nightingayle title image

the Loss of Ethan

I finally finished it.

On Monday morning, June 14, 2004, my brother Chris got up and went to work. He locked and bolted the door of his newly renovated house behind him. His wife got up a couple of times to check on the kids, and they were fast asleep, so she went back to sleep herself.

His first-born son, Ethan, woke up. His mommy and two-week-old brother were still sleeping, but he got up to play. Heíd just had his second birthday two days after his baby brother Zachary was born.

Instead of waking his mommy like he usually does, he somehow unbolted the locked door and went outside. He was a smart little boy. He probably wanted to play with the new fishes heíd helped his mommy and daddy pick out a few days earlier. They were in the fish pond, underneath the waterfall of the water feature my brother had built in the back corner of the peaceful garden.

When Tammy awoke, she couldnít find Ethan. She went looking for him - and found him in the back corner of their peaceful garden. He had fallen in the fish pond. His mommy the nurse took him inside, phoned 911, and performed CPR, but it was too late. He had drowned while looking at the fishies.

. . .

Monday afternoon at work, I was told, ďyouíd better come out here.Ē I left my desk, unconcerned, and walked into the lobby to see my dad, holding up my mom, who was in tears. I panicked. I immediately thought of Allan. I blurted, ďWhatís wrong, oh god, whatís wrong?!Ē

My mom reached for me and gasped, ďitís Ethan...... he died!Ē God, no, not Ethan. Not ETHAN. No. No!

We fell into a shaking sobbing hug. Mom was weak, we were holding her up. I told my onlooking office that I had to go. I donít remember who said it was OK, but it didnít matter if anyone heard me, I was going anyway. Mom wouldnít let go of me, but I promised Iíd be right back. I tore to my desk, grabbed my purse and flew back out to the elevator.

I got in the back of the car with my mom, holding her while we both sobbed and my dad drove us to their home. We didnít know how it even happened - he had a cold, but how could he die?

At their place, we tried to get answers. Friends and relatives appeared with help, sympathy, tears, love, and money. The amount of money people gave to help out shocked me. So much money.

So much pain.

Mom kept sobbing, ďIíve never known such grief.Ē There are no words for the pain I felt at the look on her face and the sound of her voice.

I know it seems clinical of me so far, but Iím only trying to recount the events. Iíll have time to dissect what I feel later.
We cried and called people and cried and hugged and hugged. We still hadnít talked to Chris or Tammy, or even anyone in Ontario. We finally got someone on the phone who told us what had happened. Dad punched the wall, and mom and I screamed and screamed.

We had to tell Allan, who was at work. He later told me he was sobbing on his hands and knees on the fairway. I canít get the image of that out of my head. Every time mom told somebody new, my gut turned inside out and I strained not to cry. People were there, and I had to be strong for mom; but it felt like I was going to throw up.

Kevin left work to be with me. Itís touched me how much itís been affecting him, too. But then, our Ethan was so glowingly special that heíd won over even my cynical anti-kids guy.

Dad left to go to the travel agency to find tickets for us; we found relatively cheap plane seats for 7pm that evening, and one of Chrisí amazing friends, John, promised us someone we recognized would be at the airport to pick us up. Chris later told us that when John told him weíd be there that very night, he said, ďWhat did you do?!Ē He thought John had pulled some crazy miracle to get us there so quickly.

Kevin took me to my place to throw some things in a bag, and then he took us all to the airport. We led mom like a zombie through the airports - she later didnít even know if weíd changed planes in Halifax or what. Her good friend showed up at the terminal while we were on the other side of the glass, like a bad sitcom plot twist; but the airport people let mom back through for a hug and to get a card.

There was a small miracle when momís very spiritual friend - who now lives in Ontario - showed up at the door, and she knew what had happened. She had run into my dad at the mall. I thought I was dreaming; I didnít even know she was home. I was so glad she was there, to take care of my mom.

On the plane(s), I stared out the window. And cried. Even the stewardess cried when we told her; she had a toddler herself. I started to realize how big of a thing this was, how many people it would affect.

In the Toronto airport, I saw two of Chrisí friends, that heís had since junior high, waiting to hug us. And I cried.

On the hour drive to see my brother, my stomach was in knots. It had just hit me that I was going to have to see them, and soon. Iíd have to see the pain on their faces. I suddenly wanted to be anywhere but there, doing anything but that.

We pulled up to Tammyís motherís house, where they were staying, and I really didnít think I could do it. First I saw Allan, who had been napping on the couch - it being past midnight and all. And then Chris came up the stairs from the basement, his face twisted into such awful grief as he hugged his mommy; such grief I canít even describe. Iíve never even seen him cry - except in joy at his wedding. This grief was so much, so deep.. that boy stole his heart, and now he was gone, and looking at such pain etched on the face of my brother was terrible, terrible. Then he grabbed onto me and hugged us both, and he whispered, ďI just want him back.Ē I just want him back. It tears at my heart.

Oh, god. I donít know if I can write this.

We went to see Tammy, and hugged and hugged her, too. And then kissed the new baby, whom we hadnít met before; heís beautiful. He looks just like his big brother.

I left them to their grief and sat on the floor with Tammyís family. After a bit, Chris came and sat down next to me, and turned me around to face him, and hugged and hugged me while we both cried.

So much crying. So much pain.

It was really super late, so after a bit, we went to Chrisí friendsí place, who put us up in style and love and comfort, and infinite patience. I canít even tell you how good these two were to us. They made everything just that much easier. We spent most of last week not know what was happening or where weíd be or whoíd we see, and knowing we had a safe place to lay our heads, where we were welcome, was just awesome.

On Tuesday, dozens of people went to Tammyís parentsí place, to offer comfort and to share their grief. Chris has many friends, and they all love Ethan. Everybody hugged everybody else, and cried and cried, and we took turns patting each otherís backs, and making sure everyone was OK - or as OK as we could be, which it seems like will never be as OK now as it was before. Allan and I kept busy by going to the grocery store and buying stuff for barbecuing to feed these people, and Chrisí friend made sure everyone ate, because not sleeping and not eating is a bad combination.

Near the end of the evening, when I thought Iíd cried all I could that day, my dad pulled me to the end of the driveway, and said he had to tell me something. He said that on Wednesday, at the visitation, it was going to be an open casket.

My legs gave out from underneath me and I fell to the ground, sobbing and sobbing in the neighbourís yard. Chris came over and I told him, shaking, that I didnít think I could do it, Iím sorry, I donít know if I can do it. He told me I didnít have to do anything I didnít want to, but they had to have it open, for them, so they could say goodbye. It was awful, I couldnít stop bawling, but I couldnít stand the look on his face, I couldnít bear causing him grief at seeing mine. So I pulled myself together.

That night, Allan and I drove the 90 minutes to his place so he could do some laundry and get some things. On the way back in the morning, I made him stop so I could buy something new and black that I could feel comfortable in and know I looked presentable, out of respect, because I just didnít feel comfy in the frumpy, ill-fitting clothes I had packed in such a frenzy, and I knew Iíd be pulling at my clothes and being fidgety, and I didnít want to be that self-conscious, because the day had nothing to do with me.

At the wake, we were all bawling. I couldnít avoid seeing Ethan, so I went up to say goodbye. Chris held my hand and went with me; that was a teensy bit selfish of me, maybe, but Iím so glad he did. I wanted to say goodbye to his son while he was with me.

Continued on July 11, 2004
Dear god in heaven, Iím crying so hard I canít see the screen. Iím writing here again because Iíve come to realize that not finishing this, not writing about it or even thinking about it, was having the effect of shutting off my brain entirely. Well, maybe thatís not right; let me try to rephrase that.

My brain thinks in layers of four or five types of thoughts, including a soundtrack; a repeating OCD thing I do with counting, spelling words, or counting the letters in words, while typing faintly in my fingers; plus a couple of running thinking things. Lately, however, the OCD things have taken over, and thereís a new track, a blank one, with a quiet so loud I can barely make out anything else; the other tracks are so faint I canít even make them out. I feel like an airhead.

I think itís that Iíve been trying so hard not to think about it so I donít cry, that Iíve created a habit where I just canít think, at all, about anything. And I hope that I can write that habit away. So here goes.

Chris held my hand so tight as we approached the teensy coffin that it hurt, but I didnít care. Ethan was wearing his little hat and t-shirt, and he had his favourite toys with him, including his cookie monster. When he was here a couple of months ago, Chris told me the best story about that stuffed cookie monster. Ethan loved to hold it up to his face, suck his thumb, and flick the manufacturerís tags back and forth across his nose. When the tags finally wore to pieces and fell off, he came up to Tammy, shoved it at her and said, "Mommy, broke.Ē So she had to tear some off another toy and sew them on. His parents bought a brand new one to put in his coffin so they could have the one heíd loved to pieces.

He was just so small. Thatís all I could think. Heís so small. Itís not right. Not right.

It was hard, but Iím glad I looked, so that I wouldnít have to avoid him all day like I did with my grandfather. Whose death, by the way, I still havenít dealt with either, and that was more than a year ago. Iím fucking brilliant with the dealing with things, arenít I?

I hugged my broken-hearted brother fiercely, and then found a corner where I could sob; but only briefly. I choked it back so no one would have to comfort me. It was days before I would let anything like a wail come out of me.

The first visitation in the afternoon was really ridiculously difficult to get through. I couldnít stop crying - I donít think anybody could. The evening visitation was lined up out the door for two full hours. So many people.

There were flowers everywhere at the wake. Lots of people put a truck or a bike or a toy in the arrangement, because Ethan loved his vroom-vrooms. His favourite words were ďbikeĒ and ďtruck.Ē Late in the day, a Tonka truck showed up with flowers in it; Allan began to cry when he saw it, but when we looked at the card, he just about lost it entirely: it was from the people he worked with. Allan and I had gone into the flower store earlier that day to order some; it was way harder than I thought it would be. We picked out some really colourful flowers, something he would like, primary colours.

Tammy had, at some point, put together a scrapbook of Ethan, and she left some empty pages at the back for people to write comments in. Allan went first, and what he wrote was so heartbreakingly loving that it made everyone cry. I started writing something in my journal in the time between the wakes. I copied most of it into the scrapbook. i canít remember how much of what I am transcribing below I put in, and what I changed, but hereís the gist:

Ethan was a glowingly special little boy. He struck joy into the souls of everyone whose paths he crossed, with his glorious smile and enjoyment of life. The love that filled his small body was too much to be contained, and it erupted into the air every time he laughed - which was often.

He made everyone love him, effortlessly, with the guilelessness of the innocent. His passing leaves a hole in our lives and in our hearts, but the love heís left behind is enough to fill us all. We must always remember to share the love and joy and memory of Ethan with everyone we meet.

I didnít know him as well as I wish I had. I really only had a couple of weeks of his life cross with mine, but those weeks were precious and theyíve created memories that will always be a delight to re-live.

We canít waste his gift of love and laughter. Heís not gone, heís in all of us. Every time I hear a childís laugh, Iíll see his crinkly blueberry eyes and his soft chubby cheeks, and Iíll hear his clear joyous giggle - and Iíll smile, and feel a little love, and maybe Iíll tell the laughing childís mother that her child reminded me of the most luminous little boy I ever knew. And Iíll thank her for that gift.

For my part, Iím going to pull the memory of Ethan close, and thanks to him, pull my family even closer. I love all of you, and no amount of distance can slice the tie between us. We may have gone on the path of drifting, once upon a time, but we never shall now. I wonít allow it.

And Ethan will make sure of it.

May the earth and sky hold you in a loving embrace.

Iím pretty sure I cut that about in half for the book, but thatís what I originally wrote.

I have a headache from crying and typing. I must sleep. I will continue soon.

August 14, 2004

Itís two months exactly, but I didnít know that until I typed the date. I just sat here to clean up my desktop, and I found some pictures of ethan in a place I didnít expect them, and now I canít stop crying again. God, why, WHY?! Itís not fucking fair, itís not FAIR, and every time I see a toddler I cry, and every time I see a five year old I think, Ethan will never be five, and I canít go my whole life without seeing children, but WHY, why, why? he'll never be five. he'll never read. i'll never be his cool aunt gayle, paying for him to visit me and the ocean when he's twelve, because he'll never be twelve. I can't bear it.

And chris and tammy, if iím this miserable when i see any child, how can they live through this? when everywhere they look they see him, his room which they built onto the house and decorated just for him, with his cars and trucks all over everything, with his baby brother who looks so much like his angel of a brother that itís uncanny, how can they, how can they live through all of that, every waking and sleeping moment being reminded of the boy whoís no longer there? I donít understand how it can be done, i just donít understand why it has to be.

i donít think i believe in a god who could do this.

or maybe i do, and iím just so, so angry with him.

Itís my imagination that kills me. I can imagine Tammy when she found him, I can imagine the fear going through her mind, the panic, the way he looked... and god help me I can imagine what it was like for ethan... did he struggle? did he think he was floating? dear god, make it stop. make it stop. iíd rather have no imagination than this.

I try instead to imagine the utter joy on his face while he played his own version of peekaboo with my mom.

Iím not sure which image is more painful.

So. The Wake. I made it through the afternoon, and the evening as well, somehow. When we got up in the morning, it was time to get dressed for the funeral.

The funeral.

People at the funeral made me so fucking angry. Tammy wouldnít go near Ethan unless and until it was only her and Christopher, the three of them together, with Zachary asleep at their feet. But nobody listened, nobody seemed to notice or care, and people still kept coming in to view the small boy in his last bed. Iím sorry, but the visitation was YESTERDAY, you stupid fucks, and canít you see this boyís MOTHER standing in the corner with her face to the wall because people wonít leave the room? I told everyone, I pushed and I shoved, and no one would leave. So angry. They only had a few moments alone with him, and it wasnít enough, and these insensitive people stood in a line at the other end of the room looking at them. Aaaargh.

We filed into the chapel finally, and when they wheeled him in, the coffin was still open. Tammy wanted it that way; she wanted to be able to see him for as long as possible.

The priest said some lovely things I donít remember, and then three - three - of Chrisí friends got up to say some words theyíd prepared. John, whoíd been keeping us laughing through our tears all week with his ridiculous humour, while taking care of us at the same time, had a beautiful speech that made us all cry, and emphasized that it was nobodyís fault. Jimmy, through his tears, evinced such love that we all cried with him. And Garnet. Garnet was Ethanís godfather, and oh man, did he make us cry.

It was all very beautiful. I want to try and get copies of them all.

Then we got into the limos and such for the trip to the cemetary. At the head of the line was - wait.

Maybe I havenít mentioned, but Ethan really seriously loved bikes and trucks. When you read a book to him, he whipped through the pages to find the pictures and said, ďtwuck!Ē or ďbike!Ē Over and over. His daddy had a bike, and he loved to sit on it; Iíve got several pictures of him on fake bikes in the mall (which, every time I walk by them, make me cry), as well as him trying to drive daddyís car. His poppa - tammyís dad - is a transfer truck driver, and boy did Ethan love Poppaís Truck.

Like I said, at the head of the line was a friend of Chris and Tammyís, Todd I think his name was, driving his hog. This bike had been stored in Chrisí garage for a few months, and Ethan really loved it. The guy who owned it was pleased and honoured to be asked to lead the way. Behind the bike was Tammyís father, driving the front half of his Truck, which no one could believe the company he worked for allowed, but apparently they shined it to within an inch of its life for this. On the back of the truck was a sign that Chrisí friend Austin made that said ďPoppaís Truck.Ē

At the gravesite - which is really quite beautiful, and heís under a maple tree - a few more words were said, and then the coffin was actually lowered into the hole in the ground. A few people put flowers on the grave.. I canít remember if I did or not. Most people moved away after this, and let Chris and Tammy and Zachary stand there. I know they were both talking to him, I could see their lips moving; they cried and cried. Poppaís Truck was leaving, apparently with Allan in it as well, and as they left the grounds they honked the horn a few times. Chrisí face twisted in a grin full of tears. He covered his mouth with his hand. Then Todd revved up the bike to go, and he looked at Chris, and Chris nodded, and Todd revved the bike so hard and loud Iím not sure it didnít backfire. Chris broke down, then.

All this while, I was standing alone, watching my brother as they lowered his son into the ground. I was breathing very shallowly, and quickly, trying to not bawl; Chrisí pain and breakdown facilitated mine. Iíd spent the whole week trying not to bawl; I hadnít slept or eaten much, either. I slowly realized that I was swaying, and I felt very weak. I think I was close to fainting, and I may have been hyperventilating. I turned around, desperate to find someone to lean on so I wouldnít make a scene. Somebody, I think it was my mom, helped me into the car, where I collapsed in tears behind the safety of the tinted windows.

Actually, maybe Todd revved his engine while I was in the car. Iím not sure. Itís all a bit hazy.

I donít really know what happened for the next couple of days. On Friday night, some people came to Dwayne and Heatherís, the house where we were staying, and we had a nice time, talking about Ethan, not talking about Ethan. Chris came over, and the boys told stories about when they all worked as carnies at the circus.

After everyone left, my mom, Heather, Allan and I saw Chris to the door. Where he stood, for an hour, with his hand on the door handle, talking. And talking. And talking. He talked about all of it: about how he heard the news, about how Tammy found Ethan, about how the two of them had talked about it all, about their emotions, and so much more. My heart lifted to hear it all. All I could think was, ďTheyíre going to make it. Thank god, theyíre going to make it.Ē Finally it made some sense: Ethan was helping his mommy and daddy to be closer. His love was not wasted.

I donít remember what happened on Saturday, either.

Sunday was Fatherís Day. Christ. We had a barbecue at Dwayneís so that all the fathers could be together. Iíve got some pictures, but I donít think I can look at them to show you. Not yet.

This is what I wrote Sunday night:

I still haven't really sobbed yet. I haven't had a chance to. When I get home to my apartment and my love I will lie in his arms and cry and cry and cry, once I have no one else to take care of; and once I don't have to worry about upsetting anyone else around me. I've had to be so brave and sober, I've busted all the blood vessels around my eyes from trying not to cry and not really succeeding. The room's been spinning for a week, and it hurts to change the direction my eyes are looking in.

At some point after that, I banged my head off something. Maybe the fridge. I exploded instantly into tears, and said, ďright, like i needed something else to cry about.Ē I bolted downstairs to the dark room where Iíd been sleeping, and threw myself onto the mattress, and I just sobbed. There was music playing on the surround system, loud enough to hear upstairs and through the house, so I had a cover, and i sobbed so hard I wailed and choked.

Allan came down after Iíd calmed a bit, and he sat next to me, and patted me a bit. I asked him to just hug me, so he did, and we cried. I hadnít had anyone to hold me, to take care of me, all week.

Funnily enough, when I got home to Kevin, I didnít really sob, either. I think once, I was upset about something, and I just started to sob in his arms, and I said, ďitís not really about [whatever it was] anymore. Itís Ethan.Ē And he nodded and just held me.

Itís still not enough. I still cry when I think of it. Just a couple of days ago, in a public building, there was a small blond boy laughing so that it echoed. I bolted. Iím not ready to hear the beauty in it just yet; thereís still too much pain.

I guess Iím finished of this. Thereís not much more to tell. Some time on Sunday, I think, I sat to check my email to find one from my boss saying they wanted to pay for my airfare, both ways. I was shocked into tears. It was so unexpected, and so helpful. I was simply stunned.

We spent as much time with Chris as possible, which wasnít much, and then came home. My mom stayed a couple of weeks extra. I went back to work, and when I walked in the lobby and my office area were empty; the first person I saw was Keith, and I burst right into tears. He gave me a hug, and I calmed down. For a few days, I couldnít think properly or work at my regular pace, or concentrate on anything.

I still find it hard, sometimes, to concentrate. I find myself with quivering lip and quickly blinking eyes; Iíll let my hair slide over my face while I pull it together. Sometimes I have to go to the bathroom.

As for all the stress I was having at work, itís gone. The tension is still there between the others, but I no longer care. It doesnít affect me. I know there are larger things in the world that could go wrong. I know real grief now.

I sometimes wish for my innocence again. I wish the biggest pain in my life was still that my boss thought I was cranky. I wish my golden nephew was still on this planet, that even if I didnít see him every day or even every year,Iíd know he was there, growing up and giggling and learning to read, frustrating his parents and drilling holes in the floor, using his daddyís tools and kissing his baby brother. I wish, I wish, I wish.

I just want him back.

Posted by nightingayle at August 14, 2004 01:09 PM

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