Ben’s Story

I stopped writing in my journal, something I once did somewhat faithfully, because sometimes defining moments are just too hard to write about. Even though it doesn’t seem right to skip over such a monumental moment, one that is filled with so much sorrow and regret, somehow I subconsciously decided that I wasn’t going to write anymore. Maybe it was fear that stopped me, maybe it was because it was just too painful to face, whatever the reason I know that it was a moment in my life that against my will, has molded me into the person I am today.

Looking back I wish I could remember exactly what made me so tired. Maybe it was softball practice or the fact that I had stayed up all night the night before talking on the phone to my boyfriend. Either way I distinctly remember wanting nothing more when I got home then to walk into my dark, cool room and collapse onto my bed. My exhausted muscles begged for the comfort I knew my mattress would offer and my tired mind wanted nothing more than the relief and recharge that I knew a long nap would bring.

Stumbling through the front door I mumbled a quick unenthusiastic “hello” into my mom’s shop where she was finishing up with one of her clients.  It took all the energy I had to drag my tired body into the kitchen where I was greeted by the excited faces of my younger brother Ben and his best friend Thomas.  Both were fifteen and in that awkward stage of puberty where their noses are too big for their faces and their limbs have grown too long so fast, not giving their bodies time to catch up, which makes them look awkward and uncoordinated in most things that they do.

Ben stood leaning against the stove where he stood stirring a large pot. Excitement was written all over his face as he called out to me “Abbie! Guess What?” His deep blue eyes sparkled as he scooted his favorite beat up brown, pinstriped Quicksliver baseball cap farther back on his head, causing his hair to poke out a little beneath the sides of his hat. “Thomas and I are each going to try and eat and entire box of Mac n’ Cheese!”

“That’s disgusting. You better make sure you clean up the kitchen before mom is done working.”  I told him in my most matter- of-fact tone as I continued onto my room. I wasn’t just saying it to be bossy; in the process of them attempting to make the macaroni they had turned the kitchen into what looked like a war zone.

Stumbling through my bedroom door I tripped over clothes, kicked my backpack, and stepped on a shoe. The last conscious thought I had before my head made contact with my pillow was how I really should clean up my room up sometime.

“Thud! Thud!” It seemed to take ages before my foggy mind registered that someone was pounding on my bedroom door. “ Abbie, mom says you HAVE to take us to Kyle’s. She won’t be done working for at least another 30 minutes.”  Groaning, I threw a pillow over my head hoping futilely that he would go away and I could fall back asleep and enjoy the comfort my bed offered.  But the pounding didn’t stop.

Irritated, I stormed out of my room.  “Let’s go!” I barked. Seeing the boys grinning at each other as if they just got away with something only made me resent the disruption of my nap all the more. The short mile and a half long drive to Kyle’s house seemed so much longer, which fueled my resentment even more for the injustice of disturbing my peace. I was grumpy and my brother felt the need to push my buttons. The incessant need to change the radio station every five second or roll the windows down was pushing me to the edge. They weren’t doing anything wrong or out of the ordinary and on any other day it probably wouldn’t have bothered me at all, but because I was already so grumpy their good mood that day seemed only to make me more irritated. Just as I was thinking to myself how I wished he would leave the radio alone, he came across a familiar song so he and Thomas began to belt out “Apple bottom jeans! Boots with the furrrrr! With the furrrrrr!” Their carefree yet slightly obnoxious attitudes did little to improve my mood.

Dropping the boys off, I sat there and watched Ben through the window for a minute. I watched as he greeted his buddies. These boys had all been best friends since they were little. They were the kind of group that was funny to be around.  In my mind all five of those boys were nothing more than awkward little freshman, but they all seemed pretty sure of themselves and when they were all together the confidence they gave each other made their egos larger than life.

I had never been one to tell my siblings that I loved them, especially not Ben. Although I was only two years older than him, he was the irritating little brother that loved to torture me when my friends were around. He was the little brother that for April fool’s day thought it would be funny to get my panties wet and put them in the freezer! He was also the little brother that always demanded things his way, which some of the time could make my life so difficult. Something changed though, within the last 6 weeks or so I noticed that we had been getting along. In fact, it didn’t seem to bother me anymore that he always wanted to be around me. Regardless of how things were now between us, the fact that the words “ I love you. Tell him I love you,” kept repeating over and over in my mind really bothered me.

Sometimes I think I rolled down the window and said it quietly, and that he looked at me with a reassuring smile and said it back. But if I really think about it I know I never said those words. I didn’t want to say them….it was hard, It felt awkward. Part of me didn’t even want to like this boy that had made it his mission, it seemed to drive me up a wall my entire life.  If only I would have known that he was going to go on a rhino ride with his friends. If only I would have known that there would be an accident and that within 45 minutes my whole life would change forever…

It seemed like I had only been home a few minutes. I had barley crawled back into my room determined to go back to sleep before a neighbor came to the door. Less than a minute later I could hear my mom on the phone, she sounded panicked. Deciding I should probably go investigate I watched confused as my mom ran out the door to her car. This series of events did little but send myself, and my two younger siblings, Tate and Sophie into a panic.

Our neighbor then told us about the accident. We waited and paced anxiously. Not knowing what to else to do the three of kids went upstairs and knelt in a small circle, each of us taking a turn to pray.  My two younger siblings both had tears running down their faces. I felt numb. It wasn’t real. It was just a bad dream. The CPR would work and everything would be fine! It always worked in the movies didn’t it? Looking back, part of me always wondered if maybe I had just had more faith things would have ended differently.

An eternity passed before my mom called. Tate and Sophie sat on the stairs talking to our neighbor. My mom told me Ben most likely wouldn’t live but not to tell the other kids. My body went numb.

Arriving at the accident scene everything seemed surreal.  My mom stood crying off to the side. There were several women, her friends, who surrounded her holding her up because her legs wanted to give out. People were everywhere. Some were emergency personal, most were not. The noise of the chopper was deafening as its blades caused a minor dust storm. My dad paced back and forth as he stood watching compressions being done while they wheeled my brother over to the helicopter. Anxiety and fear was blatant on his face as he began to talk to an EMT.  I felt helpless…I didn’t cry but I could feel the tears building up behind my eyes but I kept telling myself to stay calm. A lump began to grow in the back of my throat, frustrating me that I couldn’t swallow it back down. Dazed I walked over to my dad.

The EMT, who just happened to be an old family friend, clasped my dad on the back before turning back to the commotion. “Dad?” My voice sounded strange and foreign, I didn’t recognize it as my own.  He didn’t hear me.  “ Dad! Is he going to be ok?” Again I didn’t recognize my own voice. It was the dang lump I couldn’t swallow! I could feel my heart racing. The sound of my blood pumping filled my ears and my hands began to shake. He looked at me and the pain written on his face said it all.  He wasn’t going to be ok and things were never going to be the same.

The ride to the hospital was the longest of my life. Anxiety levels were through the roof as my dad weaved through traffic at unsafe speeds. Frustration set in at every light. Why hadn’t we been given a police escort? The trauma center was so far away. No one in the car knew what to say. We were all afraid too afraid say out loud that he might not survive.  My mom managed to call a few loved ones. For some reason I was holding Ben’s cell phone. I don’t remember it, but I must have sent a text message to some friends or other family members. Somehow, the word spread quickly and everyone knew.

Most of our extended family made it to the trauma center before we did.  There was a social worker waiting at the doors for us to arrive.  I can’t really describe what it was like when we got there. Walking into the ER everyone seemed to know what we hadn’t been told yet. I remember seeing nurses and hospital employees all up and down the hall stop what they were doing to look at us. They wanted to see who belonged to the boy that had died. I seemed to know then what I had to brace myself to hear.  Before I knew what had happened, my family and grandmother were escorted into a small waiting room. It was the kind of room they send people when they have something bad to tell you. My dad kept asking the social worker if Ben had died, but all she kept telling him was that the Dr. would come in soon and give us the official word. She never answered his question directly, but somehow I knew. I understood what she was saying to us.  In my mind I could see the doctors standing down the hall playing rock, paper, and scissors to see who had to tell the this family that their son and brother, so full of life had died.

The backs of my legs began to sweat and were sticking to the vinyl blue chairs.  Chairs, that were intended to be comfortable were anything but. My younger brother Tate asked if we could say another prayer before the Dr. came into the room. We were all still holding out for a miracle.

I don’t remember the exact words that were said, my brain only registered so much. They did all they could do…Something about lacerations to the heart, vital organs crushed. It was too much for my mind to take in. I couldn’t cry, as much as I wanted to, the tears wouldn’t come. I had to be strong and keep it together for everyone else’s sake.

My parents went back to see him first before they let us kids in.  He looked calm and peaceful. If it weren’t for the intubation tube still in his mouth one would have thought he was just sleeping. The word “Math” was written on his hand to remind him to study for his final.  Writing on his hand was something he did often to remind himself of things. The feeling in the room is one that is hard to describe. A feeling of such peace mixed with deep sorrow.  A hospital representative came in and asked about donating his organs. It seemed like such an odd thing since we could hardly believe that he was gone.  For whatever reason, Ben was always afraid of donating his organs.  We discussed it as a family but in the end they really only wanted his eyes. But Ben’s eyes were his, and it seemed wrong for anyone else to have them.

I wandered around, I felt helpless. My world just flipped upside down. It was hard to be in the room. My mom sat at my brother’s bedside holding his hand and stroking his hair, silent tears rolling down her face.  My sister Sophie, so little, repeated almost hauntingly “Nothing will ever be the same again.”  She was absolutely beside herself.  She would touch Ben’s face, tell him she loved him and repeat to herself how nothing would be the same again before wandering over to someone with open arms to be taken out of the room. She did this over and over. It was more than her little heart could take.

Between extended family and friends the room was full. We were there for hours before someone came in and told us it was time to leave.   We had everyone leave and we had our final goodbye with just my immediate family. I remember we each kissed him goodbye. As we left they handed my mom a bag of the clothes he wore that day. It seemed so odd, so wrong to leave him there.

As we were walking out the ER was full of our family and friends sitting there watching us.  Everyone’s eyes were focused on us. Everyone seemed to be waiting for my parents to say something.  But what could they say to them? What could anyone say at a moment like that? My dad thanked everyone for coming and asked them to let us go home and be alone for the night, but that they could come by in the morning.

We came home, but friends and church leaders were waiting for us at our house. My head hurt, I just wanted to hide out in my room again. My bed called my name but this time for a different reason. I knew it was safe to cry there, that I could open my heart and plead to my Father in Heaven to help me and my family.

My parents asked us kids to sleep in their room that night. I tried to refuse. I just wanted to be alone, but they wanted us close, how could I tell them no?  We pulled blankets and mattresses from the other rooms and made beds on my parent’s floor. As I laid in my make shift bed next to my twelve year old brother I could hear my parents sobbing from where they laid in their bed. The sound that came from my dad was almost an unearthly moan that came from the deepest part of him.  It wasn’t coming from his voice, but it seemed to be stuck in his throat. It was almost like he wasn’t making a sound, his wounded soul was. There aren’t really words to describe such a sound other than absolute anguish and sorrow.

Sophie had passed out long before. Her nine year old little body was exhausted. As I looked at Tate…his face…the sadness in his eyes. My heart, if it was possible broke again. Tears streaked down his face as he looked at me.  I grabbed his pudgy little hand and whispered “I’m sorry.”  Somehow I knew it would be harder on him to not have his older brother. In that moment something passed between us, a shared moment in time, an understanding; one, that only two people who just lost someone they loved could share. The look Tate gave me was all it took before the flood gates of my heart burst open and I became lost in a whirl wind of grief. That was the one night I let myself cry. I cried until my head pounded and my eyes and cheeks burned from my salty tears.

The week passed in a long blur. Flowers, food, planning, and more planning. The local news station came to our house to do an interview. The only reason we allowed it was because there were so many people we knew from the community that were wondering about our family. We had already begun to hear about distorted reports of the accident, which can easily turn into gossip. It was hard for all of us to think that people would gossip about Ben. After all, this was someone we loved; a part of us they were talking about. I think it was our way of letting everyone know we were going to be ok and also to set the record straight. After living in the same community for over 20 years my family knows a lot of people through church, school, sports and community events. There were literally hundreds of people that came through our house that week. We were so grateful for all the love and support, but at one point we had to set “guards” outside the door to thank people for coming and turn them away so we could have a family night without interruptions.  I have a very large, close extended family and when anything happens we gather together to support each other. This was one of those times. We just needed time for us to be together, share our feelings, and talk about Ben.  It still seemed so surreal. It was too much to deal with. I tried to escape as much as possible.

The weather that week had been so perfect. The day of the funeral we woke up to another day of beautiful weather, no rain in the forecast. It was the perfect day for a funeral, if there is such a thing. Over 1500 people attended the funeral. We felt the support of the community, but there were so many eyes on us!  The chapel was dead silent as the sound of the bagpiper playing Amazing Grace filled the air.  The sound reverberated through the room and you could feel it go through your body. It was here that the four boys who had been in the accident with my brother Ben, wearing their bandages and casts on their broken bones, along with my younger brother and my cousin all rose to be pallbearers in a final act of service for their best friend. As they lovingly carried his casket out the building the sky was dark grey.  As they began loading his casket into the hearse the clouds burst open and rain began to poor out. It felt as though Heavenly Father knew our pain and was weeping with us.

My brother now has a final resting spot that we go to visit. We make sure his headstone is clean and the flowers are fresh but my little sister was right, nothing has ever been the same. I’ve learned and grown through this experience, mostly in ways I didn’t want to know or know I needed to, but I believe that there is a purpose behind everything. We’re not just like sand into the hands of fate.  The reasons might not be completely clear now but one day they will be.  Until then… my biggest regret is not saying “ I love ya Ben” when I had the chance

ben

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