The waiting room…

January 2020 – almost 16 months without Ben

‘Hold on to the love, not the loss’

– Eva Longoria

I was trying to explain to a friend how Ben’s death is a bit like permanently living with the horrible gut feeling you get when you’ve lost or mislaid something important or made a huge mistake.

We all know what that feels like. It’s a stressful agitation that invades our subconscious. It causes us to feel unsettled and anxious as we compulsively search. We blame ourselves. Our mind doesn’t rest. We rack our brains, replaying scenarios over and over again. We desperately want to turn the clock back and relive the moment. We contemplate how we could or should have done things differently. Panic steals our joy and leaves us feeling drained, agitated and restless.

This is exactly how I feel – not just now and again. All the time. Every single day. Every single minute of every single day.

I didn’t just lose something, I lost a very important person. I panic over and over again as I try to understand what went wrong – how it could have happened; where he is now. My brain tries to accept the paradox that I’ll never be able to find him even though I can still feel him. That he has actually left us forever.

Even when I’m distracted or doing something mundane and unrelated, my subconscious is still searching. It’s that unsettled feeling of doom – dread, fear, denial and reality all rolled into one!

I wake up during the night in a panic because even in my dreams I’m frantically searching. Something is lost. When I eventually drift off, sleep is fitful. I wake in the morning immediately knowing something is wrong. I dread facing another new day. Another day where Ben is missing from our family.

I want to switch life off but of course I can’t. It carries on regardless. Life doesn’t take the grieving into consideration as it selfishly marches on, taking us further and further away from those we love. Those who have slipped out of our grip, stolen by death. Those who we try everything in our power to hold on to.

Almost sixteen months since Ben died without any warning it still feels like I’m trapped in a nightmare. A horrible, never ending real life nightmare that I can’t wake up from. It’s exhausting, disorientating and debilitating.

Everything feels wrong because it is wrong.

Unbelievably though, I do somehow function. People say how well I’m doing but they can’t see my broken bleeding heart. They don’t know I’m falling apart inside. I go to work, I have dinner with friends, I shop, I cook and even laugh sometimes. But all those things just mask the most terrible pain I’ve ever known as my brain keeps screaming ‘it can’t be true’!

‘You go through the motions of life hoping that one day you’ll feel alive again on the inside. Going on living – that’s the hardest thing about grief!’

– John Mark Green

I’m just about managing to keep myself afloat and can’t imagine that it will ever be any different. It’s not going to get better because my precious beautiful boy is missing. My darling youngest child has left us. The extra one I never expected to have – our gorgeous surprise baby! One of my best friends. Our precious gift from God has gone to Heaven to be with the one who created him. I can’t bear it. I selfishly want him here – back with the family he made complete and perfect.

We’re surrounded by sickness and death and sadness. Broken families and broken hearts. We dread the day when we will lose our lovely parents. But never in a million years do we expect our darling children to die. Tragically it happens more often than I realised.

I had no idea death would touch us like this.

Now I feel like I’m just biding time. Hanging around in a waiting room – pacing the floor impatiently. Waiting for something. Waiting for the day I’ll be reunited with my child. He may have been twenty five but he was still my child. That agitated waiting feeling is tearing me apart. The incessant longing to see him again. Trying to go through the motions of living and breathing while I’m waiting. I know it’s wrong but I find myself wishing my life away.

Will I ever get used to pretending to survive?

Do you ever get used to living without an amputated limb?

I don’t think so.

I suppose people simply have to find a way to accommodate an amputation. They find new ways to function and live with it because they have to. They talk about feeling pain in the limb years after it was removed. It’s not an imagined pain – it’s real. It’s because the body is incomplete – it craves the part that should be there.

That’s it. Ben was part of me, part of us and now he’s not – he’s missing and it hurts.

As a mum I feel incomplete. There’s a gap where Ben should be.

There was only ever one Ben McDonald and he is irreplaceable!!

I watch my other (grown up) children talking and laughing together – the missing dimension silently screams at me. There’s a sadness behind their smiles; a heaviness that has aged them; an emptiness in their eyes. My heart breaks as I see their pain, their incompleteness. They all loved each other so much. They were a unit and now there’s a hole. They always looked out for each other. I’ve never known siblings with such a beautiful connection – such unconditional love. They were each best friends with the other.

Andrew Steve Ben Vic (L to R)

I phoned them all this evening for a chat. It should be four phone calls, not three. I stare at Ben’s number on my favourites list with his little picture – willing it to ring. I’m desperate to talk to him – to hear his voice. It’s hard to believe I never will again. It hurts so much I want to scream or smash something. Sometimes when I’m on my own I call out to him and talk to him. Nothing! I wonder if he can hear me.

In private I let myself fall apart. I take my mask off and act like a crazy woman. It gives me a moment’s relief. If people could see me they would be shocked. My facade of decorum disappears as I either turn into a deranged feral animal or a muted expressionless zombie who sits and stares and thinks. Often I flit randomly between the two. Is this the beginnings of madness? I still don’t know how to express this destructive pain. I had no idea grief could do this to you. It’s definitely not getting any easier though I sense many people probably think I should be ‘getting over it’ by now!

I feel like I’m killing time waiting for something – though I’m not sure what; doing anything to occupy my time until…

The problem is there is no until… nothing is going to change. There is no happy ending; no ‘happy ever after’. He can’t be found. We’re not working towards something that’s going to fix or get better. Ben isn’t coming home. We can’t get used to something that every atom of our very beings are fighting against.

So instead – I’m trying to force myself to hold onto the memories. This is a gigantic act of the will as my natural default is just more of what I have been describing. I feel myself slipping slowly into a pit of total despair. Part of me just wants to sink deeper but thankfully there is an invisible hand pulling me up and holding onto me during my darkest days. Little flickers of positivity penetrate my thoughts and friends who must be angels in disguise reach out to me at just the right moment.

I speak Ben’s name out loud every day. I talk about him and bring his name into conversations at every opportunity as naturally as I talk about my other children. My love for him and his love for us didn’t die with him – it lives on. Our family has been robbed of his future but we can’t be robbed of his past or his love. That’s as strong as ever and he is as much a part of our family as if he were still here. He lives on in each one of us. We try to honour him by living the kind of life he loved. We do the things he loved to do. We listen to the songs he loved to sing. His story isn’t over because we won’t let it be. We keep living with him, for him and through him.

We will all be together again one day and though this waiting is hard I know he would never want us to waste our lives. I must get past this waiting room frustration and start enjoying life more. Life is about people and they are precious. I must force myself to keep turning my thoughts away from the dark persistent all consuming pain of loss to the precious people that are part of my present.

Now that I know what grief is like, I’m wondering how I can use it to make me more grateful for this precious gift of life. I think about how I can do it to honour Ben. There is so much I don’t know and can’t understand but one thing I have discovered is that love is incredibly powerful and doesn’t die. If anything it gets stronger with time. We can and will never forget Ben. Even the darling children born after his death will grow up to know about their uncle Ben. He will probably become some sort of amazing super hero!! He would like that.

Maybe our family isn’t as incomplete as I think. Maybe it’s up to us to make sure we stay as special as ever though in a strangely warped kind of way. Maybe our extraordinary love for Ben will make us even stronger. Grief has brought us into a new dimension and hopefully we can use it to be kinder, more loving, more grateful, more compassionate and more forgiving than ever before. Our desperate soul destroying pain inhibits us but we will persevere. To honour Ben – we won’t ever give up.

We will hold tight to the most beautiful but painful love we have ever known because it connects us to our darling boy and keeps our precious family as complete as it can possibly be.