Our three biggest passions are family, food, and travel. Three things we live for. Whenever we have the opportunity, we are out experiencing the world together, discovering new places and indulging in new flavours. We find it healing for the soul when we are able to connect with the world around us, creating stories and memories to share.
We introduced Owen to these passions during his time in the tum. In March 2014, we took Owen to Hawaii, a place his parents love, to explore the island of Oahu. In May, we went on a foodie trip to San Francisco, ticking off a list of must-eats as we walked around, up and down the hills of a characterful city full of the west coast charm we love. In July, we journeyed to Costa Rica, where we affirmed Owen’s affinity for pineapple and mango (the little guy loves it) while we were hanging out with monkeys, anxiously watching the Costa Rica-Netherlands World Cup match in the town square (hot and noisy, yet exciting), seeking out volcanoes and waterfalls, and watching the glow of sun as it set over the Pacific. In August, our travel needed to become more local as we grew larger, so we checked out the local fare of Salt Spring Island and the sea life of Tofino. We experienced. Together, as a family of three.
We made a lot of memories travelling as a family while Owen resided in the tum and grew into his handsome little self. We always made sure to tell him all about the places he was experiencing. Through me, he felt the excitement and thrills of life outside his mummy. He tasted new foods. He heard new sounds. He became our little world traveller. Memories we will always cherish.
After 9 months of seeing the world through ‘the peephole’ (read: bellybutton), Owen made his arrival at the end of October. When I awoke after an emergency c-section to my husband’s sorrowful shake of the head, and devastation in his eyes, I knew our lives would change, and that our plans would need to be adapted. I just was not sure how. A difficult birth had damaged our son’s brain too much for life in his perfect little body. Owen Benjamin lived for 5 beautiful days before we set him free. Days spent together as a family. Time filled with love, kisses, cuddles, memory-making, and the delicacy of ‘mummy milk’ on the cutest of puckered lips.
We never imagined that our lives would be this way, that less than a week after our son was born, we would have to make decisions no parent ever wants to have to make, arrangements no parent should ever have to think about. It was painful, and I am still not sure how we did it, but we knew the right thing to do for our family. Next to the river behind our house, we stood as new parents and set our son’s ashes free with the current of the glacial rapids to become at one with the world we love so much. Free to help the trees grow, the flowers blossom, and the rivers flow. Everywhere we go, our little boy is physically with us, giving back to the world we seek to discover.
About a month after Owen was born, we knew that we needed to take off for a little while. We took Owen’s spirit with us on a journey to some places that we had talked about visiting as a family. A friend of ours suggested we go to France, to re-engage with the simple way of life without the pressures of conversation at the grocery store, or sideward glances and whispers about the tragedy that took up arms with our family. We bought one-way tickets to the south of France, and set up for a few weeks of the simple life in the villages of Provence, a place we had been before and found some comfort returning to. At first, I was apprehensive, experiencing a foreign life in a relatively foreign place. Tears filled the days. I could not eat. I struggled to sleep. I could not understand how life was carrying on in the world when mine felt at a standstill. When we first arrived, I refused to take photos, or enjoyment in anything. After all, I was not entitled to. I failed to understand how I could possibly live or deserve anything when my son had died. The guilt and shame were raw, eating away at the core of my being.
We spent most of our time sitting, reading grief books, hugging, crying, talking. The days passed as we sat feeling and processing our grief, desperately trying to understand the changes that our family was undergoing. We grew to feel safe leaving our apartment for longer periods to wander through the market below, our only interactions being the exchange of money for nourishment. We were anonymous. It was what our grieving hearts needed.
We journeyed up to Paris for a few days of wandering around one of our favourite cities, showing Owen a place his parents adore and had planned to take him when he was a little baby. It was bittersweet. Our tears flowed through the cobbled streets of the city of love and light. We are not religious, but found ourselves weeping in a powerful side chapel of Notre Dame (we later learned it was dedicated to the patron saint of child death). We indulged in lemon tarts and pains au chocolat (family favourites). We marvelled at the architecture, leading to discussion of a time long ago, of centuries filled with heartache and struggle. Somehow happening upon the realization that we are not the first to feel sorrow, and will not be the last. We opened our hearts and felt enlightened.
After a Christmas surrounded by our family in England, showing Owen his daddy’s childhood home, and doing our best to teach his spirit the spirit of Christmas, we decided that Bali was calling our little family of three. We had planned to take Owen in his first year of life, so it seemed suitable to still go. We spent a month practicing yoga and meditation, allowing in the spiritual, connecting with ourselves and trying to make some sense (and order) of our scattered, confused minds. We explored, we relaxed, we discovered. We engaged in traditional rituals and ceremonies, we even took an Indonesian cooking class – we were open to experiences. In some ways, it was healing. We immersed ourselves in a culture distant from our own and allowed ourselves to learn. It was eye-opening.
For two months, we exposed our vulnerable hearts to the world around us. We allowed life to happen without the normal requirement for a plan. We were open to connections without apprehension of ulterior motives. It was scary, but upon reflection, liberating. We learned of other perspectives regarding life and death. We allowed the tears to flow, the conversations to happen, the questions to be pondered, the time to learn how to sit with our grief. We talked about Owen to whoever would lend us their ear and for some, their hearts. We shared his life, his joy, his happy spirit and gentle soul, around the world. As a family, we travelled. Together.
Travelling in the early days with our grief was emotionally difficult, but also enriching at a time when it was needed most. With the fortune of time, we gave ourselves the space we needed in a way our family knows best, and gained perspective. We realized that Owen has not truly left us. We learned that we feel more together as a family when we experience the beauty of the world, a comfort nurtured from our son’s continued presence in our lives. This life is not what we expected, but we have not been given the choice. Every moment is tinged with sadness and yearning, but in our hearts, we believe it is still time spent together in some form. Moment by moment, combining into a life to be enjoyed and savoured as a family. It is all we have and we refuse to let go.
Owen has a life of travel planned for him, dreams of faraway places and new exotic flavours waiting for fulfillment. Death may have been able to change how Owen’s life looks, but it cannot stop these dreams from happening. We will always long to see the wonder on Owen’s face as he discovers the world, but we can still feel his joy. We will continue to experience the world with and for our son. When we taste, we describe it so he can taste too. When we feel, we feel for him too. When we see, we know he is right there with us. Our son’s spirit is everywhere that we go, right next to us leading the way. Life looks different now, but it can still be beautiful, and full of adventure, for our family.