Turning a corner – ever so slightly…

(10th April 2019 – 7 months without Ben!)

‘On days like this, when the ache is visceral, and I fall into the hole you left behind, I try to remind myself that nothing, absolutely nothing, can ever take the MEMORIES we made, the JOY we shared, and the LOVE we have still. Our love is FOREVER.

– Angela Miller

A pilgrimage is…

‘a journey that someone makes to a place that is very important them.’

Collins English Dictionary

‘a visit to a place that is connected with someone or something that is very important to you.’

Macmillan Dictionary

(*Ben spent two winter seasons snowboarding in Chamonix and was just getting ready for his third when he died. It was his special place.)

We all took it in turns to wear Ben’s favourite snowboarding jacket
Clever photoshop by http://www.drewmcdonald.photography/

We have just returned from a five day family (pilgrimage) trip to *Chamonix-Mont-Blanc in the French Alps. We walked in Ben’s footsteps, met his friends, visited his favourite haunts and skied/snowboarded/fell down his mountains. We ate too much, drank too much and stayed up too late – but we didn’t want to waste one minute! He was everywhere – we could feel him and almost touch him! It was a precious oasis of comfort and healing. We made every moment count!

We were treated like royalty and shown so much love by his ‘Chamfam’ (Chamonix friends). We laughed a lot and cried a lot. Their stories brought him alive and gave us glimpses into the life he loved. Saying goodbye was like letting him go all over again.

That horrible familiar blanket of sorrow and numbness descended on us as we drove in silence to the airport. My body felt weighted down with such sadness and longing. I can’t even describe it. The poignancy of being in the place he loved without him, was almost too much to bear. Nothing could ease the pain and I’m not even sure I wanted it to.

Pain is so entwined with love. It hurts so much that I often wonder how it’s possible to keep on living.

My longing for Ben and for our old life is overwhelming. I long for the person I used to be and the happy easy relationship I had with my beautiful boy. Every morning I relive the brutal reality of his death over and over again – because every morning he’s not there! Every morning he’s still gone. That will never change.

It’s utterly exhausting and I’m so tired.

“Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.”

C S Lewis – A Grief Observed

But in some strange way something has changed since arriving home. I don’t really understand it – I can’t say I feel better as my heart is still heavy and sad but something is definitely different.

If anyone dared to suggest I was ‘moving on’ I might be tempted to punch them!! However, instead of the dreaded ‘come down’ after those few short days away – the opposite has happened.

Bizarrely my heart feels a tiny bit lighter and although I’m still waking very early in the mornings even my sleep has been slightly more peaceful and my dreams a little less agitated. I feel calmer and the fog in my head seems to be marginally less dense. 

Could it be that our pilgrimage trip has been a catalyst to finding a way of keeping Ben with us – obviously not in the way we want but in the only way we can? 

Maybe I’ve subconsciously accepted that it’s possible to make new memories that include him without him actually being here. It’s hard to explain or put into words because it doesn’t make sense, but I feel his presence stronger than ever.

Following the death of his wife CS Lewis writes…

‘I will turn to her as often as possible in gladness. I will even salute her with a laugh. The less I mourn her the nearer I seem to her.’

This oasis of respite may only last for a few days. I certainly don’t want anyone to think I’m getting over Ben’s untimely death – because I don’t believe that will ever happen, but a little calmness feels good after months of disbelief, hysteria and gut wrenching sadness. It may even be feasible to hope that one day I might know some semblance of joy in my life again.

What I discovered was that being in a place that Ben loved, being with the people that he loved and doing the things that he loved made me feel closer to him.

I’ll do everything possible to keep Ben’s memory alive – could it be that my frazzled and exhausted brain is finding a way to make this happen? Twenty five years with that beautiful happy smiley person cannot simply and suddenly be wiped out by death!! He was too loved, too awesome, too inspirational!! 

Regrouping as a family was very cathartic as it allowed us to grieve together. It has made me realise more than ever how each one of our four children are spectacularly amazing. I love, admire and respect them more than ever – they’re honest, loyal, wise, forgiving, kind, tolerant, clever, funny … They have the most wonderful partners and have created the most awesome families!

Paul Steve Vic and Drew wearing all Ben’s snowboarding jackets 💛

We’re surrounded by an beautiful and rare love which is quite honestly beyond words and even on my darkest days can make me happy – if I allow it. Ben is still very much part of our family and despite the unwelcome intrusion of death – always will be!!

“You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”

Desmond Tutu

We must cling to each other at all costs; we must do everything in our power to preserve and treasure the gift of this unique friendship. The bond that we share is not just a blood bond – it’s so much more. It’s an affinity of mutual unconditional love and tolerance that nurtures feelings of security and belonging. It’s our safe place – the place where we share our deepest and darkest longings but also our greatest joys! It’s a place that can be filled with pain and at times requires humble repentance and forgiveness but it’s so worth fighting for and pays unspeakable dividends! 

We need each other now more than we ever have before. Losing our darling Ben is the biggest and most horrific challenge we have ever had to face. Our only hope for survival is the strength we get from each other.

Family and special friends are undoubtedly a gift from God and a reminder that despite everything we’re going through – God must still be good! 

“In every conceivable manner, family is a link to our past, bridge to our future.”

Alex Hayley

It’s taken me six months to be able to say that God is good and I don’t say it lightly. I’ve really struggled with the concept as although I haven’t directly blamed God for Ben’s death, I have blamed him for not keeping him alive.

Our family and good friends are beautiful treasured gifts. They hold us up when we can’t go on! Having the strength and foresight to keep Ben right in the centre of everything we do, must be the key to unlocking snippets of beauty that will divert us away from our pain – even if only for a few moments! I know it’s not going to fix anything, not going to make it right and definitely not going to bring Ben back, but maybe it’s enough to keep us going – to help us survive this terrible nightmare!

“Beauty helps-

Not to fix anything, not to gloss over the hardship, but to lay down alongside whatever hurts. The presence of beauty doesn’t magically remove all pain, but the absence of beauty makes things a lot harder to bear.”

Megan Devine

I’m realising more and more that so much of this grief journey is completely out of our control. We have survived (sort of) the most traumatic and devastating shock; there is no quick and easy way to just pick up the pieces and get on with life.

Ben is my son! He is part of me – my darling, adored youngest child. We were so close and even though he was twenty-five, my maternal instincts were as strong as ever. I would have done anything in my power to protect and keep him safe. I was denied that privilege as death suddenly stole him when I wasn’t looking!! Nothing could have prepared me for that and part of me died with him that horrific day.

‘As the world moved on, I stood frozen, broken, shattered. My world would never be the same…’

– Angie Cartwright

But my struggle is not just the terrible pain of Ben’s death, it’s also trying to come to terms with our changed family – the heart-breaking sight of my husband sobbing uncontrollably – our daily burden of sorrow and bewilderment – our lack of motivation – and fighting against accepting this new sad version of the me I don’t want to be!

On reflection I think our precious few days in Chamonix enabled me to slightly shift my focus from misery to joy because it suddenly leapt out at me that keeping Ben’s memories alive are the only way to keep him with us. 

Ben was one of the happiest people you could ever meet and I want to be inspired by his attitudes and positive outlook on life. He radiated happiness and valued people – not just his close friends! His mantra was ‘happiness is only real when shared ‘and he meant it! What a beautiful legacy. It is my absolute privilege to be his mum!  

I wanted to write this all down while it’s fresh in my mind knowing that at any minute I will probably sink back into the dark murky waters of grief.

Sadly, we’re all travelling on a desolate and lonely journey that is simply impossible to adequately describe. It stretches out relentlessly and is totally confusing. If you’re in this place you will know exactly what I mean.

But over the past few days I have felt the tiniest glimmer of hope and knew I must capture it quickly before it disappeared. I don’t even know exactly what I’m hoping for long term because our darling Ben has gone forever – but any hint of beauty in this new world will help to make living a little more bearable.

‘We begin to remember not just that you died, but that you lived. And that you gave us memories too beautiful to forget.

– Author unknown

Incredible painting by one of Ben’s best friends @Michael Streeter Artwork
Commissioned by Alix as a gift for Drew 💛