If Only It Had Been Different

We don’t talk about mental illness. Science struggles to understand the brain and its deep secrets, and so do we. It seems easier to look away from mental illness, too uncomfortable to see its by-products, too uneasy to offer comfort, too judgmental to say I see your pain. Instead, we whisper behind our hands, and in those whispers, we speak of blame not help, we shake our heads with fatigue not kindness, and in our silence, we all too often leave those who struggle with mental illness alone with their battle. When the battle is lost, when the load has become too heavy, when the soul is just too weary, they slip away from us and are forgotten. Their legacy of laughter and love and creativity threatens to vanish almost in its entirety, and they are often remembered for their death rather than their life. If only there was a way to share the load. If only there was a way to say talk to me. If only there was a way to make space in our lives to offer solace and rest and comfort. If only.

Instead of tears, I make the choice to remember, to remember three little boys smoking a cigar on a Sunday morning in front of the cabin’s fireplace, laughing too hard to think they might be in trouble, to remember building blanket forts and hay forts and snow forts and crawling inside and thinking we were safe from absolutely everything life could throw at us, to remember three little boys who seemed like the three little bears – the oldest ready for fun and daring, the youngest who wanted to be certain, and the one in the middle was the gooey marshmallow centre of a perfect cookie. I will remember his love of Rainy Lake, a genetic predisposition that allowed him a second sight of the shoreline and waterways. I will remember him water-skiing as if he could almost fly and didn’t need a boat towing him but instead could glide over the water on his own magical power. I will remember his woodworking that was more about art than function, more about beauty than nails and paint, more about creativity than work. I will remember his name, Randall John Stewart, the John a respectful nod to my father and to his great-grandfather.

Randy Stewart was far more than the mental demons that tortured his soul, was far more than the pain he endured while he struggled, was far more than the shame he felt at not being perfect, was far more than a man worn weary by his illness. Oh, how he loved his three sons, the details of them, the beauty of them, the near perfection he saw in them. He wanted to hold them and breathe them in so they might remain forever with him, melded to his soul, would always be his little boys. Oh, how he wished it was different, how he hoped it could be different, how he prayed it would be different.

It’s up to us to tell his story, to remember he survived a lightning strike as a child that stopped his heart more than once. It’s up to us to remember the beauty of his brain in action as it created magic with wood. It’s up to us to remember his hearty laugh, so like his father’s, and to remember his eagerness for fun. It’s up to us to remember he was precious and loved and in his human imperfection, he was almost perfect, all that any of us can be. I’m so very glad and so very blessed to have shared childhood with him, to have called him family.