Postmortem.

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It’s been six weeks and a day since Benjamin’s last breath. I’ve been thinking a lot about this period of time. Six weeks.

At six weeks after the births of each of our sons, we had our final clinical visits with our midwives. They’d make sure my uterus was healthy, free from infection and properly contracted back to its normal, non-pregnant state. They’d help us with any breastfeeding problems and talk to us about birth control between pregnancies. They’d spend all the time we needed to tend to the emotional issues that accompany motherhood, so that depression could either be prevented or treated properly. They’d coo at our chunky, gorgeous babies. It was kind of a rite of passage at the birthing home, this six week checkup. We were fledgling mothers after that postpartum visit. On our own. We had made it through the transition.

It’s been six weeks since Benjamin’s death. Six weeks postmortem. In many ways, I feel a similar rite of passage pulling at me as I did when my babies were new. It’s time to return to a routine. I know that. It’s time to figure out how to work again, how to go grocery shopping again, how to exercise again, how to function as a family of three in a greater community. In other ways, I feel like things are harder now than they were in those first fragile days.

This is not a bad thing, it just is. Spontaneous, overwhelming sadness comes more frequently now. I couldn’t sleep Friday night, because uncontrollable weeping came to call. There was nothing I could do, and I sat with it for hours. Sleep was elusive last night as well, and this morning, I stayed in bed until the sun was high. I cried three times today in public places. Maybe these moments happen because I have finally given them the space to settle here. The tears are welcome. The more it hurts, the closer he feels.

We spent Banyan’s Spring Break camping at Sebastian Inlet, the same place we went with Benjamin during his week off of treatment in October. It was gorgeous and powerful and so sorely needed. It was such a joy to be with Banyan, and such an ache to be without his brother. I felt Benjamin everywhere. In the mangroves. In the wind. In the kite against the clouds. Running from the waves with Banyan. On the rocks, where the pompano were biting. Around the campfire. In my dreams. I miss him so much.

The day before we set up camp, we drove north to the owl-blessed place where Benjamin’s body rests. It was much harder than I expected. Walking out of the woods without him, again, washed me in guilt. I felt like I was abandoning him. Like I wasn’t there to take care of him anymore. I flashed back to closing the door to his hospital room after he died, leaving him there on the bed, alone. I know these feelings aren’t based in logic. I know that I didn’t leave him; he had cancer, and he died, and that’s a very different thing. I just have to reconcile the two, and be patient with myself if it takes a while.

I am writing again on a regular basis, thank goodness. The words are coming easily, and they are being formed into letters, written to Benjamin, privately. They come when they need to come. They are so healing. They help me articulate my questions. Will we be reunited? If we are, will we know? And will it matter if we know? Or will we just flow together in the same current, and that will be enough?

Tomorrow is the Spring Equinox. A day where light and dark are in perfect balance. It is the right time to begin a new pattern of living. I have been reading quite a bit about grief, through books I’ve bought and books given to me by my mother and my mother-in-law. One piece stood out to me. It was written by a woman who’d lost her husband to cancer. She said she needed to focus on two things, in equal measure, to move forward: how to live without him, and how to live with him. This resonates with me simply and powerfully. During this season of balance, that will be my focus. To learn to live without Benjamin, and to find ways to keep him with me, forever.

My work with The Benjamin Gilkey Fund for Innovative Pediatric Cancer Research is one way to keep him close. Michael and I had a meeting with the Foundation before our Spring Break trip to discuss the fund, which is growing at a beautiful pace–and how to make it sustainable and worthwhile. Dr. Oshrine and I are speaking soon to discuss possible research projects we can aim for. The Rainbow Star project is another way to honor my boy; hundreds of children with cancer will receive their stars this week. And there is so much to do here at home. I have yet to sort through all of his things, his room, his artwork, his projects, his clothing. I have yet to visit his classroom and sit with his friends and answer their questions. There is much to do. And a lifetime in which to do it.

I know I have said this before, but it bears repeating. It simply isn’t possible to adequately thank the hundreds of people who have extended us their grace and their kindness these last several months. There have been so many gifts. So many kind words. So many acts of selfless compassion. Our families and friends continue to be so steadfast in their support. I believe that Benjamin truly knew how deeply he was loved, and by how many. It is absolutely overwhelming.

Gratitude continues to be the force that centers me, morning and night. For whatever reason, we were the ones that were chosen to shepherd Benjamin through his life, and through his death. We were the recipients of so many treasured moments. What a mighty gift. We did not take this lightly when he was here, and we do not take it lightly now. We will honor him as best we can, through pain and through laughter, for the rest of our days.

Thank you all. So very much. We are wrapped up in love, and love is carrying us through.

34 thoughts on “Postmortem.

  1. I am so grateful to read your post tonight. You and your family have been heavy on my heart, especially today. Thank you for sharing your most intimate feelings to us that grieve a little boy we never knew but prayed for and loved deeply in our own way. Prayers for continued healing, understanding, peace and comfort.

  2. I have been thinking of you and your family. I know the ebb and flow of grief. It comes on at any time and one learns to let it happen. Through the tears comes the memories and one day the tears will be less but the memories will still be there. Tears are good for the soul, let them happen. Know that I am sending you all my love ❤

  3. I am glad you are in process of finding your new normal. It doesn’t make Benji or his life less meaningful for you to keep living. Very glad to read your update– I have thought about you, Banyan, Michael, and your extended family, often. Benji is in the sunlight every time you are outside, and deeply embedded in your memories of him, your shared memories of your family and his friends, and your visiting of places now that he loved when he was alive. What a gift he was. What a treasure and a gift you are to everyone, in this area now and into the future.

  4. I am glad to see you writing and grateful to read your words. Learning to live with and without is the hardest part but you will find your way and it will be done in the same beautiful manner you do everything.

  5. WOW! Just WOW! The way you have been able to show the parallels between life and death has been one of the most unique learning experiences for me as a mother. Today, reading the parallels between postpartum and postmortem, WOW! Laura, you have an incredible gift to always shine light where there is darkness. I have never been able to even begin to accept and certainly not understand death until I’ve had the privilege to travel this journey with you and your family. THANK YOU for being a pilar of hope for us. I have watched you do this work for years in other aspects but to watch you go through the unimaginable and continue to stay true to your core, true to your gift, has been one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever seen. You are an incredible human. An incredible woman. An incredible mother. An incredible friend to us all. There are no words to ever express the love and gratitude I have for you, I have always had for you. You simply WOW me.

  6. So much I wish I could say to you. In your loss, your testimony has touched me as a mom of two boys who you have been their Chess club coach at Southside.
    I can only leave you with this, you should see The Shck movie, for so many reasons but to see the healing process of a parent when losing a child.
    Jane and Ali molavi

  7. We love you Laura. We think of you and Benji daily. I have Benji’s Celebration of Life picture in our kitchen. I find myself talking to him. He will always be with you and you with him. Your words eloquently flow and touch so many.

  8. Laura, you write so beautifully. Each time I read a new word it brings me the privilege of knowing who all of you are. Truly a special family that has a gift of loving each other so deeply and then to share your journey about the heartache all of you endured and the treasured times with Benjamin. I know there are no words anyone can say to take away the pain, so I won’t try, but to just say praying for strength for all of you.

  9. Last week I saw the Movie. “The Shack” …It was very moving. and the entire time in the theater I thought of Benji….
    His beautiful place of buriel among the trees and flowers. Anyone who has followed this beautiful family should see that movie and you will feel Benji in your heart
    Thinking of you Laura with great love and empathy.

  10. Dear Family
    My heart goes out to you I can only imagine the grief & sorrow that fills each passing day… I recently lost my Mother whom i took care of for 14 yrs. she became my child…I know Benjamin would not want you to feel sad So look for the beautiful signs he sends you everyday. The beautiful sunrises &. Sunsets My Mom told me she would send me signs & beautiful butterflies help get me through my pain & sorrow everyday of my life till I see her again…I realize loosing a young son is probably more dramtic & painful….But remember the golden memorues I know your healing of grief will be hard moment by moment… With the help of family &. Friends days wiil be fullfilled with more laughter &. Sunshine because your son Benjamin would like it to proceed that way….
    My Mother died in my & my husbands arms so i really can relate to all of your heartfelt sorrow. Salli

  11. Thank you for continuing to share. Though I only met Benji a couple of times, I have come to know, respect, admire , love, mourn and celebrate him through your beautiful writing. You have all touched so many people and the legacy of Benji the Brave & the Gilkey family will live on through the fund and the rainbows. Peace and Love!

  12. I have learned so much about life and death through your beautiful writing. Thank you for sharing this journey with all of us. I never met Benji but through mutual friends, was able to make him a very special blanket (crocheted blue, yellow and white) to keep him warm and comforted. I look at the picture you took of my blanket on his bed, and smile at this beautiful boy. I made it with love and will be forever grateful if I was responible for just one smile.

  13. I think of Benji and your family often. And every new wish I participate in reminds me of your beautiful family. I wish you continued strength and peace.

  14. Thank you for writing this….. I checked it everyday for days after your Thank you writing….Today I just happen to check and found your beautiful writing……I know you were working on healing your own family and heart…..I thought of your family so much during spring break, praying for peace as you experienced your “first” vacation with out your sweet boy physically with you. His bravery lives in each of you! I am glad to see you writing and sharing again. Your family will always be in my prayers.

  15. Laura,
    Seeing you today come up the steps at school and give me a wave was heartwarming. Watching you greet Benji’s classmates in the hallway and embracing them in a huge group hug was so beautiful. I couldn’t help but to watch the reunion unfold as if I were the only one in time peering through a secret window. It was so sweet. The kids were beyond excited to see you. Your strength, love, and kindness are beyond measure. Your family is always in my thoughts and prayers. Warmly, Katie Casanas

  16. I think about you and your family often and continue to pray for you all. I was able to read some of your entries today and my heart goes out to you and the pain you are going thru. I’m happy you are finding hope in the future with all the wonderful things you can do to honor Benji and the legacy he left. I will continue to pray for you as you find your way thru the days ahead and with the tributes you will extend on your sweet son’s behalf.

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