the barred owl keeps watch | from his perch on the tree branch | silent and faithful

Benjamin has been away from this world for 65 days. These last two weeks have been cathartic, fascinating, riveting, unexpected and reassuring. As this Easter season comes to a close, I am filled with a sense of renewal. Reaffirmed faith. Belief in the new growth on the trees. Appreciation for the plump caterpillar, unaware of his impending transformation. Gratitude for my place in it all. Gratitude for the gift of having been his mother. Of being his mother still.

Michael and I celebrated fifteen years of marriage last Thursday. As the day approached, I felt my health declining. Walking across the Ringling Bridge found me out of breath, when it is usually an effortless hour. My body ached. My heart was heavy. I needed to crawl into my bed and disappear. So that’s what happened. As the occasion of our anniversary came and went, the pain in my chest grew sharper and sharper. By the next day, I had developed a fever, and I started to cry. I didn’t stop for five days. My fever grew higher than it ever has, since childhood. I was literally sick with grief.

This was an event that needed to happen. For two months, since the words impossible recovery, I held my pain in the exact center of my chest. In my breastplate, like armor. The pain radiated through to my back. On a diagram, it is the spot where the heart chakra is located. During these five days I experienced more sadness, more pain, and more release than I had experienced since Benjamin died. It was the experience of a heart actually breaking open. I couldn’t have scheduled such a thing. On the contrary, I missed two events I planned to attend that weekend, opting instead for my bed, fever relief, and an endless supply of tea and tissues.

As I emerged from the darkness, my tribe of mothers was waiting to embrace me. This tribe is a mighty one. For a decade, we gathered at each new moon, setting forth intentions to create a more powerful community. We gathered in circles when any among us were ripe with child. We held the space for each other as we transformed from maidens to mothers, from mothers to matriarchs. We stood strong and silent. When my fever broke, they were ready, and we gathered in circle once more, to bless the way for a motherhood none of us have ever experienced. They carried my dreams in their hands. They loved me, they felt my pain in their wombs, and they held me as I wept. What a gift it was to have such a circle waiting for me, when I needed it most.

On the other side of that circle was our first major holiday without our Benjamin. Easter. We traveled to Georgia, to the place where we married, with Kathy and Gana and the loving Wilson family. We executed the rituals of the season, the cooking, the picnics, the egg hunts. We set out the Easter basket (singular) lined with pine straw for the bunny to find on Saturday evening. I was prepared for the big moments, the moments that might predictably challenge my resolve; I stood my ground easily when Banyan readied his basket to collect eggs, and when he woke up to examine his treasures. I was less prepared for the act of Easter shopping. I realized that nearly everything that has filled those baskets in years past has required two players, or matching components to compare and trade. This year, the gifts–boomerang, peg game, books–were solitary in nature.

Banyan embraced his new role with exemplary grace and responsibility. He became the big brother to a new generation of younger cousins, who took great delight in covering him with blankets and pillows, or in hunting the plastic eggs he’d hide over and over again. He helped his daddy with several adult mechanical tasks. He was given the privileges of shooting a pellet rifle, and of driving an adult four-wheeler–both of which he accepted with appropriate reverence. He was an absolute joy to be with this weekend. He illuminates the dark places.

On our way home from Georgia, we visited Benjamin’s grave. We very nearly did not make the trip. We left Michael’s grandmother’s house later than we’d hoped, and it was tempting just to go home, and make sure Banyan got a decent night’s sleep for the schoolday ahead of him. But we went, and we’re so glad we did. Once we arrived at Benji’s site, with its native azaleas in bloom, Michael and Banyan decided to go for a hike in search of a second stump to sit on. I was left alone on the first stump we placed there several weeks ago. I situated myself not facing Benjamin’s body, but facing the setting sun, and I closed my eyes. I prepared myself to meditate. When I opened my eyes, I found myself face to face with the most beautiful barred owl I’d ever seen. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it was the same creature that swooped in during Benjamin’s burial. He was sitting on a branch overlooking Benji’s grave, a silent and vigilant sentinel. When I locked eyes with him I was filled with such a warmth, such a knowing that whispered, of course. I didn’t feel like I was looking at Benji. I felt like I was looking into the eyes of God. The owl sustained his watch until we left Benjamin’s side. When I said goodbye, he closed his eyes, and tucked his head into his chest for a twilight nap. I will never forget the way that bird made me feel.

This is a season of renewal. I am so grateful for the time, space, and people that have allowed me to experience this season fully.

19 thoughts on “Renewal.

  1. There are no words to explain your writing. I think of you and Benjamin daily and wonder how you are. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I am so certain that God sends messages via creatures great and small. What wonderful assurance from this owl. Thank you for continuing to share about your journey, about Benjamin, Banyan and your family. We have never met; I work with your mother at the court in Orlando. My prayers of late for all of you is that you might find some bit of solace and rest. I hope you will be well soon, free from fever. Remembering Benjamin always, Christine Groves

  3. Beautiful as always. I wish I felt the same I am still locked in the shock and pain for me signs of her are butterflies. I am glad you found a connection a sense of peace. God bless

  4. So glad you experienced that beautiful revelation on your visit to Benji’s site on Easter, the most beautiful celebration of all. Wishing your family Peace and Serenity as you go forward in life.

  5. Your words are a comfort to me. This is the month of my husbands birth and death as well as my mothers death and it is always my time when grieving comes back to me full force. Your writing helps and makes the process flow a bit easier.
    You are an amazing woman. ❤️

  6. Thank you my darlin’. I had no idea your illness was incubating this powerful release. I’m sad every day that he’s not here, but in this experience, the father takes his cues from the daughter…and you lead me well. I play “you are my sunshine” every time I pick up a guitar….makes me feel better each time.

  7. I have recently completed \”Benjamin The Brave\” and I cannot begin to tell you the emotions that I experienced while reading your incredible passage.
    My thoughts and prayers have been with the entire Gilkey family although we have never met.
    Benjamin was indeed an incredible boy whose spirit will always be felt and remembered. The way the Sarasota community reached out and gave blood, donations, sponsored fund raisers was remarkable. As well as the care you received from Benji\’s doctors and nurses.
    Banyan is a true hero in how he was the essential \”big brother\” showing love and support to Benji you and Michael. With all the pressure these days for children he certainly displays strength of good character and kindness. He is \”brave\” as well.
    Laura, your beautiful writing is inspiring and I hope one day the horrible pain your are feeling will find its release and you will find peace in all the beautiful memories created with Benjamin and your family.
    Best wishes and tranquility,
    Barrie Morlon

  8. Thank you for sharing your story with us.
    Our heart and prayers are with you and your family.
    Benjamin spirit will always be with you. It’s absolutely
    precious when you can see it and feel it. God Bless you!
    Mary Ann

  9. Missed your words. They stay with me. Your journey is one that strengthens mine. Your love and wisdom shine. Thank you.

  10. Laura, what an honor to read your words, see life through your eyes, and feel the pain and rebirth this whole full circle even has shown. It was an honor to create the Rainbow catcher kits with you last night. I send you love, peace and blessings. . . . .and I stand by my offer to teach yoga to you, Kathy and Gana, or any other women you want with you, when you feel ready.

  11. I cannot believe that I am sitting here crying and admiring your bravery, love and writing ability. Your words are able to convey so much sadness, love, wonder and joy. My donation is on its way.

  12. Laura, this is beautiful, and heartbreaking. This: “I felt like I was looking into the eyes of God. The owl sustained his watch until we left Benjamin’s side. When I said goodbye, he closed his eyes, and tucked his head into his chest for a twilight nap.” I’m crying again.

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