It’s 3rd January 2014 – exactly a year since our beloved Ben died.
To mark the day, and to celebrate Ben’s legacy – his excellent blog, I thought I would add a new post about what this past year has held for me, Saskia and our family.
Life for Saskia and I
It’s still hard to believe that Ben has really gone and that I won’t ever again be able to squeeze his hand or give him a hug or mess up his hair like I used to. I can imagine him vividly though and often do – and I smile to myself and to my ‘spirit of Ben’ which is always with me.
Surprisingly for me, this year has contained more joy than sadness. I expected the weight of grief to come hard, to feel pain and sadness in great waves – for weeks, for months, for years. But instead it’s been a happy year – sad at times but mostly happy. It’s a fact that’s been been hard to come to terms with and I worried about it a lot at the beginning, feeling guilty that I wasn’t suffering as much as I should be. After a lot of reflection, and talking to good friends, and some counselling too, I’ve come to accept that it’s OK to be a happy widow – enough to ‘confess’ it in public like this, though the guilt gremlin does still haunt me from time to time.
Above all else, the reason for my happiness is Saskia. She is such a bundle of absolute joy, and with her around there simply isn’t space or time to get down and feel miserable. I aim to be a happy and playful parent for her sake, and she makes that job so easy! Here’s a fabulous picture that for me sums up the fun and adventure that life with Saskia has been this year…
If I imagine life without Sas then it really would have been a very bleak year indeed. I am so lucky to have her. And not just her…my friends and family have been AMAZING in their support and generosity.
Saskia’s own journey as her mind develops and little by little she has little shifts in understanding about what has happened to her Daddy is both moving and fascinating. She was only 16 months old when Ben died and too young to understand – this year she has thrived and showed no signs of suffering thankfully. Sadness may come for her in time as her understanding grows, but for now she’s doing fine.
My own blog – ‘These Widows Shoes’
Inspired by Ben, I decided back in May to have a stab at writing my own blog about life as a widow. For a long time I kept it to myself and just a few friends, but recently I’ve been brave and invited Facebook friends to view it – and now all of you reading this too. I’d love you to have a look and pass it on to your friends if you like it. It’s mostly reflections on widowhood, with a lot about Saskia’s journey too. It’s called ‘These Widow’s Shoes’ and you can visit it by clicking here.
‘Me and My Unwelcome Visitors’ Lives On
Ben’s blog still gets lots of visits every day. It has been visited from 86 countries to date and has had over 32,000 hits. One thing that I am delighted about is that it has gone right up the Google rankings, appearing second in the list for the search terms ‘melanoma blog’ whereas a year ago it would have been nowhere to be seen. I’ve been tweaking it here and there, and getting other sites to list it (see this one for example) and it seems to be working! From time to time I get comments on there from people whose lives have been touched by melanoma and who have found reading Ben’s words a help. What an amazing achievement Benj – I’m so proud of you!
One of the changes I’ve made to the blog is the addition of a Twitter feed (see the top right column of the home page). Under the username @melanomablogger, I’ve been using it partly to publicise the blog, but also more recently to share information and raise awareness about melanoma. This was something that Ben had started to do himself with his The Enemy page and I’m sure if he’d survived he’d be busy doing this himself. If you’re into the Twitter thing, please follow me and help me spread the message – if you’re not, maybe this is the moment!
A major plan involving Ben’s blog that I am sorry to say I’ve been very slow at getting on with is getting it published in book form. I got started on this back in the summer but somehow I got a bit overwhelmed with it and had to take a step back. But a new year has brought new resolve – I will get it done (with the help of some family and friends who have offered various services) and hopefully in the not too distant future I’ll be able to announce it’s publication on here and you can all order your copy!
Celebrating Ben’s Life
Since the funeral I have been determined to turn negatives into positives whenever I can. One example of this was in June when we had a ‘Raising a Pint to Ben’ get together at the Wimborne Folk Festival. Ben loved the festival – it was a part of his youth and an event that he proudly introduced me to when we first started going out together. I’d already decided to go with a few friends from Kent for my birthday when I realised we should use the event as a good excuse to bring together Ben’s family (young and old) and friends (old and new) to remember and celebrate his life. It was a gorgeous sunny day – Ben’s heart would have swelled with love and pride to see us all there together. Here we all are….
It was Ben himself who set the precedent for positivity, as his blog testifies and as was reiterated many times during the funeral service. It has moved and inspired a great many people – many of whom barely knew Ben in his lifetime. One such person was my very good friend Pete Gold, who I met at university and then shared a house in London with for a couple of years. I was really touched that he made the effort to come to the funeral (as did many of my old friends), despite the fact that I’d hardly seen him for years. It was lovely to catch up briefly, but again the months went by without seeing each other and it wasn’t until October that we finally managed to organise a get together. Not long before we were due to set off home after a weekend visiting Pete’s family, Pete shyly informed me that he’d composed a song in memory of Ben and would I like to hear it. I was so moved that he’d done such a thing that I think I was weeping before he even had a chance to play it to me! The music and words are just stunning – it’s called ‘Live Forever’ and is a 4-part choral piece (forgive me if I’ve described that crudely Pete, I’ve no idea if that’s the proper terminology!). Pete has recorded it with his local choir, The Rickmansworth Players Choir, and we are planning to get together early this year to somehow release the recording as a single so that it is available to buy, with the proceeds going to charity. So watch this space – I’ll let you know via the blog and Facebook when it’s available.
The Burial Ground
The beautiful Woodland Burial Ground where Ben is buried has played an important part in our lives this year. For me it has become a pilgrimage that I make every few months when I am visiting Ben’s family in Wiltshire and Dorset. From Ben’s Mum’s house, where I usually stay, it’s a 45 minute drive over sweeping hills and fields, up and down lonely narrow lanes, through sun-dappled woods – it’s just lovely. It’s one of the rare opportunities for me to be alone with my thoughts and it’s such a perfect way to frame my visits to see Ben. After spending some time at Ben’s grave I like to walk around the site, finding a bench at the top of the hill where I can look down over the burial ground, across to The Horns pub and the countryside beyond. I often take my journal and spend an hour or so reflecting and ‘chatting’ to myself and to Ben. It’s bliss – I feel so close to him there and so full of love and gratitude that he came into my life.
The burial ground and the Horns Pub have become a meeting place for the family as a whole. His aunties who live nearby visit weekly and keep the grave looking lovely, always covered in fresh flowers. Various family members meet there, and when Saskia and I are visiting we often get the family together for a meal and to visit Ben…
During the year we decided that we wanted a rowan tree to be planted on Ben’s grave. It’s a colorful tree, with blossom in the spring, berries in the summer and red leaves in the autumn. We hope it’ll be home to lots of wildlife and will offer us a lot of comfort when we visit during the seasons. The tree is very young and obviously bare now in the winter…
But in years to come it will hopefully be as stunning as this one…
We also finally found the right words to put on the plaque, which was put up in October…
The quotation is from a Red Hot Chilli Peppers song, ‘Venice Queen’. I was stumped for ages as to a quote that would be personal to Ben and yet also fitting for this context. After hoping that it would just ‘come to me’ for months, I realised it wasn’t going to happen I sat down to start wading through Ben’s albums to find the right words. Ben must have been helping out somehow because the first album I looked at – ‘By the Way’ by the Chilli Peppers, a really important album for Ben, gave me what I was looking for. Besides the fact that Ben loved the sea, and surfing, the deeper sentiment here couldn’t be more perfect. Every day Ben influences me in positive ways, but the waves have travelled so much further – across the world via his blog, and into beautiful, timeless notes through Pete’s music.
You can read the rest of the ‘Venice Queen’ lyrics and watch a live version of the song by clicking here (our bit comes in at 6:29)
The waves that Ben made have also inspired many people to raise money for different charities related to Ben’s story. At the beginning of the year my brother David did the Tough Guy challenge raising £679 for Pilgrims Hospices and £840 for Cancer Research UK.
In February Ben’s school friend Tanya, and her friend Sofia completed their 24 hour spin challenge – they covered the distance from their gym in Bournemouth to Pilgrims Hospice in Kent and back again – twice! They raised £1,269 for Pilgrims Hospices.
Then in June Ben’s Mum, Delia, and two aunties, Claire and Maria, did the Race for Life, jogging (and a little bit of walking!) 5k along Bournemouth beach. They raised £461 for Cancer Research UK.
Ben’s cousin Michaela also did the Race for Life, running 10k in London, and raising £145 for Cancer Research UK.
In August, a friend of Ben’s from university, Kathryn, did the 100 mile London-Surrey cycle ride, raising an amazing £1,755 for Cancer Research UK.
Also in August, Ben’s Grandad Ken sadly died. Ben’s Dad kindly suggested that the donations at the funeral be in aid of Pilgrims Hospices – we raised another £369 for this brilliant charity thanks to Ken’s friends and family.
Then in September, on what would have been Ben and I’s 5th wedding anniversary, a team of Ben’s friends and I did a 10k Moonlight Walk along the Kent coast in aid of Pilgrims Hospices – together we raised £3,272!
Finally, to round the year off my ever-creative colleague from English in Action, Jacqui Miller, raised £75 for Pilgrims Hospices by selling Magic Reindeer Food!
Quite an amazing catalogue of achievement hey? And we’re not stopping there! Our next fundraising efforts will be this month, in collaboration with Ben’s favourite local pub, The Phoenix in Faversham. If you live anywhere near us, and fancy a pub quiz please join us on the 6th and/or 20th of January to show off your general knowledge and help raise money for Pilgrims Hospices.
Ben’s Facebook page
One last thing is that I just wanted to remind you all is that Ben’s Facebook page is still there for any of us to post thoughts, memories, photos or messages. Today would be a good day to post something if you feel inspired. Unfortunately this is only accessible to people who were already FB friends with Ben, although anyone can post comments on the blog at any time, or on my FB page if you like.
So there we are. I miss him so very much, and yet I feel he was such a force for good in my life that even though he’s gone he still makes me happy. I wish every one a very happy and healthy 2014!!