Remembering Stuart McLean

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March 14, 2017

Remembering Stuart McLean

Stuart McLean 2009

On February 15, 2017 writer and radio personality Stuart McLean died from cancer.I was saddened by the news of his death, deeply saddened.For him and his family and friends. But also in a selfish way I felt sad there would be no new volumes of work. No more new books and CD’s for Christmas. I wanted to do this post right away but honestly it was hard for me to admit he had died, kind of like when Robin Williams died. Grief and pure disbelief.

I first heard of Stuart probably around the year 2001. Adam and I had been trying to have a baby with no luck. I was heartbroken and trying to see the good in things but mostly I ate bowls of cereal, cried and played Bust a Move. We were moving onto adoption but were waiting for the mandatory classes to begin. We were visiting friends who had experienced their own recent heartbreak and they put us in their guest room. Not able to fall asleep one night (yes there was a time that I didn’t start snoring the moment my head hit the pillow) I pulled down a Vinyl Cafe book by some author unknown to me – Stuart McLean. I read the stories beside my sleeping husband and I laughed so hard I snorted a few times. It felt so good to laugh again. Laughter had been missing from our lives for a long time by then. When Adam woke up in the morning I read aloud one of the funnier pieces and he laughed – his eyes lighting up probably more because of seeing me happy for once than for the story itself (sorry Stuart).

That started a trend. Each Christmas Adam would get me tickets to see Stuart and/or a book of his and/or CD’s to listen to in the van. Some amazing years I got all 3.  The one year Corbin got to be Stuart’s assistant up on stage. Another year all four of us went to see him at University of Toronto, Convocation Hall (Adam’s alma mater).

I would play the CD’s in my car when the boys were with me and they would laugh when the audience laughed on the track. But then there was the day when Corbin legitimately did a full belly laugh that told me now he gets it. Never having been a mom before and not knowing anything about boys I listened closely to Stuart’s stories about young Sam. I took it to heart when he told stories of the shenanigans Sam got up to with his best friend. In a couple of stories Stuart speaks about Sam having his own relationships with people outside of his parents – the next door neighbour Eugene and a fortune teller. This made me seek out special relationships for Corbin to have outside of us – like the postal worker and the school custodian.

When Corbin needed to seek mental health treatment at a centre 2 hours from home I would put the CD’s on and laugh/cry all the way there and back. I must have looked a right sight to anyone passing me on the highway. In the fortune teller story, she tells Sam

“- everything is always all right in the end”

and Sam asks “What if it isn’t?”

“That’s easy. If it doesn’t work out well in the , that means it’s not the end”

I held onto those words during those rough couple of months that Corbin was away. It obviously wasn’t the end.

I hold onto them now. It is obviously not the end.

Tina Szymczak
Tina Szymczak
Tina Szymczak is a 40-something mom and wife with two spirited boys. She has worked in early intervention and as an advocate resource for families with a loved one with a disability. Now she also writes a blog about raising children with complex needs, trying not to lose your sense of self as you parent, and her struggles with mental health.

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