My son’s occupational therapist died last Thursday. His name was Jeff and he was only 23. Around the time he should have been at our house, as he had every week for the past two years, I sat my son down on the sofa and told him that his friend and mentor was gone. “Jeff died?”, he asked in disbelief. I nodded and watched his little face crumple in pain, then recover a second later as he sucked in the horror of it all and held his breath for what seemed like an eternity but was actually only five days.
When I picked him up from school today, I was greeted by a concerned daycare worker in the waiting area who told me Sean had finally exhaled. She told me this in front of all the other parents as my son stood behind a glass partition holding his breath once again, counting slowly to a hundred. Earlier, she had found him laying on the ground outside sobbing, with a group of kids standing around him. She knew that Jeff had died because another educator told her so right after the incident in the playground. And a little while before that, the same educator who told her about Jeff, told Sean to sit down during the after-school homework program. This was just as the dam was about to burst and my son was trying to tell him that someone he loved had died and that he was feeling upset.
When he was finally released from the holding area, he ran into my arms and exploded. It was a very messy and public display of grief, rather unfortunate in its timing but long overdue.
Quite frankly, I am relieved. Relieved because he is finally releasing the sadness he feels over this loss, and expressing outrage at the unfairness of it all. “Jeff didn’t deserve this.”, he managed to say through his tears. I held him tightly against my body all the way to the car.
I honestly don’t know how he has been able to keep it together for so long, when I have been turned upside down and inside out since it happened.
Because there are reminders of Jeff everywhere in our house: the bed he taught Sean to make by lining up the edges of the quilt with the bed frame, the neatly organized books in his bookshelf that Sean was never able to put back properly until Jeff showed him how, the chore schedules and “how to cope with bad days” strategies taped on the fridge, mom’s OT cupboard (badly in need of its own intervention), and the basketball I gave Sean for his birthday the Monday before Jeff died, that he continues to practice every day, as a way to honour his friend.
I can’t imagine what Jeff’s family and close friends are going through now. Maybe some are holding their breath the way Sean did. Or perhaps they have realized, as we have, that the worst part of his death isn’t the unfairness of it all, but rather the selfish bit- the way Jeff made our lives so much better, how we took for granted that he always would, and the grim acknowledgement that things will never be the same now that he is gone.
Love you and miss you, Jeff.
Sharon and Sean