Thursday, November 4, 2010

Benjamin's 3rd Birthday: His Place in Our Family

Who can say for certain?
Maybe you're still here.
~ "To Where You Are," Linda Thompson

I wrote Benjamin's story here on the blog in the weeks following his death. Something I wrote at the end has bothered me ever since: "And now it is time to learn to live without this precious son."

A paradox of parental bereavement is that while you are physically separated permanently from your child, you are so consumed by thoughts and feelings about him that it is as if he is always with you in your heart and mind, perhaps even more than if he were physically with you. Yet all that is invisible. For the first few months and even years you walk around with an agonizing hole inside, every heartbeat longing for the child missing from your arms, and the Walmart worker or the new neighbor or the man walking down the street has no idea. There is a sense of almost panic that everyone but you will forget about your child who is so deeply loved and important to you. I struggled with reconciling the lack of physical presence with the intense desire to feel him close, knowing that it was possible.

I am acquainted with two very special people who have dealt with loss in ways that have inspired me. One is Ruth Flake, a sister in the small town in Arizona where my parents live, whose husband was a cattle rancher. They raised a large family, and looked forward to serving a full-time mission when he retired. Not long before they would have been able to go, Bro. Flake contracted serious pneumonia and died. This was of course a crushing blow to his family, and what Sis. Flake did next filled me with awe. She went on a mission. She said that she knew her husband was serving on the other side of the veil, and this way they would be serving together. She included mentions of him in her letters home.

The other inspiration for this post is from Megan. Her two beautiful twin daughters were taken from her even earlier than my son was taken from me. She wrote one time about adjusting to living with her girls "on another sort of plane. They are not gone far. Whenever I go into our backyard, I like to think of them on the other side of the fence." I loved this. It immediately helped me shift my mindset a little bit towards the amazing faith of Ruth Flake. I wanted to learn to live with my son, even though he physically is not here.

The past three years have been spent carving out Benjamin's place in our family and in the world--the place he would naturally have if he were here whenever possible--the place he deserves as our son, brother, nephew, grandson, and cousin. I feel blessed well beyond what I deserve to have family and friends who have supported us so completely and lovingly in this process. The panic I used to feel has dissolved into a peaceful reassurance that no one who loves us will forget our son Benjamin. They love him, too. And that has allowed me amazing peace and healing. It has helped me more than anything to return to enjoying life.

Maybe sometime I will post about specific things family members have done for his birthday and Christmas, or how friends have showed compassion at just the right times. But in many cases it almost feels like that might tarnish a little bit the beauty of what they have done--the quiet privacy of these acts was part of the love shown. So this post will be about our immediate family and the ways we have found to include Benjamin in our family right now, buoyed up by the fact that we are not alone in remembering him.

Some ways we have found to live with Benjamin. . . .

~ We talk about him often, and usually without tears. We always include him in the count when people ask how many children we have. We wonder aloud what he would be doing if he were here.

~ He is on our Family Home Evening chart! This was Hummer's idea. I made the chart back in 2004 with two blank name cards, just in case. :) They stayed blank until a few months ago, when Hummer decided to rectify the situation with a permanent marker. At first it made me sad, but then I realized it was a great way to include Benjamin. If he's on "Prayer", someone gives it for him. If he's on "Share", we look at a page or two in his scrapbook. If he's on any of the others, we just try to think of what he might like to choose if he were here. And I believe he often is here for FHE. :)

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~ We have rituals and traditions that include him. Nearly every Sunday after church, we go to the cemetery. Exacto, Fluffy, and Hummer don't always actually come to his gravesite, but spend the time down at the lake, chasing the Canadian geese or inspecting the fish and turtles. Rosebud and I walk to his grave and just stand and think for a while, and I usually take a picture. We plant live flowers there in almost every season. We decorate with things that we think are beautiful or that remind us of him.


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~ We try to find ways to include him in our family portraits. Some ideas we've used are: photoshopping an actual photo of him into the picture, holding a white rose to symbolize him, and this summer at our family reunion, a cute little snail stood in for him. I thought this was appropriate, since Benjamin would have been 2 1/2 in this picture and probably quite enamored with snails. :)

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~ His birthday includes special meals just like all our other birthdays, and a particular cake. His birthday cake is the most delicious carrot cake you'll ever have, made with whole wheat. Here's the recipe I use:

Benjamin’s Birthday Cake


2 cups whole wheat flour

2 cups sugar

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. ground ginger

4 eggs

1 cup vegetable oil

4 cups shredded carrots (I buy matchstick carrots, then chop a little more)

1 cup chopped walnuts (DC leaves these out)

2 tsp. vanilla


3 oz. cream cheese

¼ cup (½ stick) butter

2 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

Butter & flour two 8” round cake pans. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together dry ingredients. Beat together eggs and oil. Beat in dry ingredients. Add carrots, walnuts and vanilla.

Pour batter evenly into two cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes until done. Do NOT overcook. Cool in pans for 20 minutes. Remove from pans and cool completely. Frost and refrigerate for 12 hours or more.

Frosting: Soften cream cheese and butter. Beat together until fluffy. Stir in powdered sugar gradually. Stir in vanilla. Frost cake lightly. Keep refrigerated.


~ We have written a special FHE lesson that we give on the Monday night near his birthday. It is always a beautiful spiritual experience to talk together as a family about Benjamin and the hope we have through Jesus Christ of really being with him again. We each take a turn saying what we look forward to doing with him.

Please, No Empty Chairs - FHE Lesson


There are many others. I always love discovering new ways to include him in our everyday life. Someday I will know how close he really is right now, and how often he was actually with us when we couldn't see him.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A beautiful day

What an amazingly wonderful day this has been. Thank you all who called or emailed or thought kindly towards us today!
I had a fancy post almost all ready to publish, and then Windows Live Writer started having fits, and I couldn't get it figured out. But hopefully tomorrow, I will share with you my thoughts about Benjamin's place in our family! Oh, how I love him.
My heart is filled with peace and gratitude tonight.

Monday, November 1, 2010

How we do it - { scouting }

Here's a little post to prove that I am okay, and it is November 1st! Yay for me!

For all the moms of boys out there. . .


With so many boys in our family, you know it'll be either sink-or-swim for us when it comes to Scouting and Faith in God. For a while we really struggled with a routine for it. Poor Exacto barely finished by the skin of his teeth (ON his birthday for his Wolf!) for several of the early ranks. With them gone all day to school, and then homework and sports and music when they got home, it really was tricky. Then Fluffy became a Cub Scout, and Exacto entered Boy Scouts, and we were really floundering.

Luckily, I have a brilliant mom, who raised 5 Eagle Scouts and was a den mother herself for years and years. She suggested the following, and it has worked like a charm for us ever since.

1. Get yourself some Little Debbies, or a charming, inexpensive substitute. :)

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2. Put them into the birdhouse that your Wolf scout made for one of his requirements with a diligent den leader (no way could WE have pulled off this good of a job!)



3. Require your sweet son to spend 15 minutes a day (time it!) working on either Scouts or Faith in God. Be available to help, but try to have the burden of looking in the book for what to do, etc. on HIS shoulders whenever possible.

4. When he signs off a requirement, let him choose a treat from the birdhouse!

This is working so well for us, because it has become part of the daily routine. We include it with the practicing they do. (They only have to practice on the days that they eat--ha :). Fluffy is more than halfway done with his Bear and it's only been a few months since he started it. Exacto just finished his 1st class (he turned 12 in June). And I have finally caught the vision--guess what? Scouting is FUN! Who'd have thought?

(caveat: I should mention that we have stopped all sports for now. Music is so important to us, and there really isn't time to do both that and sports AND Scouting. Scouting is the Church's program for the boys in that age group, and so we consider it necessary. But you could totally make this work with sports and Scouting, of course. :)

I'm so grateful for this idea from my mom! Just had to share for anyone out there overwhelmed with helping their boys get this done.

What can I say? In this family, SUGAR TALKS. :) It's all about routine and sugar, mmhmm.