It’s a day I’ve seen sneaking up in my calendar for a month. Days even weeks went by when I didn’t notice it until, again, this week, I was reminded that this Saturday would be April 25th … a day that would have marked Ben’s 19th birthday. This would be the first birthday where Ben wasn’t here any longer to be part of it.
Tears have been welling up in my eyes constantly over the past week — and as I have gazed into pictures of him and remembered and longed for him, tears have streamed down my cheeks.
In anticipation of today, I have been focused on remembering — on celebrating a life lived, a life shared, a miracle. But even in focusing on the beautiful memories, his absence on this day was poignant. There would be no “Ben dinner” this year … no great meal created just for him. No plate on the floor for him alone. There’d be no spring bath and grooming in anticipation of our traditional photo shoot. There’d be no birthday nap, no presents, no birthday kisses … no fingers buried deep into the fur of his neck as I held him close and said “Happy Birthday, Ben — I love you.”
This was an anniversary that marked an absence more than anything … but it was still a day to remember a presence, a presence that more than lingers, a presence that is imprinted on my heart in my memory forever.
There was one place I wanted to be today, a place I needed to go to remember … and without even thinking, I knew there was something I had to do today. Jess offered me ice cream — Dairy Queen — knowing that it was one of the favourite pastimes shared between Ben and I … and I agreed, it would be a perfect remembrance, but I added, “I want to go Conroy Pit.”
Conroy Pit is one of the largest parks in the city of Ottawa and is an area operated by the National Capital Commission and one of the few areas in the city designated for dogs and off-leash play. It is a place that Ben and I spent hours adding up to months over our life together and it is the place I think of most when I think of Ben. It was our place — and while it was shared by hundreds of other dogs, we had our own special places within the park, places that will remains “ours.”
As much as I needed to revisit this space and celebrate it with ice cream, I needed Ben to be there with me, so I went to my shelf where Ben’s ashes have sat since they were returned to me at the end of October and I gathered him to bring him with us.
I never thought I would keep Ben’s ashes, but when they arrived in October, I was in no emotional space to do anything with them and then winter came … and so Ben has sat in the living room with me ever since. Today was a day for him to go for a walk back to one of my favourite spots in the park.
I retraced the paths of Conroy Pit, sharing memories with Jess along the way and felt the wave of emotion rush over me as familiar trails opened up in front of us … trails that seemed empty and wide without Ben on them to share them with us. The long dormancy of a long winter still shrouded the park, absent of buds, absent of new life. The park was as Ben left it ….
We eventually came to the tree, an old almost ancient maple, that has long been an anchor for me in one distant corner of the park seldom traversed by other walkers. It stood majestic against the grey sky while ribbons of blue opened up out of the heavens above. Ben was with us.
The tears began as I just stood there and felt the expansiveness of the tree. I then went to the bag that had held the ‘urn,’ a stainless steel container that had held Ben’s dog treats for so many years, and I reached inside to lift out the velvet pouch. I opened this for the first time to discover a plastic bag inside that held the ashes of Ben, tied with a gold ribbon, and as I fumbled with the knots the tears just came coming.
I remained stunned and hurt by the fact that the weight of my dog, my Ben, who at his peak, when he ran these trails with me and played fetch for hours, was once 35 pounds and who at his passing weighed almost half of that, now fit in the palm of my hand weighing no more than a few infinitely precious pounds. And I placed Ben on top of a moss-covered fence post that separated the tree from the path and I collected myself for what was about to come.
I tossed a pile of leaves into the air to confirm the direction of the wind and then I reached inside the bag and carefully slid my fingers into Ben, feeling not the smooth and sometimes wiriness of his fur this time, but the granularity of a life reduced to sands in what remains of our hourglass. I carefully lifted a small handful of his ashes and closing my eyes I envisioned Ben, said happy birthday — I love you — and I tossed him into the winds that wrapped the tree, letting them lift him up in the motion of the day.
And as the park gathered up this part of Ben in its arms making Ben a part of it forever, Jess wrapped up the rest of Ben’s ashes to bring home, because while I knew that this was something I had to do today, I wasn’t quite ready to release the rest of Ben to the park … at least not on this day.
I went back to the melted remains of our Dairy Queen blizzards we had carried deep into the woods and prepared to make one final gesture. While Ben wasn’t Irish (though he undoubtedly had some Irish terrier in him), I wasn’t going to pouring whiskey on his grave — instead, I poured the melted ice cream at the base of the tree and whispered, “Happy birthday, buddy.”
And, with that, we took a long walk back through the park, remembering the many days and times that Ben and I had spent here, remembering the paths we had literally created together, the hundreds of photos I took of him here and the photos I took of the park while he accompanied me. I remembered the barks of joy, the silly looks and play, and the beauty we shared for so many years and I love that will not die.
All text and images © Dale Schierbeck
See more of others’ submissions to the Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge on “Motion.”
Dale – it is because of your most beautiful heart that you feel so deeply and that those who love you can allow and support you to feel and just be. Your unstoppable dedication and unwavering love is exactly why you and Ben built the bond you did, why the grief process is so hard yet of critical importance, and why he will occupy an immense and eternal part of you. You are as much a miracle as Ben – the way you dedicated yourself to keeping him strong for so long – not just your creativity and ability to create your recipe, but the heart from which the motivation came. And now, by sharing with others, your heroic efforts are helping others and you are leaving a tremendous legacy for him, and for yourself.
I couldn’t be any more thankful that I could share Ben’s birthday together with you through your words here and I am forever blessed that I know the heart that loves him so.
You bring tears to my eyes, Jessica, through your incredibly kind words. I frequently stop in amazement at how people like you see me … your comments are like a mirror to me. I think what brings the tears to my eyes through such kind words as yours is that, in them, I see reflected Ben’s own heart and love. With each beautiful compliment and sincere ‘thank you,’ I feel him looking back at me … and it feels amazing.
Thank you for your dear and oh so loving words. I’m glad that you’ve been able to share in this with me. It means the world.
I understand, so absolutely, the heart wrench and love that goes through you when you lose your best friend. God, I think of Elvis Aaron everyday still and probably will until the day I die. His ashes stay close to my bedside, where he would lay in his last days. I miss him so damn much.
Your tribute to Ben is beautiful. I know how much he is missed by you. Thank you for sharing. Like normal, tears come to my eyes as I read your amazing posts and poems.
Thank you Elizabeth and bless you as well. It is so very kind of you to offer your kind words as you mourn your own intense loss. Wishing you peace and comfort as you adjust to the space in your life. I hope it gradually fills with the fullness of the love you shared with your big guy. ~ Dale
Catherine Hatfield (@lochheart) says
Your writing is so calming, Dale. Having recently lost my gorgeous Marilyn (14yo border collie, who was also helped with servings of Ben’s recipe) I find myself struggling to let go of her ashes, which we have joined with her brother’s. We have a beautiful chest for them at home but I did ask for some ashes to be kept aside to be scattered at some stage. Twice now, we’ve returned to a place they loved so well but it is too soon for me. I’m hoping one day, though, that I can reach the place you were in over the weekend to let them fly free. Fourteen wonderful years – but it just wasn’t long enough ….
What a beautiful compliment, thank you Catherine. Truly, I’ve just written from my heart and I’m moved each time someone as you ‘feels’ something through my expression. I’m very sorry for our own loss of Marilyn. And, no, no amount of time spent with our loved ones would ever be enough. Love is special — the thing we as humans need more than food or water. To possess it is to posses life — so how could we ever be comfortable letting it go?
Yes, I can fully appreciate your challenge in letting her and her brother go. I have no magic answer for how I got to the point where I could let part of Ben go — I suspect it is the accumulation of everything I’ve done and gone through since his passing. Perhaps it is because over the past months, I’ve ensured Ben will always be with me in my house and heart, so the ashes are not the central part of remembering or holding him in my home. But I didn’t plan to scatter any part of him on the weekend — it just sort of happened. I just knew that morning that he needed to try.
Thank you again for you kind comment and sharing. Wishing you a path that brings you to your own peace. ~ Dale
Sal G says
This is a beautiful tribute to Bens birthday. I hope you are doing well during this time of reminiscence. Last night I decided to let my friend go. He was suffering so much and I couldn’t force him to endure any longer solely for my sake I find it such an odd coincidence that it also happens to be Bens birthday. In a sense it is fitting being how much i relied on your words during this time. I cannot say much being how I feel right now. I’m sure you know all too well what I’d have to say anyway.
I am doing well, thank you, Sal, but it’s a hard journey as I know you’re now experiencing as well. Your words make it clear that you ‘knew’ it was the right time and that the most loving thing you could do for your friend in was to free him of the suffering. A very selfless act — but one that will be hard to recover from nonetheless. I’m glad my words and my own journey through caring for Ben and then in mourning his loss have provided you some relief and light. My journey is far from being done and yours is just beginning, but none of us are alone in our grief … and that is the most important lesson I’ve learned. As much as you may feel alone, reach out … support lies outside of our pain and true love accepts it. Wishing you love and peace …. ~ Dale
That was a lovely tribute to a much loved member of your family. Our lives are forever transformed by the introduction of certain beings and when we lose them, we think it will never be the same. No, it will not, however, we have to look at what they did bring while they were there.
I’m just happy you were able to share this moment with a special someone as well…
Thank you, Dale. That means so very much from you. I know with your own loss and your love of Zeke … well, I know how you totally ‘get’ what I’ve been feeling. The one thing that becomes clear to me is that grief is not straight line … and there are days where the line most certainly dips or jumps. The most important thing, therefore, as you say, is having special people in our lives to help us navigate the ups and downs and share in the sorrows and the joyous remembrances. I feel blessed to not only have had 18 miraculous years with Ben but that I have someone I can share in those memories and who accepts it all. Love out of grief is a powerful antidote! 🙂
Lisa Collins says
Feeling grateful to have found your blog and hoping to bring you some comfort on Ben’s birthday in knowing that because of you two, I still have my Beagle Lab mix, Leah. She is sitting next to me, anxiously awaiting another one of Ben’s gourmet kidney diet meals. She had stopped eating her prescription dog food over two months ago and was growing very weak and losing weight. Her bloodwork was also not good. I found your recipe and my vet added several supplements. Leah is back to normal for now! Very frisky, playful, and HUNGRY! Don’t know how long it will last but every day is more special than ever.
Happy birthday, Ben!
Love, Lisa and Leah
Thank you, Lisa! How great it is for you to revisit and sharing how Leah is doing almost three months later. That brings a tear to my eye. How beautiful to hear. You’re right, we never know how long, but the joy of the months you have will be with you forever, and I’m so happy for you.
Thank you again for your kind words and your beautiful wishes to Ben. I know he has been with me this weekend and the love from all of you is intensely appreciated. Thank you on behalf of Ben and myself and all our best wishes and love to you and Leah. ~ Dale