It Must Have Super Powers

On the post I wrote for Soaring Spirits this week, I put forth this question to all the widows reading that blog:

Did you ever feel so consumed by your own grief that you have forgotten that others grieve too?  That they grieve not only for the loss of your spouse, who may have been a friend to them, but possibly they grieve also for other people that you may know absolutely nothing about?  Do you find that during this time of all consuming grief, you have forgotten that other people have suffered loss too?

My reason for proposing that question was because recently, the realization that others grieve too has hit me hard.

For the last 19 months I have been consumed by my own grief and I didn’t have room to consider the possibility that anyone else in my life could be carrying around a similar, agonizing grief from their own past.  That wasn’t on my radar at all.  Lately though … lately my eyes have opened a bit to the world around me as I have slowly started to awaken from my drugged slumber (figuratively drugged, not literally), and I have been surprised to discover that others – not random strangers but actual people who are a part of my life – have suffered their own agonizing losses that I knew nothing about.  How could I have not known??

Years ago I had a colleague who became a friend.  We worked together for a brief period of time before I was transferred, and although we didn’t work together for long, she was one of those people I have always considered a friend regardless of time and distance.  She’s someone you don’t forget.

The day after Ben died I had to go into my office building to meet with the Chaplain and I walked right into her for the first time in years.  I recall that she called out my name, burst into tears and hugged me long and hard.  I was moved by how much compassion she had for my situation, although I was far too deep into my own devastation to give it much more than a passing thought.  On some vague level I recall being a little surprised by how upset she was on my behalf, but we are about the same age and have kids the same age so I guess I assumed that she could imagine on some level the difficulties I was about to face.  It never occurred to me to consider that the reason she was able to feel my pain so deeply could be due to a past significant loss of her own.  After all, her husband was alive and well, and although I knew her dad had passed away she was a middle aged adult by the time it happened and (although terribly sad and not something I want to even think about happening for many many years) it is just not quite the same thing.  Anyway, I went on to my meeting with the Chaplain and pushed the thoughts of her and everyone else out of my mind.

Fast forward 19 months and this old friend contacted me recently to see if I wanted to have coffee with her and catch up.  She came over and we visited for a couple of hours, and she let me ramble on endlessly about Ben.  Fresh ears, you know?  It was nice to talk about Ben to someone who hadn’t already heard all the stories about the nightmare we lived.  I like to tell those stories because talking about it takes away some of the power that those memories have to hurt me, and of course I just like to discuss Ben in any way, shape or form.  She was very compassionate and she was visibly moved by my loss, and I found that so touching.  I mean, naturally I think there is no greater loss in the world than that of losing Ben, but to see someone else who never met him be so touched made me feel like she cares about living in a world where Ben does not exist.  She made me feel as though she wished she knew him, and that made me feel good.

After having an emotional conversation for a couple of hours she eventually needed to leave (or escape), and as she was leaving she mentioned that her brother had been killed in an accident when they were teens.  Just like that. She said she thinks about him every day.  And in that instant I realized that not only had she lived a terrible, aching loss of her own, but she relived it through me because our conversation brought back memories of all that pain.  For the first time in a long time I was overcome with an emotion that was not my own grief.  I’m not even sure what it was.  Compassion?  Understanding? Guilt, shame or embarrassment over not having known and never having asked?  Probably a bit of all of those.  I recognized that she had lived through pain that was similar to my own.  A terrible, life altering loss.  The kind from which one never fully recovers.  A kind of loss like mine.  And although I had clearly understood on some subconscious level that there was more going on for her than just consoling an old, casual friend from the past, I had never stopped to ask her.  I had never asked her why she seemed to understand so well, or why she clearly felt my pain so deeply.  I should have asked.  It never occurred to me that she could have ever had reason to grieve like I do.

Over the last 19 months I have never paused to ask her, or any of the other unexpected and random people who showed up to help for reasons unknown, why they seemed to understand just a little bit more than everyone else.  I know why most people showed up.  It was because they loved Ben, or they love me, or both, and we have close, ongoing relationships.  But why had certain people, some almost strangers, shown up unexpectedly and knowing exactly how to help or exactly what to say?  After all, these people didn’t know me well and couldn’t possibly know a pain like mine, right?

Clearly, I was wrong.

With regards to my friend who disclosed that her brother had been killed, I could probably use the excuse that we had never had the opportunity to develop and nurture a close relationship, so how could I have been expected to ask her if she had reason to know my pain?  But the thing is … on some level I did know.  I knew because her overt sadness on my behalf was more than most others felt.  I could inherently feel that it was different, and I have felt that difference on a couple of other occasions.  I’ve felt the difference from people who were merely acquaintances in my ‘real life’ but who felt compelled to reach out to me in a way that was subtly different from the rest.  One of them, I later learned, had lost her sister when she was a teen.  Three others had lost their fathers when they were kids, and therefore knew the pain that my children would be enduring.  I had not known, but I feel like I should have.  I feel like I should have asked.

So basically, that’s what I’ve been thinking about for the last few days.  I’ve been acknowledging that my pain is great, but there are others out there who experience it also.  (Although, as I’ve mentioned before, my pain is most certainly greater than those who lost a pet.  I will stand behind that statement forever.)  There are hurting hearts out there all over the place, and I never knew it.  Somehow, all these people managed pick up the pieces of their lives and move forward, and then use what they learned to be able to help people in need, like myself.  They understand how much it hurts to have your heart broken, but they demonstrate how to be brave enough to allow it to break all over again for someone else, just so they can help that person.

A local Mountie was killed in an accident within the last couple of weeks, and he left behind his wife and two young boys. My heart hurts because I know what is in store for her.  A mutual friend sent me a text assuring me that he and several other coworkers will take care of that family always.  When I read those words I couldn’t help but think, “I know you mean it.  I know you really, really mean it.  I believe you mean it.  But unfortunately, it’s just not true.  It’s not true because all of your lives will go on, just as they should, yet her husband will remain dead.  You may help her with the insurance paperwork, you may collect her husband’s uniform, and you may text or call her or drop in once in awhile.  And all those things are nice and so well intentioned, but every Christmas you will be with your own family.  You will not be with her on her wedding anniversary.  You will not be waking up beside her in the morning.  She has to do all those things and more on her own. ”

I sent the member’s wife a message and let her know that I know.  She has, most unfortunately, just become an unwilling member of the exclusive club that no one wants to join.  So if she needs me, if she needs someone who really knows, I will try to be the person for her that other ‘almost strangers’ have been for me.  Because they knew.  And I know too.

Recently I was reading through my blog and I came across a comment that was written by my friend two years ago in response to the pain I was suffering.  She wrote, “Oh my woman … how can a heart break so many times and still we live?  It must have superpowers.”  How true those words ring to me now, as I recognize all those hearts out there that have been shattered in the past, and still they put themselves back out there to help the next one.  To be able to not only live after heartbreak but to use that pain to help ease the suffering of others is indeed a great, great superpower.  I will not close my eyes to the pain of others any more.  I choose that superpower.

 

Spring Has Sprung

I’ve always thought of Spring as a new beginning, and this one is no different.  In fact, as I write these words I am counting down the last of (approximately) eleven hours to another new beginning.  At midnight tonight I will be officially retired from the RCMP.  A pensioner.  HA!  You have no idea how much that word makes me laugh.  If I close my eyes for 30 seconds I can literally see, hear and feel those early days where I privately thought of the “Over 40’s” in the RCMP as “Dinosaurs.” I “tolerated” them but thought it was time for them to move over and let the new blood in.  Good grief.

When I close my eyes I can see these Training days as if they happened moments ago:

… and the first post …

It’s true that the older you get, the faster time passes.  I am now acutely aware that every day is, in some way, a “last time.”  Today it is the “last day I am a police officer.”  I’m moving over and making room for this …

Hahahahaha!

Starting this new life without Ben is not something I ever thought I’d be doing, and yet here I am.  The other day I read this:

“You are living without the person you can’t possibly have lost. The loneliness can not be captured in any word, phrase or song. It’s palpable, breathtaking and seemingly void of all reality. It’s cold, cruel and takes your heart to a level of pain you didn’t even realize existed before death laid its cold hand on your barely beating heart.”

Those words capture the way I have felt since the moment Ben took his last breath, and it will remain the way I feel on some level until the day I die.  But I am also acutely aware of the fact that I am not dead.  Ben’s body is dead.  Mine is not.  Fair or unfair, that’s just the way it is.  Sometimes I have to say the words out loud to myself to both believe them and to remind myself that my life does, indeed, go on.  And Ben would want it to.

So, in the spirit of continuing to move forward, I whisked Raegan off to New York for a week of sightseeing … just the two of us.  Unfortunately, I was super sick the whole time we were there, but I loved every second of being with her one on one.  I love that we have New York all to ourselves.

One of the highlights of the trip was visiting the 911 Memorial Museum.  We were there for several hours and I could have stayed several more.  This art covers one of the walls, and I loved it so much I now have the saying on my key chain beside the guitar pick with “The Titan” on it.

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No Day Shall Erase You From The Memory Of Time.  Damn right.

Raegan and I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and, as usual, left a little piece of Ben there until the end of time.  Or until the bridge is replaced, anyway.  This time it was Raegan who whipped out the marker before I had even thought of it …

While Raegan and I explored New York, and Zak attended classes at school (sorry Zak … that is the life of a student), Jaime explored Australia and New Zealand with her classmates.

 

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She had a great time, by all accounts, and now is prepping for the big day … GRADUATION!!  (Well, first her birthday … can’t believe she’s almost 18 … and then grad).

Despite the fact that Zak didn’t travel over Spring Break, what he has done is far more inspiring.  Today my boy celebrates three years of sobriety!  I am thrilled.  Ben is thrilled for sure.  You may recall how that first sobriety anniversary was bittersweet for us.  (You can read Ben’s post about it here. )  Zak hit his one year sober-versary a mere two days before Ben received his death sentence.  Talk about sobering (pun intended).  But as Ben wrote, Zak was a source of inspiration for him, and I love that both of them got to experience it. And since I’m in a bragging mood … here is my inspirational man-child with his equally inspirational girl friend.

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Ahhhhh …. my pride cup runneth over.

And so, despite the fact that my grief continues to haunt me every moment, it now does so at a lower volume.  Low enough between waves that I find I can enjoy some of what life has to offer again.

One last thing … while I was going through some photos I rediscovered these two.  The one of Ben was taken in Hollywood on our honeymoon in 1994.  The one of the girls was taken in the exact same spot just weeks shy of 22 years later.  Funny how life works.  I sometimes imagine it as this continual reel of film where you can see all the things that happen in one spot over the years.  Perhaps our grandchildren will visit this same spot one day.

Happy April 6th.  Happy Spring.  Happy birthday, Lelita.  Happy sober-versary, Zak. Happy retirement, me.

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Forever missing you Ben. #BenTheTitan

The Official Obituary

That is an odd title for a blog post.  There was a time when I could not have ever imagined writing something like that.  Unfortunately, these last 9 months have not been that time. So here goes:

Ben “The Titan” Saint-Onge 

March 13, 1969 – January 13, 2016

Ben Saint-Onge, our strong, steadfast, unbreakable “Titan”, took his last breath peacefully at home on January 13, 2016, surrounded by his beloved wife and children. Ben leaves behind Wendy, his one true love.  He also unwillingly leaves behind his main man Zak (son), and beautiful daughters Jaime and Raegan. All four brought immense light and joy into his life.

Ben grew up in Eastern Canada and joined the RCMP in 1992. This where he met a “smoking” young Wendy while at the Police Academy in Regina, SK. Ben’s first posting was to Gibsons, BC in 1993. It was here that he proposed to his sweetheart, and on September 24, 1994 they married and began their life journey together. Ben and Wendy joyfully added Zak to their family in 1996, followed by Jaime in 1999. Raegan’s arrival in 2001 completed their family.

Many civilian friends will be unaware of Ben’s truly exceptional career as a police officer with the RCMP. On the Sunshine Coast he was known as “Gentle Ben” – tough, but kind and fair. In 1997 he transferred to Langley Detachment, where he served as a uniformed member before developing a specialty in drug investigations. Ben spent the last fourteen years of his career in various specialized sections (during which time he was deservingly promoted), continuing to serve and protect in ways that the general public couldn’t understand but should gratefully appreciate. He was a gifted police officer, sought out for his skills as both an investigator and a teacher. As well, Ben received special recognition over the course of his 23 year career from both the RCMP and other police forces and families of victims.

Ben did not take lightly his time away from home and family; however, he knew that his efforts truly saved lives, brought justice, and positively impacted the communities in which he worked. Ben loved his job and his colleagues and was devastated when his illness made it impossible for him to continue. The people he worked with were not just his friends; they were his brothers and his sisters.

Forever missing Ben are his parents: father Ben Sr. (Diana), mother Myrna (Doug), and Robin and Maureen Insley, who loved Ben as surely, deeply, and truly as any parents ever could.

Ben will be desperately missed by his sisters: Michelle (Cameron, Kelsey, Harper, Darcy), Lisa (Brett, Brendan, Jenna), and Barbara (Makeda).

Finally, Ben leaves behind his “family by choice”: Jeff Scott, Nancy Birbeck , Beth Leatherdale, Mario Bourdages, Connie and Kirby Smith, and Dennis Ripley. There are countless others whom he loved, who loved him through years of joy and sorrow, and who never wavered in their support.

Our family is forever indebted to some very special people who helped care for Ben during his knock-down, drag-out, body-slamming fight with cancer (with a small “c”). Dr. Pippa Hawley and Dr. Christian Kollmannsberger patiently fielded our endless questions with professionalism and respect. They understood what needed to be said and when to say it.

It is very important to us to draw specific attention to Dr. Andre Bredenkamp. Our gratitude towards our “Dr B” knows no bounds. You came alongside us in our struggle and let us lean on you. We deeply appreciate the personal sacrifices you made to care for Ben and our entire family. It comforts us to know that Ben was in the best possible hands and received the best possible care.

For their gentleness, wisdom and kindness, their infinite patience and intimate understanding during Ben’s care, we are so grateful to Julie Bourdages, Leanne Upton, Marlene Upton, and Whitney Traversy. For their reliability and helpfulness throughout this entire ordeal, we deeply thank Sharon Woodburn and Paula McCaffrey, who never failed us when it came to obtaining medications and equipment. You will never know how deeply we appreciate all of you.

In lieu of flowers or gifts, please consider a donation to The Last Door recovery center (www.lastdoor.org/donate), a registered charity that was extremely personal and important to Ben. Alternately, donations may also be made in Ben’s name to bccancerfoundation.com. Donations in Ben’s name will be directed to the Personalized Onco-Genomonics (POG) clinical trials program.

Ben felt that Bruce Lee said it best:  “Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”

Farewell my sweet man, until we meet again. I will honour your memory always, and I promise you I will take care of our children with the same love, kindness and patience as you always did. (ok, technically I may not be as patient as you, but I promise I will try.) Thank you for choosing me. Rock out with Jimmy Hendrix, my love.

 A Celebration of a Life Well-Lived for “The Titan” will be held at 1:00 p.m. on January 22, 2016, at Victory Memorial Park, 14831 28th Avenue in South Surrey. Reception to follow immediately afterwards.

Messages of condolence and favourite memories of Ben may be left at www.victoryfuneralcentre.ca where they will be compiled into a book for the family.