The other day after we dropped Ryan off at school, I went up to his room to return the sweatshirt he proclaimed he would not wear. Though I had made his bed and straightened his room up earlier that morning, it was now a complete mess. There were numerous stuffed animals, sports paraphernalia (including goggles – why?) and various musical instruments scattered on the now unmade bed. Multiple team jerseys and athletic shorts lay strewn on the floor. How did he even have time to do all this I wondered? And why do I even bother to clean it up? For ten minutes after he is home from school it will look similar – only with a different choice of items scattered about. But in the midst of my small frustration and bewilderment I glanced across the hall to Ben’s room.
Nothing was out of place. Clothes are folded neatly in the drawers, his animals cuddle together nearby on a shelf. All his favorite books are stacked evenly in his bookshelf, vacuum marks remain permanently on the floor it seems. The quilt is perfectly flat, his worn blanket and sweet band-aid covered sheep lay propped against his pillow. If you saw it, it would be clear that no child lives here – at least no child of mine.
One of the questions I get asked the most, interestingly enough is, “Did you leave Ben’s room the same?” The short answer is yes. His room looks very much like it did the day he died – minus a plethora of medications, tubes, oxygen equipment, pumps, etc. The sheets and bedding no longer smell like cancer. A window must be opened occasionally in order to avoid the scent of a musty library. His beloved husky hat now sits on top of his dresser. But other than that – it remains unchanged.
Ryan is welcome and comfortable being there. He knows what he can play with and what he can’t. In this new world of school and play dates, I will often hear his little buddies saying, “Whose room is that?” Ryan will answer matter of factly, “That is my brother’s room.” “Who is your brother,” they ask? “Ben,” he responds. Sometimes they leave it at that, other times the conversation continues. Occasionally I step in to assist Ryan in the midst of their dialogue – for though this is our “normal”, it is certainly not normal for his friends.
But as long as we live here this will be Ben’s room. It’s not exactly a Land of Nod advertisement – but it is what it is. In the initial days and weeks of his absence I spent most of my days there – in his bed. Now, four years later, I don’t go in there daily. Sometimes a week or more will pass. It is mostly a conscious decision now, unless Ryan is in there. But on this day I pause. I enter. I breathe. I look around his room and my mind still cannot comprehend… he was just here. He was just here.
It may not look like a church, but this space is holy to me. For it was in this place that Ben took his last breath. It is a small snapshot of his short life – of the things and the people he loved most. And so it remains the same. Only we have changed.
And with that I exit before I fall down the rabbit hole of grief.