There have been many times since Ben’s death that I have pondered what it means to stay together. I sadly understand the statistics behind couples divorcing after the death of a child. How much grief can one house hold? How much strain can one marriage take? How can you sustain a relationship when no one has anything left to give? In our darkest moments following Ben’s death I think both of us were ready to walk – for it seemed we couldn’t take anything else on top of our grief. But somehow, probably due to Ryan, we seemed to recover. We continue to recover. I don’t pretend to be righteous about this, or hold it above couples who have parted ways. But by grace, it seems somehow we are still here together. And today we have been married for 15 years.
A lot has happened since August 26, 1995. First and foremost, my hair has gotten a lot better – thanks to Aveda and the Chi. Furthermore, my brows no longer look like I was part of the cast in Mystic Pizza or St. Elmo’s Fire. But it is obvious we are not the same people we were back then. And who we were prior to Ben’s death is not who we are now, nor who we will become. How exactly we have been changed will become clearer as we go forward. But there is no getting over this, through this, around this or under this. Our new life is not what either of us wanted – nor do either of us have the power to change it. This wasn’t in the cards. This isn’t a honeymoon. We are not in a Nicholas Sparks novel. But what we are is a witness.
Susan Sarandon in the movie Shall We Dance says, “We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet… I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things… all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying, ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness’.”
Jeff has been my witness. And I have been his. Without his eyes my journey of loving and losing Ben fully would be unaccounted for. He is the only person at the end of the day who knows what this is like. Who knows how much has been lost. Who feels the void of Ben as much as I do. Only him. And for that I am thankful and less alone. I can say that when I look across the room – this man is my witness. This man saw Ben cut from my body, this man watched me learn to be a mother, and this man pulled me off the floor when Ben received his death sentence.
I did not see one person from the funeral home, nor did I ever go there. That was Jeff’s final gift to me in caring for Ben. He handled it all – to the point of carrying Ben out of our house – so that could be my final image. I know that was the single hardest thing Jeff has ever done. The tears streaming down his face told me he was sorry. He leaned over me, lifted Ben out of my arms and carried his body away. And that was the last time I saw my baby. White, stiff and in his father’s arms. I’m guessing this is not what most people have in mind when they are registering at Pottery Barn.
There will be no champagne or roses tonight – this isn’t the Bachelorette unfortunately (they say love it don’t come eeeeaasy…yah, tell me about that Wes). There will probably be no words spoken at all. Just a nod, a deep breath, and perhaps some tears – for the unspeakable journey that we have been on together. I am grateful for this witness – I am. I just wish he was witnessing a different story.
Thank you Jeff. For loving me and our sons.