Thursday, December 29, 2011

Followup on Ben Breedlove: Family & Funeral; A Personal Note on Death

I wanted to do a quick update to the Ben Breedlove story I wrote a couple days ago.  The blog post, overnight, received more "hits" than anything I've ever written. Easily over 20,000 in just 24 hours. This is a well traveled blog, but that's a pretty extreme jump.  It seems people everywhere were just as fascinated by this young man's videos, his message and sadly.. his passing.

The guest book at Ben's funeral, December 29th 2011.

This Austin, TX teen managed to unite hundreds of thousands of people through videos he made about death, just 5 short days before the pacemaker on his heart failed and took his life on Christmas Day. His videos, which by morning were posted everywhere, went viral overnight.. literally.  So much so that the Breedlove family decided to stream his memorial live today online, so mourners across the world could grieve the loss of Ben.

One thing that struck me in watching the parts of the memorial service/funeral I was able to, was how at peace his mother seemed to be.  She looked, and rightfully so, like she'd been through hell and back.. but she was smiling, mostly had herself together and was able to accept other's condolences with grace.

Deanne Breedlove (In black, in the middle), with youngest son Jake at Ben's funeral.

I know I've mentioned once or twice that I had a son once, and that he passed away. Actually, tomorrow would have been his 11th birthday.  Though I only got to experience motherhood for a little over three months, I can tell you with no uncertainty.. that this is something you never get over. I mean, you move on.. you even feel mostly normal again, but your child is with you all the time in some manner or another.  I find myself scanning a crowd of children for a boy that would be around his age, fascinated with the developmental milestones they've reached and wondering what sort of person he would have been.

Robert, with his father. A good lookin' boy!

Having a child that's passed away is a unique sort of awfulness, on top of the obvious. When people ask if you have children, especially in my case having no others, you're faced with the decision of telling them simply "No" and entirely discounting that fact that you are in fact a Mom, or saying "Yes" and having to explain.  People never want to talk about children dying. It sends a guttural panic into the hearts of most women, and men become uncomfortable because it's a realm of emotion they don't want to tip toe through. To this day, when someone finds out about my child, I find myself in a weird sort of role reversal.. where the person hearing the news becomes very apologetic and upset, trying to find the words and I have to assure them that I'm okay, it's okay and that they don't need to comfort me. I like to avoid the subject altogether, but at the same time, sometimes I want to talk about him. He was a really beautiful blessing, and his death was the ONLY negative part of the entire experience of having him.

I was 19. So young. I didn't even know how to give a proper
bath to a baby, and they don't come with handbooks!
You can tell he was thrilled by this experience.

Anyway, my point is.. Ben Breedlove's Mom really looked okay today. I was an absolute mess at Robert's funeral. I insisted on speaking, which I shouldn't have, but I had so much I wanted to say.. and I ended up breaking down in front of a lot of people. The biggest differences between Ben's mother and myself is that she's a solid 20 years older than I was at the time, her son had been struggling with a life threatening illness for 18 years, and she has a relationship with God that I wasn't even close to at that age.

I envy her for those things, but at the same time, my heart aches for her today.  I know how she feels, in as close a way as anyone can I suppose.

The worst part of burying a loved one, particularly a child, is that in a few weeks.. the rest of the world will go back to normal. Life goes on, and everyone is back to work and doing their daily grind. But for the parents, and possibly the siblings.. the immediate family, that hole actually gets BIGGER as time progresses and life continues without the one we're missing.  Sure, it gets better..but it's really hard the first couple of years. People don't like to discuss death and loss, and the grieving person begins to feel guilty for being sad and begins to bottle it up.. hoping to not make anyone else uncomfortable.

I spent hours and hours online reading stories from other mothers who had lost their children to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), with an almost morbid dedication. I just longed to know I wasn't completely alone in my emotional roller coaster.  And then one day, I didn't anymore and I too moved on. For the most part.

I don't mourn Ben Breedlove.  He's in a much better place, where doctors and surgery no longer factor in. My heart aches for his Mother, and the rest of his immediate family. The worst is still to come for them and I pray they have the support network in place to help them get through it.

Two people stood out during the days that followed my son's death. One paramedic who said "Oh honey, don't worry. You'll have more children." I wish at times I could go back and just shake her for saying that. Her intentions were good, her wording was awful.  And a bank teller. She asked how Robert was doing, as we were regulars in the drive-through, and when I told her she paused for a moment and said.. "Darlin', this is going to hurt for a long time. It'll get better, but it's going to get better slowly. The only thing that will make it better is time."  She hit the nail on the head.

My mom and her grandson, the day he was born.

Without getting overly preachy, I do believe that God looks out for us and sends us strength when we need it. I saw Ben Breedlove's videos just three days ago, and along with the rest of the world, it bolstered my already strong faith.. in knowing that everything happens for a reason, and that death isn't something to fear. Then, in case the message wasn't loud and clear, a friend I never expected it from.. waited until we were alone, and pulled out his devotional Bible and confided to me that he'd been saved recently and was finding strength in sorting out his faith. Our relationship is based in poker, and I don't think the word God has ever been spoken between us unless it also included expletives, prior to this. We had a good, long talk about a great many things and it touched me. I know what the message was, whether my friend had any idea or not about the bigger picture. God is looking out for me, and he loves me and though losing Robert was a huge cornerstone in my life.. there is a grander plan. Most importantly, that I am loved and it's important for me to keep perspective, even when my heart aches.

I promise I'm not turning my little blog-corner-of-the-world into a faith-based soapbox. Not by any stretch. But if you haven't read the story about Ben Breedlove, or seen his videos you should.  They provided me with a great deal of peace during a potentially emotional time. Maybe they'll do the same for you, or at the very least, open the doors for some good conversation.

Good luck, Breedlove family. I will keep you in my prayers.

Blog-A-Day Countdown to 2012: #4
My Son's 11th Birthday, Ben Breedlove's Mother & Funeral


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  2. Were those 20K hits due to my tweet linking your blog to the story :)

    A couple days after your blog post and my tweet, I noticed Ben Breedlove was a trending topic on Twitter.

    I know they are not connected. But I thought it interesting I had not heard of Ben Breedlove before your blog post and he seemed to be a big internet story.

  3. I definitely got a lot of hits off your repost..well over 100 and I appreciate it. I saw the story before it broke.. a friend of a friend posted his videos just before he died, and I saw them and was touched. In a stroke of journalist luck (And horrible tragedy for the family of Ben), I did a random search for him and caught wind of his death within a couple hours of it happening. I do correspondence work for CNN from time to time (I used to be a journalist back in the day, before poker took over my heart and the print media industry collapsed) so I forwarded the story on to them. They let me link my blog in an iReport, and the rest is history. I don't think I broke the story necessarily, but I know I was one of the first five or so to put it out there.

    It's a story worth hearing, though. <3

  4. Very interesting. Thank you for the details... And the Story of Ben