My Mother Was Right

The last time I wrote a blog post I was in an anxious and annoyed state over the seemingly endless list of things I thought I could not do without Ben.  At the time, the top of the list of annoyances was the fact that I was headed off to Camp Widow where I would be attending a Saturday night Masquerade Ball and there was no one to zip up my dress.  It sent me into a full blown panic.

Well, one week-ish later and I’m here to tell you that I survived.  Not only did I survive, but I thrived.  Yes, I said it … I thrived.  And I’ll let you in on a secret I have always known on some level but often refused to admit …

My Mother Was Right.

Yup.  I’m writing it in this blog and I’ll never again be able to deny it.  My. Mother. Was. Right.  She told me I wasted too much time worrying and it turns out she knows exactly what she’s talking about.  Zipping up my dress turned out to be a non issue.

I arrived at the San Diego airport and discovered that I am perfectly capable of retrieving my own luggage and finding my way to a hotel without Ben.  Who knew?  (Apparently my mother knew).  I asked a few questions around the airport and made my way right to the area where the ride pick up is, AND …. I used a Lyft.  That’s kind of a big deal considering we do not have Lyft or Uber in BC, and yet still I figured it out.  Imagine that.

I was aware that there was a bit of a gathering at the hotel bar on Thursday evening, and as much as I wanted to hide in my room and stress out in anticipation of the next morning, I didn’t.  I forced myself to go downstairs all by myself and find the bar.

You may be wondering how one finds the rest of the Widows in a strange town, in a packed bar, with no signs pointing out which way to go and no one wearing a black veil.

 

I did the only thing I could do under the circumstances.  I walked over to a group of women and said something to the effect of, “Are you all widows?”  Class act #1 for the weekend.

I guess I now have a radar for widows because it turns out I asked the right people. They were indeed widows and they welcomed me with smiles, and in return I promptly burst into tears.  Class act #2.  There I was, standing at a packed bar and all I could do was cry.  Not because Ben is dead, although that reason is never too far away, but because it was such a relief to realize for certain that I wasn’t alone.  There were so many of us, and every single other person there appeared to be smiling.  By the looks of it, it seemed there may indeed be life after loss.

The next morning I made my way down to registration and the first thing I saw on my way in was this:

An entire wall of loved ones, and mine was front and centre. Ben The Titan.

The second thing I saw that morning was Amanda.  She was standing right behind me in line.  Alone.  So I said “hi” and guess what?  She said “hi” right back.  Imagine that.

A bit later in the morning Amanda and I met up again after attending our seminars of choice, and she walked out with Mary.  So I said “hi” to Mary too, and Mary said “hi” right back.

That evening we all went to dinner and somehow I ended up standing next to Lynessa.  So I said “hi” to Lynessa, and Lynessa said “hi” right back.

And then this happened:

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And that, folks, is how you do it in Widow World.  You say “hi” and they say “hi” and the next thing you know you are dressing up in weird outfits and hanging out together late into the evening.  And then you hook up on FB and spend a lot of time sending ridiculous videos to each other and making plans for how they will pick you up at the airport when you arrive in Vegas in November.

Saturday night was the Masquerade Ball and you may recall that I wrote this paragraph (below) before I went to San Diego, when I did a “dress up practice run” at home:

There was no one to zip me up. I was enraged.  Did you ever watch the Friends episode where someone stole Ross’ sandwich at work and he turned into Red Ross? I turned into Red Wendy.  Maybe Whacko Wendy.  I lost my sanity, upstairs in my bathroom that day.  I went into a frenzy of twisting and turning and trying to reach behind me and push the zipper up, and when that didn’t work I tried to reach down to grab it.  I am not that flexible.  Nothing worked, and I was furious.”

After all that angst would you like to know how it turned out?  You probably think one of my new found friends zipped me up, but you’d be wrong.  I could have asked them and I’m quite sure they would have helped me out, but it turns out that I didn’t need to.  It seems I had discovered my widow comfort zone and I found myself walking up to a complete stranger at the elevator and asking, “Would you mind doing up the clasp on my dress?”  Guess what she said?  “Sure.”  And that’s all it took.  (Also, it turns out that Camp Widow offers a “Zip Up” service, but in my defence I didn’t realize that until after I was back home).

I learned a lot this weekend.  I learned how to support and be supported by strangers who became friends.  I learned how to laugh at some of the crazy things that happen to everyone when their person dies.  (Turns out pretty much everyone has been told “I know exactly how you feel.  My dog died.”  Don’t even get me going on that one … that’s for a whole other post.)  I learned that there are people way, way worse off than me and they are still smiling.  I learned that widows have a dark sense of humour and I am not the only one who thought it was hilarious that the hotel put the signs for a wedding reception and a widows camp right next to each other.

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(I cannot tell you how many widows I overheard saying things like “Should we give the bride a business card?”)

And finally, I learned that My Mother Was Right.  Everything has a way of working itself out just like she always says, and worrying is a big fat waste of time.  It turns out, after all, that I am in fact brave.

So, if anyone out there has experienced a loss and has considered going to Camp Widow in the past but was held back by fear … you should go.  Trust me on this one.  I wouldn’t steer another widow wrong.

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The Last Blog Post

Not my last blog post. Ben’s last blog post.

Once again I have come around to another one of those “one year” markers.  One year ago today, on December 5, 2015, Ben put pen to paper for the last time. Or fingers to keyboard, to be more exact.  He was scared.  In hindsight I now realize he was even stronger than I was aware of at the time.  Fear had to have been consuming his every thought and yet, with the exception of this post that he wrote, he never really let it show.  My God he was a brave man.  How he loved us to try to keep that fear to himself and not burden us further.

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So here we are one year later and I am remembering when Ben wrote his last post.  I didn’t actually know it was the last one he would ever writeat the time.  I guess if I had put any thought into it I probably should have known, since I certainly knew that it wouldn’t be long before he would be drawing his last breath.

It was around this time that several “lasts” happened.  Ben had recently watched his daughters play the last volleyball games he would ever see.  When he was at that game I knew it would be the last one he would see, so thank God he was greeted by this special scene, if you recall:

By this time last year Ben had seen some of his friends for the last time.  He had played his guitar(s) downstairs in his “man room” for the last time.

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Over the last 11 months I have often thought about all the “last times” we had, and I’ve tried to pinpoint when they happened.  Its not something you normally think about each day.  You don’t generally pick out a new lipstick or buy some oranges and wonder “will this be the last time I buy a new lipstick / oranges?”  But I think about it now and I try to remember those “lasts” even if I didn’t know they were “lasts” at the time.

The last time Ben enjoyed the hot tub that he loved. (I don’t remember.) The last time we went for a walk together.  (I do remember, and I knew it was the last time when it was happening.) The last time we went to the grocery store together.  (Don’t remember).  The last time he cooked a meal.  (I do remember.  New Years Eve.  Gluten free pizza. I actually think in fact it may have also been the last real meal he ever ate.) The last time we shared a Starbucks. (Don’t remember). The last time we saw certain people. (I do remember.  Cal Traversy, Kevin Rolston, Joel Hunt, Sharon Woodburn.  I’m pretty sure they knew it too.) The last time he drove his truck.  (I do remember, because I was scared shitless.)

The last time Ben drove his truck was on December 31st, 2015.  A mere thirteen days before he died. He drove it in the middle of the night when he should not have been driving at all, and I laid awake praying that he would be able to make it safely back home and that it wouldn’t be the last time I would see him alive.  I knew that was coming soon enough and I wasn’t ready.  Not yet.

By the time December had rolled around I knew Ben shouldn’t be driving anymore at all. He was in too much pain and taking way too many drugs and I tried to gently stop him, but he insisted he would “know” when it was time to stop.  (Just like he said he would know if the time ever came that he would need to teach me the banking or how to take care of the hot tub.  And just as I knew would inevitably happen, my stubborn Ben never acknowledged when any of those times came.)

Ben told me he would never risk anyone’s life by driving when he shouldn’t, and I know that in his heart he meant what he said but he was no longer in a position where his judgement could be trusted.  That was a terrible dilemma, let me tell you, and in the end my love for Ben and my desire to see him happy won out over safety.  I simply couldn’t bear for him to be upset with me if I took away his keys like a child, so instead I made sure that our kids didn’t get in the truck again when Ben was driving.

This past weekend a brand new 2016 “last” occurred.  I watched Jaime play volleyball for the last time.  She played in the Provincials and then hung up her court shoes.  Here’s a couple of highlights …

I will admit to being hyper aware of every moment of the last game, and wondering if Ben too had been thinking the same thing as he watched his last volleyball game.

Life is full of lasts, I suppose.  The last time your child wears a diaper, the last day of school, the last day they tolerate you walking them to school, the last day they live in the family home.

It’s also full of firsts.  The first time you meet the person with whom you intend to spend the rest of your life.

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The first time you watch your life partner hold your new baby.

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The first time you dance on the beach.

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The first time your daughter says “tooted”

The first time one of your kids graduate.

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I guess that’s just the way life goes.  One day it’s a “first”, the next day a “last”, and on and on it goes.  That’s what keeps life interesting.  We never know what’s coming right around the corner.  And while that’s probably a good thing, let this serve as a reminder for you to really savour those sweet moments in life.  You just don’t know when it’s a “last.”

Hug your families.

Dear Ben … Love, Mario

Words written and read by Ben’s dear friend and former supervisor, Mario Bourdages, at his Celebration of a Life Well Lived.  Mario was a rock for Ben during his illness.  Even when Ben was at his lowest, he always managed to pull it together to go have coffee with Mario because that was a highlight of his week.  Mario always came to visit Ben in the hospital, and tried to take Ben’s mind off his illness.  He was a true friend to Ben, and he and Julie have been true friends to myself and the kids.  This morning when I was at my lowest, Julie asked if they could come by and I said ‘no’ because I didn’t want to get out of bed.  They ignored me and came anyway.  Thank you.

******

Wendy, Zak, Jaime, Raegan, family, colleagues and friends. My name is Mario Bourdages, and I was a colleague and a friend of Ben. I am honoured to speak today and to celebrate Ben’s life, and I know that this is what Ben would have wanted, a celebration.

I worked with Ben for the past 8 years, and I met with him every week or so for the past 7 months. Ben was a quiet guy and did more then his share of the work. He never complained about anything. He did whatever work needed to be done without hesitation. Whatever I asked him to do, whether it be a difficult, complicated task, a menial one, having to travel out of town or working long hours he would say “Sure I’ll do that”. He never spoke negatively about anyone and was always professional with everyone. He also had a great sense of humour. I also instructed on courses with him and he was great with the candidates helping them out through difficult tasks. All the candidates enjoyed working with him.

Ben would always wear earbuds when he was in the office. He had those things on all the time and he still got his work done. Some say he had those things in because he loved music. I think he did that to tune me out.

Another thing about Ben, and I don’t know if anyone who knew Ben noticed this, but Ben loved his groceries. He loved to eat. Loved to cook. He loved food from different cultures, especially spicy foods. I never knew that this would one day help him with his work.

One day Ben and I were meeting with an informant, and it was the first time Ben would meet this person and he would then take over as the main contact person for this individual. Ben wanted to make sure this went well, so he decided we would meet at a restaurant and have a meal with the person, giving him an opportunity to bond with them.  Good excuse for a free meal!  Ben and the individual got on the topic of food, and Ben mentioned that he liked spicy foods. The individual told us the restaurant has super spicy wings, and Ben, to make an impression said, “I’ll have that.” The individual told us that they are so hot that the restaurant makes you pay for them before they bring them out, because people never come close to finishing them. Ben said “that’s for me.” Well, we paid for the wings and before the plate hit the table Ben had already eaten 3 wings. Within a few seconds, Ben was on fire. He couldn’t drink enough water. He was sweating profusely and sweat was dripping from his face. He couldn’t eat anymore and all of a sudden he started to hiccup uncontrollably. The individual we were with was laughing so hard I thought he was going to pee his pants. Ben was hiccupping, laughing and sweating. This lasted for about 30 minutes, and Ben could not speak but he was able to laugh at himself. We finished our meeting and we parted ways. Even though Ben wasn’t able to say much during that meeting, the individual instantly liked Ben and ended up having the best working relationship with Ben.

During the last several months I met with Ben every week or so, and during all our visits, Ben never complained. He never complained about pain and I know he was often in pain. He never complained about having this disease, and never blamed anyone for what was happening.  He never felt sorry for himself.   He dealt with this awful disease like he handled everything else in life.  Taking it straight on  and doing whatever he had to do to try to beat this thing.   He fought a very courageous battle and kept his sense of humour right to the end.

This taught me a lot about how to live.

Behind every great man there is always a strong woman. Wendy has been a pillar of strength for Ben and the entire family. She fought right along with Ben, never taking no for an answer from anyone.  Staying positive after every set back. Even during the most difficult times she kept family and friends updated on Ben’s condition. And when it was obvious that there was no more ways to fight, she made sure Ben was made as comfortable as possible.

You are a very strong and courageous woman Wendy.

Kids, your mother is a great lady and your father, your husband, was a great guy.

Ben, you are greatly missed. Rest in peace my friend.