I buried my son two weeks before his 26th birthday. He had been hit and killed by a criminal driver while bicycling and doing everything right. After the funeral service in Oakville, Ontario, we gathered in the cemetery. His casket sat on the straps and covered the open grave. The minister was saying nice words and finishing up. I stood there, numb, until he said, “to dust we will return”. Tears welled up. Once again, I asked myself, "How can this be true? He is too young!"
I stepped around the casket to see if there really was a grave, as if I had to see it to believe it. Yes, there it was, its ugliness hidden under nice green artificial grass and big gladiola bouquets, his fresh dug grave. When we left, he would be lowered and covered with dirt, like a seed, six feet deep in the ground. A sob caught in my throat and then burst out and wracked my body.
A friend came over and quietly suggested that I should go back to the limousine now. I didn't know what to say. How could I go and leave my son behind in this graveyard? He should be back in his cute house in Vancouver or being silly in Rwanda, his second home. But no, that was all over now and I couldn't change it. As I stood there, my energy was draining out of me. It was true that I was too weary to stay there and when I walked the few yards to the limo felt like miles. I couldn't look back as we drove away.
In the following days, I did not cry very much, that came later. There was too much to do in dealing with paperwork and possessions. Legal affairs require lots of documentation and even more when it is out of province and there is no will. I remember sighing a lot and was exhausted. His 26th birthday was coming up and I dreaded it.
I booked a manicure to cheer me up. The esthetician tried hard to make small talk as she worked on my. For me, there was nothing important to talk about except that my son had died and I can’t understand why.
My mind was like a computer running a endless massive diagnostic of every single day of my son’s life, trying to find the glitch that allowed this to happen. The esthetician was putting on the polish when I finally told her about Ben. She did not know what to say.
That was fine because my story spilled out non-stop. My mental “diagnostic program” came to the “foreground”. She said something about wishing she had some answers but I did not expect her or anyone else to have any. My heart was broken not my brain and it had been working on the "Why?" for days without finding answers. But she had given me the gift of listening which allowed that broken heart to spill out its overflowing pain.
Ben died on July 6, 2006, and his 26th birthday was coming up on July 21. I had already bought my ticket to Vancouver and had planned to whip up a fun birthday dinner for him and his friends. We also planned to have high tea in Victoria, see the gorgeous flowers in Queen Elizabeth Park and swim in English Bay. Now his birthday felt like salt in a wound. My only immediate family, my daughter Colleen, had returned home to Calgary after the funeral. His birthday was in just two days when I told her, “I really don’t know how to cope.” She and her husband invited me to come visit them for his birthday, “And stay as long as you like”.
I was so grateful, it was just what I needed. The next day, I was landing in Calgary. We pondered if we should still party on his birthday. The bible says there is a wedding feast in heaven for us and that 70 elders went up with Moses to eat and drink with God. That was good enough for us to have a celebration. Besides, Jesus' first miracle was at a party, a wedding, where he turned water into (a lot of) wine, that must have been a fun. With all the joy and singing in heaven, it sounds like a party!
The three of us went out for a nice dinner. We joked that he would order angel hair pasta and heavenly cheesecake and that we should too. In fact, he once won a student bake-off with his cheesecake. We wondered if the "cloud of witnesses" that the bible talks about was right there in the restaurant with us but in the unseen dimension of heaven. We toasted him and smiled at the idea that he might be clinking his glass with ours. We speculated how they would toast him in heaven, “To Ben, with the fastest arrival time.” Laughter mixed with tears and that was okay. We reminisced about all the things he did and how proud we were. His birthday was a celebration to honor his life. We found a way to make it through that day, and did it again the next year.
It was such an incredible blessing to spend almost a month with my wonderful daughter and her dear husband. It was so healing for me for us to be able to talk openly about Ben with family knowing that we were understood and we did not have to explain. They were back to work after the funeral and I was happy to be able to love on my living child by cooking dinner and helping out. Joy had been sucked out of my life when Ben died but very slowly I discovered it again by helping others and it renewed my own sense of purpose.
When I returned to Ontario I avoided going to the cemetery. Finally, one day I got up the courage. I am so glad I did. But that is a story for another blog.
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