'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.
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.
I quickly changed my clothes and attempted to pull my hair back into a nest on the top of my head. I had no idea why I was so nervous, I’d been going to my same child loss grief group for years now. I felt comfortable talking about the loss of my son and sharing his life with others. I felt like I was in a good place.
A friend had sent over a video of Patty Inwood talking about a new grief group in Rutland named ‘Hope Lives Here.’ My family was building a home in Rutland and had just moved into town to rent while we waited for construction to be finished. We had left the security of our community in Worcester where everyone knew the story of my son’s death and had embraced our family with love.This meeting seemed to come at the perfect time for me. Or, as I would soon learn in HLH speak, #nocoincidences.
I made my way across Main Street to the Rutland Library. As I entered the space where we would be meeting, I was surprised to see how many people there were! I was greeted with a huge smile and ushered into the space to meet Patty. She asked me how I found out about HLH and I told her that I had seen her video and that I had also lost my son. I found myself caught up in a hug instantly. I didn’t expect it and I didn’t realize how badly I needed it either.
We sat down to begin sharing and I quickly realized that myself and one other gentleman were the attendees, everyone else in that room was a volunteer. I should have felt uneasy and in the spotlight, but that never happened. There was something about this incredible group of women that made me instantly comfortable and at ease. I was able to share not only the loss of my son, but also my Mom. Even though I had lost her as a teenager, it helped to talk about that all these years later. It ended up being an incredible evening and I was so glad that I had gone.
That was 3 years ago in April. Every month I kept showing up at HLH meetings. I found my new community in Rutland. Suddenly moving our family there didn’t seem so scary. I have made so many incredible new connections with people that I would never have met if I hadn’t walked in that door.
I have been so fortunate to be able to facilitate the HLH Child Loss Meeting for the past 2 years with 2 of the most incredible Angels. This group of Mom’s and Dad’s have done more to heal my broken heart than time could ever do. Their spirit, love and incredible courage is an inspiration to me. In December I joined the HLH Board of Directors where I am surrounded by so much heart.
Patty is a visionary and a dreamer and she dreams big! I truly believe that ‘we attract love by being love’. And Patty and the HLH founders put something out into the universe that has been answered by some of the kindest souls. Happy 3rd Birthday Hope Lives Here! Keep healing hearts, as you’ve helped to mend mine.
Well, this certainly describes me. And seeing it written out like this almost makes me realize how pointless it is. Almost.
How am I doing? Some days are awesome. I can get through the day and just exist. I don’t feel like I have to weigh every decision in life or death. I can just be.
Other days I panic when my husband takes the kids in the car. What if they all die in a car accident? Or when the kids are wrestling, what if one of them hits a piece of furniture and had to go to the hospital? Or worse? Or what if they choke and I’m in another room? Seeing as how my two littles can’t seem to make any type of good decision lately, this is completely plausible.
I found that when we were out pre Covid that I would always be very aware of my surroundings. I made sure that I knew where an exit was ‘just in case.’ Now Covid has sent me into another spiral of worst case scenarios. Just 2 years ago I rang in the New Year in the PICU with my littlest on oxygen. I know what it’s like being scared my child couldn’t breathe and I know I don’t want to go back to that.
So maybe my hypervigilance is my super power. I don’t want a cape or bat signal to notify others of this, I have a hard enough time trying to keep my own family safe. However, if I’m around your kids, I will be watching them as if they are my own. It’s not because I don’t trust you as a parent, but rather some messed up part of my brain thinks I can save you from the same fate. Maybe I just don’t want anyone to have to go through what we’ve been through.
A huge part of doing this for me is knowing that I feel like I have done everything in my power to prevent something bad from happening. I think I’d like to be able to tell myself with confidence that it wasn’t my fault. Because child loss is so tangled in guilt and self doubt. This ridiculous anxiety is my way of trying to counteract that.
Rationally, I know all of this is crazy. But so is grief and death and trauma. I don’t think imagining worst case scenarios is a healthy use of my time, however it’s now a part of who I am, like PTSD is. And I have managed to learn how to live with it so it doesn’t totally consume who I am. Today. Tomorrow may be different. If I’ve learned anything on this journey, it’s to never expect to ever be perfectly ‘healed’ or ‘over it.’ That simply doesn’t exist when you’ve lost a child. It’s all in learning to live with it.
I have had back pain for as long as I can remember. My posture is terrible from years of dealing with a large bust on a small frame and trying to make myself look smaller. For years I worked in a male dominated field, so slouching my shoulders and scooping my spine came naturally.
There is so much wrong with this that I am aware of now, but being a woman in her twenties and thirties, I just wasn’t able to be comfortable in my own skin. Someone very wise recently talked to me about ‘making herself small to make others comfortable.’ And sadly, that’s what I was doing not only physically, but emotionally.
The car accident that took our Benny also had very physical consequences for me. I’ve written about spraining my ankle and the damage to my shoulder and the road rash. The bruising that occured on my back and side was like nothing I have ever seen. Until this accident, I never knew what a bone bruise was, but it took 6+ months to heal on my left leg and I still have damage. I have scarring on my right shoulder and elbow and my shoulder has never been the same since.
They did X rays at the hospital and I had a follow up with my doctor a few weeks later. But here’s the thing, when your child dies, your physical pain and suffering mean nothing. I knew that the ankle would heal and the bruising would fade.
The first thing that we sought was emotional support from a psychologist. Our family needed all of the help that we could get in processing what had just happened. It was during those months of therapy that it was asked why I wasn’t seeking further care for my injuries. And there’s no simple answer for that.
Maybe holding onto the physical pain was a way to punish myself for what happened. Or maybe it provided me a way to feel anything during those early and dark days. Perhaps it provided a reminder that the accident was actually real. Maybe it was just easier to continue feeling ‘small’ as a means to an end. It was probably all of the above if I’m being honest.
Whatever the case, it took me years to seek help. I finally saw a chiropractor and massage therapist and the doctor again. I’m not sure what the impetus was, or if there was one, but I finally decided it was time. Perhaps I was feeling forgiving towards myself or I was finally tired of feeling ‘small’. But that’s a whole other conversation.
I’ve been doing yoga and dance and stretching at home to try to keep everything feeling good during quarantine. A week ago I started a fascia stretch to work on opening up shoulders and chest and hopefully work on correcting my posture.
Today’s stretch was the hips and the instructor said that we carry emotion there and we shouldn’t be surprised if we cry. I was dubious. I had never heard of that. Guess I was wrong, because let me tell you, it was like someone turned on the water works. During a damn hip stretch!!
This is not like I was in a quiet space and able to get myself into the stretch emotionally. My littles were 3 feet away working on a puzzle and my cats were running around. It was the typical chaos and here I was thinking I would get in a quick stretch.
Because Google is my friend, I read article after article of the hips being a place where we store trauma. In further research in Psychology today I found that the hips and jaw are aligned and store so much of the flight or fight response based on one study.
I think sometimes that we forget how closely our bodies are connected to our emotions. Here I am 7 plus years out crying over a 5 minute hip stretch. I’m only halfway through this program, but I’m curious to see what else my body has to tell me about my current mental state.