How do you bury your son? How can a parent even conceive of such a horrific tragedy and a horrific undertaking. But it had really happened to us. We wanted the beauty of our son’s amazing life to be celebrated. He was a quiet person, but lived a life jam-packed with helping others. He lived his 25 years, by the motto of his favorite wristband that read, “What Would Jesus Do?”
Many beautiful friends and family helped us with the funeral and loaned us their deep strength, especially the Edwardson and Simoes families. While I was in the daze of a newly bereaved person, others cared for the details. Everyone’s over-the-top help and efforts were so comforting. We realized that Ben had so many wonderful friends and that a whole community had joined us in mourning. In fact, we were told that Ben’s death affected the entire Christian Mainland Vancouver area.
After graduation from TWU in Langley, Ben had traveled Eastern Africa as part of the Safari Six, as the university buddies called themselves. It was an epic adventure: they climbed Kilimanjaro, camped with the lions in the Serengeti and hung out in the clouds at Ngoro crater. I will leave out the crocodiles and the White Nile rafting trip and being charged by elephants and the baboon droppings and the motorcycle lesson which are all crazy stories in themselves.
In Rwanda, they worked on the missionary compound to help build a church. Ben was moved by the terrible aftermath of the genocide and their desperate need for educated leaders in Rwanda. When his dear friends, Rich and Jeff started a school there later, he was on their board from the start as their IT specialist. He worked both in Canada but also onsite in Rwanda for months. Besides doing all their computer and website work, he had a servant heart and also poured concrete and played soccer with the kids and lots of other tasks.
When Ben was killed, Rich and Jeff were both in Rwanda heading a team from Ben's church in B.C. They just completed their mission, to build a playground for the school, the first one many of the children had ever seen. Everyone was devastated but especially Richard and Jeff. That day in Rwanda, through their tears they chose the name of the brand new playground, “Ben's Boathouse” and children chanted " Ben Ben Ben,", as a thank you and a sad goodbye. Rich and Jeff and the others jumped on a plane and flew many hours and came home to BC to honour Ben’s going home forever.
When he was living in Rwanda, Ben was also a key part of the filming crew of the award winning video, Rwanda, Hope Rises. Now his wonderful media friends poured over photos creating his memorial video, a loving and honouring tribute. I was so grateful, they told his story so beautifully and I loved hearing new stories that I had not heard before. For a while longer, it felt like his story was not over. People arrived from California, Washington, Alberta, and Rwanda, including carloads of heavy hearted young people from his own church where he had been a leader.
It was a beautiful service, with a beautiful video, beautiful words and beautiful friends. But there was no body, Ben was not there. We were still waiting for the corner’s work to be finished. Ben's body was only ready in time to fly back with us to Ontario to be buried.
In Oakville, Ontario, we had a second service and the actual laying to rest in his plot. Again, incredible friends and family did so much for us taking care of every detail while we were in BC. They made funeral arrangements, helped with the cemetery, arranged the food, and music, such a blessing.
All this time I longed to see Ben and hold him, the child I had birthed, nurtured and given wings to fly but he was never supposed to fly away to heaven. I finally saw him in the open casket in Ontario.
I walked into the room and I knew immediately. When he was a baby in his crib, I would stand over him while he slept, looking at how perfect he was. Now I stood over his casket looking at his handsome 6 foot 2 inch frame smartly dressed in a business suit. However, I was well aware that something was very different, something was missing, something alive and real. I stroked his hair and kissed his forehead. “He is not here,” I sighed. His spirit and his life were gone already. He had no time to say goodbye. He had cycled right into the arms of Jesus, the one that loved him eternally. Only his earth shell was left here. My hopes to say goodbye to him would not happen the way I had imagined. He had already left us the day he died on the roadway.
The bible promises resurrection and new life. It tells of a mother who got her son back from the dead. I believe the stories and I was not going to miss my chance. I touched his big hands and whispered, “Lord here I am, standing beside Ben. I want him to be alive not dead. If this is a terrible mess up, please, you are strong enough, would you bring him back to life.” Nothing happened. I tried again, with a louder voice and greater authority hoping that might help. Nothing happened. Then the thought came to me that he would not want to come back. He had run his race and entered a wonderful place full of joy. I could imagine that he had already gone mountain biking down Mt. Zion with Moses. He was having too much fun to come back. He also knew that one day we would come to him too, forever. That thought eased my pain and gave me peace but then the time came to close the casket. I leaned over him and kissed him one last time, and sobbed as the grief flooded back.
The church was overflowing and everyone’s hearts overflowed their love and compassion onto us which helped and healed us. Ben’s friend, Kate sang a beautiful song by Mercy Me, called “I Can Only Imagine”. The lyrics imagine the beautiful truth of Ben’s new experience…
I can only imagine what it will be like
When I walk by your side
I can only imagine what my eyes will see
When your face is before me
I can only imagine
I can only imagine
Surrounded by your glory
What will my heart feel?
Will I dance for you Jesus,
Or in awe of you be still?
Will I stand in your presence,
Or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing Halelluja,
Will I be able to speak at all? …
I can only imagine, when that day comes
And I find myself standing in the Son
I can only imagine, I can only imagine…
It brought me peace then and brings me peace now but in those early days peace was often overwhelmed by pain and grief. Peace is connected to a confident hope. I know that he is not here and I am confident of where he is. He is in the spectacular dimension of heaven, full of mansions, rivers, trees, streets of gold, living creatures, angels and much more. Most important there is the one who has loved us and gave himself for us. I write this on Good Friday. Easter brings blazing light and life. King Jesus has overcome death. He is not here, he is alive. We really can imagine.