My nephew Dylan died a little over a month ago from suicide. It has been a difficult time. Nothing prepares a person for sudden and tragic death. It’s surgery without anesthesia; it cauterizes one’s soul in order for a person to absorb the enormity of the event. As well, it renders one helpless to even say or do anything that might lessen the pain of those most affected. What does one do, beyond “thoughts and prayers,” or what does one say beyond dusty words?
Dylan was my wife’s godson. He was the oldest grandchild on Norma’s side of the family. I was blessed in being able to watch this gentle, enthusiastic and spirited little boy grow up. I delighted in watching him at play, especially with his younger brothers. They would put puzzles together or maybe Dylan would try to place little toy shapes into the right place. Dylan, however, wasn’t always able to put the right piece into the right place. Sometimes the brothers’ frustration at Dylan would compel them to correct Dylan’s mistake; yet, Dylan was never fazed by this. He wouldn’t get mad at them or pout. He simply allowed his “mistake” to be corrected. In Dylan’s mind, I don’t think there was a mistake made. Dylan just let it go. He simply “went with the flow,” as the expression goes.
In his early teen years, Dylan found his true love in music. His spirit ascended beyond the narrow limits of what our society would deem as normal. Society demands that people conform to its expectations, and to follow a linear track. Society expects all the pieces to fit uniformly, but like those times with the puzzles when he was a young boy, Dylan did not operate that way. He wanted a society in which his shapes and puzzles, which do not fit others’ expectations, could still be part of a larger whole — a society in which diversity, and not conformity, is welcomed.
Dylan ventured out to wherever music might take him, even if that meant going to extreme lengths and distances to attend festivals in Costa Rica, Eastern Canada, Europe or the U.S. Dylan was accomplished in the sound producing, stage designing, and music mixing industry, and he was a wonderful guitar player. He was at home when he played. He was comfortable and secure in music, because music has no linear structure.
“Music is a more potent instrument than any other for education,” wrote Plato, “because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul.” Dylan’s soul wasn’t confined to structure, but was expanded by rhythm and harmony and melody.
The last time I saw Dylan was in September on the Labour Day long weekend. That weekend was a transfiguring moment for me, because in my conversations and observances of him, I kept seeing glimpses of that little boy. However, that long-ago little boy, who was indifferent to whether a shape was placed into the correct place or not, was now a grown young man. Instead of plugging square shapes into square holes, he was fashioning his own many-shaped pieces into his vision of a more kind, more colourful, more accepting and diverse society — one in which he would be more at home.
Dylan’s home wasn’t here. His was a spirit that eventually couldn’t be contained by physical or temporal structures. He yearned for something more . . . something more infinite. He wasn’t afraid to kiss the infinite or to lose everything, because it was in “losing everything” that he truly gained everything. However, this thought does not make the pain any less intense or our longing for his presence any less real.
The Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore writes, “If you weep because the sun has gone out, your tears may blind you to the stars.” The view through our faith would tell us that Dylan is resplendent among the stars, lighting the night sky so we can navigate through our darkness; yet we leave room for tears. It is only through tears that our hurt stands a chance of healing, our souls have a chance of mending, and our hearts have a chance of recovering. The power of tears is that, through tears, we are brought closer to heaven, and there is no coming to heaven with dry eyes.
Saretsky is a teacher and chaplain at Holy Cross High School in Saskatoon. He and his wife, Norma, have two children, Nathan and Jenna.