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Losing Loved Ones Could Be Traumatic
David Benson returned from the office earlier than usual because he was going to the Port Harcourt International Airport to receive his children coming home for holidays. He and his wife loved their children and endowed to create time to attend to their needs and welfare. As David entered the house, he approached the wife who had returned earlier and said, “Darling, the plane is due by six, lets be on our way. We better start early because of the traffic jam along the expressway. I even have a crucial meeting with James Anozie by eight o’clock.”
“You look like hell,” she said, giving him an appraising glance. “What is the matter?” He had worked too hard and challenged himself compulsively.
David did look like hell. He was pale, his mouth bracketed with harsh lines. He always seemed so inexhaustible; it was startling to see him drained of his usual vitality. Sighing he dragged his hand through his hair. “I’ve got a headache that won’t go away.” He rubbed his temples gingerly. “I’ve been in board meeting since morning. I feel like I’ve been hit by a trailer.”
“Have you taken something for it?” she asked.
“Because if not …”
“I’m fine. Let’s go.”
She knew he was in considerable pain. An African man will say he’s fine even if he’s just had a limb severed and he is bleeding to death in front of you. It is regarded as the sign of masculinity.
“I could get you some painkiller,” she said cautiously. “If you –“
“I said I’m fine,” David snapped, and turned to leave the living room to the car. “Come on, let’s get started. We are running late as it is.” When they were seated David said, Boniface take us to the airport.”
It was just five minutes before the plane expected time of arrival when they drove into the airport. Boniface found a space in the parking lot and packed the Prado jeep. They disembarked and walked to the Arrival Lounge to await the arrival of the plane.
Ten minutes past six, Boniface ran to meet Mr. and Mrs. Benson in the Arrival Lounge. “The plane bringing the children has just crashed,” he announced breathlessly.
Joan Benson thought she hadn’t heard right. She was afraid to assume anything from that spare handful of words. She felt her pulse jumping beneath her skin, in her cheeks, and throat and the insides of her arms. The crash of the plane had hit David like a gut punch. His body was rigid with shock; it came off him in waves. They looked pitifully confused, but the driver said nothing else, only waited for them to respond.
David struggled up, “Darling let’s go and see what they are doing to rescue the victims.”
Her vision blurred for a moment, her teeth clenching. “Oh, my darling children! God why?” she shouted, tears springing to her eyes, she hardly was able to see through the bitter slick of tears.
“Come let us go to the tarmac,” David encouraged.
On their way to the tarmac, they met Roland Jackson, another parent with his child in the plane. His son attended the same school with the children of the Bensons. “Mr. and Mrs. Benson, there is no need going to the tarmac, all the passengers are dead, including one hundred and thirty children from our children’s school.”
“Christ!” David muttered. His first son, Ken and his only daughter Rose were on the plane, leaving only Jonathan who was still in primary school. He heard Joan give a little sigh and didn’t have to ask to know what she was feeling. Because he felt the same. Horror. Revulsion. Pain. And overwhelming sadness. It was just an ordinary night for some people, whereas for the Bensons and some other families, unimaginable things were happening.
He held Joan’s arms. He felt a chill crawl up his spine. Joan’s face burned. She stood tensely, knowing if she relaxed even one muscle, she would collapse.
All of a sudden, she eased her arm free of David’s grasp and took a step away from him, cleaned tears from her eyes, tried to concentrate, and to focus. At first all she saw was a jumble of images and flashes of emotions. Then on the extreme edges of her awareness, she felt something – alien. It grew stronger. She lifted her head, the darkness was thinning until she saw the children including her own dancing around a golden throne; jumping up and down with excitement like children on Christmas morning. Some of them were dancing grinning from ear to ear in excitement. There was laughter everywhere.
And it was with an almost brutal suddenness that knocked the breath out of her that she watched the wave of jubilation. An elderly looking man sat on the throne with glittering gown that dazzled her eyes, with a golden crown on his head. Bright light surrounded the children and the throne.
Then she saw the vague unidentifiable faces and forms of what she recognized as tormented men and women trapped in a dark hell of suffering, their arms reaching out desperately for help. She didn’t know when she started to sing praises to God. People gathered around her with great surprises painted on their faces and their mouths agape. David was worried that his wife had gone mad.
She blinked and looked at her husband, his hand gripping her arm, and wondered vaguely what made him feel so concerned. As if a door had closed, all she could sense right now was her husband, his worry about her. “I’m fine,” she murmured.
“Are you? Then why are you singing praises to God when you should be weeping for our dead children? Does it mean you are happy they died?”
After a moment, she pulled her arm gently from her husband’s grasp. “Funny. Isn’t it?” she tried to focus again, to recapture that happiness… but all she could see was David. That door had closed and refused to be opened again. And a very large part of her wanted to burrow in and surround herself with the heavenly light and luxuriate in the warmth and strength that it gave, which is more tantalizing than anything she could remember seeing before.
“Joan, what is it? What did you see?”
“I’ll tell you later,” she said.
Her husband muttered a curse under his breath, but didn’t try to stop her when she moved toward some weeping bereaved families, to give assistance.
“I’ve always been drawn to people in pain. And I always feel a kind of relief if I can help them in some way,” she said as she moved away from one person to the other. Responding to the lost note of pain a woman who lost her daughter in the crash, Joan leaned forward and put her hand over her tense one. “Wipe your tears; God shall see us through this. You’ll pull through this.”
“Yes, you will.”
This was how she went from one bereaved person to other offering words of encouragement. All that were present were shocked at her inner strength and wondered how she was able to bear the death of her two children with such equanimity. She became a role model for parents of the plane crash victims.
Only when they were in the car going home did she ask her husband a question of her own. “Do you believe in heaven and hell?”
He frowned at her, still disturbed. “Yes. Why? What has that got to do with your behavior in the airport?”
“Everything. I saw God with the children including ours and they were very happy, while some of the adults were languishing in pain.” And she tried to explain how soul-uplifting the experience was hence she started to sing praises to God instead of weeping.
“What you’re saying is incredible. How can you be sure it was God you saw with the children?”
“It was Him. The bright light around Him, His golden crown and glistering gown and the happy children were enough signs for me to believe that who I saw with the children was God.”
He gave her a startled look. “Christ,” he muttered. “You must be –”
“I’m not losing it.” her voice was very quiet, and she smiled faintly. “I know you’re worried about me. Don’t be, at least not about this. I’m okay.”
“Yeah. Tired and unnerved, I won’t deny that, but otherwise I’m fine. Some things literally did have to be felt to be understood.”
Her husband gazed at her calm face with its penetrating eyes and finally understood why compassion and perception were literally stamped into her regular and beautiful features.
Joan Benson became a celebrity. The press surrounded the house, demanding interviews. There were still many curious reporters hanging about the next day. She initially declined interview but after she was made to understand that she had become a role model for many bereaved families. She granted some interviews to encourage other bereaved families to carry on without giving up.