Hey kiddo. I finally met that little girl! You know, the sweet nugget of joy who arrived right before you left on July 2, 2018. I know a lot is cloudy about that time because I was trying to take in every moment of your being alive while simultaneously encouraging you that it was okay to die. I still can’t fully grasp this fact on some days, and admittedly, I’ve moved into an energetic slump starting with your birthday. I’ve begun referring to this time of year as the “Shit Sandwich.” It encompasses the sixteen days between your 17th birthday (June 22) and my 50th (July 9.) Those were some of the most painful – yet beautiful – days I’ve ever experienced.
We trudged through all the details that death demands. You were cremated on July 3. We picked up your dehydrated form* on July 5 because the funeral home was closed for Independence Day. Your service was on July 7th. Then I turned 50 on July 9.
I understand that it looks like I’ve made a reverse baby book of his death milestones. I quietly journaled that his 17th birthday was the last day he had reasonable energy. He participated in conversations, he took photos… it was clear that he was in pain, but it was still manageable. June 25 was the start of the pain pump and we brought him home knowing that time was limited. June 30 he sent his last meme to me (my stars do I ever miss this practice!) I spent the next 24 hours curled up on his bed facing his back, rubbing his spine and putting pressure on his tummy when the pain was too intense. He whispered “thank you” over his shoulder and placed his hand on my head as I tried desperately to ease his pain. I knew I was losing. But no way was I leaving.
“Thank you” was the last thing he said directly to me.
July 1, I ran to Walmart while the hospice nurse visited. I bought milk. When I came home an hour later, Ben was officially unresponsive. I still struggle with that trip to Walmart. Logically, I understand that he didn’t become unresponsive because I went to Walmart, but that’s how my heart tries to translate it. My brain and my heart fight that kind of crap out all the time.
So, on July 2, 2018, we moved Ben to the hospice facility at Lowry. We spent the day watching and waiting and storytelling and crying.
At some point, the phone rang and I actually answered it. Anyone who knows me understands that I despise the phone. I do. I loathe it. I will text anytime but to actually talk on the phone is one of my least favorite things ever. Anyway, the phone call was from a dear Camp Wapiyapi friend checking in on Ben. She was extra-pregnant (her due date had come and gone several days prior) and she was calling me from her own hospital room. Her baby would be coming later that day. I sat with the silence as I imagined her baby coming into the world as mine was leaving. Somehow, this offered a level of comfort that I wasn’t expecting. I embraced the beauty and the tragedy – and understood that this would be an important connection for us for the rest of forever.
Two years later I finally met her, Ben! I met the little love who showed up just two hours before you left. And is she ever beautiful! She has amazing brown eyes, like yours. And when the sun hits her hair just right, there are glimmers of copper. I noticed this as I was pushing her on a swing in her backyard. She wanted her toes to touch the leaves. I made sure they did.
I like to think there was some twilight state where you met her in the life/death exchange. I can only imagine this place feels like a pre-surgical sedative that makes it impossible for you to count down from 10. You know that feeling well, all floaty and swirly, with a surprising amount of silver mist and echoey voices. You talked to her in that space. You shared something there. I don’t know what that was, but she knows. And when she looks at me with her big brown eyes – just like yours – and I see the glimmer of red in her hair as I push her on the swing, her squeals of joy demanding that my heart cease hiding behind such a thick wall of grief.
I’m allowing myself to be happy for this life. For all of it.
But I sure do miss you, Ben.