“Ridiculous, just ridiculous”.
With that, Louise turned and walked away.
It should have been Ben’s 14th birthday. We shouldn’t have been putting flowers on his grave. We should have been watching him rip open presents. The house should have been full of birthday cards not sympathy cards. Instead of tending to a space fit for a 6 year old, with its bright colours and animal planters, we should have been dealing with a big, lively teenager.
Instead we mourn and we remember and we try and work out how to remember well.
The flashbacks only started recently, seven years later. The act of Louise remembering got buried under the weight of teaching. Now it’s had time to resurface and its happening chaotically. Louise finds herself demolished with little warning. It’s time for her to process her grief in a way that I had space to when I wrote my book about Ben – ‘What Happens Now?’
We took some time to remember Ben on his birthday. Joe finds it hard to remember much specific as he was so young. Louise feels she has forgotten much in order to cope. I get frustrated that the memories are vague – they feel clichéd and two dimensional. I recall people saying soon after that our memories would be a comfort. That misses the point – memories are a shadow of the real thing. Recently we met another family who’d lost a son. Someone told them he was still with them. ‘No he’s not’ came the reply – the sentiment is well meant but they’re gone, their bedroom is empty, their clothes are flat in their drawers.
Memories are good but they are hard, a two edged sword. We grasp for memories and find ourselves wondering what Ben would be like now. It’s an inevitable road to nowhere that we don’t travel often.
This year I have been struck by those who choose to remember. Some never even met Ben but they make a point to think of us and let us know they are standing with us. In the rawness we know we are not alone. I’ve learnt from these guys this year and been challenged to remember with others. We need each other. We are stronger together.
The empathy of remembering is in realising that grief is not linear. It doesn’t get better. It doesn’t go away – you just get better at managing it. But then the tripwires appear without warning – something as simple as seeing the date of Ben’s birthday in print got to me last week.
We got through the day and the next day is always a bit easier. Psalm 103 tells us to praise the Lord and not forget his benefits. The truth is we are undeniably blessed – with each other as family, with wonderful community, with the daily bread we need.
Yes it is ridiculous that he is gone. The forced normality of it never changed how absurd and abnormal it is. Thank you for remembering with us, you give us the strength to get through.