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.


llamitanan said...[Reply to comment]

Wow a wonderful post! Yesterday was delightful thinking of our sweet Benjamin and being in the Temple for many hours. As your dad quoted President Monson on Sunday that Holy Temples is where heaven and earth meet. I'm glad you are remembering your sweet son as you spend such good positive time with Exacto, Fluffy, Hummer and Rosebud. You sounded so positive, happy and peaceful last night. I'm grateful we have our Michelle back.

Chocolate on my Cranium said...[Reply to comment]

Loved reading about all the ways you continue to include Benjamin in your family festivities.

A couple of years ago, at my grandfather's funeral, I sat and chatted with a second cousin whom I hadn't seen since we were teenagers. We were very good friends way back then. When I asked about her children she said, "We have four...wait, make that five. One was stillborn but I still have a hard time knowing how to reply when people ask about my children." I could tell it was very hard for her. I think I will e-mail her a link to this post. Hopefully it will help her. She still has a very difficult time, as you well know from experience.

Thank you for sharing with us your testimony that families truly are forever!

Marji & Jim said...[Reply to comment]

I'm glad you had a good day celebrating Benjamin. Isn't the gospel wonderful...thank you for sharing your sweet spirit, it really lifts me up!

Andrea said...[Reply to comment]

Beautiful. I love hearing how you still include him. You are amazing.

Cindy said...[Reply to comment]

I love this post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You are an inspiring lady. Happy Birthday to your sweet Benjamin.

heroineworshipper said...[Reply to comment]

Most of us never have to face a rainy day but some of us are indebted to serve in The One Great Challenge. You wonder why you got picked when everyone else is off playing golf. Maybe it's because you were the only one who could handle The One Great Challenge. Maybe The One Great Challenge had no solution and you were just assigned to bear the aftermath of it.

Becky Rose said...[Reply to comment]

I love that your trying to remember him too! Megan is my cousin. I found you through her!

Marc and Megan said...[Reply to comment]

Michelle, I read this post a few days ago but wasn't able to respond right away. I love all the ways you remember and include Benjamin in your family. I want to make sure we do things like that with our girls through the years. I've realized that it takes some extra thought and planning... and I'm grateful to read some of your ideas. It has been a mutual blessing on my end to have had your friendship through my journey of grief. I've also felt uplifted and strengthened by things you've expressed and ways that you've lived through your tragedy and pain. Your little Benjamin is one very lucky boy to be a part of your family! I look forward to the day we'll both be reunited with our children and have the chance to raise them and watch them grow and learn. What a joyful day that will be! Thank you for sharing so much of yourself and your strength with me.

Andre said...[Reply to comment]

Wow. I love this post. We do almost every one of those things for Austin. We don't have his name on the FHE chart, but we visit him every Sunday and have special things we do on his birthday etc.. But I could never write about it as beautifully as you did. Thank you for writing what I am feeling. (Even though you don't know it!)

Our Family said...[Reply to comment]

I finally found your blog again. I had linked to it from another baby loss mom and she put her blog private and I had lost yours. So glad to find you again. You have so many great ideas to include your angel son. Thanks for your inspiration I am so glad to be here again. Kappy