Ellowyne sat with Rufus until the wee hours of the morning. She held him while he wept and brought him ice cream when he admitted to some indigestion. When he began to fall asleep, she put his head on her lap and pulled a throw blanket over him. Only then did she lean back and drift off to sleep.
When they woke up around mid-morning, neither of them felt inclined to do any virtual classwork. Fortunately, they were caught up on their studies, and missing a day or two would be of little consequence.
Still, Ellowyne let her professors know what had happened, and she encouraged Rufus to do the same. She wanted to gently tread the fine line between grief and his obligations. He worked so hard to get where he was academically but he needed time to mourn his loss. At her behest, Rufus got in touch with his professors and advisor. Dr. Wolowitz gave him condolences and told him to take as much time as he would need, even if it meant deferring some of his work to summer. Rufus was going to work on some projects before starting grad school, but Dr. Wolowitz pointed out that there might not even be a summer session due to the pandemic. He also said that engineering and math could wait but grief would not.
Rufus decided to get a little more sleep since he was emotionally drained. But before he got into bed, Ellowyne asked him if he wanted to let their friends no. Rufus was aghast. “Oh, Ellie, I can’t do that. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Talking about it makes it so much more real. But if you want to, go ahead.”
When he had drifted off, Ellowyne opened a Zoom meeting and contacted all of their friends to participate. Fortunately, Penn actually had a day off, Lizette didn’t have to be at the bird sanctuary, Prudence pushed herself away from YouTube, and Amber, who was probably still in bed, managed to drag herself to the computer for the meeting.
Pru was the first to notice that something seemed wrong with Ellowyne. Maybe she and Rufus weren’t getting along and thinking of breaking up. Penn also noticed Ellowyne’s somber mood. He had an idea of why she was chatting with them but he hoped against hope that he was wrong. He wasn’t.
“I don’t know how I can say this,” Ellowyne started. Her voice trembled and she stumbled over some of her words. “Rufus’ parents died of COVID in Italy. Yesterday someone from the State Department brought boxes with their cremains and some of their personal items including passports, money, and jewelry.”
“Dammit,” Penn said. “I was afraid this was what happened. I mean, he texted me yesterday and asked if it was some prank I was pulling. And if not me, then someone else.”
Lizette shook her head. “I’m so sorry. Please tell Rufus that.”
“But only when he’s ready,” Prudence said. “It sounds like he’s in a state of shock and denial. He might not be up to hear anyone’s condolences.”
Amber asked, “Yeah, remember in Freshman Psych when we learned about Kübler-Ross’ Stages of Grief? Prudence is spot on about Rufus being in shock and denial.”
“I took a course on death and dying last year during J-term,” Penn stated. “We discussed how Kübler-Ross’ stages of grief aren’t necessarily a linear process.”
“It’s a more circular process,” Lizette said. “And someone can skip some stages or backtrack to a previous stage.”
“So, what can we do to help Rufus?” Prudence asked.
“Well, I think he will want to lie low for a while,” Ellowyne answered. “Right now he doesn’t want to talk about it, and I’m not going to push him. I want to do what’s best for him, and I’m going to—oh—no—”
She could no longer fight her tears. “I—I—I don’t want to cry in front of Rufus. He doesn’t ne–ne–need that now.”
Amber asked, “What can we do to help Rufus? And you?”
“I’ll make a grocery run for you today,” Penn offered. “Beer, too, for when Rufus feels up to some.”
“Penn, this is your only day off in who knows how long. Really, we don’t need anything and if we do, I can go to the store,” Ellowyne said. “Rufus would feel even worse if he knew you sacrificed your time off.”
“I’m not doing anything today,” Lizette said. “I can do the grocery run for you.”
“Oh! Marisol made croissants and some sourdough yesterday. I’ll bring you baked treats and some of my special coffee,” Amber said.
Prudence spoke up. “I will give you and Rufus some aromatherapy candles. Lavender helps calm someone in distress. And I’ll do some distance Reiki, too.”
In the distance, Ellowyne could hear Rufus moving around. “I’m going to let you all go for now. I think I hear Rufus. Thank you all for being there for him—for us! I’ll let you know when he feels ready to talk. I love you all. Thank you for being there for us.”