Some people can be in your life for years and you don’t ever really get to know them, yet some people can be there for only a short chapter and you feel like you have known them forever. Benjamin Dressler fell into the second category and entered our lives via my oldest son Dustin, at his recording studio. I remember Dustin talking about this guy from Hensall who came in to record and he said, “Mom, you’d love his music.” And he wasn’t wrong.
Flash forward, this kid with a huge personality and great sense of humour (complete with fake British accent) won all of our hearts. I had always become “another mom” to the friends my sons brought home. And Ben went one step further and became a part of my teaching staff when I discovered he played piano. His students adored him. Like I said, to know Ben was to love him. Ben worked with me and played gigs with Dustin and I…we even wrote a song together. He became one of the family, one of the boys. This was solidified the day I heard a crash from the teaching room as my Washburn guitar fell when he was using it to teach. This was the same guitar my sons had broken the head stock off not once, but 3 times before. I said, “Ben, what was that?” from my desk and he said “ummmm your guitar” and laughed his (how could you be mad at “me”) sort of laugh and gave me that sheepish look and I said “well, I guess you’re officially part of the family now!”
Then on a Tuesday morning, Victoria Day 2015, I saw a news post that a 22 yr old had been in a car crash near Exeter at 7:50 am and was airlifted with life threatening injuries. I knew that was Ben’s route to work. My worry rose as he didn’t text back, when I messaged “hey just an over-reactive mom response… you got to work?” There was no timely response that he was known for. I spent the day trying to find out what model his little black car was and then at 4:30 pm I got word he was in surgery after a head-on collision with a transport and was critical. After days of touch-and-go and us trying to help Ben’s family cope with the stresses of being hung up in a hospital (bringing food and drinks) he miraculously survived. He came back faster and stronger than anyone could imagine, months before the doctors predicted and with more pins and rods and valves than you can imagine. He had his guitar in his hand to recover. His family was intensely devoted and did not leave his side, and we supported them in order to support him.
We had a benefit concert three weeks after and to everyone’s amazement, Ben had himself wheeled in, broken and battling, and sang Drift Away with the band. It was one of the most moving moments I’ve had, and everyone there agreed. Ben thrived but still had heart problems due to the accident. His damn aorta was just not co-operating with him after all of the damage it had undergone, but it didn’t stop Ben from going back to school to become a paramedic. This was so fitting as he was a giving, loving kind of person and he was paying it forward. He had found love in his personal life and with his friends and family who were so passionately dedicated to him.
Like I said, to know Ben was to love him, everyone agreed even if you got mad at Ben it wouldn’t last, he would just give you that smile. Then he had one more surgery from what I understood, as it had been awhile since I had visited with Ben as he was busy with his new chapter in life. And yet on a Tuesday, while at the stop lights, I thought, I must message Ben. The next day I read a post by his sister that he was having open heart surgery that day. I quickly sent him a message hoping he’d find it in recovery and he responded a quick Thanks Steph:) His usual timely response. I watched for an update and in this case “no news was not good news”, finally I read unexpected and severe complications arose during his surgery and again we waited like a flash back of almost two years earlier. Finally the devastating news arrived that Ben had slipped away from us, my heart broke for his family. And for everyone who had loved him, and there were many.
He left this world for what I imagine to be a softer, gentler place, without the limitations of our physical being. His energy, larger than life, has now become infinite and his music lives on. We came together as musicians, family and friends to create together the most beautiful celebration of life held at his high school gym and led by his music teacher. The day was filled with music and memories and any other spaces were filled with Ben’s cd playing until the last moment of the day and beyond as moving the vehicles it was still playing, wrapping us with his presence, his huge presence and I was honoured to sing hallelujah for the final song of the celebration, one of Ben’s favourite songs to sing. I sent out a silent request to Ben to help me deliver it to this gymnasium full of his friends and family and with an inspired moment I sang Hallelujah… and it goes like this – the forth, the fifth, the minor falls and the major lifts, and he will be missed just like Little Will from St Marys, who I’ve heard so much of and Dan Rankin as well, their fragile hearts and big spirits moved on way too soon and yet we are so much richer for having had them in our lives, and in our hearts they will live on forever.