This weekend we have done a lot of reflection. It’s been one year since we watched our son Bennett take his last breathe on earth. We have cried. We have slept a lot. We have deeply mourned. But in the midst of the sorrow and pain, we have also been reminded of the sweet times of laughter and joy that were sprinkled in our last few days with him.
That has been a theme of our first year of grief…learning that joy and pain coexist. They truly dance with each other in our hearts. They did with Jesus too. On the night he was breaking bread with the disciples and giving thanks, he was being betrayed. Giving thanks and being betrayed. Joy and pain together. How grateful I am that they work together…especially on weekends like this one where it’s natural to only focus on the pain and loss. But the Lord has opened my heart to laughter as He’s gently brought memories of joy to the surface. Memories I don’t ever have to write down because they are forever ingrained in our hearts. Memories I’m ready to share with you…
A year ago this last Friday is when we realized how Bennett would get his healing…by way of heaven instead of the cancer being cured. We were told he had a few more weeks, but we quickly knew we only had a few days left with him. He was in such pain that we admitted him to St. Jude where the staff worked all day Saturday to make him comfortable. As we held him, we prayed the Lord would give us one more good moment with him. To see laughter and joy on his face one more time. And God answered…through his cousins!
By the time Ben’s family got to Memphis, it was dinnertime on Saturday. Bennett was smiling and finally comfortable…and everyone was hungry! Of course, Davis and Reide quickly shared with their seven cousins about the ice cream that St. Jude had in the cafeteria. So it was ice cream for dinner! And I have to laugh as I write this because it was such a sweet moment with the kids (and not just because we were eating dessert!). All the cousins had picked their ice cream and we were all sitting at one big table together…some had ice cream sandwiches, some had ice cream bars, some had ice cream in a bowl. And then Bennett saw what everyone else had and he wanted it! Of course we gave him whatever he wanted (and then we had to go get the other kids more!). At one point he was holding ice cream in each hand and had more in front of him. My boy was overflowing with happiness. I pray his cousins grow up to remember that they were a part of his last moment of great joy on earth.
Then came Sunday. The medicine that worked on Saturday to make Bennett comfortable was no longer working on Sunday. The rest of the family had arrived to St. Jude and it was time to completely sedate Bennett. His doctor and nurse sat in the room with us and pushed his medicine button every five minutes so we could just enjoy holding him. We sang over him and prayed over him. As a family, we shared memories of him and we soaked in every moment. Considering the young ages of all the kids, this was a heavy time for them to experience, so most of the night they were in another room being entertained by friends.
Now just imagine this moment with me as we held Bennett. It was heavy. It was hard. And it was quiet in the room except for the sound of sniffles from tears. And then my darling Davis opens the door, peeks in and says, “Is he dead yet?”
Oh, yes. That happened! All I could say through my smile at my five year old boy was, “No, not yet honey.” And then he left and kept playing. Can I tell you how grateful I am for that moment? A sprinkle of laughter in the midst of our deep pain.
The evening went on and we continued to hold our baby. The kids had all gone back to their hotels for the night. And then at 1:15am on Monday, April 28, Bennett entered heaven. I can only imagine the welcoming party he received at that moment…the savior who created him was welcoming him home. That thought alone makes my heart stop and rejoice. Thank you Jesus.
We laid his body on the bed, changed his clothes so we could keep his outfit, kissed him and said goodbye. We left the hospital with an empty stroller and a broken heart, and went back to the apartment to sleep a few hours before waking to tell Davis and Reide about their little brother.
When the kids woke up in the morning, we started sharing with them about how Bennett went to heaven and no longer had cancer. We talked about how his old body was still here and we were letting St. Jude do an autopsy so they could learn more about his cancer to save other children in the future. At this point, Davis chimed in and said, “Daddy, do you think they would let me do the autopsy with them today?” Ben graciously answered, “We will ask Dr. Sara but I’m pretty sure just the doctors will be allowed to help.” Another smile in a hard moment. And one thing that I love about the Lord is that he created in Davis a heart for the human body well before Bennett even got sick. So on the journey of cancer, Davis understood so much, even at such a young age. (As a write this, Davis came up to me and said he wanted to watch a show about the human body or the skeleton. I love it!)
We continued to sit there with Davis and Reide and explain what would happen now. Ben and I had already decided that we would cremate Bennett’s body and spread his ashes in the Mississippi River…our favorite spot with our family of five in Memphis. And also a place that reached down to Louisiana where we lived.
Now how in the world do you explain cremation to a three and five year old? Well, can I tell you my husband is a genius! He explained that just like God created Adam out of the dust, we were putting Bennett’s body back into the dust that God created him from. And a year later, whenever we cross over the Mississippi River, the kids say, “Bennett’s dust is in there.” But they know that he is alive in heaven!
As we sat and talked more with the kids that morning, Davis spoke up with some ideas of his own. Just like his dad, he is an idea generator! He understood that we were going to spread the dust in the Mississippi, but he still wanted to share a few other possibilities with us. Again, more joy was being seasoned on our emotional day.
This is how the conversation went with him:
Davis: Well, how about this dad. What if we went to St. Jude and got Bennett’s body and since we still have his carseat, we could put his body in the carseat and stick him in the corner of the house?
Us: That’s a good idea, buddy. (And then we had to explain about how bodies decay and start to smell.)
Davis: Then what about this. Since we are planning to put Bennett’s dust in the Mississippi River, how about we just take his body and throw it in the river?
Us: You are full of ideas! (And then we had to explain what it would be like if someone found Bennett’s body. They might think he wasn’t loved and cared for, but he was.)
Davis: Okay. We will go with your idea and put his dust in the river.
Never a dull moment with that boy! But I tell you what, in those hard days of our greatest pain and sorrow in saying goodbye to Bennett, God used Davis in a mighty way to sing His joy over us. The best part is that the Lord knew from the beginning that Davis would be used in this way. In fact, the life verse that we chose for Davis is Zephaniah 3:17…
“The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, and will rejoice over you with singing.”
So as I sit here almost exactly one year from my last day with my baby, I’m reminded again that pain and joy coexist. My heart was broken in half on April 28, but God has used joy as the thread that continues to sew it back together, one little loop at a time.
And I’m excited that another little loop of joy will come in July when we welcome another baby to the family…a baby girl! The kids adore her already, whispering “I love you” to my belly just waiting for her to move. We don’t have a name finalized yet, but we have it narrowed down to three. And each one has great meaning to us…the meaning of joy.
Over the next few days, please be praying for our family…especially as we approach Tuesday, April 28. We plan on celebrating Bennett’s heaven birthday with some blue balloons. Ben, Davis, Reide and I will each have a balloon to write and draw on and then we will release them for Bennett…choosing to find some joy on his special day!