Today marks two years since Ben left this world. I don’t know if it feels like a longer or shorter time. I guess both, depending on what moment I’m in. I’ve spent the past few days thinking about what to write and how I’m feeling. These are hard days filled with tears that flow easily. In my mind, it’s perfectly okay to have a few sad days. In a way, the tears are reminders that I was fortunate enough to have had a beautiful love that I miss so profoundly. But, it’s sad nonetheless.
A year ago, I posted this video, and I am posting it again because I love these memories of Ben and I love people to remember him alive and vibrant. He loved those photos, too. And, “In My Life” was his favorite Beatles song. It was played for him by a lovely guitarist named Todd on the day he left.
I know for sure that Ben has not left me. As Mrs. Frankenstein says, he has moved into a special place in my heart. I often feel him with me. I still talk to him. That does not make sense to everyone and that’s okay. It seems to me that the best thing that I can do is try to honor him in my actions. Sometimes I buy things, listen to music or watch movies because they let me get lost in thoughts of him, and in those moments I see him smiling. Sometimes this gives me comfort and at other times it is a painful reminder that he is not here. Sometimes I do need a good cry.
In facing this second anniversary, I took time to reflect on the past year and where I am compared to last year. Firsts are hard, and in that first year without him, every first occasion hurt in a very raw way. I labored through that first year, often just going through motions. Although I slowly ventured out and saw friends and participated in activities, I often returned home in tears because it took so much energy to act cheerful, and if I was at all enjoying myself, I felt guilty and overwhelmed, or almost confused by, the conflicting emotions. Blogging helped me find purpose and revisiting the Disney films I love so much helped me to focus, as I looked for messages and guidance and opportunities to gain insight into my experiences.
The fact was that although my dad died a year and a half before Ben, since I was so busy as Ben’s caregiver, I did not have the time to really grieve that loss. When I lost Ben and I no longer had caregiving responsibilities, I was able to truly grieve, but it was for the loss of both of them. It was also the loss of what had become my definition of myself as a caregiver.
In this second year, I still profoundly felt Ben’s absence, and yet, I have found that he is always present. I had to establish a new normal. I would say that this year was spent integrating my caregiving experiences and grief with rediscovering myself and redefining my life. I have made changes, particularly to my apartment, and I’ve documented those in this blog. The changes have not come easy, but Ben has been a part of the choices I’ve made. And, there are some things that I cannot let go, which was why I got so upset when his computer crashed and insisted on restoring his music library on his desktop computer with his speaker, and why I have continued to use his desk chair/wheelchair although it is not in great shape and I have new and beautiful Mickey Mouse chairs that he would love.
I admit that I dreaded this day and have been very emotional even thinking about this blog post. In general, although I have not forgotten the scary and devastating times, I prefer to summon the fun and loving ones. Unfortunately, summer, and these few days in particular, are spent reliving Ben’s last days, with hospital and hospice memories. There was a lot of love, but there was ultimately loss. I can’t seem to stop replaying the scenes in my mind. I’m trying to embrace the sadness as part of the process of grieving and as a quiet time to think about Ben and about us, and how much I miss him. I give myself permission to be emotional.
Last week, I did have a wonderful distraction, traveling to Chicago and visiting my dear college friend, Monica, whom I hadn’t seen in many years. She named one of her daughters Abby and I’d never met my adorable namesake, her adorable sister, Andi, or even her husband, Mike. Caregiving certainly kept me from going anywhere, but I’d lost touch with so many people I cared about. Catching up with Monica and meeting her family was a most special time and the happiest I’ve been in a long time. Spending time with good friends, being with kids, laughing and exploring are fun and treasured moments for me. Monica wanted to know about Ben, and it felt good and important to talk about him and our relationship in the good times and the bad times. Ben knew how important my friends were to me, and he would have loved Monica’s family and seeing me with them. He also would have enjoyed Chicago, and although it was sad that he was not actually there, I delighted in the Shedd Aquarium and the architecture, and especially The Bean, through his eyes. Yes, it brought some tears, but it also brought comfort. I can keep living and honor and carry Ben with me all the time.
I learned a lot about myself over the past year. In Walt Disney Pictures’ Alice in Wonderland, Alice said, “I can’t go back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.” Caregiving and watching Ben battle ALS changed me. I felt and expressed love and compassion in such deep and immeasurable ways. I came to recognize a strength and bravery in myself that I still have trouble acknowledging, but I do know they are there. I found myself in caregiving and I want to support other caregivers whenever possible. I’m redefining my life with things that make me feel happy, satisfied and useful. I am not quite there, and I have my setbacks, but I am on my way, and I know that Ben is with me on my journey.
I don’t know what the next year will bring. I do know that I will take Ben with me in that special place in my heart.
I’m thinking of you today, my dear and silly Ben, as I do every day, free from the constraints of ALS and walking, talking, eating and playing your music. I love you.