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.

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