Here’s the thing about the People With Dead Parents club: If you’re not part of it, you don’t get it and you don’t get to speculate on it.
OpenFileTo ran an op-ed this weekend about Ryan Russell, the Toronto police officer tragically killed 2 weeks ago called No More Heroes. It was similar to John Lorinc’s piece on Spacing from a few days before — a piece to counter the overwhelming mainstream media reaction to the death. But I have to admit I didn’t really read the entirety of the Heroes piece. I got stuck on this line:
It’s true, those pictures of Russell’s two-year-old son, Nolan, are arresting. But how is anyone helped by focusing in pornographic detail on the tragedy of a boy so young he’ll soon forget knowing the father he lost?
What really struck me was the last part: “a boy so young he’ll soon forget knowing the father he lost.” I lost all interest in the argument at hand and only thought of that line.
I have no doubt that the line was written with the best intentions, maybe even compassion. From the outside, it seems like it may even be a blessing for that child to be so young. He won’t have a father, but at least he doesn’t really understand what’s going on right now.
But it’s so much worse than that. On top of losing a father, his tragedy is that he won’t remember his father and people will remind him of that for his entire life.
I can’t tell you how I reacted when my mum died just after my third birthday. I don’t remember feeling traumatized. I have no idea if I even knew what was going on. But I can tell you that I’ve felt a void my entire life. People have always said to me “It’s so sad you were so young. You probably don’t even remember your mother.” And all I can say is “you’re right”. Because I don’t remember my mother.
All I know of her has been told through other people. I’ve never been sure if what I know of myself has anything to do with her. Am I like her? Would I have turned out differently is she were alive? Would I like that person?
I’ve always felt like I missed something, but I’ve never been able to put my finger on it. How could I? I don’t remember.
I have a teddy bear that my mother arranged for me to have the Christmas after she died. I hold on to it. I protect it.
The memories I do have – all three of them – are only snapshots. Two are of her death, and the other may really just be a memory of a photograph. When I was visiting my dad in the fall, he, my brother and I went to visit her grave. At some point I shared my memories and for a second my dad didn’t know what I was talking about. In that moment my heart raced, I felt sick. If this memory isn’t real, then I have nothing.
We sorted it out. It probably was real. And so I will continue to hold on to those 3 thoughts, and my old, matted brown bear because that’s what I’ve got.
As for Nolan Russell, Mike Smith is right. Let’s not take on his tragedy as if it were our own. But let’s not dismiss it either. He’s two years old, but his life is forever changed. Now he is part of the club.