Memory Lane

This week Raegan and I caught the ferry over to The Sunshine Coast in southern BC and toured Gibsons and Sechelt. Gibsons was home to the filming of the television show “The Beachcombers” from 1972 to 1990.  It was also the first hometown to Wendy and Ben from 1993 to 1997.  It’s where we lived when we got married, it’s where we built our first home, and it’s where we had our first baby.

(L-R:  Rae at Molly’s Reach, the first house Ben lived in, the old Gibsons RCMP Det, the first house we rented together when we got married.)

Raegan and I played tourist and she humoured me while I drove around and told her a hundred stories that all started with “I remember one time, right in this very spot, Dad and I (insert memory here) …”  She was a good sport.  We ended up on the beach in Sechelt at the exact spot where Ben proposed to me.

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I felt my heart stop beating for a moment while I closed my eyes and let myself transport back to the very moment that Ben asked me to marry him.  I remembered it as vividly as if it were happening right then. The moment felt so close it was as though I could reach out to grab it, but it remained just beyond my outstretched fingertips.

Every step we took was filled with memories of the early days with Ben.  I had a memory for every street, every restaurant, every single place in town as though I was watching our lives play out in a movie.  I remembered the most mundane of times together, like walking home carrying a Costco sized package of toilet paper that was on sale and we wanted to stock up for cheap.  I could see us buying our first Christmas tree together and watching our first house being built, and I could smell the sod we rolled out together in the front yard. Being back in the place where it all started made the memories come to life. Everything was so familiar that it seemed if I listened hard enough I would hear his voice and his laugh. Not the voice of the man suffering in pain, but the voice of the boy I fell in love with when life was uncomplicated.

I wouldn’t trade one minute of my time with Ben, and I would do it all over even if I knew the ending before I started.  I want to say I regret nothing, but the truth is that I regret is not taking more time to slow down and appreciate our lives together just a little more than I did.  My parents always told me to appreciate the moments because life passes by faster and faster the older we get, but even as we age and realize that it’s true, something always seems to get in the way and prevent us from stopping and savouring in the simple things.

Work.  Schedules.  Sports.  Bills.  Mortgages.  Sometimes over the years I could feel my soul yelling “Stop!!” but my body just kept on plugging away.  There was always more work to do, more house to clean, more money to make to pay more bills that kept coming in.

Heading back over to the coast reminded me of a time with Ben when life was slower paced.  There was less to do in that small town and for two years we didn’t have kids to occupy our time.  It was just us.  Wendy and Ben.  Hanging out together on our days off,  watching movies late into the night and sleeping late into the mornings.  Hosting friends when we wanted, video taping each other just for fun and cracking each other up with our jokes.  Trying to learn how to cook in a kitchen so small that you could stand in the middle and touch the walls on each side if you reached your arms out.

When we moved over to the big city the size of our kitchens grew and the pace of our lives sped up.  It always felt as though we had to swim faster.  We forgot how to take the time to slow down and instead we dreamed of having that time in the future.  We forgot to shut the world out and just be Wendy and Ben, without any outside distraction, until the day came when we had no choice but to stop.

We had nine months to grab ahold of every moment just to be Wendy and Ben. That time was filled with appointments and pain and tears, but it was time we savoured. We remembered how to just be together.  We remembered how to shut the world out. And despite all the shitty things that happened during those nine months, I cherish every second of it because we were the only two people in the world who mattered.

Thank God for those trips down Memory Lane.  Long Live Love.

Bam! Pow!

The other day I had to pay a visit to a travel clinic for immunizations.   (Good news … I now have lifetime protection against yellow fever.)  I’ve never needed a travel clinic before, so when I made the appointment I discovered that the clinic happened to be in the same building as the office of a specialist I see every year.  I didn’t give it any other thought except to appreciate that I knew where the office was, which was a relief because I am geographically challenged and often have trouble navigating from Point A to Point B.  It was always Ben’s job to get us where we were going.

I arrived on time for my immunizations (a miracle), had four needles jammed in my arm and then walked out of the building whistling a jaunty tune as I made my way back to my car. (OK … I can’t whistle, but you get the picture.  Everything was fine in my life at that particular moment.)

But as I crossed the parking lot a memory suddenly jumped out of nowhere and hit me like a ton of bricks.  It literally stopped me in my tracks.

It wasn’t so much the exact memory in the video that punched me in the face, but rather it was the memory of what came immediately after I filmed Ben that day.

Just a few brief moments after Ben declared himself “The Shit,” the two of us walked into room 302 where we were promptly informed that in fact the cancer had indeed moved into Ben’s bones and spread to his lungs.

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Ben wrote about that visit in this blog post.  As always, he downplayed the news and forged ahead.

I do not remember leaving the office that day on April 22nd, 2015, but I do remember what happened immediately afterwards.  I remember turning the key in the ignition and thinking about how odd it was to just hear news like that and then drive home as though it were just another day.  I remember beginning to drive out of the parking space when Ben suddenly burst into tears.  He sobbed. His whole body shook. He was scared and he was caught off guard by his own emotion.

I remember feeling momentarily confused.  Ben didn’t get scared.  Ben was The Titan.  Ben handled things.  Ben coped.  Ben made lemonade out of lemons.  Ben always knew what to do.  Ben led the way.  But now My Ben was scared and oh my God how it hurt to watch.  It physically hurt me like a knife being jammed into my stomach and then savagely turned sideways before being yanked back out, like you might see in the movies.

Back to 2017.  As I walked out of the travel immunization office I made a discovery. I discovered that without even thinking about it or knowing it’s coming, I can still physically feel the pain of moments like that.  I don’t even have to be consciously thinking of a memory….it can just come barging in through my thoughts uninvited, whether I want it to or not.  In that moment I felt exactly the same as I felt 22 months ago as I watched Ben sob.  I did not just recall how I felt. I felt it all over again.  It hurt so badly that my knees shook as I tried to climb back into the same vehicle, in the same parking lot,  without My Ben.  And I wondered again, for the zillionth time, “How can this be?”

On April 22, 2015 as I watched Ben shake and cry, I felt helpless.  I felt scared.  I felt that there was no way to comfort him because no matter what I said or did it wasn’t going to change a thing.  Ben would never know how our story would play out over the years.  Ben was going to die.

On January 25, 2017, I managed to force myself to stay standing, climb into the car and take a few deep breaths.  And then I cried.

As I drove home I was acutely aware of all those people out there with PTSD who talk about how much their nightmares hurt them.  How much it affects their lives because the pain is as real today as it was in the actual moment.

Now I know.

It’s Been Awhile – Part II

On August 31, 2015, Ben posted on this blog.  It had been awhile since he had written, hence the title of his post which was “It’s Been Awhile.”  (Clever man thinking up that title all by himself).  That day was one of the few times he acknowledged his pending death in a forum that he knew I could access.  He wrote “My visits to the BC Cancer Agency only serve to re-enforce my suspicions that by this time next year I’ll be nothing but a memory to everyone. A fond one perhaps, but only a memory.

How could a year have passed since that day? How is it that he has been gone 7 1/2 months?  He has been gone now for almost as long as he suffered with the knowledge that he had cancer.  I still cannot believe it is true.  I still wait for him to come home.  I have read that for some people, the waiting never ends.

In any case, other than that one post on this day last year, he never spoke of himself dying to the kids and I until the very end.  I know he thought he was protecting us all those months.  Even last December when we discussed what we wanted Christmas 2015 to be about I cried, “If this is our last Christmas together….” and he cut me off and said, “It won’t be. It won’t be.”  I know now he said it more for me than himself.

All year I thought he didn’t know what the ending would be.  I thought this post he wrote (click here) was a one off.  I honestly thought he forgot he wrote it.  But over the course of the past few months since his death I have read things Ben wrote where it is clear he knew what was happening.  And he was so sad.   My heart shatters all over again every time I think of him suffering emotionally in silence, with a smile on his face whenever he could manage it.

While it was all happening I consoled myself with the fact that he believed there would be a happy ending, so he didn’t have to live with the emotional torture in addition to the physical torture.  I thought it was better for that to be my burden, that it was better for me to carry that for him since he was already in so much physical pain.  I didn’t want him to carry the emotional pain of wondering if each day was his last.

Now sometimes I physically feel I may vomit when I think about the anguish he must have felt as he watched the rest of us sleep, because he knew.  Sometimes I love him for trying to protect the kids and I, and sometimes I hate that he never sat me down and told me what to do after he died. But mostly I am tortured by the fact that he carried that knowledge, and I pray every day that he really did forget because of all the meds.  I think sometimes at least, that may have been true.

Now one year has flown by and I find myself celebrating my Dad’s retirement from teaching.  I’m so proud of my Dad.  I’m also very lucky that I’m his favourite child.  (That’s right, Lisa and Barb.  As Dr. B once said when Ben was in a drug induced state and asked me if I had confessed to my crimes …. “the truth shall set you free.”)  I’m very happy that I was able to celebrate with my family tonight, despite my somewhat melancholy and a tad angry mood (which I do try daily to shake off, but some days are just harder than others). We raised a glass to Ben tonight …. he would have had a good laugh teasing my Dad about retirement.  There would have been a lot of digs about “How does one retire from a job they only went to for an hour a day?”  I think Ben was probably there drinking right along with us.

September 24th would have been our 22nd wedding anniversary.  We will inter his ashes that day.  The ending to our story, on the same day it began.  

I miss you Ben.  The world just isn’t the same without you.

 

An Honest Love Letter … Saint-Onge Style

This is my first attempt at reblogging. Not even quite sure what will happen when I hit “reblogging post.”  I originally wrote this post on September 8, 2015 and I re-read it this morning.  It reminded me that I told Ben that we would be OK. I said “Whatever may come, we will be Ok.” So I need to be Ok.

Mom is a widow

To my Groom,

I am sorry that you are in so much pain.  It truly, physically hurts my heart to watch you suffer.  I wish I could take all that pain away.

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(I bet this is the face you are making right now as you read this)

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking, “LIAR!  You would not agree to taking all the pain!”  Fine.  You caught me. You’re right.  That was, in fact, a lie … you know me too well.  But I would definitely agree to take half of it.  I would totally take half. Or at least 35%.  But probably half.  Asking me to take it all on would be a little much, don’t you think?  That would just be mean, to want me to take it all.  But I would agree to a solid 50%.

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My Dear Ben … you know I have loved you almost from…

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Two Reasons

Full preparations are under way for Hawaii.  I am looking forward to the time with my kids in the place Ben loved best.

The days keep passing by and I find myself remaining exhaustingly busy.  Lately I have taken to wondering why I am so busy, especially since I’m not working right now. I thought it was because Ben left so much unfinished business behind, but that’s no longer really applicable. I have pretty much straightened everything out.

So I asked myself what I have been doing with my time.  Well, I have been getting the floors re-done (they look spectacular) and arranging for the cabinets to be sprayed, redoing my bedroom, planning our holidays, working out a lot … the list goes on.  But when I put it all down in writing I realize that none of those “must do’s” have anything to do with Ben. It all has to do with me.  Just me.  But why?

The working out part is a no brainer. The kids need me healthy and I also need myself healthy.  But why the rest of it?  Why am I in such a hurry to take on so much, so quickly, especially when I often find myself overwhelmed and exhausted by the end of the day? And why am I in such a hurry to change so many things around here?

I have come to the conclusion that there are two reasons.  Here they are:

Reason Numero Uno is because I love my home which also happens to be filled with memories of Ben.  Really great memories for the most part.  But in addition to all the years of great memories, I am now haunted by 9 months of horrifying memories which seem to have taken over everything. I want to stay in this house and hold onto the good memories, but the ones from Ben’s diagnosis to death are indescribably unbearable.  They hurt so much that I desperately want to erase them from my brain, but I have found that impossible to do.

I can’t walk into our ensuite without seeing Ben fall and hit his head and cry out for me while he was unable to move or get up.  I can’t stand in my kitchen without hearing him cry out “I have cancer.  It’s in my kidney and my bones.”  I can’t enter the house without seeing him sitting on the seat of his walker, completely dejected and exhausted from trying desperately to get to the front door so he could drive his truck just one more time.  (Which led me to think … when exactly was the last time he drove his truck?  Did I know it was the last time?  Did he?)  I can’t walk into the family room without seeing him sitting in his chair, feet horribly swollen and asking Dr B “am I going to die?”  and seeing Dr B’s sad face as he said “Yes Ben. You are going to die.  You get the picture. (I want that chair out of here.  I know that is such a waste of money but I hate it.  I can’t stand sitting in it.  Too bad Mom already bought the same one – she could have taken Ben’s.)

So basically, I need change without selling my house because I no longer want to remember the tears and desperation.  I want to be able to envision Ben playing guitar, or cooking in the kitchen, or laying beside me in bed in better times.  (Strangely, our bed is the only thing I don’t want to sell. I find that odd, because I think many people wouldn’t want to sleep in the same bed where their spouse died. But I do.  It’s the only way I can hold on.)

Reason Deux for doing so much around the house is because when I’m overwhelmingly busy I don’t have much time to dwell on all that I have lost. And much like the first reason, it allows my mind to stay off of the horrifying memories that torment me.  I’m not sure what I’ll do when there are no longer any new things to fix or change around here.  Anyone need help?

Raegan’s birthday is fast approaching, and it is not lost on any of us that her 15th birthday will also mark exactly six months since Ben died.  And only six short months before that, this was happening:

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That picture was taken July 13, 2015.  Look how wonderful and happy Ben looked!  Ben was presenting her with a very special necklace.  I remember how he thought about waiting until her 16th birthday to give it to her (which was when he gave Jaime her necklace), and I held my breath because all I could think was “you won’t be alive on Raegan’s 16th birthday.”

At the moment I clicked the camera to take this picture I was thinking how it would be the last birthday where Raegan would sit beside her Dad opening gifts.  I remember really, really appreciating that moment, and knowing that even though I knew it was the last time, I still wouldn’t be able to adequately prepare myself for how unbearable it would be for her next one.  How quickly time passes.

I miss his voice, and his smile, and his steady, calm strength, and the knowledge that he always seemed to know the right thing to do.  I sure do miss having him around to calm me as I freak out as per usual in the pre-travel days.

However, we have in fact found some laughter in our lives again.

The picture in the back yard was from when we were toasting Ben on Canada Day.  The others are the girls and I out for brunch, and all of the kids mooching off of me in the mall.  (Who doesn’t need a new pair of flip flops for the beach? Am I right?)  And speaking of the beach …

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My nails are Hawaii ready!  So are the girls’ nails …. we made a day of it but I don’t have any other pictures because I was too enthralled with my own.

Speaking of nails … Jaime had to pay a visit to the doctor the other day and he told her that her chipped toe nails were disgusting.  Hahaha.  I knew better than to go there with a bad pedi, so I wore shoes.  While I was there we had a discussion about why my foot keeps randomly swelling up, and he decided I should donate some blood just to rule out a blood clot since my calf was fairly tender too.  I donated the blood and left the office, and then it occurred to me that there would be a problem with me flying to Hawaii if I had any signs of a clot.  So I sent this:

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 OK, that’s good.  I wouldn’t want to have to cancel.

By the time I went to reply again, I happened to be standing in front of my microwave which always messes with my texts for some unexplainable reason.  My phone literally develops a mind of it’s own, and “I” replied with this:

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Whaaaat????  I SCOTT u?  What the heck is that?  So I quickly moved away from the microwave and sent this:

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And good ol’ Dr B, ever with the quick sense of humour sent this:

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So you see …. laughs.

And one other thing that made me smile was an Instagram chat with guess who ….

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He remembered me.  And I still love his hair.

A little further chatting and he told me he is coming to Seattle in November and likely Vancouver.  Anyone want to join me?  That is one concert I do not want to miss!

Hug your people.

About Ben or Not About Ben?

I’m going to start with “Not About Ben.”

First of all, I’m on summer holidays.  Yay.  Not to return to work until after Labour Day. An entire summer to devote to myself and my kidlets.  That has not happened since I was 17, so I’m pretty excited about it.  I’m hoping for some relaxation, some healing and a lot of hiking.  Nothing like being in nature to help one’s self heal.  I may have to buy new shoes … is there such a thing as fashionable hiking boots?  Apparently there is.

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I may have to give those a bit of thought.  They could be a bit hard to walk in.  And speaking of walking, which involves the ground, which also could involve flooring (see how I segued smoothly into a conversation about my floors?) …. after ELEVEN WEEKS and three days…. wait for it … wait for it … my floors are NOT finished.  DA DA daaa!  Sorry for the letdown there.  However, trying to look on the bright side, they are almost done.  All the flooring is in and the baseboards mostly went back on today.  The railings are finished but not yet installed, and the fireplace mantle still needs to be stained.  Despite all that, they look fantastic.  Here’s a taste:

 

Gorgeous, right?  I know.  They actually look way better in person than they do in the pictures.

Besides being busy trying to live life around a strange man who has pretty much moved into my home while he does his work, I have also been starting to read up on what to do in Hawaii.  (Now here is the segue into “About Ben.”)  I do wish very much that Ben was here to enjoy the trip with us, but I am still looking forward to being in his favourite place with the kids and Lisa.  I have been toying with the idea of taking some of his ashes with us to spread some place pretty and peaceful, but at the same time I haven’t yet gotten off my butt to make the inquiry with the airline.  Or to actually get some of his ashes separated.

I’ll bet you didn’t know that you weren’t just allowed to bring ashes in your carry on luggage, did you?  I was tempted to try, but I don’t relish the thought of  the airline seizing them and then having part of Ben living eternally at YVR.  (Although, if he lived there long enough he may eventually get a discount on flights.  But I digress…)  I’m not even positive that I want to separate any of his ashes at all and I don’t want to rush into making that decision. If we find ourselves flying out without his ashes, I’ll wait until the next trip.

The kids and I visited two cemeteries this week and we made the final decision about where to have Ben’s ashes interred.  Turns out that there is quite a competition for burial plots.  Who knew?  The cemetery we decided to go with only has three remaining plots available right now.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Three.

Technically they have eight remaining plots, but five of them are already spoken for.  I missed four of them by one day.  Apparently you can “hold” a spot for 30 days while you try decide if that is the perfect spot for your loved one to spend eternity.  Of those five spots that are currently held, the holder of one of them has a mere four more days to make their final decision or come up with the money, or figure out whatever it is that is holding them back from committing.  (Maybe they haven’t died yet?  That would put a wrench in their plans.)  Anyway, that happens to be the specific plot that we actually want, so we in turn put a hold on our second favourite plot while we wait to see what happens with the first one. Will the holder pay, or won’t they?  It feels a bit like a game of poker which I’m not very good at, as my friends can attest to.  Hopefully I play this hand better than I did last Friday night.

Cross your fingers for us that we get what we want.  Not that Ben would actually care – he wouldn’t.  He would say “give the bag a shake and let my ashes blow away in the wind, because it’s cheaper.”  He would actually say that.  But he would also say that everything that takes place after death is for the survivors, so I’m going to do what’s best for the four of us. Therefore, cross your fingers for us that we get what we want, because it is important to us.

I would cross my own fingers but I can’t because my stupid finger is still broken.  Here’s how part of that little chat with my doctor went today, after he received my xray results:

IMG_6436Hmmm … well, good thing it’s in a good position I suppose, but where exactly does that leave me? So I tried again …

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Laughing-Crying-Emoticon-02 Laughing-Crying-Emoticon-02 Laughing-Crying-Emoticon-02  That’s right, I took it off against the doctor’s advice because I was sick of it and I thought it might be healed, even though he had told me it wouldn’t be.  What does he really know?  He answered with this:

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WHAAAAT????  I don’t want to wear that stupid splint anymore.  So that answer made me mad and I thought I would really show him who’s boss by letting him know just how mad I was:

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That’s right.  I sent an angry emoticon.  I wasn’t fooling around.  All he sent back was this:

IMG_6440Damn him and his answers that are not what I want to hear.  Who does he think he is anyway?  What makes him so smart?  So what that he went to med school. Pfffft…. big deal. He texted all tough, but I have a pretty good feeling that he was crying and shaking in fear over that angry emoticon I sent him.  Anyway, I sure showed him because I took the stupid splint off to type this post.  So there.

While I happily type away without my splint, Raegan has left with her friend Jenn on a lovely overnighter in the good ol’ U.S of A.  Raegan was thrilled to leave the Vancouver drizzle behind for a night.  Here’s the picture of them that Jenn’s mom sent me tonight as they were headed out on a hike.

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Hahahahahaha!  Apparently it’s pouring there.  Raegan doesn’t look thrilled that she is wearing a plastic bag.  Seeing that picture actually made me laugh out loud.  I was reminded of the time that my grade 2 teacher insisted we all bring one of our Dad’s old shirts to school to use as a paint smock the next day.  When I asked for an old shirt, my mom said that dad didn’t have any shirts to spare that they could afford to have ruined by paint.  Instead, she made me wear a big black garbage bag with holes cut for my head and arms.  All day the other kids called me the “Big Black Banana.”  I was traumatized for life, so now I’m happy to pass that same trauma onto my own kid.

Sometimes I just love parenthood.  🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First Birthday. Da da DA!

The “Da da DA” was supposed to be the dramatic music played in the movies.

Today I am officially the same age as Ben.  He’s never going to get older but I am.  That is odd.  I always used to tell him that he could have one extra year on earth so that we could die at the same time.  He in turn always said he was going to live to be 100, but I said I’d be happy to make it anywhere into my 90’s so he’d be on his own after that.  I was always pretty sure he’d enjoy a couple of years of being able to just play guitar without being interrupted anyway.

I definitely missed our Saint-Onge Family Birthday BBQ of steak and caesar salad tonight, and I missed Ben as always, but in fact I had a happy day. The weather has been miserable lately but today the sun shone through.  A gift from Ben perhaps.

I spent the day enjoying a pedicure with Mom and Barb (how could a day ever go bad when it starts with a pedi?) …

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… followed by lunch with my family (sans Lisa and Brett unfortunately) and dinner with Connie and Kirby, Nancy and Jeremy, and Lisa and Darren.  AND, miracle of all miracles, I did not even cry once until right this moment when I received this text from Connie in response to my “thank you for the lovely evening” text.  I hope she won’t mind me posting it here.

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They miss Ben too.  That probably shouldn’t make me happy, but it does.  I like that I am not the only one that misses him.  He was worth missing.  Knowing that he had a positive impact on other people’s lives, and knowing that they will remember him too makes me happy.  I like knowing that my life is not the only one impacted by his loss.  Ben would like knowing that too.  I hope he does.

Anyway, today was evidence to me that joy can still be had in conjunction with the pain, and it allows me to imagine that more joy could possibly follow.  I think there may be a day when the joy will outweigh the pain, and perhaps the pain will fade into memories that mostly make me smile. Especially when I hear the memories that others have of Ben.  

The other day I was driving to an appointment when I noticed that the car in front of me had a sticker on it with a sweet saying followed by the name “Cassidy Briggs.”  I was immediately brought back to six years ago, when a little girl named Cassidy was in all the local papers because she was fighting cancer, and I remember when she passed away.  Ben and I talked about her a lot at the time.

I drove behind that car all the way to my appointment.  Every turn the driver made was the same turn I had to make, and eventually the car pulled into a parking stall exactly where I was going.  I stopped my car and waited until the driver got out, and before I could change my mind I walked up to the driver (who probably thought I was a crazy stalker) and asked her if she was Cassidy’s mother.  When she said “yes” I told her that I remembered her daughter, even though I had never met her.  I told her that our hearts broke all those years ago when we read their story in the news, and that I had never forgotten it.  I told her that I wanted her to know that her daughter’s life impacted people who had never met her, and that I had never forgotten her and I never would. And then I said goodbye and went on to my appointment.

I hope it made that mother happy to know that her daughter is not forgotten.

Missing you every minute of every day, Ben, but I hope you know that today I smiled and laughed. You are not forgotten.  Never forgotten.  xox

Saint-Onge family on Bens birthday Mar 13 2006