Two years ago on August 31, 2015, Ben wrote these words on our personal blog ...
"My visits to the BC Cancer Agency only serve to re-enforce my suspicions that by this time next year I’ll be nothing but a memory to everyone. A fond one perhaps, but only a memory. Don’t get me wrong, the people at the BCCA are very kind and helpful but they still leave me with the feeling that I’m going to die. And because of that, I haven’t been feeling very upbeat and positive."
Ben was right. By August 31st 2016 he was exactly that .... a fond memory.
(Insert long ugly cry here.)
Since Ben died I have found that the best way to work through the confusion is to write my thoughts “out loud.” I tend to work through problems better when I put them in writing, so here I go again. I’m going to write this out as I think about it and see what I come up with when I’m finished.
Here’s the latest question that’s been on my mind:
Can it really be true that the best way to honour Ben would be to live my own best life? I’ve been told that many times, but it has never really made any sense to me.
I feel like I need to take concrete actions to honour Ben, and so I have spent the last 19 months working my ass off to keep his memory alive. I say his name. I talk about him to anyone who will listen. I light candles in his memory, I marked his grave with a headstone, I celebrate his birthday, sometimes I set him a place at the table, and I drink shots of Kracken because it would make him smile.
I do all those things to keep his memory alive, but if I am to be honest then I should admit that I also do them to assuage my guilt. The guilt I have because I am alive and he is not. The guilt of knowing that I have had more days of life than him, and even if I die tomorrow I would have still lived longer. The guilt I have because I know that Ben died feeling that he had not lived his best life. He died unsatisfied.
How do I know he was unsatisfied? Well first of all, because he was only forty-fucking-six years old. Who the fuck feels satisfied when they find themselves dying in the prime of their life?! A martyr maybe, but that’s it. I also know that Ben was unsatisfied because I learned to read over his shoulder when he filled out forms at the Cancer Agency. The words he sometimes wrote broke my heart.
The Cancer Agency asked Ben to fill out surveys filled with questions they need to ask dying people in order to gather statistics. Questions like “How satisfied are you with your life?" and "Have you accomplished all your goals?” In a nutshell they were actually asking, "Have you lived your life to the fullest? Are you OK with dying?” As you can imagine, Ben's survey responses were not filled with roses and rainbows. They were filled with honesty and pain, and comments like “no, I haven't accomplished my fucking goals … I'm only 46 years old. I thought I had more time!" Reading his words over his shoulder was a nightmare for me, because I was forced to know for certain that Ben didn't feel he had lived his best life. There was no pretending otherwise, and that hurt.
Logically, I know that what Ben was really saying was simply "I'm not ready to die!!! I have so much to live for!!" but it was still very painful to read what he wrote. To be honest, it would have made me feel better if Ben had lied and said that he was fully satisfied with the life he led.
Over the course of nine months of illness Ben was constantly reminded that he would never achieve his goals. He wouldn't be a published author. He wouldn't be a professional musician. He wouldn't go back to school, travel, or enjoy the fruits of his labour. He wouldn't get old. As a result of knowing for certain that Ben hadn’t lived his own life to the fullest (time constraints, you know), I now live with an all consuming guilt at the thought of daring to live my own life to the fullest. I am afraid to live my own best life. I feel guilty.
When people say that the best way I can honour Ben is to live my best life I always ask myself this question … “How could living my best life possibly honour Ben, if I am grabbing ahold of what he wanted but never got?” Doesn’t that just make me insensitive and greedy?
Enter guilt. I do not feel worthy of living the fabulous life that was stolen from the human who probably deserved it more than I. Stolen from the the man who had dreams and passions, whereas I was merely content to live a perfectly average life as a wife, mother and friend. I wrestle with those feelings every day … every time I laugh, every time I hop on a plane, every time I write a blog post.
When someone says that the best way to honour Ben is to live my best life, I hear a voice whispering in my ear that maybe Ben wouldn’t have wanted me to. Is is possible that he would just be pissed off and ask why I got the opportunity to have what he couldn’t?
I am well aware that Ben loved me deeply. I know for certain that he didn't want me to die instead of himself. I am also well aware that he would have thrown himself in front of a train to save my life or the kids’ lives. But that would have been a conscious choice on his part, and in reality he was not given that choice. No matter how much I shared his emotional pain, no matter how much I hurt while I watched him die, Ben must have (at least once) thought … "but youaren't the one dying. You are the one that gets to go on living." If there is even a small chance that could be true, then how would it how would it be an honour to him for me to live the life that was ripped unceremoniously from his own grasp?
I haven’t found any answers yet to these questions that burn in my brain on a daily basis, but in searching for them I asked myself “what is my greatest fear?” The answer to that question was easy. My own greatest fear is not dying. It is actually a fear that I may die young and my kids would suffer so greatly from a second loss that they won’t live their own best lives. I fear that they would sink into depression and decide they were unworthy of happiness because it was robbed from their parents on two separate occasions. Death is definitely not the worst thing that could happen to me. The worst would be if my kids did not live happy and fulfilling lives.
As I think “out loud” about my own greatest fear I have to acknowledge that Ben would feel the same way. Ben too would be more fearful of his loved ones being miserable forever than he would be of his own death. I think he may agree that there are worse things than death.
Ben taught me me many things over the years and often made me want to be a better person. So it’s possible, perhaps, that if the life Ben led inspires me to live my ownbest life, then maybe that really is the best gift I could give him. Maybe that is the best way I could honour him.
I’ll spend some more time musing over those thoughts.
In the meantime, I will continue to sometimes set a place for him at the table. I will light the candles, I will talk about him, I will raise my glass to him and I will never forget his birthday or our anniversary.