'How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.'
Sheri Roaf is the mother of four wonderful children who turned to blogging after her 17 month old son Bennett passed away unexpectedly. Through her writing she has found a way to help herself and her family move forward in the face of tragedy.
Thanksgiving is over and now we head into the holidays of family and love. Christmas has been a really hard time for me ever since my mom died. I’ve worked extra hard to make it special for my kiddos. It’s also some place productive that I can put all of this stuck, grief energy.
A few years back another lost mom had posted the Christmas tree she did in memory of her son. Another friend had recommended using all of the metals from the 5K that we do in Benny’s memory as ornaments. That began the ‘Benny Tree.’ I love that he has a space in our home and our hearts for the holiday. My kids also enjoy decorating it and looking at all the pictures and medals.
The year that Benny died we started writing him notes in his stocking. They stay in there all year long and get packed away with the Christmas decorations. Someday his stocking will be full again but at least in the meantime it’s still funny on the fireplace with the rest of the family’s.
Last year I started sponsoring a child for Christmas that is the age Benny would be. It’s sad and hopeful all rolled into one. I love that I get to help someone out and I still get to shop for a boy Benny’s age. I wonder what he would be into and what would be on his Christmas list. And it’s heartbreaking.
It’s taken me 8 years to come up with what makes our holiday feel ‘good’ again. It’s organic and it changes as we change. Right now it just allows me the space to still parent Benny, even though he’s on the other side. If it ever gets to be too much or doesn’t feel right, then we won’t do it. But for now, I look forward to my grief traditions.
After Benny died, we were warned about Darcy. She was only 4 and we were told that a traumatic event can seriously affect young children (especially those under age 5) for the rest of their lives. Because of this she is at higher risk of substance abuse and struggles from mental health. We were lucky that we had family that worked in social services to help point us in the right direction. And what the hell did we know, we were still in the trenches of our own grief.
I have spent 8 long years worrying about how the grief and trauma would shape my child. She was picked up by strangers from school and brought to a house covered in police tape and swarming with cops by a family member in shock. And then she’s told her brother is dead. That’s a lot for a 4 year old to process. That’s a lot for a grown adult to process.
I really hate that this is part of my daughter’s story. I lost my Mom at 16 and I struggle with the fact that she also has a juvenile loss. It just feels so unfair that she should know grief at such a young age.
When my Mom died, my Dad shut down. Alcoholism took over and he was shell of his former self for a long time. When Benny died I vowed that we wouldn’t do that to Darcy. I made my husband promise me that we wouldn’t fall apart to the point where we were no longer able to parent.
This may have backfired a bit where we held some stuff too close to try to protect Darcy, but we did the very best that we could. We had no idea what the hell we were doing. And grieving while parenting a grieving child is Fn hard. It’s undescribable. I have never felt so inadequate in all of my life. I couldn’t save her from what was hurting her, or even try to make it better. And I was in so much pain myself.
This girl gave us something to live for. She made getting out of bed every day bearable. Because she still needed us. She saved us in every sense of the word.
Today she is 13. And I look at her in awe of who she has become. Now I’m not naive enough to think that the road of teenage hood ahead of us won’t be hard. But this kid is pretty damn resilient.
The grief and the trauma have effected her, but not completely in all of the negative ways I was told. She still struggles with anxiety and probably always will (like her mama), but she has been taught coping mechanisms that have allowed her to live with it for now. If that changes, we will deal with it.
My bestie and I often joke that we ‘want to be like Darcy,’ when we grow up. In the last few years she has has grown into this amazingly, self assured young woman. She knows what she wants and what she doesn’t. She will not allow anything or anyone to hold her back. She is also the first to offer help, or to stand up for someone else. This girl is strong in her convictions and follows her conscience in all things. She sticks to her moral compass.
All I saw 8 years ago was questions about how we would all fare. I’ve spent so much time worrying about how this trauma would affect Darcy, meanwhile I feel it has given her perspective well beyond that of her peers. She seems to understand what’s important and what’s not. She is wise beyond her 13 years.
I’m really freaking proud of this girl who has gone through so much. She is my right hand girl in all things and so helpful with her siblings. She is always up for an adventure or some crazy scheme I’ve cooked up. She amazes me with her strength, her heart and her perseverance. Happy 13th Birthday Darcy Doodle.❤️
I have been struggling this week. Sending the two older kids to school after having them home for over 18 months, has been really, really hard. Having them home was really, really hard too, but this is a different kind of hard.
I cried for days leading up to that first day of school. I knew I was going to miss the kids, even though they do make me absolutely crazy sometimes. I don’t want to paint a rosy picture of a perfect quarantine. Our time at home was anything but. There were plenty of fights, screaming, hitting, biting, normal sibling stuff, just amplified. But they were home and safe, so it wasn’t all terrible.
When Fletcher first climbed up onto the school bus on Tuesday, Perry’s face fell. And she cried. And then I cried. We met him at the school (even though he didn’t want us) and when we left I was crying all over again. I figured it was just normal ‘letting go’ grief. Watching your kids need you less sucks.
With both of the older kids in school, it’s been just Perry and I. We’ve played games, baked a ton, had some dance parties and just tried to figure out the silence. She has a very special bond with Fletcher and this has been extremely tough on her. Perry may be a fighter, but she loves BIG.
I’m feeling so overwhelmed by the silence. And I’ve been at work and in and of the vet with a sick cat, so I haven’t even been home exclusively. But something just feels wrong. And familiar. So as I was pulling the Zucchini muffins out of the oven today, I had a realization. I’m back to one. One child at home. Just like after Benny died and it was Darcy and I.
I’m not sure if I feel better or worse now. Being able to recognize why this all feels so awful makes it a little easier. I feel a little less crazy. But man if it still doesn’t sting. It brings me right back to the days after losing Benny and trying to navigate that awfulness.
It’s also really hard to watch your rainbow babies outgrow their brother. He never got to any of these milestones that my kids seem to be flying through. And as excited as I am for them, there’s a part of me that will always be really sad for the ‘what if.’
AITA Original Post: ‘She said, “Now I know what it felt like for you. Losing a kid is so, so hard.” I’m 26M, my girlfriend got pregnant at fourteen and I was a father at fifteen. He was the best little boy ever and I was in love with him. I had a job and her parents kicked her out so she moved in with mine and by the time I was 19, I was happy and me and her moved into an apartment together.
But when the next year, when he was five years old, he got hit by a truck and passed away. It’s been six years and I still think of him every day.
I told her, maybe a little insensitively, “You didn’t lose a kid.” She looked taken aback and said she did and something about how “fur babies” were kids too. I said losing a kid is nothing like losing a dog and she started getting angry and told me she raised her dog for way longer than my son.
I got mad, and yelled at her to never talk about my son again and then I stormed out.’
The comments section on this is nuts. It made me koo koo bananas reading it, so I had to stop. I know everyone is entitled to their own grief and there are no comparisons. Everyone feels differently and is built differently and is a product of their experiences.
However, if a friend ever said to me that they ‘understood’ how I felt about losing Benny because their dog died, that would be it. And to follow that up with ‘I had my dog longer than you had your son.’ Nope. Absolutely not. Just stop talking.
Sorry if this makes me a horrible person. As I see it, this woman made the comparison when she had the gall to say that she ‘understands’ what it feels like to lose a child. I’m so angry that I can barely type.
Ok. So this. I am so guilty of this. It’s this feeling that if you just keep moving and keep busy, things won’t fall apart. If I keep balancing all of the balls up in the air, I can add a few knives, and a flaming stick. I won’t drop any of them if I just keep moving. Then I get overwhelmed. Then I get frustrated. Rinse. Repeat. Welcome to my grief.
When you’ve been dealing with trauma as long as I have, I think the busy just becomes a coping mechanism. I don’t mean to make my life so crazy and hectic, but it happened. Anytime you have little kids life is crazy anyway, so maybe it’s not all my doing. But I knew what we were getting into. Sometimes the chaos just makes the pain so much easier to bear. If that makes any sense?
If I’m busy and tired, I don’t have the time to acknowledge the terrible things that have happened. Sometimes it’s easier. It’s a break from the grief reality. It never does truly work for long, because grief always finds a way. And I know this. Yet I carry on and grief and I pretend to ignore each other for a bit longer until he shows up again, unannounced. It’s a game we play.
And then I do slow down. And it’s a grief slap like no other because I actually allow my mind to wrap around my reality. And it sucks. I sit and allow the grief to hollow me out once more. And I’m tired.
I wish I had answers. I wish I had a healthier grief relationship. I do know that admitting this and acknowledging it makes it easier to carry. Because I know I’m not alone.
We are camping this week and brought the kids to Plymouth today to see the Mayflower, Plymouth Rock and to walk around and take in a little history. I remember going there as a child with my parents and today I realized that we were there with Benny on his last Fourth of July. I mean, I knew we brought him there, but I don’t know think the reality of that truly sunk in until we were there.
In the early days of our loss, it was easier to avoid going places where we had memories with Benny, when possible. The shop and home were obviously out, but parts of the house became off limits. His toys were put in his room and the door was closed. I didn’t venture near the driveway until 2015. It was hard enough to breathe in those early days, we did what we needed to cope.
Parker and I talked often about how much harder it would have been if memories of Benny had been tied to too many places. We wondered if he had been older, would we avoid those places (like his room)? It’s crazy the things you tell yourself in those early days to just get by. I can’t believe the ridiculous rationalizations you try to feed your grief stricken mind.
You see, we don’t have an extensive list of places where we took Benny. We were young and broke when the kids were little. Most of our adventures were at home. I wish we had traveled more and done more, but the almost 18 months of Benny’s life were fun filled, nonetheless. And we had some really great memories. Maybe it would have been easier had they been tied to other places. Maybe not. I only know my own journey.
So, without realizing it, today I found myself in a ‘Benny Memory Spot.’ It’s so strange to me that I walked into this completely unaware. But there I was. I found myself on the same grass where I sat with him watching fireworks eight years earlier. It felt like I was living two lives.
I saw myself from 2013, trying to keep a toddler entertained until the fireworks started. I also saw myself present day, holding hands with my 3 living children and my husband in front of that same water. It was like parallel universes colliding. It was my earliest grief fears and concerns coming into razor sharp focus. It had finally happened 8 years later.
In my mind, I looked at my 2013 self and I sent her a hug. That older (oddly, also younger) version of me was so happy and carefree and had zero idea of the trauma and sadness that lay ahead. I felt sorry for her. But I also envied her. Because she still had her son. She could still hold him in her arms and touch his hair. She could snuggle his rolls and kiss his chubby cheeks. Her world was not yet completely broken.
God do I miss that boy. It’s like an ache that never dulls or goes away. You just learn to live with the pain. But it still surprises me that days like today can smack me square in the chest. And I didn’t even see it coming. Until I was there, standing in the same spot looking at my 2 lives.
And it wasn’t easy. And I wasn’t sure how I felt. Because honestly it just felt like I belonged there. It felt like I needed to stand in that spot again and breathe it all in. I felt such serenity in that moment. It makes zero sense. And all the sense in the world at the same time. It was another grief milestone to hit. All these years later. And I hated it. But I did it.
If this isn’t a testament to grief, I don’t know what is. It’s the dichotomy of emotions and feeling the before and after, all at the same time. And still putting one foot in front of the other to attempt to carry on.
Sometimes you just need a girls night out. And when you have a friend with a daughter that you and your daughter love equally, sometimes you need a girls overnight in Newport. At a fancy hotel. So you can relax and just decompress with your bestie and revel in some good old fashioned girl time!
This is exactly what we did last week. After the last year of remote learning and following all of the Covid guidelines, it felt good to celebrate our vaccinations with a trip! We had so much fun relaxing by the pool, riding bikes and eating out. My soul just needed the break.
Now that I felt recharged and zen, it was no surprise when Darcy came up to me at 10 PM the night we got home to tell me that her Benny Dog was missing. She couldn’t remember if she had packed him or accidentally left him in the room. She tore apart her bag and I looked through mine with no luck. At this point my husband and I started to panic.
You see Benny Dog isn’t just any old stuffed animal. When our Benny died people set up a memorial on the street and dropped off loads of flowers and stuffed animals. People who were complete strangers to us. The day before his services we decided that we’d have the kids each choose a stuffed animal or ‘Benny Bear’ to take home with them.
Darcy chose a chihuahua looking dog who became known as Benny Dog. There were stuffed bears there the size of her and surprisingly she chose this tiny, unassuming little dog. We have no idea where he came from or who gave him to our family, but Benny Dog became Darcy’s lovie. A complete stranger had given Darcy some comfort at the hardest moment in her life. Benny Dog has been to every sleep over, vacation and adventure we have had in the subsequent 7+ years.
I calmly called the hotel and was told to call back in the morning. So at 9 AM the next morning I called and was told to email housekeeping. I sent a pleading email, hoping someone would look for Benny Dog. I heard nothing. I really began to panic 48 hours after checkout. How could they not have found this little guy yet? My husband was ready to drive to the hotel and look. Darcy was eerily calm through all of this. I think because she knew I was not going to let this go until her Benny Dog was found.
I called and finally talked to housekeeping and was told they would call the linen company and check the room. They had nothing in lost and found. I just kept hoping that he would show up. Meanwhile, my bestie was chatting with a friend about our trip and let’s just say this lady has connections! All of a sudden the Great Benny Dog Search of 2021 commenced at said hotel! There were meetings with department heads and this little 8 inch pooch became a priority.
Within 3 hours I had a phonecall from housekeeping! A very thorough search of our room found him wedged/crammed between the nightstand and the wall. He probably would have lived the rest of his days there until they changed out the furniture had they not looked. I cried in relief that he was coming home via FedEx.
Once again, a complete stranger had saved us. I’ve never met the woman who put the Great Benny Dog Search into motion, but I am humbled by her understanding of our loss and her willingness to go right to the top to make sure that he was found. She saved my family from another huge loss and poor Benny Dog from years of being crammed between a wall and a nightstand. Thank you. ❤️
Missing this beautiful face on what should be his 9th birthday. This never gets easier. It just is.
Every year we do some sort of celebration for Benny’s birthday. Covid has obviously complicated this, but last year we did a mini cruise to the cemetery and it worked out great! So yesterday we did another cruise to celebrate this little man’s life with some of the old cars. He would have loved it!
Every year I am astounded by the number of people that show up to support our family. There are people that have been a part of our lives since Parker and I were dating, to new friends that have chosen to walk this path with us. It takes someone truly empathetic to join in this level of ‘real.’ And we are so thankful to have you on our lives.
I often wonder what Benny would be like as he got older. I wonder if he and Darcy would still have been thick as thieves as she enters her teenage years or would he just be an annoying little brother? I wonder if he’d play sports, or would he do dance or spend hours working on cars like his Dad? Would he enjoy school or would he have struggled? I can imagine a million different people he could be, but we’ll never know. And that’s really hard.
It’s hard to know how to celebrate a life so short. It is also extremely important though, for my other children. Darcy was so young when Benny passed and Perry and Fletch never knew him. It makes him real for them. It also allows me to celebrate my child almost like he’s here. I get to take all of that pre-birthday grief and anxiety and put it into something positive.
As we were driving into the cemetery, Adele’s haunting version of ‘To make you feel my love’ came on. We used the lyrics to this song in our wedding ceremony nearly 15 years ago. And let me tell you, we certainly felt the love yesterday. #nocoincidences
Thank you to everyone that came out yesterday to celebrate this crazy dude’s life. It was a beautiful day and it did my soul good to see so many of you that we haven’t over the last year. We are so thankful for our village or ‘Benny’s Bunchers’ that continualy support us.
The day ended with a rainbow over our house. Our hearts are full.❤️🌻❤️
I don’t know how to write this without it sounding horrible. Or totally confusing. Or just completely fucked up (excuse my French). It’s a rabbit hole I try to stay out of because once it starts, it’s hard to stop. And it’s laced with so much guilt.
Once Benny was born, Parker was done having children. I had had always wanted 3, but I was pretty set with being pregnant again and was happy with our little family. So I began to get rid of the baby gear, my way of acknowledging that the baby factory was closed. I had always wanted to be younger when I had my kids because I had lost my own mom so early on in life. It was feeling like a good decision for us.
And then Benny died. Suddenly our little family became too small. Everything felt wrong. It is really hard to wrap your head around someone dying in an instant. I watched my Mom suffer from cancer for 2 years. As awful as that was, it made the end a tiny bit easier. What happened with Benny is completely illogical. I will never understand why he had to die. I will never try to find meaning in it. It just is.
I remember being in my room with Parker the night that Benny died. I remember looking at him and saying I wanted more kids. This was never to replace Benny. I just knew in that instant that I wasn’t done. I wanted Darcy to have more siblings. And Parker felt the same way. We were numb and terrified. The worst had just happened.
We waited almost a year. Then I miscarried. And I was angry. I stupidly believed (again) that more awful things couldn’t happen to me. How completely naive I was.
By some small miracle we had Fletcher and Perry. I know how very lucky we are to have them. Rainbows aren’t promised.
So here in lies he rabbit hole. If Benny hadn’t died, would Perry and Fletcher cease to exist? It’s pretty awful, right? I’d give anything for Benny to still be here and make it all just a horrible nightmare. But how do P and F factor into that?
It’s kind of like, what came first, the chicken or the egg? I can circle the drain a bit if I think too hard about it. But honestly, none of it was ever my choice, it’s just how things happened. I guess there’s a romantic notion in thinking we can change the past.
I used to think about this constantly after Fletcher was born. And then I would feel guilty. Guilty because I would do anything to have Benny back. And then guilty because I would do anything to protect my new baby. It was this awful dance of guilt between the deceased and the living.
As Benny’s birthday comes closer, these are the things I think about. This is the ‘stuff’ it brings up. The missing just gets so hard sometimes.