A portrait, a charity and a life-changing experience

Deano Hewitts
5 min readMar 29, 2023

Ben will, Ben does.

Ben is redefining people’s emotions with loss. And even though this mission sounds monumental, it goes even deeper than that.

Ben has co-founded a charity called The New Normal (TNN) with his friend Jack Baxter. An internationally acclaimed charity hosting in-person and online group chats about grief and loss.

He has an army of extraordinary people working with him in the charity.

Sitting for a portrait

I asked Ben if I could paint his portrait. I was introduced to him and heard about what he was doing.

Being that it was so close to my heart, I thought this would make a fitting way to express who I am as an artist.

I now run an art-therapy course in conjunction with TNN.

So, who is Ben?

I’m going to start with the obvious. To some, Ben is a man of tattoos and liberal political views.

If you stop here, you will miss who he truly is — something we often do when seeing someone from the outside. Finding out who Ben truly is has been a life-altering experience.

Ben talks openly about his ‘misdemeanours’, excessive drug use from a very early age and the complications this brings.

He is as expressive with his hands as with his words, guided by three letters tattoed on his fingers: DAD.

In 2018, Ben lost his father!

“There are parts of my previous life that I mourn; there are parts that I miss; there are parts that I don’t miss at all”.

I went to one of TNN’s meetings.

I went to speak about my sister, who took her life in 2011. Yes, 12 fucking years ago. Seemed like a fitting subject for a grief charity.

I did not discuss the death of my sister in the meeting!

A lady was chatting about her grandfather, whom she’d lost a year ago, an absolute father figure to her!

And this was the moment TNN clicked for me! Being in a community, a group, who can speak about death openly is so much different than chatting with your friends or family, who are likely processing their own grief. You’re not trying to appease or necessarily ‘fix’ the person speaking; you are giving them space to talk.

I realised that I’d never processed my grandfather’s death when I was 16, very shortly before all of my addictions started.

And he is who I spoke about in the meeting.

He died of alcoholism.

He gave me a passion for life and showed me the most profound love.

What did I take away?

The turnaround of my beliefs, understanding and caring for others was instant and ultimately the catalyst for where I am now.

I’ll forever be grateful for being given permission to grieve and understand this is trauma.

Why Ben believes that talking about grief helps!

Ben explains we start in the womb in ‘neutral good.’ As soon as we enter the world, we ingest trauma from many sources, for example, parents, schooling, friends, work, partners etc.

We’ve only got so much capacity for this trauma. When it reaches ‘full’, anger starts to seep out involuntarily. As well as other unwarranted, mistimed emotions.

Ben believes talking about trauma and grief will increase your emotional capacity and give you more space. Returning to the ‘neutral good’ you had in the womb may be impossible.

Talking once will give you the capacity, but this space will likely be filled again.

The secret is to talk about your trauma consistently to reclaim your emotional capacity.

Ben!

Ben is articulate, compassionate, intelligent and, above all — a self-confessed empath.

The epitome of a person who does not hide behind, or even eventually default to, the now engrained, physiological, hard-wired salute to masculinity — ‘I shall not share my feelings.’

I don’t think he even suffers from oversharing.

It’s simple if you want to talk, then talk. Ben will speak and share more than you could have imagined. This encourages you to flounder and stutter into your own ramblings. Your seemingly ‘inept false starts’ culminate in poetic sense-making.

Community

Ben is about community. To bring people together in a safe space with more gusto and unwavering permission to share what death feels like with others.

And with this, you are more liberated — the pain you’ve been holding onto so tightly feels a little looser.

Liberal views

I confronted him on whether his anti-conservative views prohibited some people from benefiting from what the charity offers.

This was when I met Ben. This was the moment I knew I was going to be able to paint a good portrait that I could emotionally resonate with

Ben’s ideology is to live in a society that supports through a shared code of moral ethics, where everyone has the same opportunities and every life matters.

Every life matters.

It’s so simple and powerful what Ben is fighting for and living for. His mission is more than grief. He wants to redefine how we treat the living.

It’s so much more than political views that fit into certain boxes. He is building a community on a non-hierarchal basis. He lives his life on the same basis.

All equal.

I have been honoured to have met Ben and to have painted him.

During our sitting, I asked, ‘if you were looking back on this painting in 10 years, what would you want to see?’

His response: ‘I would want to know who I was at that moment.’

I gave him the portrait.

He’s sitting with it now; deep down, I know he loves it. He made me laugh as he said, “I’m glad I like it because I am not good at hiding how I feel if I don’t like something”.

He said the portrait of himself is brilliant. Adding the bit that blows me away, the part I emotionally resonate with is my father!

I’d asked him for a picture of his father.

When he sat for the portrait (I take photos and get to know them — I paint later), he told me of a story when he was ‘tripping’. He saw a vision of being on a rollercoaster, and then people’s faces kept flashing on playing cards.

He recounted it with such detail. It came to me after that, this is the way I could include his father in the painting.

So…

I would encourage anyone dealing with grief, whether recent or not, to visit the website and see what they offer.

It’s life-changing.

thenewnormalcharity.com/

To follow my journey,

deanohewitts.com

To be kept up to date on my upcoming exhibitions and launches visit my website where you can sign up to my newsletter.

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