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Grief We Can Share...


Prior to Ben’s death I had always been something of a coward when it came to making contact with people whom tragedy had befallen, including those who had lost a loved one.  I am not proud of that fact, but it is a fact nonetheless.  Not knowing what to say, or how to behave, I would hesitate and vacillate and, nine times out of ten, end up doing nothing at all but feel guilty about my inaction. 

I now understand what is required of me in those circumstances.  I know because I have seen and experienced the selfless acts of so many others since Ben died; some of them people I may not have seen or spoken to for a long time beforehand. 

Although the many good people responsible for those acts would, I suspect, suggest they were simply appropriate to the circumstances, that does not for a second imply they are easy things to do.  They are not.  Speaking with a person we know well who is grieving for a loved one is raw and challenging and fraught with complications.

But what I now understand so much more clearly than ever before is that no matter how difficult or awkward the moment when I confront someone else’s grief may be for me, that is completely and utterly not the point.  No, I can’t solve their problem and, no, I can’t eliminate, or even reduce their grief.  But they don’t expect me to.  All that matters is that someone I care about, who is experiencing quite possibly the greatest pain that any of us can experience, knows I am thinking about them, and care about them, and about the person they have lost. 

It is truly a sad thing that it took the death of my own son to make me face up to these realities, and to begin to properly appreciate the concept of shared grief.

Without in any way diminishing the contributions of those many generous individuals (and institutions) not mentioned below, there are some very important people who have helped advance my understanding of this concept of shared grief over the past 18 months.  People for whom my thanks here, or in any form, will never be adequate recognition for what they have done.

The first is Audrey; Tim’s girlfriend of more than four years at the time of Ben’s death, and who became a permanent fixture in our home in the weeks following that tragic event.  To my mind it is no exaggeration to say Audrey was our guardian angel during that period, and that, without her, our ability to cope with our loss would have been significantly compromised.  Her willingness to put us first, her highly developed emotional intelligence, and her capacity to provide quiet intuitive counsel when it was most needed mark her as a person of the absolute highest quality. 

The second is an extraordinary support network that has existed for many years, but which emerged in a new form through 2019.  Known endearingly as A Bunch of Smartarses, this group, comprising two of Ben’s oldest and closest friends, and their families, let us know in no uncertain terms from a very early stage that we would not be going through this experience alone.  Their company has always been a safe space for our family, but never moreso than since January 2019 – a space for humour, for tears, for reminiscing, for honesty, and for unashamed admiration of Ben.  Our gratitude for the loyalty and support shown by the Smartarses simply knows no bounds.

The third is the family of Ben’s girlfriend, Laura.  In the lead-up to Christmas 2019 we hosted a dinner at our house as a small token of thanks for the wonderful emotional support they had extended to us during the course of the year.  At that dinner the Johnsons showed us some of their photographs accumulated over the five years of Ben and Laura’s relationship.  Photographs of family Christmases and birthdays.  Photos of family holidays and outings and pre-formal get-togethers.  Photos of dinners at home, and casual time spent just hanging out as a group.  Literally hundreds of photos they shared with us, and Ben was in every single one of them – almost invariably smiling that incredible heartwarming smile, and looking as if he thought himself the luckiest man alive. 

And it struck me that night in a way, I am almost ashamed to say, that it had never quite struck me before.  Here was another family that had lost a treasured member when Ben died.  Here was a family with whom Ben had spent almost as much time as he had with us from 2014 onwards.  Here was a family who had loved our boy like we did, who always will, and who miss him no less.  How can we possibly thank them enough for making Ben feel the way he so obviously did about being such a valued part of their family?  The truth is we can’t ‑ not properly anyway – though we will continue to try.  But we can share their grief, and they ours. 

And remind ourselves as we do so that grief we can share is grief we can bear.

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