Caregiving

On Grief and Embracing The Grim Grinning Ghosts

Mickey and Minnie count down to Halloween!

I’ve written a lot about how important Halloween was to Ben and me. Our favorite time to visit Walt Disney World was during the fall when we could celebrate my birthday and Halloween. I still hear Ben singing along with the Boo to You parade at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party.  Most exciting was that Ben proposed to me on Halloween at Walt Disney World, which was absolutely perfect, but now adds a melancholy of the holiday.

Fall has become a strange time for me. The beginning of a school year has the shadow of memories of the anniversary of losing Ben. Fall, which was our favorite season, largely because of Halloween, does not hold the same sense of whimsy. I don’t feel the same dread of seeing Halloween decorations and candy assortments that I did for the past few years. I do tend to think about how Ben and I would have been thrilled to see Halloween invade the shops, and how I would have been taking photos to text to him, once ALS had progressed and he was homebound. I have lacked the enthusiasm for the holiday that I used to have, but I found that this year, I missed feeling that enthusiasm.

I have not decorated the apartment for Halloween since Ben has been gone. I have kept our Halloween things in storage. The last time I saw them was when I brought them to Ben’s hospice room. His doctor suggested that bringing things Ben loved to his room would make him more comfortable. Although it was August, celebrating Halloween in the summer was not a new idea for us. After all, we had Halloween at Walt Disney World in July in 2014, thanks to the wonderful Walt Disney World team (click here for that post). Ben did get such a kick out of seeing our Disney decorations in his room. Decorating the room was also a soothing distraction for me- it kept me busy and let me focus on creating smiles rather than dwelling on Ben’s imminent departure from this world. I haven’t wanted to display those decorations since that time, but Halloween remains a Ben and Disney kind of holiday for me. Although I cannot resist peeking at the Halloween section of the Disney web site, I cannot add to our collection without Ben because it almost feels like a betrayal. This year, I considered buying a “Boo to you” mug, because Ben loved that parade so much, but I did not think it would bring me much comfort or joy. Maybe one day, but not yet.

This year, I was looking at a recent catalog from The Vermont Country Store, one of our favorite places. We spent hours there each time we went to Vermont and we frequently ordered online from the store. I have continued to order many things- they have such a fantastic collection of items, from nostalgic to practical to whimsical and fabulous- but I had not ordered any of their wonderful Halloween items. I always feel a combination of joy and sadness as I look through those pages. Choosing Halloween items for our collection was a very special event for Ben and me that is  painfully lonely by myself.

As I perused the catalog, I have to say that I perked up when I spotted tiny Halloween Hurdy Gurdy music boxes. One of them played Grim Grinning Ghosts. Ben so loved the Haunted Mansion and the song. He actually used to joke that when he left this world he was going to become one of the Grim Grinning Ghosts at Walt Disney World. He also said he would visit me, and I do believe he does. I’ve written about Ben’s love of music and how much he loved to listen to Disney theme park music. He also loved music boxes and I gave him a couple as gifts over the years. I had to have this little music box. I also discovered a Charlie Brown Halloween bed sheet set. Ben would have loved them. We loved It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and “I got a rock,” was one of his favorite expressions. Once, when I went on a vacation without him, I picked up a tiny rock to bring home to him. My friend questioned it and I said that Ben would understand. Sure enough, when I got home, I placed the rock in front of him and he laughed and exclaimed, “I got a rock!” I decided to order the sheets. Once on a shopping roll, I also ordered two little figurines- retro inspired little girls dressed as cats with pumpkins. I was not sure how I would feel when these things arrived, but I felt like I had made a good decision to order things that would remind me of Ben but that would be brand new.

When the package arrived, I felt nervous. I tried to ignore it for a few hours, but I finally opened the box. First, I saw the music boxes. I played Grim Grinning Ghosts and cried as I turned the crank and listened to the tune, wishing Ben was with me because he would have loved it. I bet he would have figured out a way to make it a ring-tone. It devastates and angers me to think about all that he misses in life, and how much time was taken from us. It may seem silly that a tiny music box would make me feel so sad and lonely at the same time that it conjures such loving memories, but it’s those little shared joys that carry such huge emotion. The Charlie Brown sheet set is adorable, and he would have loved them, too. I have not yet put them on the bed. I stare at them in their package, and I’m almost bracing myself for using them. The little girl figurines are very sweet. My cat, Disney, is always happy to see cats represented since I have so many schnauzer things. I know Ben would approve of them, but they are definitely more of a “me” decoration, which is probably a good thing.

With these new decorations, I began to think about all of the things I have in storage. I still was not prepared for anything that I had brought to the hospice room. I decided to go to storage yesterday to bring back my Mickey Mouse Halloween string of lights- they are similar to Christmas lights but orange Mickey Mouse faces. When I was across the street from the storage facility I started to panic and choke up. I reasoned with myself that if it was too upsetting, I would just leave. I opened the door to my space, grabbed the lights and then I saw the box with our big Disney Halloween snowglobe. At first, I put it in the bag to bring home, but it started to upset me and I put it back on the shelf. Why were the lights okay but the snowglobe wasn’t? I can’t say. I never know what is going to trigger the tears and wave of grief. Since I had made it this far in my quest to retrieve some Halloween things, I decided to open the Halloween box of Disney decorations. I immediately had visions of how things looked in the hospice. I do not know if I will ever be able to enjoy those things without Ben. I did find the box that contained what turned out to be a very special gift that I got for Ben- a Mickey and Minnie Halloween countdown figurine. I had gotten it for Ben as a surprise and I set it up by his desk so he would see it when he woke up one morning. He texted me with such delight. Every morning before I left for school, I would change the number on the figurine, and if I forgot, he would text me to remind me! At that point, ALS had taken too much of his dexterity and he could not change the numbers himself. I thought about how much he loved this little figurine that I’d gotten simply as a way to give him some joy and chuckles when he was homebound. It was something that I intentionally did not bring to the hospice room- I was not going to summon any notion of counting down time. Impulsively, I put it in my bag to bring it back home, and then, I changed my mind, thinking it would be too upsetting. In the end, I took it home, thinking that I would see how I felt once I had displayed it. There were many tears when I took it out of the box, but the memories of how happy it made Ben are very good.

Last night, I put the Halloween lights on and set out the countdown figurine. I will change the day every day, as Ben would want me to do- 31 days till Halloween, in case you’re counting or curious. As I see it, I am keeping a tradition that was important to him and to us. The hard part is not knowing what will be comforting and what will be unnerving, but I channel my inner Dory and “just keep swimming” through the emotions. Halloween will never be the same, but it feels like I’m finding a way to make it mine while I include Ben, too.  If, in fact, he is a grim grinning ghost and he comes to visit, I think he will be happy to see it. I hope so.

ALS,Caregiver,ALS Awareness Month,Walt Disney World, Mickey Mouse

2012- Main Street on Halloween was one of our favorite things to see.

Rediscovering Myself Through- And After- Caregiving

ALS, Caregiving,Grief,Disney,Pixar,The incrediblesElastigirl.“Your identity is your most valuable possession. Protect it.”

Yesterday, I went to see New York City Ballet perform Jewels. It’s one of the first ballets I ever saw. I saw my first NYC Ballet, The Nutcracker, at age three and was enthralled by ballet from that young age. I read about Jewels and my mom took me to see it at Lincoln Center. How lucky was I? Going to the theater or ballet is my favorite activity and my most loved way to lose myself and feed my soul. As I walked to Lincoln Center, after making a last-minute decision to get a ticket, I thought about my caregiving days. As Ben’s ALS was progressing and he was nervous about being alone, I could not simply make a quick decision to go to the theater or ballet. It had to be planned in advance and Ben had to negotiate with his daughter to stay with him. I went from being someone who saw everything to someone who barely knew what was on Broadway. It was a choice I made with no regrets, and I can still look back and know that I did the right thing for Ben and for me and for us, but I also admit that I did not take care of myself, physically or emotionally.

As I watched the ballet, I thought about how I can now spend my time as I choose. Even after three years, I’m still not entirely comfortable saying that. I don’t want it to be construed as my having any sense of relief that I am free from a burden. It was hard work that was also loving and meaningful, and unquestionably the most important thing I have ever done, although I did lose a part of myself in the process. After I lost my dad and Ben, returning to the theater and ballet helped me distract myself from grief, sort through feelings, and rediscover myself. There were and there continue to be times when events are not as fulfilling and enjoyable as I wish they would be because I profoundly feel Ben’s absence. But, I have established new normals, new routines and an evolving sense of myself. The arts are the way I take care of myself- I can think, imagine, reflect and just enjoy the magic. I feel fortunate that my passion for the arts has always helped me to heal and grow.

When I think back on my caregiving days, I remember that I constantly struggled with feeling detached from life.  I tended to put caring for myself aside, always concerned that worrying about myself was being selfish. Of course, my indulging in arts events seemed so trivial compared to Ben’s battle with ALS. But, as Ben’s needs increased and his denial of that persisted while the devastation clearly affected both of us, I grew more isolated from people and things I loved and I became resentful, angry and frightened. Reconciling those negative feelings and the guilt for feeling them has not been easy.

Throughout my caregiving days, the people around me told me that I HAD TO take time for myself. It really irritated me, because it was stating the obvious but also felt impossible. I could not voice my need to take care of myself. In my mind, since my dad and Ben were ill, they were the ones who mattered. On the occasions that I was able to go out, those things didn’t offer the same satisfaction that they did before, because I never went with Ben, I felt guilty for going out and because I was worried about what was going on at home if I was not there, and lamenting what I missed:  the life we had, who we were before illness took over, the things that I, and we, couldn’t do.

It was through our love for Disney films that I discovered my greatest source of self care. Ben and I loved to watch Disney movies, and what I found was that the films were more than simply distracting and entertaining together time. I was seeing the films in a whole different way when I watched them through the eyes of a caregiver.  They were shedding light on my caregiving situation. Disney films let me feel understood because they tapped exactly what I was feeling and gave me perspective on a situation that was very daunting. They were simultaneously giving me a much needed break from reality and letting me think through my feelings about my reality. While having someone stay with my husband while I went out was sometimes possible, though less and less ideal, I realized that I was so busy thinking that taking care of myself meant planning a major outing, and dwelling on the negatives like the help that I didn’t have, that I didn’t see that taking time to watch a Disney film was also time to reflect and enjoy my own company right within our apartment!

What turned out to be the most valuable thing I did for myself was that I began keeping a journal of the Disney quotes, films and characters that made an impact on me and I wrote about how they related to my experiences in caregiving. Writing was always a passion of mine, but I stopped writing in my journal because I felt like I kept repeating the same issues without finding solutions. By creating this journal, I unexpectedly combined my love of Disney and writing with my caregiving, and held onto a vital part of myself without having to leave home.

Collecting and writing about Disney things gave me an opportunity to reflect on my experiences in a way that was honest about the not great people and things, but also reminded me of why I continued to be a caregiver: love, dedication, a personal desire and sense of responsibility to do the profoundly meaningful work on behalf of people I loved who needed me. As Cinderella said, “they can’t stop me from dreaming.” And, when I began to think that my quotes and experiences could at some point be a book or blog, I had something positive to think and fantasize about and plan for in my future.  It took a year, but I did eventually launch PixieDustForCaregivers.com. It has been an invaluable way to take care of myself, heal and connect with other caregivers.

Sometimes, even very small actions provided a huge dose of self care. For example, the thermos of tea that I drank on my daily 2.5 hour train ride back home after visiting with my dad in hospice became my precious “Abby time” to reflect, listen to meaningful music and read. Yes, my phone was in hand for texts and issues that might arise, but each sip of tea allowed me to take a deep breath and, as Frozen’s Elsa said, Let it Go!”

A requirement for earning my certification as a caregiving consultant was to create a webinar. Since a significant issue during my caregiving days was the concept of losing myself while caregiving and knowing that I was also going to lose Ben, and I have heard similar anecdotes among other caregivers, I decided to create a webinar exploring this theme. Finding Inspiration and Protecting Your Identity During Caregiving explores ways in which I maintained my identity and tapped important parts of myself, often right at home. There are ideas for finding inspiration, protecting your identity and how to make your plans happen. You can see the webinar by clicking here to view it on Caregiving.com.

Today, I will see the new Broadway show, Pretty Woman. A weekend of the arts always does wonders for my soul. And, as I discovered, so does caregiving. Now, I am so proud to have earned my certification as a caregiving consultant. I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to use it, though I know that I one thing I would like to do is work with children who have a parent or family member with ALS. The important thing to me is that I have learned from my experiences, I continue to learn about myself and I protecting my identity and honoring Ben and my dad.

What are you doing for yourself? Please leave comments with your questions, comments, revelations and/or struggles.

July 2014, Breakfast at the Polynesian Hotel.

 

 

Kindness- It’s Pixie Dust For Caregiving!

ALS,Caregiving,Epcot,Walt Disney World

July 2014

In Disney’s live action Cinderella (2015), Cinderella mother advised her to “have courage and be kind.” That phrase became the centerpiece for a lot of merchandise and marketing efforts. I believe it was so well embraced and successful because it was so true, so succinct and yet so wise. Examples of courage abound in their battles with cancer and ALS, and even, I’ve come to realize, in my work as their caregiver. The Mighty, a portal with information about a number of illnesses and personal experiences with these conditions, and for which I am a contributor, created a #KindnessChallenge this month, and it got me to thinking about how fortunate Ben, my dad and I were to have experienced much kindness.

After my dad went to the wonderful VA hospice, the simple acts of decorating his room with his favorite books and his favorite model of the fighter plane he flew when in the Marine Corps, and making a calendar of his favorite pictures, meant the world to him. Bringing a book or article and reading it aloud to him, and even sitting and holding his hand while we watched television were little, and yet big, acts of kindness. At this time, Ben’s ALS was progressing, and as the disease took away his abilities, he sometimes felt that he had little to give. However, he found movies and documentaries that he knew my dad would enjoy and he burned them onto DVDs for my dad to watch. These acts of kindness moved me as much as they did my dad, because we knew that nothing was easy for Ben, and because although Ben could not physically be there for my dad, or even communicate by phone with him, with this kindness Ben let my dad know that he was in his heart.

Sully lent a hand to help Ben out of his electric wheelchair! October 2012

A most gracious act of kindness towards Ben came from the palliative care team at Mount Sinai Medical Center. When Ben was in the hospital after a respiratory crisis, it took him a few weeks to decide to get a feeding tube and tracheostomy. During this time, we had visits from the palliative care team. I was happy to talk to anyone about anything they could possibly do to help Ben. The team asked about his interests and I shared that he loved music and anything to do with computers. Shortly after their visit, Ben had a complication that required that he be intubated, which landed him in the ICU. The ICU staff was wonderful, but there is understandably a lot of anxiety in that unit. Late one afternoon, a man named Todd showed up at Ben’s bedside with a guitar to play for Ben. Although musicians are not generally sent to the ICU, and teams are usually organized by floor within the hospital so Ben could have been discharged from the team on his original floor, the palliative care unit members knew that Ben loved music and they thought he would enjoy it and that it would be good for him. Ben expressed to Todd that he loved everything by the Beatles and any Disney songs and also relaxation music and Todd played several songs as Ben watched so intently- Ben loved to watch musicians. Ben was thrilled and moved to tears. I was, too. On the day that Ben separated from the vent, the team arranged for Todd to once again return and play the guitar, which was an overwhelmingly beautiful and peaceful way for Ben to leave this world. In a busy and huge hospital, people took the time to think of Ben as a person more than as a patient, and they extended a treasured act of kindness. I tried to repay that kindness by donating to the hospital the keyboard that I had given to Ben so that others who enjoy music can embrace it during difficult times.

I, too, received many acts of kindness through the years of caring for my dad and Ben, and after those days had ended. I think about how difficult it was to juggle full-time teaching with full-time caregiving. There were many instances of crisis when I had to rush either to the ER to meet my dad or home to help Ben. In one instance, Ben texted me that he had fallen (he wore his phone around his neck in case of such issues). I ran to my principal that I had to go home but that I would be back after I got Ben settled. When I got home and tried to lift Ben off the ground, I realized that Ben had lost so much strength in his legs that he could not help me in any way. At that time, he probably weighed about 190 pounds. More than two hours later, Ben was still on the floor and I was exhausted and in pain. This was the first such incident, and I did not even think about calling 911. I sent a text to my principal that Ben was still on the floor and it didn’t look like I would make it back to school. Even though it still would not have gotten me back to school in time, my principal offered to travel across the city to come to my apartment with our Assistant Principal to help me to lift Ben. I did not take him up on the offer- but I have never forgotten that kindness extended to Ben and me. In a school system that is increasingly anything but kind to teachers, I remain grateful that my principal was always understanding of my situation, despite many emergencies that required that I leave school early, arrive late, or be absent.

Two Goofy guys! July 2014

Ben showed me much kindness and love over the years. Yes, he gave me lovely gifts, but it was his gestures that truly touched my heart. I’ve written about one of my very favorite memories of kindness was something that Ben did for me during one of our visits to Walt Disney World after his ALS had progressed a bit. Click here for that post. But, he showed me kindness by his sense of humor as I experimented with different foods in the Vitamix, always encouraging and appreciating my efforts. He showed me kindness whenever he texted me that he had asked his private aide to stay an extra hour so that I could stay out- either by myself or with a friend- a little bit longer. He showed me kindness by asking his daughter to stay with him so that I could attend an event and by being happy for me that I enjoyed myself. And, mostly, he showed me kindness with his love and appreciation of me.

Here’s a conversation between Piglet and Pooh from Disney’s Christopher Robin that I believe sums up the role of kindness at its most simple and most complicated.

“I don’t feel very much like Pooh today,” said Pooh.

“There there,” said Piglet. “I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.”

Kindness can be a matter of being present, sometimes it’s being a good listener, sometimes it’s ensuring that routines- including medications- are followed. Mostly, it’s about caring to figure out exactly what will soothe someone in the moment. For Pooh, honey was always a good solution. It’s not always that easy. But communicating the desire to be there, to help and support, can only strengthen a bond. Although we could lose patience with each other, and sometimes we needed our moments to feel down, Ben knew that I would always at least try to find the thing that would be his tea and honey.  Often, things like a smile, a thank you, a kiss, holding hands, remembering something special or an inside joke were the small yet huge gestures that lessened the tensions and brought us back to love. Those small kindnesses were priceless. The memories of those kindnesses and that love far outlast the disappointments, frustrations and devastations.

Who wouldn’t be happy with a big hug from Mickey!?!?! July 2014

What are acts of kindness you showed or that were shown to you that were especially memorable? Please share them here as part of the #KindnessChallenge.

2011- The first time we went to Fantasmic!

An Important Book for Caregivers: Home Hospice Navigation

In addition to sharing my Disney-ish reflections on caregiving, grief and beyond, I also want to share resources that can help with caregiving and grief. It will not come as a shock that I happen to agree with Walt that “There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.” I guess I was a little like Goldilocks when it came to reading books about caregiving, grief, and ALS—some were too clinical, some were too spiritual or faith-based, some were too heavy-handed, with so much detail that I ended up feeling confused or defeated. I wanted a concise and accessible how-to resource.  I recently discovered just that, an easy to read, informative, understandable  and engaging book called Home Hospice Navigation: The Caregiver’s Guide by Judith Sands, RN, MSL, BSN, CPHRM, CPHQ, CCM, LHRM, ARM who is a healthcare professional, nurse, recognized authority in the areas of care coordination, quality, risk management, and patient safety.

I read many caregiving books, and receive frequent comments from caregivers with questions, concerns and misconceptions of home hospice. I know that it’s difficult to research things when you’re caregiving, and when you do have the time you don’t always have the energy. However, if the notion of home hospice has crossed your mind, I strongly recommend that you take a look at this informative read and wonderful resource that does, indeed, help you to comfortably approach the navigation of home hospice options. Home Hospice Navigation is written for the caregiver in easy to read, well organized sections, with good advice that is offered as if Ms. Sands is standing next to you anticipating your questions.  First and foremost, it clears up the glaring misperception that home hospice is the equivalent of euthanasia and that someone needs to be close to death to receive home hospice services. Instead, Ms. Sands points out that “hospice should be thought of as living fully as long as possible and helping your loved one to die a peaceful and comfortable death.”  I have to admit, I found it confusing when Ben was put on home hospice. It was the physical therapist from our visiting nurse program who suggested it when Ben needed more help and was nervous about being alone but reluctant to accept that he needed to hire an aide. This woman set in motion a process that allowed Ben to receive helpful care, support and medical supplies. As caregivers, we often neglect our own physical and emotional needs and hospice care services also provided a lot of emotional support to me. Yes, there is a trade-off at times with what is covered by insurance, but home hospice is definitely an option worth exploring. This benefit is covered through Medicare, Medicaid and most commercial insurance policies.

Ms. Sands lets you know what information is applicable across the board and what may be specific to your state or insurance. Throughout the book you will find anecdotes about Ms. Sands’ experience with home hospice with her mom. These stories show the very personal inspiration for this book and make it very relatable for many caregivers. There are references to the important documents that everyone should complete, which are conveniently organized and available through her web site, www.JudithSands.com (the book can also be purchased through her site). Also, you will find suggestions of considerations, conversations that should take place, and a step-by-step, very accessible process for how to begin to engage hospice services and work with medical and related staff.

I wish I had this book when Ben and I were making decisions about his health care.  I highly recommend Home Hospice Navigation: The Caregiver’s Guide to those of you who are daunted by home hospice and do not know where, how or whether to consider it as an option. The book can be purchased in paperback or digital versions through JudithSands.com. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.

Three Years- How I Can Feel the Pixie Dust

ALS,Caregiver,ALS Awareness Month,Walt Disney World, Mickey Mouse

2011- This is one of my very favorite pictures of Ben because he was so full of happiness and laughter. Here, he was laughing at me when I met Tinker Bell.

Today marks three years since Ben left this world. It’s a difficult day. Last night was a difficult night.  I relived that time three years ago, staying in the hospital and watching Ben sleep, knowing that it was his last night, wondering what he was thinking as he slept. I remember my fear and anxiety and sadness.  I remember those hectic hours before those who loved and treated him gathered as he separated from the vent. It was scary and somber, and yet, seeing Ben surrounded by love and music- and how wonderful and yet bittersweet it was to say our vows- was quite beautiful. Ben used to get frustrated with me about my lack of confidence, so I think he would be happy that I do feel pride that I turned to Dr. Muller, his much beloved doctor and my frequent source of strength, who helped me to pull together a loving farewell.

Although it has been three years, this remains a day for which I brace myself. I woke up with a headache that I am still fighting. I thought I might go to Central Park to see our turtles because I know they are messages from Ben. I decided that I just want to stay home with my thoughts and memories. I simply don’t want to be around anyone. I’m giving myself this day.

My Disney friends have taught me well that Ben will always be with me in my heart. I feel especially connected to Ben when I watch his favorite films- The Incredibles, Toy Story 1,2 and 3, and Monsters, Inc. Today, I decided to watch the Tinker Bell films. I have not been able to watch them without Ben but today, I felt compelled to tackle this and revisit my tiny friends and the huge sentiments they invoke. They have indeed been hard to watch today, too, though they are so special to me. Those are films we often watched late at night because the soundtracks were like lullabies to me. As joyful and sweet as they are, they also bring back the memories of rough evenings when just transferring Ben into bed was physically and emotionally stressful. We rarely had a full night’s sleep because as ALS affected Ben’s breathing, he had a lot of anxiety about sleeping; he could not turn by himself; and then there were times that he needed to use the commode in the middle of the night. I do have to say that it always made me smile to open my eyes and see Ben totally enthralled by the fairies. Since the Blu-Ray films looped, when he had trouble sleeping, he would watch them over and over while I slept. I remember once saying that I didn’t quite remember the plot of Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure because I always fell asleep before the ending and Ben shook his head and said, “she was a very bad girl in that one.” I looked at him with a smirk on my face and we both started to laugh. He loved those little fairies. I loved that about him. I loved to come home and see him watching, Pixie Hollow Games.  I think Ben was more excited than I was when Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy was released, because Ben loved pirates (click here for more about that!)

While all of the Tinker Bell movies held a special place in our hearts, it was Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast that was unexpectedly emotional. In this film, the fairies meet and help Gruff, the Neverbeast, a frightening looking creature who comes to life every thousand years. Though he is feared by the fairies because he is fabled to want to destroy Pixie Hollow, he is actually more friend than foe. I remember how Ben and I cried at a couple of points during that particular film: when Gruff saves Fawn’s life, which, of course, no one could do for Ben or anyone else with ALS; and then, as Fawn told Gruff, “Hey, big guy. I-I won’t see you again, but I know you’ll always be there when we need you. I’m really gonna miss you. I love you, Gruff.” Though Ben did not like to talk a lot about dying, the film brought his emotions to the surface.  Tinker Bell and her friends sprinkled the pixie dust that gave him insight and permission to feel, and, also gave me insight into things he was not outwardly expressing. It was painful to watch those scenes again today, and there have been many tears, but it is an important reminder of our good memories and how Ben is always here for me. Never underestimate the power of Disney magic to convey very big messages in even the tiniest fairies.

Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast, Disneytoon Studios 2015

Yes, it’s been three years. I have seen grief shift from emotionally paralyzing to something with which I co-exist. I continue to assess my feelings and compare them through the passage of time. I have created a new normal for myself with a special place for Ben’s presence. I struggle with his absence at times, as I did when I went to the Georgia Aquarium this summer (click here for that post). I do look for and see messages and signs from Ben. I keep him in my thoughts and wonder what he would think and how he would see things. I have stepped forward and, just like Gruff was for the fairies, Ben is here when I need him, just in a different way. It is ok that today is a bad day. Any way that I would have chosen to spend today would be okay because, no matter what, Ben is in my heart.  I know that overall, I am doing better at delving into and living my life. Just not today.

Once again, I am sharing the video that I made on the first anniversary of this day. It continues to make me smile to see and share so many lovely memories and to hear Ben’s favorite Beatles song, “In My Life.” I love you and miss you, my silly Ben.