We are home. I am exhausted in a way I haven’t experienced before. I wouldn’t feel this shredded without the emotional release I have experienced these last few days, and for that, I am deeply grateful.

This morning we said goodbye to our family. They have treated us with such love and kindness. During our parting brunch, I started feeling suffocated; not by the people around me but by the walls themselves. The intensity of yesterday was weighing heavily in my belly. I escaped into the sunshine and found a picnic table to lie down on. I let the tears fall. I miss him so much.

We hitched up Benjamin’s camper and hit the road homeward, making one last trip to the owl-blessed place where his sweet body rests. It was so quiet. Not a trace of yesterday’s ceremony, except for the beautiful mound of pine straw and flowers, and the little brass marker that bears our son’s name. Michael watered the native trees he planted yesterday, then he and Banyan allowed me some time alone to sit on the ground and look up at the oaks. It was such a comfortable, sweet spot. The barred owls called to us again, and woodpecker came today. The wind was gentle and the light was dappled. I felt wrapped up by the stillness, but I didn’t feel Benjamin’s spirit anchored there. I felt his body, beneath the earth, among the roots. But not his spirit.

When Michael and Banyan came back from their hike, they carried with them a mighty stump. They nestled it into the earth, and invited me to sit. It was the perfect height. Without me saying a word, Michael told me that he didn’t feel Benjamin’s spirit there either. This was a comfort to me, that we were both struck by this reality. Even more comforting was that we weren’t saddened by it. We feel Benjamin everywhere he’s ever been, and everywhere we go together. But he is not tethered to his body. This place of peace is for us, to remember. What a gift.

Michael and Banyan got a head start on the path back to the camper. I stayed behind. I hopped off of the stump and back onto the ground. I wanted to connect with the earth once more. My belly was the first vessel to hold Benjamin’s body, and the dirt beneath me there would be the last. The connection was a strong one. I whispered, I love you, and thought of the final time Benjamin had said those words to me. He had woken up to the feeling of dying, and reached his arms up for a hug he desperately needed. During the embrace he kissed my neck weakly and it was the sweetest thing I’d ever felt. He’d said that day, I love you so much, and I repeated the words today, alone, in the owl-blessed space, and there he was. I felt him, not beneath the pine straw, but right there against my tear-kissed skin.

We took the country roads back home. We waited to stop and eat until we were all nice and hungry. When we finally arrived at our restaurant of choice and tumbled out of the truck, we were so happy to be there, we were practically skipping through the parking lot. Michael and I locked teary eyes. We felt Benjamin’s presence–and absence–so acutely then. It wasn’t because of the place, but because of the moment. It was one in which we all were united in joy. These are the moments that will hurt the most, and they’ll be the ones we crave the most. These will be the moments when he is closest.

Over dinner we talked about many things: plans for Benjamin’s community memorial service, Banyan’s impending return to school, grocery lists for the week. We also talked about ways to honor Benjamin’s life, both big and small. These will be funds raised and awareness spread, but they will also be small acts of kindness. Weekend hikes. Camping trips and spontaneous fishing trips and hoodoos on the beach. They will be us, together, united in joy.

With Benjamin’s death, we have not only lost an incredible human, one who filled our lives with joy and with teaching, but we have lost years of having children in our house. We have a strong desire to make the most of every day with Banyan, and with each other. I feel no regrets about the blessed time we spent with Benjamin. We loved him completely, in sickness and in health. He lived authentically, adventurously, robustly and sincerely. We intend to do the same.

24 thoughts on “Home.

  1. I read everything you write, Laura, without always commenting. I want you to know that we speak Benji’s name each night in our house, and he is in my mind as I see the beauty of the world all around me every day. Much as I think of Maddie Grace every time I run past the perfect heart shaped hole in the sidewalk on each run, I think of Benji when I see a beautiful sky. Sending love and strength.

  2. Thank you for continuing to share your precious and beautiful experiences with us. I am humbled, blessed, and in awe with every word I read. I start looking at your blog around 9 pm every night and I don’t stop until I read the update. I wake up in the middle of the night to read your words. I crave the connection. I’m thankful for the time Ethan and I were able to spend with Benji. You both have made a lasting imprint on our spirits. Thank you.

  3. We have read Benji’s story and thank you for sharing him with us. We uplift him and hold you all close in our hearts.

  4. i went to Shabbat B’Shir services Friday. When asked to speak the name of a dearly departed, among the joyful music and heartfelt singing, I spoke and prayed again for Benjamin, and when a request was made for people in need of prayer, I spoke for all of the Gilkey family. Laura, your words written are so authentically real, as your emotions that come through. For people who have a hard time connecting, you make that bridge. I will continue to pray for you and think about you and your family, Benjamin and the value of a short life lived to the fullest. Namaste. Shalom. <3

  5. Thanks again for sharing your love and strength. I’m sure Benji is looking down on you with such pride! We love you all!

  6. What a journey … your words craft a picture so beautiful, and so complete… allowing joy and tears and all the follow. Forever you have and clearly always will take such perfect care of your Benjamin. You are so anchored in real love – gratitude, service, tenderness, courage, joy, grief, resolve, resilience – it’s incredible, and stunning to behold. Thank you for shining your light and proving the darkness defiable for so many – that there are always rainbows in the clouds, no matter what we face. Your grace for others, as well as for yourself(!), is life-giving, Laura, and your love and commitment to Benjamin and your family is humbling and inspiring. You are a teacher of true love, and we will continue holding you in light as you experience each day and see your great plans for both Banyan and Benjamin evolve. Loving you and wrapping you in peace. All is well. ❤❤❤

  7. Laura, because of your ability to write so beautifully has made me feel like I have been a part of your journey. Thank you for sharing Benji’s life with all of us. I did not know him know Benji like others did, but I often saw him in the hallways at Southside. Benjamin would always look at me in passing and smile. That just shows what a kind person he was. I will hold that smile in my heart and remember the beautiful family you all are…. May God give you strength.

  8. We love you Gilkey family. Your words so naturally touch the soul and lift the spirit. We will always honor and remember Benji. He would want you to Live Every Moment. Sweet blessings peace and love always.

  9. Feeling the presence and the absence at the same time. I know that feeling. It goes beyond our familiar boundaries. But I believe it’s a real connection. We spoke about your words and about Benjamin last night at our Zen sangha. Your words empower those of us who struggle to comprehend our own loss.

  10. I don’t know you have managed to write these beautiful posts through all of this. This was yet another touching one. They all are. Thanks for sharing these sacred moments and intentions. Amen.

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