If I Left Without Saying Goodbye

I don’t contemplate my own mortality as much as I once did, in my teenage melancholy phase or throughout the spells of ill health I encountered in my twenties. But being a parent changes you in many ways, some of which are not obvious. The weight of responsibility for another person, and the desire to nurture and protect them at all costs, to save them from any hurt in their lives comes as stark contrast to the single person who can afford to put themselves first and live only for today. Now, Thomas is my future, and the future really matters.

Yesterday, reading this article in the Guardian hit me right where it hurts, right in my heart where my son and husband are my most precious treasures. Benjamin Brooks-Dutton is living what surely would be any parent’s nightmare. The loss of his wife, and soul mate, and the need to help their toddler son cope with that whilst simultaneously managing his own grief.

It’s an unimaginable situation.

In his blog, from which the Guardian article is closely derived, Benjamin says himself that when people say they cannot imagine what he is going through that they shouldn’t try, as they wouldn’t like it. And to be honest, I really shouldn’t try. I don’t know this family, so of course I can’t imagine their situation. It almost feels disrespectful to be writing this at all, because after all, what do I really know about grief, let along losing my life’s partner and the co-parent of our much loved child.

But blessed with the over active imagination I’ve always both loved and detested in equal measure, I can’t help but, instead – and perhaps self-indulgently, imagine how¬†I would feel. Or rather, how my family would feel if I were to leave them behind. It may be a morbid thought, but suddenly the future and wanting more than anything for my son to never hurt, no matter how unrealistic that desire, has changed the way I think. I can’t know, obviously I can’t. But my heart hurts just considering the possibility of ever finding out.

I think about how much Thomas would miss me, and images cloud my mind. The way he reaches up for me when I go in to his room in the morning. The smile that cracks his face when I arrive to collect him from nursery. The way, when he wanders off at a toddler group, that he looks around to check I’m still there, still watching. The way he clings to me in almost desperation that I will make it better whenever he’s deeply upset, or over tired. I can’t imagine how he would cope with me simply not being there any more. I can’t imagine leaving and not being able to say goodbye. My imagination paints an image of him looking for me, but unable to find me. And just when I think that’s the worst thought of all, I consider the fact that he would continue to grow up, leaving me behind, and that being the age that he is, he wouldn’t even remember me.

Benjamin’s article is incredibly eloquent and very moving. I could not suppress my tears as I read it, simply shaking my head when Ian asked me what the matter was, unable to articulate these thoughts or feelings. I can’t imagine what Benjamin and his family are going through, but I do know that he is absolutely right: I wouldn’t like it at all. I feel for them enormously, but I’m not sure what the right emotion is for someone who is not a personal acquaintance. Sympathy. Sadness. I’m certainly very sorry for their loss.

The article, and blog, however, are also inspiring. I am full of admiration for Benjamin and his son. Sometimes you read something and the words stay with you long after you’ve finished. If I ever needed a wake-up call or reminder about how much I love my son, just how deeply my feelings for him run, this would be it.

Life is so cruel, but also so precious.

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