This Is Us

What My Son’s Final Words Taught Me About Happiness

Joy comes when we let go of the idea that we deserve it

Erin Benson
Human Parts
Published in
9 min readDec 9, 2020

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The author with her son.
Sam, age 5

Nearly five years ago, I knelt before my five-year-old son Sam in the basement of our friend’s home. The room was filled with a mishmash of furniture from upstairs and outside to accommodate all the people who had come to say goodbye. Sarah, Sam’s hospice nurse, was giving us directions for delivering morphine and other end-of-life medications. She told us to measure Sam’s life in “hours to days.” Sam had started to lose the ability to swallow. It was only a matter of time before he struggled to breathe.

I snuck off to the bathroom to quietly vomit, a habit that had begun a few days prior when an MRI confirmed that what my husband, Mike, and I had avoided and dreaded and planned for the past 30 months was upon us. Sam’s inoperable tumor, a monster scientists called a “diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma” or DIPG, was growing. The final moments were here. Death tugged on Sam’s one hand while we desperately clung to the other. I remember feeling the life slowly draining from his body, like a tire with a slow leak.

The past week had been chaos — a series of desperate actions and last-minute decisions and impossible, conflicting conversations.

Exactly one week earlier, Mike had received a grave phone call. We were standing in the kitchen, and I watched his face transform, heard his voice shift into an octave consistent with bad news. The air in the room morphed; the energy suddenly illuminated, screaming for action. I searched Mike’s face for clues, listened to the few words he spoke, attempting to uncover what had happened and who it had happened to. Mike said goodbye to the mystery caller, and I steeled myself for the news, assuming it was related to our tragedy, to our grief. I was wrong to assume.

“Craig’s dead,” Mike said, flatly.

Craig was one of Mike’s best friends from high school. He had been found in his office with what looked to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The kitchen remained silent and inert for a few moments as this new, horrifying reality settled, weighty and uncomfortable, into the room. The shockwave reverberated in our bellies.

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Erin Benson
Human Parts

I write about trauma, grief, mindfulness, mental health, and the complexities of being human. My new book is now available on Amazon at https://qrco.de/bdXvYK