the worst news

“Alec had an accident on the trampoline. He did not survive. He passed away.” My brother’s tone on voicemail was steady but laced with agony. I faltered, walking from interpreting linear algebra to a course director meeting. “We don’t know what we’re doing yet. It just happened six hours ago. We’re calling to let everyone know.”
What can I do? I observed myself struggle. Sit down? Stop? Really? There was no doubting the certainty or emotion in my brother’s voice. Alec was gone. Just like that. An accident? Images of blood and gore flashed through my mind. What happened? It didn’t make sense. What should I do? More to the point, what could I do? I had to teach in 3 hours. I had to meet with my peer teachers and Course Director in 20 minutes. Bail? Obligation….keep moving…I need those printouts. I ask a colleague in the computer lab, “Can you help me find Word? The icon is gone.” I try to think through the fog.
The CD meeting unfolds around me. “Let’s open with a freewrite, since it’s something we ask our students to do.” I write. They move on; I keep writing. Have to get there…start sending emails, practical info only. This happened; I need to come. Can you pick me up at the airport? Can I stay with you? Search airfares, schedule. Bits of my peers’ conversation drifts into consciousness, “How do I get my students engaged?” I am no use to any of them today. Finally the meeting ends. I have two hours; it is a beautiful day. I call my sister-in-law. “This is a voice I’ve been waiting to hear,” she says.


It was his heart. They’re still trying to determine exactly what, why, how. There will be an autopsy. The neighbor did CPR. 911 was called. Christi got stuck in traffic. I’m several hours behind the curve, Rich left his message at 10 pm the previous night but I hadn’t realized there was a message until 11 am the following morning. The media is involved, 911 put the neighbors on hold for ten minutes. No arrangements have yet been made. “I can be there tomorrow.” Austin is doing ok. At the hospital, after viewing his brother’s body, he said to his mom, “How can we be so unlucky?”
Christi and I continue to talk, the hospital called within 7 or 8 hours about tissue donation, salvaging parts of Alec’s body for other people’s medical treatments. There is so much confusion, so many decisions that must be made: cremation? burial? both? The other phone keeps ringing, all the local family is there, friends are dropping by, we stop for now. I get up from the lawn near South College and wander…trying to absorb the news, reeling from the hard fact and the inexorable unfolding of events. Both Rich and Christi have mentioned how awful it was to see Alec’s body, how fast he got cold. My best friend has left a voice mail, responding to a text message I fired off. “I’m just devastated to hear your news.” Her voice is fraught with tears.
I plant myself on the edge of the campus pond. It is an absolutely gorgeous day. A small, perfectly-formed flower draws my attention. I observe a school of small fish, a crawdad, the geese, some dragonflies, the sky. I should touch base with mom. “Hi mom, how are you doing?” She launches into the usual and I realize, she doesn’t know. I confirm, so you haven’t heard the news from Kansas City? No… “Alec died yesterday.” My voice cracks. “What? Who?” she is aghast, possibly even panicked. “Rich’s son, Alec.” We don’t talk long. I’ll purchase her ticket, coordinate our arrival times, arrange housing for us both. I can hear that she is crying. Me, too.
I sit longer. Email Ruth back, explaining some, letting her know I have a window to talk if she has time.
“did I tell you I’m sitting by the campus pond? it’s gorgeous. the sun is shining bright. there’s a light breeze. the sun is hot when the wind is still, if the wind persists it verges on chilly. There’s a school of 2-3 inch fish at my feet, a flock of geese lazing across the way. I don’t know what plant this is in front of me, but the first detail that penetrated me when I sat down here is a perfectly formed small flower with white petals and a brilliant yellow center. Two unopend buds frame it, and a large triangulated leaf arches over it. I left my camera in the car. thinking I should go get it. two wispy blue dragonflies keep skimmering by. there were three at first, but I’ve only seen a pair playing for the last while. all this alec will never experience again.”

2 thoughts on “the worst news”

  1. Wow, Steph, I didn’t know you still had all that left inside of you. You’d mentioned needing to process those moments, but I had no idea. What a clear and vivid memory you have, so specifically remembered. I will cherish those words and WE will have to have those moments for Alec, but then again, silly me, he’s already there with us bringing it to our attention and enlightenment.
    Thanks for your text prompt this morning to receive hugs on my first day back to work teaching. It was fine/OK as can be expected. But after work…it’s been all down hill.
    Here’s a cute comment from one of the 4 yr olds in my class, “Is this your son?” pointing to his picture I wear on a lanyard. “Alec died.” she said nodding her head comfortingly. “Do you miss him?” I said “I sure do” and her response was to pick up the play telephone in our classroom (which she is often on pretending to gab to everybody, so of coarse the phone was next to her.) “Let’s call him Ms. Christi, ‘Hello Alec, what’cha doin’?'” she turned to me to relay the message, “he said ‘nothin'”. I said to tell him that I miss him and she did, “Your mom misses you. Ok, Bye.” then hung up the phone. It brought me to tears, she let me hug her and I was able to escape without her seeing me get too teared up. Precious.
    I’ve known this wee-angel since she was born being the teacher to her older sister then brother, and now her. I have always said how lucky I AM to get to make a living from doing what I love and what I’m good at. I regularly thank those children’s parents for letting me share their in the joys of their child.

  2. I agree, Christi, that kids are the best. ­čÖé That evening, when I got to the place I’m living now, I said hi to the mom and daughter whose home it is. The daughter was busy, but the mom asked about the day and I told her. We talked for a few minutes then I went to my room and decomposed. About ten minutes later Alyssa came down and, without hesitating, just marched right up to me and gave me the biggest hug. Incredibly sweet and nurturing. Spontaneous. Sufficient. Kids ARE great.

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