11 February 2018, Melbourne, Australia
I don’t want to be here.
I had a sense that if I came, I would have to accept that this is all true- and that you are never coming back
I’ve spent the last year being brave, and strong, and good… and wondering – endlessly torturing myself with needing to know where you are…. But mostly – waiting for you to come back.
I haven’t squandered my time – I got on with things – cleaning up the mess that life became without you, and I have kept moving forward.
I stayed away from the huge hole in the middle of my life – I walked gingerly around it, careful not to look in too long or too hard lest I fall in.
At times, I let strangers into our life : hopelessness, pain, loneliness and despair. You wouldn’t like them. And managing them has taken up so much of my time, I don’t recognise myself anymore. They mostly visit in the early hours of the morning when I’m vulnerable and alone. And they are cunning.
They know how to surprise me with a familiar song, a scent of our life, a memory … I have learned to let the waves of pain roll over me – like an unexpected rip on a smooth sea. It doesn't last as long if I don’t put up a fight.
And fear came too – I never knew fear while you were nearby. Fear, it turns out is much more persistent than the others, and fear began to grow roots and permeate every aspect of my life, and those of the girls. What happened to you was so unthinkable it became reasonable to fear the plausible.
Given all of this – are you asking yourself how we are standing here today? How have we managed these 399 days and nights without you?
The answer is solely because of the friendship and love we have been handed in such abundance. From the practical, to the emotional – so many significant as well as small and unexpected gestures have been offered and delivered by our patient and thoughtful friends who haven’t waited to be asked.
Yes, your absence inspired an army to rise, and to keep the home fires burning and take care of your family whilst you are gone.
I have gotten to know your closest friends in a way I never would have if you were still here. And in a very bittersweet way, I have gotten to know you in new ways – and fallen more in love with you through the stories so many of your friends have shared with their outpouring of grief.
This whole year has been so humbling, and life changing. You would hardly recognise me today - I have had to let go of my fierce independence, and I have had to accept help. I’ve felt so overwhelmed at the incredible generosity of our friends and the community that has closed its ranks around us. I may have felt lonely, but I have never had to feel alone.
I have learned to say ‘thank you’… and then to not say it.
I have learned that some people are never used up, no matter how much, or how often I ask. I have learned that I will never be able to repay what I’ve received, but I will do all I can to carry it forward.
You wouldn’t be surprised that it was our children who gave me a reason to get up each day. You passed on to each of them your passion for life, your positivity and your sense of adventure, and this has been enormously helpful in managing the huge change in their lives.
We went to Africa – and you were there too… in the open skies and endless plains of the savannah – you were with us.
We worked hard to close the gap you left – but still to remain a connected, tight and loving family – It’s your energy and love that remains as a force-field surrounding us.
I’ve had to make so, so many decisions without you – all of them new and I’m uncertain so much of the time. But I learned so much from you- and I carry your voice in my head all the time.
I hear you mock my purchasing decisions at the supermarket, and I hear your proud praise when I’ve had a win at work. You still sit with me at the school musicals, and parent teacher nights – I even had our traditional fight at you being late – out loud – in my car. True story.
I feel you bursting with pride when you see the incredible success Shaf and Jason have made of Edison … in your memory, and with your spirit.
I see your surprise when I head out for dinner with Brett… or to coffee with Mong, and a regular chat with Horus. But I know you understand. I need these connections with your friends – they keep me close to you
The house is still too quiet, and the bed too big. I still can’t face taking your towel down from its place in the bathroom, or put away the book you were reading from your bedside table. I need these small connections to you and our intimacy.
I still say ‘we’ instead of ‘I’, and ‘our’ instead of ‘my’. If it’s ok with you, I will hang onto these small entitlements of our marriage for a little longer.
Undoubtedly, the legacy of your life was the lesson of human connectedness. Your impact on people was so deep, and so long-lasting. I’ve had emails and letters and calls from people I’ve never met- whose lives you impacted permanently many years ago. These connections were due in no small part to your philosophy of doing what you loved, nurturing the friendships you made, and using both hands to take hold of each opportunity life threw your way.
The kids get this. And they get the credit for reintroducing terms like “looking forward to” and “excited about” into our lives. Discarding your legacy of adventure was not an option. Without you, they are a force to be reckoned with, and I feel your immense pride at how they have managed the past year – refusing to remember you with grief. They are the ones who insisted on celebrating your life this afternoon – telling the stories you would have loved to hear retold, and associating the name Ben Cowen with a smile.
I will need to apologise to them later for my sad words here today, but I have come to accept that the grief will follow me for as long as it needs to, and the kids understand.
All of us here today need to move forward and try to live the legacy of your life. Perhaps this means acknowledging the fragility of life by loving harder, cherishing friendships more deeply, doing what we love, and incorporating adventure into our lives.
The kids have had enough sadness. They have implored me to throw myself back into life – to rediscover the parts of me they recognise, and to start letting go of the pain. They want to look forward, and they don’t want their father’s death to mark the end of a happy childhood. It’s a fair ask – and one I am determined to fulfil.
Thank you all for a year of love and support – I know it’s been so hard for you too.
This morning – we are here to accept the truth. He is gone, and he’s never coming back.
But this afternoon, we will share the funny stories, the poignant memories and the happy moments.
And there’s no better way to keep the legend of Ben Cowen alive.
"Forever the CLAMB" in photo above is reference to the way Ben used to refer to his family- as the “CLAMB” – for Charley, Lahra, Alex, Mitch and Ben."
Lahra also delivered the eulogy at Ben's funeral. It is an unforgettable speech
"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.