Loved and Lost

By Gina Benson

Six years have gone by since my mother-in-law left this earth. If you’re a long time Sasee reader you may remember her – she was featured in an August 2011 article entitled “Jean Benson – Beyond Hospice, a Modern Day Miracle,” written by Leslie Moore. If you’re new to Sasee I encourage you to read it, especially when you need a little pick me up or a whole lot of inspiration.

Mom (that’s what I called her) and I were very close, but the candid conversations and the love and admiration I had for her really shined during the last year of her life. I never tired of hearing her “stories,” tales of her youth, but my favorite stories were the ones about her and Dad (that’s what I call my father-in law). The dances at St. Brendan’s and her visits to the military base, their wedding album, their first apartment, disco dancing and New Year’s parties…over a half century of love and romance. I married their youngest son Jim, and the icing on the wedding cake was that I also got this amazing family that went along with him.

One of our many chats before Mom died revolved around my father-in-law meeting someone else…another woman…dating…maybe even marrying again. I couldn’t even imagine it. I changed the subject a few times. Mom removed my rose colored glasses and said “Gina, I want him to meet someone. I don’t want him to be alone. He won’t want to be alone. Just make sure she’s a good egg.”

Dad sold the house a few years after Mom died. He moved closer to his children and grandchildren but still had his own life. One day he announced he was going on a date – just taking a nice woman that he had met to lunch. He went on a few dates and although we tried to be encouraging and supportive I remember quite a few lines behind the scenes like “He’s not ready for this,” and “What is he thinking?” When he said they’d played golf a few times, had gone to Harold’s on Main Street to shag and that her name was Linda we knew it was time to meet this Linda.

My sister-in-law Janet had them over for dinner first…we thought we’d “divide and conquer” so we didn’t overwhelm Linda all at once. Janet reported back that Linda was lovely. She said it as if she were surprised, as if she didn’t want her to be so lovely. How lovely could Linda be? Not half as lovely as Mom, that’s for sure. A few nights later it was our turn to have Linda and Dad over and much to my dismay she was more than lovely. Our 16 year old daughter Liliana whispered “I really like her” as we said our goodbyes at the door  after two hours of getting to know each other over chicken piccata and a nice bottle of wine.

That was the night I realized that: A. I was the one who wasn’t ready.  I didn’t think I had room in my heart for someone after Mom died, and:  B. No one can fill Mom’s shoes, and I shouldn’t have been thinking anyone should even try. Linda had a perfectly good pair of her own shoes.

Over the next few months Dad fell in love with Linda and so did we. She was kind, funny, smart, and made my father-in-law very happy. Linda was a retired high school English literature teacher who had taken care of her parents at the end of their lives, she had no brothers or sisters, and she had never been married. Dad changed that last part by asking her to be his wife, and they had a beautiful wedding and reception this past November. The highlight (other than their vows, of course) was when Linda went around the table and introduced each of her new family members by name – sons, daughter, grandchildren, their spouses and fiancées, nephew and his spouse, and most exciting of all, a great grandbaby that would be born in December – the whole Benson clan!

Hurricanes Irma and Maria came along and their honeymoon was postponed but they relished the holidays that were spent with family. Christmas was extra special because Dad and Linda’s first great granddaughter made her debut just weeks before. Linda dashed in the door dressed in festive holiday gear to get a glimpse of little Adalyn Jean. Linda had remnants of a cold so she didn’t hold her that day but you could feel the love emanating from across the room.

Dad and Linda packed their bags for a two week trip to Arizona, they went on a shag dance cruise, several mini golf excursions and had booked a two week European River cruise for September 2018…they were living life to the fullest, and we were so happy that they were so happy!

Linda was getting ready to celebrate her 70th birthday when she took a fall. After a trip to the ER she came back home with what seemed mostly scrapes and bruises. The next day she had so much back pain that Dad took her back to the hospital thinking they missed something. After two days of tests they got a diagnosis: Stage 4 Lung cancer.

When we got the news our hearts fell. We were speechless, numb. Linda had never smoked and by all accounts was in great health. What do you do when you get that kind of news? You take a page from Jean Benson’s playbook, make copies for everyone and relish every second spent together because it all comes down to time. There is just never enough time. It’s the one thing above all most of us would love more of: time.

As the clock ticked (we put it on silent mode but it was still there) we gathered together as often as possible…it didn’t have to be an occasion like a birthday or anniversary, but we had dinner and drinks to commemorate any of baby Adalyn’s landmarks (even teething!), the last day of school, a vegetable sprouting up in the garden (however small!) and we were all looking forward to a wonderful occasion: a wedding!  The youngest grandson was getting married, and we were all going to be there with bells on!

Everyone, especially Linda (and the bride, of course!), looked radiant the weekend of the wedding. It was hot…really hot, but somehow everyone being together to celebrate the love of this beautiful young couple overshadowed the heat. Linda and Dad may very well have been the couple in the spotlight that day – their love shined.

We didn’t know it at the time but that would be our last big family gathering together with Linda. She had her second round of chemo the following week and was admitted to the hospital a few days later due to complications from a procedure. She was gone before we could even drive the hour to the hospital to say goodbye.

The days following were a blur, especially for Dad. He is an incredibly strong, stoic gentleman, but I wondered how can someone go through this, watching someone they love slip away…not once, but twice? I tried to be helpful by going to the first Sunday service with my sister-in-law and Dad. We thought he could use the support and company on this first day back but I’m not sure how much support I really was as tears streamed down my face during the last hymn. All I could hear was her voice in the choir, and as I looked over at Janet and Dad I knew they were hearing it too.

The day of Linda’s memorial service arrived – she had been a very active member at Seaside United Methodist Church in Sunset Beach, and we knew the day would be both emotional and inspirational. As friends gathered we heard a recurring theme: “Linda was the happiest she had ever been in her life.” To hear that over and over throughout the day warmed our hearts. The Pastor’s final thoughts were that it is rare, very rare to be the happiest you could possibly be at the time of your death, but Linda was in that rare place.

I am reminded of that beautiful quote by Tennyson, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” To have known and loved these amazing women is an honor and a blessing. To have lost them reminds us of how strong we are, that tears eventually dry and that our hearts are fulfilled.

About this writer

  • Gina Benson

    Gina Benson

    Northern born with a southern heart, Gina lives in Little River, South Carolina. She loves cooking with her husband Jim (especially when he cleans up!) and imparting daily words of wisdom to her 17 year old daughter Liliana. Together they make a family.

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