of reach; not quite managing to break through the tough protective wall of my broken heart. Sometimes the pain of grief is just too overwhelming – it hurts too much.

‘Grief is simply love. Hauntingly beautiful wild untethered love’

I’ve written about trying to choose joy even when sadness is all consuming. I’ve described how everything turned grey when Ben died and how we try to re-inject his dynamic yellow back into our world. I’ve tried to portray as honestly as I can the loneliness, unpredictability and vulnerability of grief. I’ve openly confessed to an avalanche of doubts and questions about my Faith. I’ve laid bare my desperate (almost childlike) need for friends to acknowledge this awful pain, sooth our broken hearts and stick with us as we learn to live again – albeit as different people.

But it’s so so hard and I hate being this needy.

I miss all the people who used to be part of my life and no longer are.

I hate that I’m not the friend I used to be – that I seem to have so little to give!

I know now that living with a broken hurting heart is like stepping out into the wild unknown – at times scarily impossible!

I know of other grieving yet inspirational parents who throw all their energy into living to honour their child. I am trying to do that but it feels like I’m fighting a losing battle. I’m sure they must feel like that at times too. We get knocked down and it requires enormous effort to get back up again – over and over. So we just keep plodding along – one weary step forward and often two back! Living without our children is never going to be easy and we just hope those who love us understand.

I sometimes wonder if I’m chasing an impossible dream because ultimately I want what I can’t have. The longing to hear his voice and be enfolded in one of his beautiful strong bear hugs is excruciating. There are no words to describe how much I miss him.

Dear God it hurts.

I constantly told him how wonderful he was – how proud I was of him. How much I loved him. How I couldn’t believe he was really ours!!

My daughter Vic and I used to tell him that we wouldn’t cope if anything happened to him. Why did we even say that? Was he just too good to be true? Did we have a sixth sense that he was only on loan for twenty five beautiful years?

I’m still grappling to understand how this could have happened – how it’s possible to keep living with so much brokenness. I plead with God for signs that he hasn’t forgotten us and keep hoping for little sparks of beauty to take the edge off this agonising pain.

So today I drove up to Ben’s special little piece of ground in the meadow to try and be close to him. I hate to think of him lying up there but I go because it’s his final resting place. And as a friend pointed out – it’s his exit point. It’s where we all gathered to say our goodbyes. It’s beautiful and private and ethereal – almost too beautiful to hold so much sadness. The tears of so many broken hurting souls seem to hover in the silence. And so, after days of bottling up all those agitated emotions – it seemed like the right place to let them spill out!

I sat down beside his place in the long glass for what seemed like ages and cried and cried and cried – horrible guttural ugly tears.

I didn’t feel better but it did help.

I had only been home for about half an hour when unexpectedly – literally as I was pacing the floor yet again – a dear friend phoned to see how I was.

I’ll never understand why God answers prayers I don’t pray yet didn’t answer the biggest one ever! But I’m very thankful that my friend responded to his prompting. The timing was perfect!

This dear friend listens to podcasts and reads books about grief with the sole purpose of trying to understand what we’re going through – she tries to enter into our broken world! A world that she can’t really imagine because it’s too awful. That’s true empathy. She doesn’t try to fix me and she doesn’t judge – she just listens and genuinely cares!

How beautiful is that?

On this occasion she was the catalyst to get me back on my feet again – to brush myself off and rejoin the race. I’m still agitated but I can feel the storm slowly starting to abate.

We don’t just talk about me, we talk about what’s going on in her world too. We all carry around a sack of troubles – we’re all broken in some way or other. The older we get to more we discover that life rarely goes to plan.

She helped me put my brokenness into perspective.

She helped me to look outward rather than inward.

She made me feel loved and less alone.

She’s a beautiful reminder that God is still with me and that he cares.

She directed me to this beautiful broken lady who describes brokenness in a way that I never could. Reading this helped…

“You can’t wait until life isn’t hard any more before you decide to be happy!”

⁃ Nightbirde (Jane Marczewski)