11 January 2017, Temple Beth Israel, Melbourne, Australia
My husband had a magical cape.
He would wear it with arms outstretched as he walked around, and into it he would sweep anyone in his path – bewitching them with a kind of intoxicating power that would make us believe he was heroic, invincible and capable of anything.
We were bedazzled, and anything seemed possible.
My closest friends know that living with a larger-than-life wizard could be irritating. There was never a life lesson because the plane would always wait, the phone would always be returned, the keys would always be found and we would always forgive him.
I called it “the magic of Ben”, and went along for the ride.
I got used to him inviting random strangers he met in a queue to come for dinner… finding out the life story of his taxi drivers… I became close friends with his ex-girlfriends, and agreed to take the kids to places barely back on DFAT's list.
Some of you here made friends with people you didn’t previously know over one of his campfires. Others got horribly drunk (or worse) under his influence. You hiked with him, travelled with him, flew with him and spent time at his favourite place in the world – Timbara with him – and all the while you felt the magic. And you felt good about yourself.
You listened to his jokes – probably more than once. You learned to recite slabs of Monty Python, the Godfather, or Fawlty Towers. If you ever watched a movie with him that involved an actor from another country, you had to speak in that accent for the rest of the night.
We all knew him because he let everyone in.
I could go on and on – and over the coming weeks, months and years I will. Because we all want to tell our stories of Ben, and nobody wants that light to be put out.
So that brings me to the real reason i have chosen to speak today.
You have all reached out to me in sympathy… in shock, in confusion, in denial and grief and loss and pain. We all stand here together bound by this bottomless pit of hopelessness, and you all keep saying “let me know what I can do”.
So i will tell you. I am recruiting you all into Ben’s army.
And here are your instructions –
I need you to collect up all of your Ben Cowen stories. I need you to write them down so that when we’ve healed a bit we can meet to share them with each other – and our children.
I need Mitch to be supported for the rest of his years into adulthood by you strong male role models. And it will take a squadron of you to fill his father’s schedule of bike riding, kicking the footy, cricket on boxing day, footy on Anzac day – and any Carlton match. We also need volunteers for Sunday footy goal umpiring, continuing his musical education – only rockers need apply… and FIFA, cooking, camping, how to shave and a list of other activities these two best buddies shared.
But if all that activity isn’t your speed, you can volunteer for the Alex brigade. For her you need to be a good listener – willing to address complaints about her mother with kindness and love, a constant stream of compliments at the ready about her appearance and her brains, and a love of discussion on any topic from politics to ethics. Ben was also passing onto Alex his love and knowledge of photography. You will be challenged and exhausted – but please know that it will be worth the effort if you are adored even a tiny bit as much as Alex loves her father.
Or you could sign up to Charley’s platoon – but only apply if you are gentle and kind – because that is what Charley is used to from her father. You need to have a great imagination because this job requires taking over Ben’s duties relating to naming each of Charley’s 100-plus plush toys, and making up animated stories using said toys (which you must call friends) – and helping Charley take care of her new puppy Billie who will join our family on Saturday.
And for me? I need you include me in your adventures. I need your help unravelling the complicated financial structure that Ben executed so seamlessly behind the scenes. I need you to help me plan for the future of my children – and for myself to make sure I execute Ben’s legacy of ensuring i am never a burden on them. I need date night once a week and that’s where I need to hear how fabulous our children are.
I need you to encourage all of my dreams… tell me I'm the most beautiful woman in the world – and mean it. And above all – remind me constantly that everything will be ok.
Baby – i know you would have loved all of this drama. And I hope you can see the enormous impact you have had on the lives of all of those you loved, worked with, became friends with and collected up under your magical cape.
I cannot imagine how on earth we go on without your powerful life force. But even in the midst of this terrible pain i know that if i had my time again, I would do it all again exactly the same way with you.