Thank you.

Lanterns-42 (1)

This has been a powerful weekend full of powerful lessons. The ache in my chest won’t go away, and neither will the spinning, in the vacant places. I am overcome with sadness. I am overcome with gratitude.

On Friday afternoon, when the slideshow for Benjamin’s service was almost complete, my computer crashed. Everyone came to my aid immediately. Within minutes I had a laptop to work with and technical folks on the phone and in my house. It soon became apparent that the slideshow wasn’t salvageable. They would be able to retrieve most of the photographs, but not the slideshow itself, the one I’d been working for several days and sleepless nights. I opened the laptop and started to recreate the project. I had a bit of a breakdown. I was so tired and I couldn’t believe this was happening. I had put so much pressure on myself to get this right. It was my gift to Benjamin, and it was gone.

The technical folks were still in my office, so I stepped outside, into the backyard where Benjamin played, and closed the door behind me. I sat down on the ground and listened to the birdsong. I felt the sun on my face. As hard as it was to do, I released attachment to the gift I had made. I let it go, and I thanked my boy. I would create something simple and sweet for the service and it would be just fine. Grace surrounded me.

When I came back inside, I sat with my thoughts in the rocking chair for a moment before getting to work. Then, the saints who were tinkering with my computer plugged a flash drive into the laptop, and called me over. They had recovered the slideshow file, and all of the photographs in it. It was a moment unlike anything I had ever experienced. It was divine. I sobbed with grief and gratitude. In letting go of the gift, I was able to receive it as well. I felt boundlessly supported.

We released lanterns into the salty air above the ocean on Friday night, surrounded by children, family, friends, love. The sunset was perfect. There was a shooting star. The waves sparkled in the moonlight. When we came home, I finished the slideshow, exported it, watched it with my family, and went to bed. As I fell asleep I felt Benji wrapped up in my heart.

On Saturday, we said goodbye, one more time. The service was perfect. Andy’s words were exquisite and soothing. The speakers and musicians delivered their gifts with perfect timing and reverence. The auditorium, adorned with rainbow stars, was full to capacity. When the slideshow was finished I felt so grateful. It was a gift for Benjamin, and it was a gift for me; but in its unwrapping, I could give it one more time. I could show our community Benjamin’s essence. His crinkly smile. His spice. His bright light. His constant joy. His unending courage. His love.

When the service was over and the people gathered around us, I started feeling swirly. The energy was overwhelming. So much love. I felt dizzy more than once and was relieved when my path intersected with a chocolate chip cookie the PTSO had provided. We were loved from all directions: teachers, nurses, doctors, other children with cancer and their mothers, neighbors, clients, colleagues, old friends, new friends, family.

We will never, ever be able to properly thank everyone who has helped us to honor Benjamin, throughout his treatment, his transition, and his celebration. We offered these words at the service and we offer them now, to those who were unable to attend.

To our families. You loved Benjamin with us before he was born, and you grieve for his loss with us now. You have prepared us meals, you have paced the floors, you have prayed and prayed. Your presence was never a question. It just was. Thank you.

To our friends. You have kept your candles burning for more than two years. You have us given us your love, your gifts, and your steadfast support. Our connections did not fade. They were made stronger. Thank you.

To the children. Benjamin kept such excellent company. In his neighborhood, in his classrooms, on his baseball teams, at Shell Beach. He was a very good friend because he had very good friends. Thank you.

To our hospital team, especially our nurses. You shepherded us through Benjamin’s treatment with such kindness and compassion. You laughed with him. You cried with us. You took good care of our son. Thank you.

To our mighty village. Look around you. Be proud. You are part of a community that takes care of each other. You took care of us. Thank you.

This morning, we gathered again at Kathy’s house for a brunch full of Benjamin’s favorite foods. It was abundant and delightful and a lovely way to end the weekend. As people started to trickle out and travel home, I found myself feeling incredibly sad. It was over. In the usual goodbye chatter, future plans were mentioned; Easter egg hunts, summer vacations, diving for scallops. In every scenario, I could only see Benjamin’s absence.

Andy cautioned Michael and me about the quiet that will follow. The stillness. The dust. I feel it already. We have relied on plans for so long now. When one medicine didn’t work, we had a plan to try another. Then another. We had a plan to pursue clinical trials. We had a plan to help Benjamin transition peacefully. We had a plan for a sacred burial. This weekend’s events were the last to be planned. Now, there is stillness. Dust.

We will take time with the quiet. I have craved it, in a way. I want to float on the ocean and be with Benjamin’s memory and the details of his spirit. But we will also make new plans. We are meeting with the All Children’s Foundation this week to begin discussing how best to utilize The Benjamin Gilkey Fund for Innovative Pediatric Cancer Research. I have a long list of children who have been waiting patiently for their rainbow stars, throughout the country. And we now have a camper that needs to be put to honorable use, making new memories with Banyan and his friends.

For now, I invite you to see Benjamin the way we see him in our hearts. Thank you for sending love to Benjamin the Brave on our journey through childhood leukemia.

40 thoughts on “Thank you.

  1. My heart has ached to read your post of Benjamin’s Celebration. I just returned from Evie Reed’s visitation after 10 months of treatment/BMT. My soul is deeply sad for them both. One I knew, one I did not but only through your posts. God bless all the little children.

  2. It was incredible and awe-inspiring to be in the presence of the love of Benji this weekend. Thank you. It was powerful, and I hope the beauty can carry you.

  3. I have awaited your words, and again you gave so much more than that. Thank you for sharing your heart, your anguish, your pride, your beautiful boy. xoxo

  4. Yall are constantly on my mind. We love y’all so much. Hoping for you to find peace in the quiet.

  5. Laura your tribute to Benji was perfect. I felt him there the whole time. His legacy will not be forgotten. He lives through all the people that had the good fortune to know him. We are here for you.

  6. Thank you for sharing these most intimate photos of Benji’s incredible life. What a journey he had. Short, but amazing!

  7. Love to you Laura, and to Michael, Banyan, Sarah, Gana, Cathy and the rest of your family. Your journey shows grace in loss. It was an honor and a privilege to attend Benji’s Celebration of Life.

  8. The sunset in Sarasota Friday night was magnificent and now I know why! …….To say I have been touched by your blog is an understatement.
    Thank you for sharing your journey with so many of us. May you continue to be wrapped tightly by the memories of your Benji. Sending prayers, love and many thanks for reminding all of us to find joy in the moment and to love unconditionally❤️

  9. My boys insisted that we dash over to the memorial after their game, and we got there just in time for Andrew’s remembrance. It was moving and funny and eloquent and gorgeous, but your words over these past two years have been even more powerful. Thank you for opening up to us, and showing us what parents and family can be and should be. It seems to me that you have given us so much through this journal, and we should be grateful and let you rest; we’d all be well-served to go back and read this again from Day One. Our love to you all.

  10. I had every intention of going to his Celebration of Life and being strong for you but, instead, in true Laura fashion, you ended up being the one comforting me. Oh, those beads overwhelmed me with emotion the second I walked through the door and saw them. I have followed your blog, every entry since the beginning, so, I was aware of everything he endured, but, actually seeing it laid out that way…so much suffering, so much strength to ask for. His bravery was present in every bead. Another poignant moment was when Andy reminded us that our children pass through us but they are not ours to keep. A bittersweet message of how grand our existence is and how precious our time here truly should be. Undoubtedly, your slideshow reflected a life well lived and well loved. ❤️

  11. The video was achingly beautiful. I wasn’t certain if the public was welcome to come to the memorial so I missed it. But my thoughts were of Benji and your beautiful family this weekend. Your love was so apparent in the video and what a loving and wonderful life you gave your boy. Sending you all loving and healing energy, everyday.

  12. With my deepest sympathy, I want to say what an honor it has been to witness your journey as a mother and your son’s courageous journey….I was not able to be at the Celebration of Life with all of you, but I celebrated Benji and his beautiful life through music, art, dancing, community and a deeply felt connection to you and the special events you so gracefully created. My heart is with you in the stillness, too, and I send my love in support of your continued journey. xoxo

  13. Thank you for sharing. You are an incredible woman and mother. Your ability to find gratitude throughout this journey and your ability to accept and even embrace the different stages of the grieving process is admirable. You exemplify a sense of strength like I have never seen or ever heard of. Reading your blog is heartwarming and enlightening. Much much love to you and your family.

  14. You did a wonderful job with the service and the video. It was a profoundly moving gift to all of us. Thank you. Thank you. xxoo

  15. I wish I could have been there; I was at another
    wish. But Benji and you and your family were on my mind.
    I wish you love and healing and great camping in
    Benji’s camper…… he will love you enjoying it.

  16. We were so blessed by the celebration of Benji’s life. You all did an outstanding job. What you have shared makes us all better people. We are truly grateful to you. We wish you happy trails…. Know that he is watching out for you from above and is in the presence of our Almighty Lord and Saviour.

  17. My heart has ached for you since day one of Benji’s diagnosis. You did a beautiful job of honoring him on Saturday. We will continue to hold you, Mike, and Banyan close to our hearts and pray for your healing. I have never known a more beautiful mother than you. Thank you for allowing us to share in this journey. So much love to you. ❤️

  18. Laura, beautifully written and shared. Thank you. Know that you, Michael, and Banyan “did everything right,” too. Prayers and blessings.

    Kim & Family

  19. Sobbing. I can’t stop crying.. Your slideshow was so beautiful and so moving. I’m so sad for you and your family. I could never really believe that your Benji was gone. I always thought he was going to be OK. I know his happy spirit is now flying with angels in heaven, but it’s almost impossible to comprehend. As a mother, my heart breaks for you. I imagine losing my own child, and I fall apart. I imagine what you all have gone through, and it is unimaginable. Unimaginable pain and loss. I’ve been reading your posts almost everyday, and thank you for sharing and being so brave like your Benji. You all have touched and changed so many lives. And I’m sure you will continue to do so and honor Benji. I agree with the comment above that I hope you know that you did everything right. Much love to you and your family. Praying for you all.

  20. What an absolutely beautiful tribute to your Benjamin. Thank you for sharing with all of us who do not know you personally, but have loved your family through your blog. I love how there were so many smiles in your video! Benjamin’s smile could light up a room! Continued prayers for you and your family.

  21. Such a beautiful child with that contagious smile, you can just tell his glass was always half full ! Thank you for sharing this awesome tribute to your vibrant son. Praying for strength and peace for your family.

  22. So much love, so much overwhelming love. Thank you for sharing your beautiful son with us. Sending your my deepest condolences from my mama heart to yours.

  23. So beautiful! Thank you for sharing your family’s courageous journey through this blog. I am honored to have gotten to know his story through your writings. Benjamin was such an amazingly beautiful human being, as you so perfectly exemplified in this video. May you and your family be surrounded by love and peace.

  24. So sorry we could not make it to Benji’s celebration of life. My heart aches for you and your family. I met your beautiful baby boy when he was only two I believe. I miss your daily posts, beautiful words and memories. Much love to you Laura and Mike and Banyan. Hugs, love thoughts and prayers to you all. Xoxo

  25. I have been following your story since the very beginning . I live in Sarasota as well but we have never met. I am just a mom of 2 boys, one of which is also 9, who aches for you. I have shed thousands of years for your loss. Your slideshow was beautiful. Such an amazing tribute to your young warrior. From one mom to another I am thinking about you and your family everyday. I pray that you continue to find peace in his soul that remains with you for eternity. ❤️ My love for always.
    Leigh Tesar

  26. Only thank you ……………. too many reasons to post. Sending love and strength to you and your sweet family every single day. Rainbows and owls always will have a very special meaning to me. Always remembering and honoring your brave warrior Benjamin.

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