Putting grief into words
Book a legacy to son who drowned in U.S.
When Grand Falls-Windsor native Kelly Buckley’s 23-year-old son drowned at Jordon Lake in Raleigh, North Carolina a year ago, she knew she could either close the curtains on her life or try to find gratitude in her grief.
Not only has she found comfort in the simple things in life, she has documented her journey and published her book “Gratitude in Grief ” with U.S.based self-publishing company AuthorHouse.
The book which will help others learn to deal with their grief is not about her, Buckley insists. Rather, it is a legacy to her son Stephen Russell, who was a rising senior at North Carolina State University and a goalie on the hockey team.
“I’ve always felt that the book was secondary. The real story in all of this is Stephen — who he was and the legacy of his life. His time was short, but his impact continues through every word I type.”
Russell was also born in Grand Falls-Windsor. Before moving to the United States in 2005, the family lived in Alberta for seven years.
In striving to survive her son’s death, Buckley began journaling before his funeral.
“I did begin right away and actually started scribbling on a piece of paper as I sat in the parking lot of the funeral home in North Carolina. I have tried to figure out why, but I don’t really have an answer for it. I just knew I had to do it. But whatever the reason, it saved me,” she says.
Finding gratitude, even when your heart is broken, is about making a choice to do so, she says.
That’s a message that Buckley delivered at her son’s funeral when she told his friends that she choose happiness and wanted them to do the same.
“If I gave up, I would not be honoring him in the way he deserved.”
Having made the choice to remain positive, Buckley began looking for the good in everyday situations. It’s the simple things that brought her comfort, she says, the things that in everyday life, most people take for granted.
“On the day they found him, I was thankful for the divers, who found my son and allowed me to bring him home. I was thankful for e-mail exchanges between Stephen and I, confirming what I knew in my heart, that we had said everything that needed to be said.”
Russell ends one of his e-mails to his mother by expressing his gratitude to her and her husband, Brady.
“I really appreciate all of the help you and Brady give me every day. If it wasn’t for the both of you I don’t know what I would do. I am very lucky to have great parents like you who care for me and would do anything for me … I really mean it. It doesn’t matter what the situation is, no matter if it is my fault or if it is dumb luck, you both always seem to be there for me and I can’t thank you guys enough. I love you very much, and I will call you tomorrow,” Russell wrote just months before his death.
After the drowning, Buckley says, the outpouring of love and support she and Brady and her younger son Brendan received from Stephen’s teammates and university friends was overwhelming.
“ I actually never realized that he had made such an impact to be honest, as he was only there for three years.”
The university and hockey team retired Russell’s No. 20 jersey four months after his death. It’s the highest honour in sports for any athlete, his mother says.
The NHL team Carolina Hurricanes has renamed its yearly collegiate tournament to the “ Stephen Russell Memorial Tournament” (it was originally called the Canes Cup).
Following a funeral service in the United States, Buckley returned to Newfoundland with her son’s ashes.
His personality was shaped during his formative years in this province, she says. That is why people were drawn to him, she says.
“He always saw the possibility in life, had a giving heart, and loved to laugh and live life to the fullest. Being a Newfoundlander was a big reason he looked at life in the way he did,” she says.
She also credits her own resilience after her oldest son’s death to her Newfoundland roots.
“I grew up in a province filled with people who never gave up, who faced hard times head on, and those hard times made them stronger. Our roots shaped the way we looked at life, the good and the bad, and for that, I am thankful.”
Buckley’s book is available on www.amazon.ca, www.amazon.com, www.barnesandnoble.com and via the book’s website, www. gratitudeingrief.com
Grand Falls-Windsor native Stephen Russell drowned in North Carolina a year ago.