The good days have been a little scarce for the last few weeks. Ever since we collected Benjamin’s ashes from the cemetery I have really been struggling (well struggling even more than usual!). Some friends and family have asked me why I think it’s been particularly bad and whether certain things trigger me or not. I, like everyone else in this situation, have my triggers – little baby boys, pregnant women…the list could go on and on. I cross the street to avoid a buggy now. The previous me wouldn’t have cared at all. In fact, I used to have no interest in a baby unless it was a family or friend’s baby.
The biggest trigger by far, however, is being asked if I have any kids. This is something I was rarely asked before being pregnant but since losing Benjamin it feels like a regular occurrence. The other week I was going on my daily walk down to the beach. I have traditionally hated walking. I always just found it so boring. If I was going to exercise I wanted to sweat and make it count. It became a necessity when pregnant, however, as I wasn’t able to run for most of my pregnancy. Ironically, it is now a lifesaver for me – a time of solace, reflection and healing.
On this particular day I was approaching the primary school that we were going to send Benjamin to when an older lady smiled and said hello. I very innocently replied to her and then she started talking to me. It turned out that she was Irish too and so the conversation grew from there.
“Where in Ireland are you from?”
“What are you doing in Australia?”
“How long have you been here?”
“Are you married?”
Once she asked me the marriage question I just knew what was coming next…
“Do you have any kids?”
I had contemplated this question many times since losing Benjamin. If I say yes I will ultimately have to tell them that he died which I won’t be able to do without bursting into tears. If I say no I will feel like I am denying my son, treating him like some sort of dirty secret I shouldn’t talk about. You read a lot how some people say yes and others say no. After all, everyone grieves differently and it is a very personal choice so I don’t judge others for what they decide. On this occasion, however, I had no choice. As soon as she asked me I burst into tears. The poor woman, she got such a shock. “Oh no I’ve said something wrong, I’m so sorry lovey” she said to me. Through the tears I managed to get the words out “Yes, I have a son but he died”. She gave me a big hug and we talked a little bit more about what had happened to Benjamin and how I was coping. She really was such a lovely woman. As I walked away from this encounter I couldn’t help but think how things had changed. A couple of months before I was managing the finances for a billion dollar business and now I was standing in the middle of the street bawling crying, wrapped in the arms of a complete stranger.
That’s the thing about grief after a traumatic loss – it is a complete game changer. Your entire perspective changes, you feel like a completely different person. In many ways you feel like a shell of your previous self, completely broken. I am starting to discover, however, some of the positive sides to my new self. I have always been a very private person. At times I have been described as withdrawn and a little cold, not wanting to show my emotions to others. Now as I reflect on my encounter with this woman I realise that one of the gifts my son has given me is a refreshed ability to connect with people. Instead of wanting to hide and control my emotions, I embrace them. Instead of looking at people and judging them, I take the time to ponder what their story might be. They too might have an indescribable hurt that they carry with them each day. They too might have a hole in their heart just like me. He has also given me the ability to feel more, and love more intensely than before. I can’t help but think that all of these positives must surely bring with them hope…that most elusive thing that I thought had been stripped from me once I lost Benjamin. That thing that every bereaved parent desperately searches for. Because without hope how can we move forward into the future?