Week Thirty-five: Kathy Benson

Kathy Benson - Week 35 - Photo

Who was the first person who died in your life and how did you feel?

My friend Rosalinda is the first person I remember dying. We were only ten years old when she passed away. We were not close friends, but our families knew each other from church. Rosalinda, her older sister and I had at least one play date in the year or so before she died at my childhood home. I believe they came over after church one Sunday. I still have a picture of the three us together playing in my bedroom, which I treasure.

I felt sad when I found out Rosalinda died. It was hard for me to wrap my ten-year-old brain around the idea that one of my peers could get sick and die. My parents took me to her wake. I remember Rosalinda’s casket being open and I can still picture her body lying there. She looked so sweet and innocent, as if she was just sleeping.

After Rosalinda died I felt a special connection to her mother. I would often go across the church to where their family sat to visit with them on Sundays after mass was over. We would make small talk and I got the sense that it gave her mother some comfort to see and speak with me, another girl who was close to the age that Rosalinda would be if she had lived longer.

I imagine it was also bittersweet for Rosalinda’s mother to have contact with me, as it was likely painful for her to think about what her daughter would be doing at various stages of life if she had survived. But Rosalinda’s mother always seemed happy to see and interested talk with me and I liked spending time with her.

A few years later, when it was time for me to be confirmed, I needed to ask an adult in our church community to be my sponsor. We had a number of close family friends that would have been wonderful sponsors for me, but in the end, though I still didn’t know Rosalinda’s mother and family very well, I felt compelled to ask her to sponsor me. I cared about Rosalinda’s mother’s grief and loss and wanted to give her the opportunity to do things with me, if she wanted to, that I realized she could no longer do with her younger daughter who had died. Rosalinda’s mother was honored that I asked her to serve as my confirmation sponsor and it was a very special and meaningful experience for both of us.

From then on Rosalinda’s mother referred to me as one of her beloved Godchildren and since my Godparents lived far away, on the East Coast; I appreciated having another Godmother in my life to help me grow in my faith. When my husband Bob and I were married, my original Godmother (one of my paternal aunts, who was there when I was baptized), my new Godmother (Rosalinda’s mother, who was my confirmation sponsor) and Bob’s Godparents together brought the gifts to the alter before it was time for communion. I was so proud to have my two Godmothers there with us on such a special day in our life and I think being a part of our wedding party also meant a lot to Rosalinda’s mother, who would never get to see her younger daughter marry in this lifetime.

Because of Rosalinda’s name, I, along with so many others who knew and loved her, associate roses with honoring her life and legacy. Every year when her birthday came around her family would arrange to have mass said in her memory and for there to be roses on the alter at our church. After mass they would go to her grave to pay their respects and sing happy birthday to their daughter and sister who left this world much too soon. On a few occasions my family and I were invited to join them to celebrate the life and memory of Rosalinda. I recall going with Rosalinda’s family to the cemetery, visiting her grave and singing a bittersweet birthday song to her.

Back then I wasn’t quite sure what to make of how Rosalinda’s family chose to honor her life and memory. I had no previous experience or reference point to base it on, so I did my best to respect and appreciate how they remembered their dear “Linda” as they lovingly still refer to her, almost eighteen years since she died. Little did I know that Rosalinda’s mother, father and sister were inadvertently teaching me how to learn to live without a loved one who leaves this world too soon.

Rosalinda’s was the first bereaved mother I ever knew. Many years later when I watched my own daughter die in my husband’s arms soon after she was born, in April 2008, I was grateful to be able to reflect on all the ways Rosalinda’s mother and family had shown me how to celebrate a daughter and sister’s life, as we continue to mourn her death. This April it will have been five years since we lost our daughter and sister Molly. Every year since Molly was born and died we celebrate her life and memory on her birthday by having mass said for her and visiting her grave at the cemetery, where we sing happy birthday to our forever baby girl.

I believe that those who die are reunited in the afterlife. I find peace and comfort in imagining that our Molly, Rosalinda, Rosalinda’s father (who died in 2011) and many other loved ones who have left this world too soon are together and that I will get to see them again someday when I join them in Heaven.

Who was the first person who died in your life and how did you feel?

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Kathy Benson is a bereaved and blessed mom, writer and group fitness instructor trying to live mindfully and find joy in the journey after dealing with secondary infertility and loss for five years. She lives in Chicago, Illinois with her husband and two living children.

Kathy blogs at Bereaved and Blessed. You can also follow Kathy on Twitter @BereavedBlessed and her Facebook page.

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5 thoughts on “Week Thirty-five: Kathy Benson

  1. Oh, Kathy. Thank you for sharing this story with us. What a generous act, to ask Rosalinda’s mother to sponsor you … and I love that you and she developed such a special bond. Reading this makes me think that things have to happen for a reason … your connection with Rosalinda’s mother helped you to learn about being a bereaved parent, even while you gave her the gift of your time and your spirit, when she couldn’t be with her own daughter.

    The first person who died in my life — who I remember, anyway — was a boy in my youth group. It was a car accident; my other friend was driving, and something happened with the wheels … there were five friends in the car, and Matt was the unlucky one. I remember feeling completely numb; while I was grieving for Matt, it was also the first time I realized my own mortality, I think, in a deep way. I spent years processing it; the driver was someone I ended up dating later on for a while, and he lived with survivor’s guilt for a long time. I think … or I hope … that Matt’s death also began to teach me me how to abide with bereaved friends for the long haul.

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  3. So your kindness and compassion go waaaay back (not to imply that you’re old –you’re not — but to imply that you’ve always been so kind). I would love to hear this story from Rosalinda’s mother’s point of view. I suspect you have played a huge role in her healing.

    My grandfather died while I was away at college. I had mixed feelings because I knew I was supposed to be sad, but he was a bitter man who didn’t seem very connected to me or my sisters (or even my dad). I wasn’t able to muster the sadness I thought I should have had.

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