Monday, January 03, 2011

surviving stuart

The phone call came at one this morning. Hours later, surfing the sheets with a bone-weary body and a busted mind I was composing this post. The last time I looked at the clock it was 5:28. I finally fell asleep only to have a nightmare about raccoons on my front stoop, five or six of them digging in my garbage. One of them lunged at me and I awoke with a start and remembered. Stuart's dead.

Stuart is my nephew. Stella and Hamish's big cousin. Bryan's brother's son. He may have had bipolar disorder. Maybe it was depression. He was fifteen. Diagnoses do not come clean and easy. He swallowed a bottle of pills. He fell unconscious and never woke up, not at home, not at the hospital.

I keep thinking, so THIS is grief. I had no fucking clue.

Our thoughts and prayers are especially with his mom, dad and younger sister. Of course they are.

Thoughts reel, twist, spiral and collapse. They pile on top of one another. For a fluttering moment it all makes sense and then the whole thing slips out of my grasp, an oily eel. His mom, I keep thinking. His sister. It echoes through the newly cut space. What does a family do?

I woke up from a late afternoon nap and there was a second where everything was the way it was before. Then I remembered and felt the weight of it on my chest like a canon ball. The day has been like a hangover. Sleeplessness. Headache. Tears. They come again and again. Thinking of how well he'd been doing, how he and his therapists seemed to have found the right combination of meds. He was brimming with potential, a towering young man with blond wavy hair he refused to cut. His grandiosity had muted, mellowed, even under the black fedora he favored. He had humility and grace the last few times I saw him. He showed us the film he'd made over the summer. He didn't spiral into agonizing despair when things didn't turn out the way he'd hoped. He seemed so healed.

Bryan mourns hard. His tears come easily, reddening his face. They come, they go. They come again. You think it's over, you're done with the crying and there they are again with every new person you tell, every new way you hold the unbelievable information to the light. The facets glow and darken. Glow and darken. Fresh pain waits in the wings, always ready. It answers to no one.

We have some sad news. Stuart died.

That's what we told the kids. Tears and fear over how to tell Hamish. Hamish adored his big cousin. They played Bakugans and Star Wars together. They spent a week over Christmas break playing. Before Stuart arrived he kept asking, when is he going to be here?

In the horrible night I scoured the internet for advice. How do you tell a child when someone has committed suicide? (And was it suicide? Was it premeditated? Or was it an impulsive effort to stem the overwhelming anguish?) I found a coping with suicide website. I found books to help parents know what to say to their children and they were helpful. I thought of my friend, the documentary she made about her mother's suicide and I mourned her loss again with new eyes.

In the morning I was bleary, pained, but armed. The website said to tell the truth, be ready to answer any questions. Keep it simple. Let them know that their loved one had an illness in their brain that made them confused, that led them to make bad decisions sometimes. It struck me as sound advice. I felt prepared.

Guys, we have to tell you something.

(Do you want to tell them Bryan? He bowed his head and wept. I can't, he said.)

We have some sad news. Stuart Died.

Hamish and Stella were bunched on their dad's lap. If you don't know, Hamish is six. Stella is four. Hamish crumbled immediately, the same way an adult would. I felt strangely proud of the way he looked at us to see if we were playing some cruel joke, registered the tears in our eyes and let his own flow. There was so much dignity in his anguish. Stella's eyes widened. She looked at us like she was seeing us for the first time. I could swear she was wondering why she was the only person in the room who wasn't crying. She scolded us. "You shouldn't have told him, because now he's crying."

We asked if they had any questions, if Hamish had any questions. He shook his head. That's all they know, all they care to know. That their cousin died.

Hamish said, "Now I have no one to play Bakugans with." He cried some more. He said, "I don't want to go to school." We said that's fine. I called the absence hotline. A few minutes later he wiped his face and asked if he could watch TV.

We said sure. I emailed their teachers.

Stella went to school. Her lice is gone, save one nit found and excised today, her teachers had been prepped in all things lice and death. Man, that's a bad pun. I didn't intend it but I'm going to leave it there.

Later Hamish asked what would happen with his cousin's stuff. We couldn't help but smile as we asked him if he had any ideas. Of course he wanted Stuart's toys. We said, you never know, you could wind up with something.

This is what I love about kids. Can I watch TV now? Can I have his old stuff? There were no questions of the existential variety, no political grieving, no wallowing. It was all efficient, practical and to the point. And he asked us not to remind him about Stuart tomorrow, so he can make it to school. The kid knows how to protect himself. Like his beloved cousin, he can teach me a thing or two.

We miss you Stuart. We love you. You touched us to the core.

Love to you all.


Kristi said...

I am weeping with you , friend. Prayers for you all. I love you.

Rima said...

Love and peace to you too, Elise. I am so very sorry.

Misner said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. Please tell Bryan the same. I can't imagine what your going through. The piece you wrote was beautiful.

Nancy Morgan said...

Thank you Elise, it is beautiful.

dicky said...

You have expressed so eloquently so much of what we feel. Thank you.
Gmom and Pop

Ellie said...

Elise, my condolences to all of you. What a tragedy. A beautiful piece of writing.

Amelia Plum said...

elise, you wrote such an incredibly beautiful post about such a painful loss. my heart goes out to all of those that stuart touched.

Elise Abrams Miller said...

Thank you for the comments. Nancy, I'm blown away. A new friend told me today, "Grief shared is a blessing." each of your comments is a blessing, a comfort that helps to make the pain more bearable. Thank you.

Justicia said...

Elise, much love to your family during this time of grief.