Two weeks ago I lost a true friend, and it feels much worse than I could have imagined. I thought I was prepared as I knew the day was growing near, but it turns out you just can't prepare for something like this.
Last August began with promise--Ben was going to be moving in to the suite downstairs at the end of the month, and we were all so excited for a new beginning and many pizza/movie nights in our future. But only days after he moved in, before the boxes were even unpacked, we received some startling news. He had been struggling with debilitating back pain for a while, and it reached a point where he knew it had to be looked at, so he took himself to the hospital. Ben had texted James late one night, saying that he was in emergency waiting to see a doctor. We were very concerned, but figured he would have a scan done and get some treatment, and everything would be ok. It wasn't like that at all.
The next morning, I woke up to a text from Ben, asking if James and I were awake and ready to take a phone call. He wanted to put us on speaker so we could all talk. I swear my heart stopped when I read the message, but I told him that we were ready, and we both sat on the couch, nervous as hell, waiting for my phone to ring. It happened almost immediately. He said that he had something to tell us, and that it was pretty heavy. He said that the doctor did a scan, and it showed that he had cancer. I must have blurted out something like OH MY GOD! James and I asked him what we were up against and he said "It's pretty bad, it's everywhere." I just bursted into tears as I typed that, probably because I tried so hard not to cry when he initially said it and now I feel like I have no reason not to cry. The three of us talked for a short while, and I promised that he would not go through this alone. I think I kept that promise.
Later that day, James and I went up to see him at the hospital. At that point, nothing seemed real. It was Ben, in a hospital bed, being hilarious as always, despite being in a tremendous amount of pain. It just felt like he was going to be ok. I think in the early goings, we didn't really know what was expected. We weren't sure what treatment options were available and if they were going to help him or not or to what degree. Over the course of the next 4 months, he tried everything. We watched him bravely face every goddamn thing that was thrown his way. He had radiation, immunotherapy, was on and off of the most potent painkillers available. We sat at his bedside while the nurses administered blood transfusions, we went for walks with him, watching him use all of his strength just to move down the hallway, or even just from one side of his room to another. He did not give up. And he did not stop being funny.
I remember sitting with his family and friends at various times at the hospital when Ben was completely out of it, and he would still look over at me and say something that made me laugh. He would still fist pound and give high fives, and still gave the best hugs. The nurses and doctors loved him because he was so genuine and funny and kind and grateful for everything, even when it would have been so easy to be angry about what was happening. Every time I walked into that hospital room, he would smile and say "HELLOOOOO!" I would often arrive after work around 8 at night, and even when he was exhausted his face would light up and he would be as present as possible so that we could visit. It was worth it to be at his side, as difficult as it was, because it was still Ben. Even when he didn't look the same, his spirit was fully visible and vibrant.
For a short while, the treatments were helping him. He suddenly had some energy and colour in his face, and even gained some weight back. At the time I did not know, but people with terminal cancer often get better before they get worse. Sometimes sudden improvement is a sign that the end is near. I say this because it might help others to know, should they ever be in a similar situation. Reality sure can suck balls, but it's better to be aware of the balls rather than just have them come at you out of nowhere. Having said that, here I sit alone in my house. A house that he spent a great deal of time in, and I feel like I was run over by a bus. My body hurts, my heart hurts. I knew that this was coming. I saw the balls, but I didn't know how big they were.
As I look around this space, I still see him everywhere. He probably sat in every single seat in this house. I picture him laying down on the ground, making friends with Beans, or sitting across from me when I've had too much to drink, offering a comforting smile. I can hear his laughter and it makes me sad. I know that one day it will make me happy, but I still haven't processed that fact that I am never going to see my dear friend again.
Two weeks ago Ben died in this house, downstairs in his suite, surrounded by his family who were there for him during the toughest of times. I remember months ago when things were getting worse, being afraid of the possibility of him dying in our house. I thought I couldn't handle it. I thought that it would be too hard, too painful. But in the end, I was so glad that he was here. That he was able to feel peace in his own home. A home that James and I set up for him, imagining that he would have some time to enjoy it. More time than he ended up having. The last time I saw Ben I didn't know it would be the last time. We said I love you to each other, as we always did, but I didn't know that it would be the last time I would say it. If I did know, I'm not sure that I would have done anything differently, which I guess isn't a bad thing. I just wish that I had more time.
The morning Ben left this world, James and I were preparing to go downstairs and visit him, but while we were getting ready, we received a message from his mom, saying that he was gone. I can't describe what I was feeling at that moment, but I know there was pain. And I cried. I wish that I had gone to see him the day before, which I thought about doing, but I just didn't know that I wouldn't have another opportunity. I couldn't have known that. You just never know.
As I sit here at the computer, I have a wonderful view of the tree in our front yard. We have a bird feeder on it. Feeding the birds, squirrels, rats, mice, and whatever creatures may come along has always meant so much to me. It meant a lot to Ben, too. In fact, one of his favourite things to do while approaching the end was to sit in bed and watch the birds eating the seed. James and Tia, our lovely neighbour who lives downstairs, set up some bird feeders in plain view so that Ben could see them each day and enjoy watching the creatures come to visit. He really loved it. In fact, that was one of the last things we talked about. We were looking out his window, watching James and Tia hang another bird feeder up, closer to the window. He told me that he loved watching the birds and the squirrels. It brought him joy. I remember sitting there with him, watching him blow kisses at James and Tia. Watching the smile on his face as Enya filled his room with beautiful relaxing music. He was content in that moment, and that made me happy.
The day he died, I sat in my room, looking out the window. I said "Ben, if you're out there, would you give me a sign?" Immediately after, a bird flew right by my window. I gasped, then cried. I know, some of you shitheads are thinking well, duh, it's pretty likely that a bird would fly by. Sure, you keep thinking what you want, but I took it as a sign. The universe showing me that, although I will never see him again in person, I will always feel his presence. I will always know that he's here. And how wonderful to associate my beautiful friend with birds and squirrels, because I see them and hear them every day. I will constantly be reminded of Ben. Lately, when I'm feeling overwhelmed with emotional and physical pain, I try to focus on the birds chirping. On being present. On being alive. Because, as cliche as it sounds, I don't know how long I have here, and it's time to start seeing things differently.
I promise that I will start living my life the way I want. I will do more things that I enjoy. I will spend more time with those I love, with people who are supportive and who bring a loving energy into my life. And, I promise to keep my distance from the people who are unsupportive and who bring a negative energy around, because I just cannot be bothered anymore. I don't care. I promise to start caring more about myself and to take better care of myself, because I deserve it. Ben would have wanted it that way. In fact, I'm going to start asking myself more, what would Ben do? What would Ben say about this? How would Ben feel about this? I want to honour his life through the way I live mine.
Now I will leave you with a message Ben sent me years ago, followed by one of his favourite songs. A song I've thought of often over the past 4 months or so, but haven't been able to listen to. Now I will listen, and remember.
You are awesome
I am proud of you
I believe in you
Knowing you gives me strength
You will find the answers you seek
You are like a force of nature
Once unleashed, you are unstoppable
Clear decisive action
Do not fear your awesome
Thank you for speaking from your heart with me
You have a profound effect when you express yourself
You are worthy
You are powerful
It is you at the centre
You are awesome
This was Ben's message to me, which he sent completely out of nowhere, but it was really his message to everyone. He was kind, he was gentle, he was generous, he was encouraging, he was grateful, and so much more. He was a wonderful friend, and I hope to carry his energy with me and share it with the world.
I'm finally doing it--pulling my insides out and splattering them around for all to see. Here we go!