Celebrating Ben

Hundreds of friends and family converged on the Suncor Energy Centre for the Performing Arts on Sunday morning to celebrate the life of Benjamin David Burton Florez. While I know his mom (Christine) and dad (Julio) exceptionally well, I didn't get a chance to meet Ben.  After listening to the tributes and watching the images that scrolled on the screen throughout the beautiful celebration, I had an overwhelming sense of regret that I didn't get to know him.

I have painted Ben twice, first in 2014, and most recently, a couple of days ago.  He had a smile and character lines that make him an extraordinary subject.  In a recent interview with a documentary filmmaker I was asked how I pick my subjects.  My answer was that pictures speak to me, they jump off the screen immediately.  So many of the pictures we saw yesterday had that effect.  Ben was beautiful and a person who made quite an impression during his brief time on earth.

My heart was full as we listened to messages being read out by Ben's cousins Mireille and Kaisha.  I smiled when Ben's best friend Jackson spoke.  And I cried when Katrina, Ben's sister, bravely shared her thoughts.

Heather and I couldn't move when the ceremony was done.  Both of us were rooted to our chairs and the moment.  In trying to process everything, we invariably imagined what it would be like to lose one of our own boys.

Julio, Christine and Katrina were amazing yesterday:  strong yet vulnerable, hurting yet joyful for the time they had with Ben, and grateful for the loving embrace of a community of friends and family that had joined them for this special tribute.

I appreciate the words that Heather wrote yesterday afternoon about the preciousness of life, begun by the following quote that sums everything up:

"Be grateful for every second of every day that you get to spend with the people you love.  Life is so very precious."  Mandy Hale.

For Julio, Christine and Katrina, the journey to embrace life without Ben has just begun.  They will need our support, understanding and hugs for weeks and months to come.  I'm sure it won't be easy.

During his remarks, Julio said that when he has moments of sadness while walking around the house, he just stops, turns around, and acknowledges the presence in the room, a presence that will be with him forever.

"Hi Ben!"


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