The next several days were filled with friends, family and food. It seemed that everyone who knew us wanted to feed us. It turned out that this was a blessing, since we were incapable of even leaving the house for weeks. One night, just before Christmas, I heard a knock at the door. Upon opening it, I found a large box full of groceries, but nobody was there. Looking up the street, I saw a large, white bearded man driving away. Santa was driving a Pontiac that night, I guess. The outpouring of sympathy from people was amazing.
A few days after the tragedy, the school principal and a pair of Steven's teachers came by to drop off Steven's locker contents and some nice things the other students had made in his memory. It took all my will power not to physically toss the three of them out the door. I couldn't stand to be in their presence. Here were the very people that failed to protect our son on school property, expressing their sorrow at his death. It couldn't have been easy for them to show up like that, and I'm glad we got to see the work other kids had done, but I could have done without the visit.
People's reactions to Steven's death ran the gamut from disinterest and ghoulish humour to genuine grief. I was amazed at some people's attitudes. Fear and pain can bring out the worst in some. One night, after a bad emotional breakdown, we were visited by two police officers. During the course of the conversation, one cop told me I “should get over it sooner or later”. Unbelievably thoughtless of him. Fortunately, the other officer apparently had some sensitivity to the situation, and suggested to her partner that he should leave before I snapped.
Another shock came when I received a phone call from a local newspaper, asking for information on our son's death. I told the reporter that if as much as my family's name was printed in the paper, I would be filing a lawsuit. Nobody but us knew the real story, and we weren't interested in talking. I never wanted to be the guy making my “first public statement”, as they call it. Anything else he might have printed would have been rumour, and unfounded. I never heard back from him and now the media wants nothing to do with our story. It would seem it has to be their way or nothing. I'm happy I chose to preserve our family's dignity.
Around that time, we began to hear from Steven's friends, telling us tales of bullying and violence that occurred over the preceding few months. It was far worse than we knew, even though we had been hounding the school officials almost daily to deal with the situation. They never told us the real extent of the violence. I haven't been capable of dealing with teachers and board employees since that time without inevitably being escorted off the property at the very least. The last time I went to our daughter's high school to deal with a bullying issue, I greeted the police officer who answered their 911 call by simply assuming “the position” - on my knees, feet crossed, hands behind my head. I told him I was probably who he was looking for. He agreed.
On the last day of his life, Steven was attacked in the school bathroom. His tormentors decided it would be fun to set him on fire with a lighter and an aerosol can of body spray. They recorded their attack on a cell phone, later publishing it on the internet.
Although the attack was on video, and ample witnesses saw the recorded violence on-line, this wasn't enough to convince the Crown Attorney's office to lay charges against the punks that did it. They claimed that there wasn't a reasonable chance of a conviction. We disagreed, but to no avail. The police did manage to get the video removed from the web, but by that time it had been viewed for several days. It may well still be out there, festering on someone's harddrive. This is a modern reality which adds yet another layer of pain to our lives.
Preparing our son's funeral was beyond surreal. I remember being sent with my father to buy shoes for Steven to wear in his coffin. It seemed strange that we would be worried about his shoes, of all things. It's not like anyone would see them. We joked about getting a cheap pair of sneakers, attempting to relieve some of the stress of the situation. My father has always been able to do that, it's one of his most endearing qualities. We bought a nice pair of dress shoes to go with Steven's little suit. Surprisingly, the clerk gave us a discount. I'd never heard of a retail bereavement discount. Details like that stand out in my memory for some reason I don't fully understand.
The day of Steven's memeorial service came, and the town saw the arival of an army in the form of Pam's extended family. It was wonderful to see all the people that cared enough to come from all over the province and beyond to be there on that day. All my uncles and aunts were there. Several classes of kids came from the two schools he had attended. One young lady asked me if I would place a ring on Steven's finger for her. Steven had given it to her, and she wanted him to have it. I was glad to do it for her, as she and her freinds stood by crying. His hand was so cold, I nearly collapsed when I touched him, but I held on and managed to do it.
I'll never forget my oldest friends for coming to comfort us. So many faces I hadn't seen in years all arrived and made the moment that much more special. Two very close friends who were in the middle of a divorce came together and supported each other in thier grief that day. Steven had that sort of affect on people. Politicians from city council, our MP and MPP came to pay their respects, along with several people from each of our employers. The police provided a contingent of officers, who helped deal with the crowds as well. So many parents came to support us as well, it was amazing to see. The faces began to blur as so many gave us thier condolences.
One moment among many that stands out in my mind is the arrival of an old friend from the Sudbury area. Denis is unique, to say the very least. He's also as loyal a friend as has ever walked the earth. He "stole" his brother's car, ran out of gas, then hitchhiked the rest of the way, arriving in the late afternoon. Denis has an interesting personal style, perhaps most accurately described as hillbilly wino. When he came to the door of the funeral home, they hesitated to let him in, assuming that he actually was a street person, and probably drunk. This was ill advised, as Denis can be the stuborn sort. He swept into the room in gum rubbers and a rain coat, his favourite floppy hat atop an dishevelled mass of hair, a straggly beard completing the look. Several uncles and others rose to confrount the obvious intruder. I turned to see him and broke into a smile that matched his crooked grin. The crowd relaxed as we hugged. My friend had arrived with panache, as always.
Our nephew was just a tiny guy at the time, just two years old. He was a bundle of energy, and drove his poor dad to fits running around the carpeted room, all giggles and mischeif. My brother in law didn't want to make a scene, but just couldn't keep up with his little guy's speed and manuverability while still maintaining the dignity of the day. I smiled as he looked at me about to apologize. The boy was a bundle of life on a day filled with thoughts of death. I thought he was beautiful and said so, to his dad's obvious releif. I picked the lad up and asked him if he wanted to say bye-bye to his cousin. He waved good-bye as I held him near Steven's open casket, then the turned to me and smiled. I love that kid.
His funeral was beautiful. I tucked a letter in our boy's jacket, a note just between the two of us. I don't even remember the words I wrote, but I know they were a comfort at the time. Pam read her letter to the packed chapel. It was the most profoundly perfect and beautiful message form a mother to her child we had ever heard. She even choked up the minister, and he'd heard a few. I liked the man immensely, he was a true man of God; losing his own son many years ago had led him to the path he had chosen in life. His words were from the heart.
We had decided to bury Steven's ashes up North, in a small country cemetary just yards down the quiet road from Pam's parent's home. A second memorial was held in Bruce Mines for all her family members and friends that couldn't make it to Guelph. A smaller group attended his burial on a beautiful sunny day. Pam's father had dug and prepared Steven's grave, and I lowered our little guy's urn into the ground with my own hands, while a minister gave a touching sermon. Pam asked her oldest and dearest friend to stand with her as I preformed my last act as Steven's father. It was heart wrenching for all, but we made sure Steven's day was special.