My Sunflower Story

The weather today makes me feel like writing something positive.  After Benny passed there were so many incredible signs from him, signs that he’s ok, that he’s moved on and that he’s being taken care of.  I want to share just one of the many stories, but probably the strongest sign that that little guy wants us to know that he’s still with us.

The accident happened on a Friday.  Suffice it to say that the first 24 hours were pure hell.  I probably could have endured physical torture better than the realization that Bennett was gone.  In the chaos that ensued at our house following the news of Benny’s passing, Pastor Aaron came over  on Saturday to talk to us and offer his services.  He asked me how I was dealing with what I saw.  If I had a lifetime, I don’t think that I could describe it, but the flashbacks were intense and brutal.  My mind was trying to wrap itself around what had happened.  Pastor Aaron gave me a visualization technique to try to make it easier on me in the days ahead.  He had me visualize myself sitting in the theater and watching the accident happen on the big screen in the front row.  Then he had me move back a row and watch myself watching it, and then back a row, all the way to the back of the theater.  Once there, he told me to change the picture to something comforting like a field, or a beach.  I chose daisies, they were my mom’s favorite flowers and made the most sense.  I did this technique several times throughout the day on Saturday, but something was always weird about the daisies, they kept taking on the look of sunflowers.  I kept seeing the brown furry sunflower centers with the sunny yellow petals.  I had no connection to sunflowers, but this whole technique seemed to be working, so I went with it.  It was amazing how I was able to begin controlling what was torturing me.  I told Parker that I kept seeing sunflowers late in the day on Saturday, and thought nothing else of it.

Beginning on Friday night, the community of Worcester began to leave stuffed animals across the street at the church and created a makeshift memorial.  It was a lot for me to take in, but we watched as people walked down Chester Street with their children in the cold to leave notes, pictures and stuffed animals.  Parker went to check it out Saturday night and came home with a funny look on his face.  He said that someone had left a bunch of sunflowers.  This was my first sign from Benny.  Why sunflowers?  That took a little longer to figure out, but I was sure it was my little dude connecting the dots somehow.  The night of the memorial the Tuesday after the accident Parker and I were sitting in bed.  I suddenly saw a field of sunflowers in my head, Benny was walking holding my moms hand and our dog Mason was trotting alongside.  This was not a dream, I was awake.  I described what I saw to Parker in detail, how my mother looked (like in one of her school pictures).  A week later my aunt (my mom’s sister) called to tell me that she had a dream about Benny and my mom walking through a field holding hands.  In that dream my aunt said that my mom looked just like her school picture, the same one that I had said to Parker.

In the first 48 hours we were trying desperately to connect with the folks that had been present during the accident.  There were so many people that gave Benny CPR or were in the street with me.  I remember screaming to them to save him, it seemed as if forever passed before the EMT’s arrived.  I remember the first girl to give Benny CPR, how she cried, how I thanked her and we hugged.  She seemed so young, I felt so awful that she had to be involved in our tragedy.  At the hospital, we were given a bag with Bennett’s clothing, inside there were ear buds.  This confused us at first and we weren’t really thinking too clearly.  After the fact we realized that ‘the girl’ must have been jogging by when everything happened.  We had been talking to the police and were trying to get in touch with ‘the jogger,’ but no one had her contact information.  It was so important to me to see her, to know that she was ok.  I don’t remember much from that day, but I remembered her.

Exactly 2 weeks after the accident my next door neighbor came over and told us that she knew who ‘the jogger’ was.  She lived less than a mile away and was an aquaintence of her daughter’s.  We were ecstatic.  My neighbor told me that ‘the jogger’ had lost her teenage brother in a car accident a few miles away about 8 years ago.

Before I had the chance to, the joggers mother reached out to me.  Sue sent me a beautiful card, memory light and grieving resources.  She explained about losing her son and what she has done to get through it.  I e-mailed her instantly.  We connected and soon discovered that our boys were sending us some strong signs.

I told her about the sunflowers and she was a bit shocked, her daughter was the one who put them at the memorial after the accident.  When her son passed they had sunflowers at the service, and she and her daughter had always connected with sunflowers.  Sue said that her daughter definitely felt her brother’s presence in the road during the accident.  She had been home from school on a Friday because she skipped class, which she never did.  She had just started jogging her normal route down Chester Street when the accident happened.  People were screaming, cars were stopped and someone was yelling if anyone knew CPR, that was when she came jogging over and said ‘I do!’  All I could think was that this was Benny’s way of connecting with me, connecting with this other family that had also lost so much.

Sue became an amazing resource for me.  She stayed in touch, did yoga with Parker, Sandy and I try to alleviate some of the anxiety and stress that had become so present in our everyday lives.  As Sue’s daughter tried to save our son, Sue started to save us.  She was over one day and pointed out to me and Parker that there is a huge sunflower poster in our living room.  I never gave it much thought, it had been there for 10 years or so.  What Sue pointed out was that Benny would have seen that poster every day, would have looked it while nursing, playing, etc.  It brought home to me why he chose a sunflower to communicate with us, it was something that he saw every day of his life, something so obvious.

About 3 months after the accident I received a gift basket from the church across the street, it was decorated with daisies and sunflowers, my mom and my son, how appropriate.  In it was a book titled ‘Heaven is for real,’ the cover was a picture of a field of sunflowers and a little boy.  On Mother’s Day we went to the cemetery to visit with Bennett.  There was a mason jar filled with daisies and sunflowers there.  We weren’t sure if they were for Benny or his neighbor, but it was clearly a sign for us, Mason, Benny and mom all represented.

A month after the accident my sister Deb talked to her friend Deanne about doing a painting of my vision.  Deanne had been painting for years, mostly portraits, and most took 6 months to a year to complete.  This would be her first ever landscape.  She received photos from my sister and aunt to complete the project and turned it around in under 3 months.  I never knew that this was even happening, but when I got it, I was floored, it was exactly what I saw, down the position of Benny, my mom and Mason, the height of the sunflowers (they were small in my vision).  I cannot explain how peaceful it made me feel.  I knew that Benny was ok, that he wasn’t scared and that my mom would take care of him.

This has made it so much easier, knowing that my boy is ok, knowing that he is being loved very much by some very special people.  It’s been easier knowing that Benny put people in our lives who have gone through the same thing and were there to help us.  It’s been easier knowing that Benny is still there for us and that he always will be.Image

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May 17

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One of my first thoughts after Benny had passed was his birthday.  Ohhhh, his birthday.  How would we get through that day?  Just the thought would throw me into hysterics.  My child should be getting older, not feeling further away.

I told Parker that I wanted to do another memorial on his birthday.  Why not, I figured, the day is going to suck anyway.  We figured we would bury him on his birthday.  When I really sat down and talked it through though, that wasn’t a possibility.  I mean, how could we explain to Darcy that Benny was in a tiny box?  She was having a hard enough time with the whole soul/body concept anyway.  This service was supposed to be for the kids and the last thing I wanted to do was further confuse them.  That’s why we buried him, just me and Parker on May 8th.

So I sat down with Sandy, Tara and Parker and we talked it through.  Suddenly, what we were picturing as ‘awful’ became ‘hopeful’.  That probably sounds wrong, but here’s the thing, when someone dies suddenly, you rarely have the time to think about how you want them to be remembered.  You’re knee deep in pain and just want to get through the service.  You don’t really get the chance to say what you might want/need to because you’re so in shock.

I remember Benny’s first Memorial service, it was beautiful and Pastor Aaron did a great job.  I just about sobbed through the whole thing because it all seemed so surreal.  I hadn’t truly wrapped my head around any of it and honestly, it just hurt too damn bad.  It hurt to breathe, it hurt to be alive without him.  It hurt to think and it hurt to remember him.  It was a celebration of life, but so bitter to me, still so unfair.

We showed up on May 17 to a gathering of family and friends.  Some of these people have always stood by us and some we have become closer with through this tragedy.  No matter how we are connected to these folks, the love that was shown at that cemetery was amazing.

My friend Chris brought a train table for the kids ‘to play with Benny,’ and set it up close to his grave.  He then began to speak about Benny.  He said that he didn’t know Benny to be much of a crier, but rather he was always happy, always smiling.  He said that today was a tough day and cry if you have to, but leave with a smile in your heart, because that’s what Benny would have wanted.  We had to wait as 50+ motorcycles lead a procession out of the cemetery in the midst of Chris’ speech.  I smiled, as Benny would have loved it.

We shared our favorite Benny memories (more on that later) and most were funny.  When Sandy began to speak my heart ached for all that she lost with us that day.  It was such a beautiful tribute to such a beautiful soul.  Tara read ‘The Invisible String’ and the kids sat amongst the babies graves in the Garden of the Angels and in that moment there was such peace.  It reminded me of the day that Benny was born and we were bombarded with most of these children at the hospital.  My neighbors 2 year old daughter sat and stroked Darcy’s hair so lovingly during the story.  It was as if Benny were there trying to soothe her.

We came back to the house and walked the loop around Bjorklund in our Benny’s Bunch shirts.  We picked up a few new folks and there had to be at least 100 if not more people involved.  We walked across the street to the church where the kids all got balloons and sharpies and wrote messages to Bennett.  We sang Happy Birthday before we let the balloons go.  It was a very tough moment, singing to my son even though he wasn’t there, realizing that he would never grow older, but forever be just shy of 18 months.  It tore us apart, but we got through and watched as the balloon floated up and away, over Worcester, up to Benny.

I have to write this down because I don’t ever want to forget.  This day, that was supposed to be so terrible turned into something so beautiful. We are so blessed to have amazing, caring people in our lives.  It was filled with love and I was able to remember that even though his life was fleeting, I got to have him, he was mine.  I love you so much Benny Bear and will forever miss you!

 

Words

I feel like I should write, but I don’t know what to say.  Benny should have been 2 on Saturday.  We should have been opening presents and blowing out candles.  Instead we visited his grave and sent messages on balloons to heaven.  Saturday was surprisingly ok because we took the high road, we celebrated his life, however short it was.  I felt lucky that he was mine, even though it was only for 17 months.

I don’t know how long I will last on the high road before I fall off and start to resent the Universe again.  How long until I will feel bitterly angry and sad at all that has happened.  For now, I’m going to enjoy this break from the pain, however brief and be happy that he lived, be happy that I was able to love him, and be happy that he was mine.

The ‘List’ of how to treat bereaved parents

DO allow them to express as much grief as they are able and are willing to share with you. DO allow them to express as much unhappiness as they are feeling and willing to share with you.

DO allow them to talk about their loss as much and as often as they want to.

DO be available to listen, to run errands, to help with the other children, or whatever else seems needed at the time.

DO treat the parents equally.  Fathers need as much support as mothers.

DO accept their moods whatever they may be, you are not there to judge.  Be sensitive to shifting moods.

DO encourage them to be patient with themselves and not to expect too much of themselves.

DO encourage them to not impose any “shoulds” or “I should be” on themselves.

DO give special attention to the surviving siblings in the months to come (they are often in need of attention which their parents may not be able to give).

DO offer to take surviving siblings to school, birthday parties, and extra-curricular programs.

DO let your genuine concern and caring show.

DO offer to be a friend.

DO recognize that grieving has no time limit and varies from individual to individual both in the way they express their grief and the time required to stabilize.

DO talk about your memories of the child and the special qualities that made the child endearing.

DO acknowledge the loss through visits, phone calls, sympathy cards, and donations to a charity meaningful to the family.

DO appreciate that your bereaved relative or friend doesn’t always return phone calls right away.

DO remember that when you phone, even if it is to only leave a message, the bereaved feel comforted by your efforts.

DO extend invitations to the family.  But understand if they decline or change their minds at the last minute. 

DO tell the bereaved family how much you care.

DO remember it is usually the simple little things you say or do that mean so much.

DO continue to support bereaved parents well beyond the acute mourning period, even if it means years.

DO be sensitive that being in the presence of other children of similar age to the child they lost may make the bereaved parent uncomfortable.

DO give the bereaved time to resume the activities they participated in before their loss.

DO learn how to give good hugs. The bereaved need every heartfelt hug they can get.

DO expect your relationship with the bereaved to change. When you are bereaved, every relationship is affected in one way or another.

DO talk to your children about the loss.

 

DON’T avoid mentioning their loss or the child’s name out of fear of reminding them of their pain (they haven’t forgotten it!). DON’T change the subject when they mention their child.

DON’T tell the bereaved parents what they should feel or do.

DON’T have expectations for what bereaved parents should or should not be doing at different times in their grief.

DON’T avoid the bereaved parents because you are uncomfortable (being avoided by friends adds pain to an already painful experience.)

DON’T make any comments which in any way suggest that their loss was their fault.

DON’T say “you can always have another child.”

DON’T point out that at least they have their other children (children are not interchangeable; they can not replace each other).

DON’T say “Your loved one is waiting for you over there,” “God wanted him,” “It was God’s will,” or “God knows best.”

DON’T say “you should be coping or feeling better by now” or anything else which may seem judgmental about their progress in grieving.

DON’T say that you know how they feel (unless you’ve experienced their loss yourself you probably don’t know how they feel).

DON’T tell them not to cry. It hurts us to see them cry and makes us sad. But, by telling them not to cry, we are trying to take their grief away.

DON’T try to find something positive (e.g. a moral lesson, closer family ties, etc.) about the loss.

DON’T say, “If you need anything call me” because the bereaved don’t always know how to call and ask for your support.

DON’T force bereaved people to talk about their loss. They will engage you when the time is right.

DON’T expect grieving parents to be strong and don’t compliment them if they seem to be strong.

DON’T assume that when a grieving parent is laughing, they are over anything or grieving any less.

DON’T wait until you know the perfect thing to say. Just say whatever is in your heart or say nothing at all. Sometimes just being there is comfort enough.