Our Cemetery Story

It’s time to share another story of weird ‘coincidences,’ of hope, which is quite interesting given the tile of this post.  How I ever found hope in a cemetery is very strange indeed.

I never liked cemeteries, the eerie graves, the gates that scream ‘keep out!’  Maybe it’s too many Halloween stories, but I never felt comfortable in one.  Even when my mom died, I didn’t find peace visiting her there.  It was weird and uncomfortable.  Maybe it was just all too real.  It just wasn’t me, I didn’t feel her presence there, because I knew that she wasn’t.

Right after the accident happened and we were scrambling to pull together arrangements, our friends Sandy and Mike offered a burial plot for Benny.  We hadn’t even wrapped our heads around what we wanted to do yet and the medical examiner hadn’t released Bennett yet.  God it sounds so awful to say that, but it’s the truth.  About a week or two after the accident we finally had to make a decision and we decided to cremate Benny.  I’d never really given much thought to what I would want done with my body when I passed, never mind my 17 month old baby.  It was just one more way to draw out having to make a decision, having to bury him, having to deal with the horror of it all.  So he became dust and sat at the funeral home for several months.

I knew that I wanted to have him blown into glass, Parker wanted to take him on the Great Race down the East coast, but we had all the time in the world to figure that out now.  It was a good breather from the chaos of the first few weeks.  I was sitting with the therapist over the winter and talking about the cremation.  We had no idea what to do with his remains and for the first time I realized I wanted to bury him.  Sure we could scatter him, but where?  ‘If I don’t bury him, it will be like he never existed, there will be no headstone, no place where he is physically.’ As I said this, my therapist teared up.  I realized how sad that would truly be and that we needed to do something.

We talked about burying him on his birthday and quickly nixed that idea as I realized that we couldn’t explain to Darcy and friends that Benny was in a tiny box.  We were having a hard enough time explaining the whole body/soul connection.  Tara came over one Sunday to help me paint and we began planning and looking into cemeteries.  I felt strongly that Benny was buried in the same place as Sandy and Mike, that they had some claim to him too.  They are such a part of our lives, our children’s lives.  They are family.  So we figured we would start with Worcester County Memorial Park.  That’s when Benny started to intervene again.

We started talking about this on Sunday, unbeknownst to Sandy who was meeting with Marie from WCMP on Monday.  She had seen her at a home show and had made an appointment.  On Monday, I received a text from Sandy saying that Marie would be contacting us.  Great, I thought, one less thing to do.  We met with Marie on Thursday and sat down to listen to our choices.  Marie didn’t know our story, all that she knew was that we lost our son.  They have a section at WCMP set aside for babies under 1.  She said that they would make an exception and that Benny could be buried there if we wished.  To be honest, the thought of even being confronted with a baby cemetery was too much.  I was horrified.  Given my feeling on cemeteries in general, this wasn’t a good start.  We reviewed our options and headed over to the cemetery to take a look.  I had it in my head that none of this mattered, I would never go, I hated these places.

On the ride out to Paxton, Parker’s landlord from the shop called.  She and I talked for a moment, and then we lost service.  I figured we would see her when we got back to the shop.  We talked about the idea of the baby cemetery and what we wanted to do.  It was an uncomfortable car ride as we both tried to keep it together.

To call WCMP a cemetery is unfair.  It is a park as it’s name states.  It is separated into gardens and there are no headstones, only monuments, so all that you see are the rolling hills surrounding you.  It was absolutely breathtaking and peaceful.  There is no fence, you can visit whenever you wish.  We drove around, taking it all in and ended up at the office, right in front of the ‘Garden of Angels.’  I was surprised at how peaceful it all felt, how right.  I mean it was sad, but not as depressing as I had anticipated.  The monuments were decorated with flowers and toys and we looked at this space as something good for Darcy as well.  Somewhere she could bring trucks and balls for her lost brother.  We knew this was where we belonged in the future, but we left there still needing to think about Benny.

We got back to the shop and stopped in to chat with the landlord.  To call her that seems silly, she is one of the nicest, caring people and we have always been friendly.  She asked what we were doing in Paxton, because there’s really nothing out that way.  Parker said we had some errands to run.  Our landlord stopped, thought for a second and looked at us, ‘you were at the cemetery,’ she said, ‘my son is buried in the Garden of Angels.’  She too had lost a baby years ago, but we had no idea that he was there.  We looked at each other and decided to take it as a sign that this is where Benny should go.

We bought our future plots and signed all of the paperwork.  Part of it felt good to know that it’s all taken care of, that our family won’t have to deal with any of this when the time comes.  We hemmed and hawed about Benny’s monument, but WCMP came through and was able to get ‘Captain Crazy’ added above his name.  It was very appropriate for our little man.  We also had a bear added, our ‘Benny Bear.’  They were putting a rush on the order and were miraculously able to get it in in very short order.  We had expected it for May 17th, but were surprised when it was there on May 8th when we buried him.

I was talking to my new friend Sue one day after yoga.  I had told her how we had started pulling together arrangements and that we would be burying Benny at WCMP.  Sue got the same look as when I told her about the sunflowers.  Her son that had passed was buried at WCMP too.  This just felt so much like our boys were giving us a sign again.  That was without a doubt when I knew that this was where Benny belonged.  He wouldn’t be alone, not by a long shot.

When I look back at my post from May 17, this where we started about 6 weeks before.  Things just came together and it was if Benny was orchestrating it all for us.  I know in my heart of hearts that he has been there guiding us through it all.  I would be a fool to take these signs for granted, so I’ll take them for what they are.  We’re lucky, blessed that our little man is trying to help us tie up loose ends.  I love you little guy.

 

Some Benny Memories from the 17th

Below are memories shared by family and friends on May 17.  We are so blessed to have these people as a part of our lives.

“…the day you and Benny came over to meet Natalie after she was born.  I remember Benny jumping on my couch with his socks on and talking about his chubby little feet and laughing about it.  You had been telling me how much of a handful he was being that day but at my house he was being perfectly fine and I was teasing you that you made it all up!  He was beautiful that day, playing with Nathan’s toys and being silly, a completely adorable little boy and its the memory I always think of when I think of him.  We miss him every day but I love thinking of him and remembering that fresh little smile.”   Michele

“…when Parker and I were driving around for the breast cancer walk and timed everything so the kids could nap, but Benny was the only one not to nap in the car… he waited till we were out of the car to try and nap… This coming from the kid who tried to sleep on cement with scores of people around at Parker’s open house!”   Uncle Chris

“My last memory of Benny was right before Halloween. I brought a large  pumpkin to carve, but he didn’t seem interested in that, but was with the Halloween sponge pieces I brought over to make pumpkin designs on paper. He then sat on the organ bench and showed Nana what a rock star he was, bobbing his head up and down with the music until he bumped his head on the keys! He cried a little, but he was brave and then headed outside with Darcy. I pulled him and Darcy around the yard in the wagon. I was the engineer (woo, woo) and made stops around the yard. He decided to get off at the swing station. He jumped on the swing on his belly (as nana was saying to be careful, no one listened) He swung so high and was laughing so loud. He was fearless!! It was a great day and a day I will always remember.”  Nana

“…being mesmerized by a slinkie, shoving Cheerios into his mouth, bouncing in Kassidy’s chair and trying to climb up our stairs, chasing our cats on Halloween!”  Jessika

 

Present

‘When a parent dies, you lose your past.   When a child dies, you lose your future.’. Anonymous

I just saw this on someone else’s blog.  I don’t know what to say.  I guess this leaves me with the present.  I’d rather be anywhere than here right now, this purgatory.

I’ve never been able to live in the present.  I’m a planner by nature.  Loosing my mom, my past haunted me.  It was always easier to look forward, predict, plan and prepare.  I always knew that things could change at any given moment and I learned to roll with it, take the obstacles as they came.  I remember being told I was ‘flexible.’

This present thing sucks, but the future is too scary, too unknown.  I know that we have some tough decisions to make, but I don’t want to do it.  What if we make the wrong ones?  What if we just make things worse?

I don’t want to plan anymore.  There are no guarantees, so why bother?  I don’t want deadlines and I don’t want to make any more decisions.  We already had to decide what to do with Benny, where to bury him, how to do it, etc.  Shouldn’t we get a break?  I’m just so tired…

Reading

I read other blogs about baby loss or parents who have lost children and it’s just so hard to relate.  Bennett didn’t have a medical condition, he didn’t die of SIDS.  The guilt equation would be different, but the end result would be the same I suppose.

Today just wasn’t a good day.  I don’t know why, don’t know what triggered it, perhaps a lack of sleep, too much excitement on Saturday, but for whatever reason it just sucked.  And now it’s late and I’m tired and I’m reading others blogs about baby loss and rainbow babies and it’s just a lot to take in.  It’s still hard to remember sometimes that it actually happened to us, that Benny isn’t just asleep in the next room.

I remember once I had kids that I wasn’t able to read books about kids that got hurt or killed.  My sister would laugh at me, but something about it always just seemed too close to home.  If only I knew that I would be living it one day, that I would be the one writing about it, except it wouldn’t be fiction.

I feel as if I’m holding my breath again, waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I was nervous about Parker taking Darcy some place alone, imagining the worst when they were just running some errands.  I don’t know why this started up again.  Perhaps I shouldn’t read about what other people have gone through, it lends itself to my imagination.  Driving has started to cause anxiety again out of nowhere.

I wonder if it is because some of the focus is off of Darcy.  She seems happier now, not as stressed out.  The night terrors have lessened as well as the emotional outbursts.  We’ve been so focused on her pain since February that there has been little time to even think about ours.

I don’t want to go back though, to feel that awful all of the time.  I mean, it was awful always being worried about Darcy, but that was something that I could work to help to change, I at least had some control.  I need someone to come in and control this, take over and just make it right.  It’s easier when the focus is on helping others rather than trying to help myself and deal with my own stuff.

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

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!