I spoke with a friend recently and we discussed what the next 12 months might look like. I wanted a sounding board and some clarity on what my next move could be in the Ben process. As we talked, he said something that had a big impact and I have thought about many times since.
‘Dalya, if you have 40 hours in a week to work, do you want to spend your time and energy trying to change things that you probably can’t, or do you want to spend your energy on making a difference through your writing, speaking and educating, while continuing to develop Ben’s legacy?…’
Holy Cow! In those few words he broke everything down to something so simple. Had I been overthinking, (not like me at all…), what was the obvious next move was?
Many years ago, I was given a gift. It was out of a bond created in a very special relationship. Absolute trust and integrity were the non-negotiable payments required in exchange and my gift was one that would become priceless – full access to Ben’s friends.
I have never taken this for granted and I treasure my relationships with each one of them. I think about what this gift means, and it makes me smile and sad at the same time. Perhaps it’s the reality that with each year that goes by, time passes, I grow older and these young people grow up.
I look back today and can honestly say, if I could swap the life I had with Ben, for the original dream of five beautiful boys (or girls) – I wouldn’t change a single thing! I am one of those ‘lucky’ ones out there. (I believe we make our own luck.)
I have no regrets. I have no burning questions I need answered. I believe there is a bigger picture. I don’t believe in coincidences and I am at peace with where I am in my life.
I have a belief system that is higher than myself. And Ben gave me the big family I always wanted.
Perhaps it is part of my learning in this life, that sometimes what we think we want and what we actually need are different things. Perhaps it’s a lesson to remind myself to accept what is, to be grateful for what I have and to always make the most of the opportunities I am given in life. Every ‘greener’ patch of grass comes with its own hidden weeds!
In 2019 I was asked to speak at the Good Grief This Hurts symposium put on by the Children’s Hospital Qld. The theme was ‘How to Help Young People Cope with Grief.’
I felt like it was the perfect topic for me to cover as I had my gift and many of Ben’s friends and I were close. I had been privy to a front row seat into how young people actually coped with loss.
I rallied a bunch of ‘my’ kids together and after a lot of pizza, donuts and sweet food, some crazy stories, and a lot of tearful sharing, I had more than enough content for my talk.
I guess it should have been obvious really. In so many cases the kids had shown me all along how they would express their grief, often sharing their thoughts with me and demonstrating through their actions.
One day that will be burned in my brain forever is Ben’s football clubs under 16’s grand final in 2018. The team had decided to do one more year together and many of them shared with me they were doing it for Ben. They were determined to win the trophy. I went to almost every game that year, cheering them on and chatting with them afterwards and they did make it to the Grand Final.
Here’s a point. I didn’t know what else to do that year. I no longer had a child of my own playing football but a part of me was so connected to these young guys, and I needed to keep a routine so I just kept turning up. It was a chance to remind the kids I was still here and supported them and a reminder to me of the connection I still had to Ben through them.
To a bystander it probably made no sense at all and maybe it didn’t make sense to me either but honestly, I didn’t care. It felt good, bittersweet, but I kept doing it.
The day arrived and I will remember forever standing on the side line watching as the group came together. These boys who looked like young men simultaneously went down on one knee. Their arms locked around each other’s shoulders and quietly they said a prayer for their lost player.
If that wasn’t enough, they followed up with a loud and powerful chant led by the captain:
“Ben on 3! 1 – 2 – 3 BEN!!!” As each player took the field, they hugged me, and I am sure there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
At the end of the game, the final siren blew, and the boys and supporters went berserk. The kids and many adults were jumping up and down, yelling and many of them crying, “WE DID IT!! BEN, WE DID IT FOR YOU!!” Omg the tears flowed and still do as I write this today.
I share this story to show you an insight into how when we make different decisions and show up in life, we see a different perspective. When we watch and listen, we see how young people express themselves. They don’t do things for no reason. And they don’t always grieve in the same way adults do. But they DO still hurt.
I wonder if it is actually harder in some respects for the young people and siblings left behind. A counsellor shared with me once why her group classes weren’t as effective as she had hoped for young people dealing with loss. They would attend and get so much out of the session, walking away feeling better for having shared, only to return home to go back to looking after the rest of the family, while the parents were emotionally absent.
I have experienced similar stories where young people feel they are left on the side in a fog while they support their parents and also try to make sense of what has happened. I have seen so many kids put on a ‘strong’ public front only to fall apart privately as they watch their lives crumble.
Young people have told me they need to be able to express themselves the way they need to in the time that is right for them. They need to be heard. They need to be given a break.
I have witnessed some beautiful examples of young peoples’ expression over the last 3+ years. The footie boys trained hard and won the grand final and I know many training sessions were pushed to their limits and finished in tears. Some kids completed school assignments and projects writing and creating with Ben as their subject. Dances were choreographed and songs were written, pictures were drawn, and essays were poured out onto pages and pages.
We know by now that we all grieve differently and there is no cookie cutter approach.
Young people want what we want – to be met where they are at.
So, to finish off this week I will leave you with
15 things that young people who have lost a friend or sibling, want you to know 💙
i. I have never felt hurt like this. Don’t expect me to grieve or act in a certain way. I am trying to make sense of what has happened and how I feel with limited life experience.
ii. I need to work through this in my own timeframe and with no restrictions.
iii. I want the opportunity to talk about my person with no censorship whenever I want. I cannot be open with you if you censor me (or my language). I won’t talk about my person if you get weird on me.
iv. Don’t ask me ‘how are you?’ … How the f*k do you think I am?? I don’t think I am ever going to be okay again, and don’t tell me otherwise, so stop asking me!
v. Yes, I am angry with you and every adult around me. Why did you not prepare me for this?? For death?? None of what I have learnt in school has helped me deal with this real life event!!
vi. Don’t expect me to act the same way as I used to. I am not who I was. I am not sure I know who I am any more.
vii. I have many moments where I scroll on my phone and cry for long periods of time into the early hours of the morning. No, I won’t tell you. You won’t understand. You cannot fix this.
viii. I often feel desperate, like there is no end to my confusion or pain. Sometimes I don’t want to be here. Yes, sometimes this means I want to be with my person. I miss them too much and I don’t understand what’s happening.
ix. I can’t explain how I feel. I don’t know. Sometimes I don’t feel. Other times I don’t know what to feel or if what I am feeling is even the right way to feel.
x. I want to connect with other young people who were close to, or who knew my person.
xi. The counsellors you keep shoving in my face are not helping me. I don’t believe they understand how I feel, and I don’t believe they can help me. I am not connecting with them.
xii. I want the opportunity to be included in decisions being made moving forward, about my person.
xiii. I am fiercely loyal and protective towards my persons memory. Yes, I will punch you, beat you up, or scream at you without a second thought if I feel you have disrespected them in any way. I will act first and think later. I don’t feel I have any control over this.
xiv. I have periods of not caring about school, work, exams, chores, commitments, sport, personal hygiene, the state of my bedroom, the length of my hair or any consequences of my actions. None of it matters any more. Stop hounding me. I need to move through this and I don’t know how.
xv. I am doing the best I can with limited tools to survive my OWN worst nightmare.
“Just because we are younger doesn’t mean we hurt any less”
“Losing Ben is a reason to try harder, to do better”. – HW
Dalya xx 💙