On Wednesday, tragedy struck my family in unimaginable fashion. This is a story of loss, hope, love and perhaps most importantly, the power in living.
Benjamin Raymond Verderame never took a breath.
On Wednesday afternoon, the life of my son was cut short one day shy of 18 weeks in utero, the result of a life-saving surgery for his mother.
In the following hours, Ben was held in the arms of his mom and I, seven inches and five ounces of pure perfection. Ribs the size of grass blades, tiny ears, 10 slender fingers, 10 little toes and my nose. He was destined to be such a wonderful boy, and yet death claimed him.
The natural inclination is to be simultaneously sad and furious over the loss of a child. It’s the worst pain imaginable, a world full of what-ifs and what-could-have-beens.
Every future moment in my life is tinged with the guilt of me being part of it, while he isn’t.
In the days since his passing, there have been moments of terrific grief. There have been quiet times of reflection followed by either a steady stream of tears or a blank stare into oblivion.
And yet Ben, who will be cremated before coming home forever this week, taught me so much.
Most importantly, Ben’s existence is a lesson in perseverance and power.
My son never got the chance to live, but I have the responsibility to keep living.
For his older sister, Maisy, and for his healing mother, Stephanie, I have to heal. Not wall myself off. Not find false solace at the bottom of a bottle. I need to grieve properly, be open, be vulnerable, and start mending my shattered heart through communication and the acceptance of reality.
When COVID became a sweeping pandemic last year, I started walking to get out of my house. It began as an escape to normality, a three-mile stroll through my quiet neighborhood. In recent months, it’s become a daily necessity for my mental health, granting me peace and quiet before work.
In the days since Ben’s death, I’ve repeated the same mantra to myself, and others, roughly 100 times: Keep Walking.
There will be times when I want to take the little, white knit cap I slipped off his head in our last seconds together and hold it to my aching heart. There will be other times I have no interest in cutting the grass or washing the dishes, because although the acute agony has subsided, the base level of melancholy is ever-present.
And yet for me, the answer is to keep walking. You can weep while you walk, but keep going. The best way to honor a fallen loved one isn’t to fall apart, but to rise up stronger with them as angel wings, lifting you with their spirit. Ben is certainly that for his father.
Every day, for the rest of my life, Ben will be a guiding light who is dependent on me and his mother to keep his memory alive. In that regard, he can be assured of immortality.
Benjamin Raymond Verderame never took a breath, and yet each time I draw one, he’s beside me.
This morning, Ben and I will do what needs to be done. We’ll keep walking. Together.