We had last seen Garrett about ten years ago. He was a big, strong boy of 12 with lots of energy. My husband remembers that he swam across Long Lake, our local swimming hole around 2/3 the size of Walden Pond. The four kids in his family were members of the swim team which seemed a good fit for them. I remember thinking how these were the right parents to have four children. Organized, structured and loving, they channeled the kids’ excess zest into positive places. It took a lot of focus, and they were up to the task. Both of them came from big families, and their constellation of four was welcome.
Although we hadn’t seen the whole family recently, Bret, my husband’s close high school buddy, came to visit a few times. He told us that Garrett had had some trouble with drugs. We knew he had done some jail time, and had also taken the fall for a friend. He had been clean for 2 1/2 years when he evidently felt a pull for the drug, and took too much. Which killed him. We are stunned to think about a world without him in it.
We didn’t learn about his death until recently, and I’m not sure, even, exactly when it occurred. Bret had not had the space to make the call, and so we found out when my husband happened to pick up the phone to check in with his buddy. There are no words to adequately express the depth of sadness of a loss of this magnitude. Nothing can bring a child back, or a brother. Nothing can rewind the clock, or create another chance. The pain of losing such a young person runs deep; there is not a way to short cut the process of grief, or move through the dense brush of unreality and surrealism.
The family must rearrange themselves, reorient to a new way of living, of including their absent family member in ways that feel possible, doable, without feeling cloying, distantly unreal or false. They bore witness to his difficulties, and on some level may have known that with the way he behaved in the world, his largeness could lead to dramatic events, including the loss of his life. He was not a person of moderation by nature, so anything done on a big scale could tip events in unintended ways. But the searing truth of his loss must also stop them short, bring them to their knees at unexpected times. I feel the jolt.
Our hearts reach out to them. I know that their large families enfolded them, and held them close. We wish to do the same, sending them the wind to lift their wings as they navigate this unknown and frightening territory, whose landscape is so unfamiliar and without softness. The unpredictability of negotiating grief is always surprising, tipping our stable carts when we least expect it, upending the calmest of days and catapulting us into a whirlpool of transition. It takes time to resettle into a new rhythm, to reach a new equilibrium, and to recognize it when it happens. I wish for them to stay connected with each other, to allow their grief to join and not separate them, which sometimes happens. And I hope that they are not blaming themselves, or each other, as there is no winning from this. If love alone could give them solace, they would be consoled. If support could transform their sadness, they would no longer be sad. They must each make their own journey through the mire and choose what helps them. We can listen for the call, and be there with hearts and arms open.