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What Matters Most

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Ben and his dad, in happier times

Some kids learn too young that life is short. My son, who’s 12, lost his dad two years ago. He misses him in ways I’m unable to describe, and time has not healed his wounds. 

Ben seems to remember even more vividly his time with his father: the way they howled when they crossed the border into Canada—and what the weather was like; their visit to Devil’s Den in Gettysburg where they climbed the rocks—and from which rocks they jumped; the time he, his dad and his grandfather first formed their trumpet trio—and what song they played. Ben still speaks of Peter in the present tense. He says his dad likes war gaming; he swims at the Y; he’s a diver; he loves April Fools’ Day; he’s a great dad. 

Ben asks me to tell him funny stories about Peter, hoping I’ll remember his dad’s terrible jokes. I know he’s trying not to forget. I know that nothing can compensate for the emptiness a young boy feels when he loses his hero. My son has all the material things he needs, but I can’t give him what he really wants: more time with his father.

Ben knows that tomorrow is promised to none of us, and that nothing—with the exception of his mother’s indefatigable and unconditional love—lasts forever. He understands disappointment. When he asks me why it all had to happen, I have no adequate answers. If I did, it would mean that I’ve made sense of the whole thing. 

Our feature, What Matters Most,” is close to my heart. It’s the time of year when we think about people we love and those we’ve lost. You’ll experience commentary from heroic Delawareans you’ve heard about and some you haven’t. Since most have survived significant hardship, we asked them specific questions: what they’d do if they learned they had only one year left; what they’d change about their lives if given the chance; and if they had any regrets. It’s not a dark piece, but rather one of hope and strength. Larry Nagengast, who interviewed the subjects, found a few recurring themes during the writing process. They turned out to be “the resilience of the human spirit, and the overriding importance of family and friends,” he says.

If I had the power to make it happen, Ben would have his dad back. I wish Peter could see Ben fall in love for the first time—and be there for the inevitable broken heart. I wish he could see Ben graduate from college, and become the kind of human being we’d always envisioned him to be. I can’t scream at the television during football games and annoy the neighbors the way Ben and Peter did. It’s funny how Ben still yells at the TV, with that voice heard ’round the block. 

Life has made me more of a realist than an optimist. But despite my pragmatic views, I believe there is some sort of existence beyond this one. Ben believes that Peter is watching him, and maybe he is. On clear nights, Ben spots the brightest star and says it’s his dad. And maybe it is. 

Ben will become a man without the man he loved most to guide him. But he’s lucky. He has a supportive, loving family. And he has me: a woman who had a child late enough in life to know that each day matters. 

My son and I will huddle together during the bad times, the tearful times, and mostly, the happy times—of which there are many. Ben has an innate and intense joy for life. It’s the most important trait he inherited from his father. 

As this year comes to an end, I want to express my deepest gratitude to my talented team, and to our family of gifted freelance writers, illustrators and photographers. Most of all, I thank you, our readers, for your continued support. 

On behalf of all of us at Delaware Today, please enjoy a peaceful holiday season. As for what matters most? Well, that’s a personal question—one I invite you to contemplate. 

» For more from the December issue, click here. 

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