The Story of Benjamin, Part 3

This week, I’m telling the story of our first son in honor of his birthday. If you’re coming in late, you can catch up by reading The Story of Benjamin, Part 1 and Part 2.

We now return to our story, already in progress:

We knew that we wanted to bury him with a little blanket, and with a couple of little toys that we had bought for him in the Bahamas on our cruise. The toys were his, and we weren’t going to give them to anyone else. We went to a fabric store, looking for an appropriate pattern for his blanket. We were not having any luck, until we spotted a blanket-sized piece of fabric with a large teddy bear in the middle with a wistful look on his face. We both knew that we had to use this pattern. We then found another piece of fabric that we would use to cover his memory box, a white vinyl fabric with a pattern of green leaves covering it. We cut a heart-shaped piece of fabric from the blanket where the bear’s heart would be, and replaced it with a matching heart of the green leaves. The blanket’s heart was made into a small pillow, and went into the box. Some small trimmings from the heart went into each of our wallets, and it stayed in mine until it shredded beyond the point of being recognizable as fabric.

Friends drove hours to join us at the funeral on October 7, eighteen years ago today. My in-laws were there. My parents said that they would be up that weekend or the next. I stayed up most of the night before the funeral writing a poem to read at the graveside service. I wrote it out longhand because it felt right. I did not have time to type it into the computer, and we did not have a copier at the time. After I read it at the service, since I only had one copy, I wanted to hold onto it and felt badly that I didn’t have a copy to put into his coffin before we buried it. Many friends remarked that it was a wonderful piece. I no longer remember it. I think that I may try to pull it out to post on Fight for Preemies day.

As he had not lived long enough to have his brit milah, the ritual Jewish circumcision that traditionally takes place on the eighth day of life, Jewish law said that he must be buried around the edge of the cemetery. (Oddly, the cemetery has recently expanded beyond the fence that he was buried near, and so he now lies in the middle of that section, along the ridge of a hill.)

The rest of the week was a blur. On the afternoon of the funeral, everybody came back to our house, and we sat around and talked. Thursday was just my wife, my in-laws and I. On Friday morning, I briefly went into my office to pack up my desk, as we were being moved from our satellite office back to the main building over the weekend. Some of the ladies were nice enough to have packed up most of my stuff for me. I took care of the odds and ends, then headed back home. I have no idea what we did. Over the weekend, my mother and stepfather visited, while my in-laws went home for a little while. They were back the next week, and were a constant presence in our house for months, as they sensed that we just needed to have somebody around. They really are wonderful people. I believe that my father and stepmother were up the following weekend, but I’m not positive.

It’s kind of interesting how, while my in-laws were very supportive and sympathetic, it felt like my parents were wondering why we were making such a big deal of it. Maybe it’s just that that was how they dealt with such things in their generation, hiding the pain to pretend that everything was all right. We were told that “it was a ‘mis'” — as in miscarriage — and that we would get over it soon and move on. I’m sorry, but I have a certificate of live birth and a death certificate. I saw my son born in front of my eyes, and we did not have a “mis”. We had a son. Deal with it. If it’s too painful for you to acknowledge that our child died, that’s fine, but don’t pooh-pooh our feelings. Over the years since, as our pain dulled, we have seen more sympathy from my parents, but the initial reactions (especially from my father) still resonate today.

I did my best to continue on, and felt that I would be able to find a place to put the pain after a while. My wife went into a funk that she didn’t come out of for two years. We arranged to get a headstone for Benjamin, and she customized the design to be engraved on the stone. We held a brief unveiling ceremony by ourselves the next October.

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day became painful days for us, as we were just about the only ones who acknowledged that we were a mother and father, even if we didn’t have our child with us. Our son’s birthday was another painful day each year. Friends and relatives got pregnant and had healthy children. We were left heartbroken, and my wife was not ready to face getting pregnant again. She had developed a fear of losing another child and could not face that prospect.

This is really the end of The Story of Benjamin. He continues to be an ache in our hearts and a pain in our souls, but it has been relatively constant and unchanging over the years.

Our overall story continues, though, and it will continue on the blog soon. In the meantime, please share your stories in the comments.

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