“There are certain things that happen to you as a human being that you cannot control or command, that will come to you at really inconvenient times and where you have to bow in the human humility to the fact that there’s something running through you that’s bigger than you …” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert (The TED Interview podcast, October 19, 2018)
I recently began going through my Mom’s pictures again, for the second time. Scanning, cataloguing, retouching, saving and backing up to an external hard drive. I say the second time, because I did all of this for four and a half months last year, from January to the middle of May in 2018. I took about 10% of the scans of the pictures and carefully touched up the photos as best I could before putting them together in an online digital photo book of my Mom’s life. Something for my brother Jeff and I as a keepsake to remember her and Dad and our early lives together as a family. This particular aspect of the job was eventually completed, and I carefully packed away all the old pictures, cards and letters I had scanned into a 102-litre storage box, stored them in our crawlspace, and then ordered two digital books to be printed, one each for Jeff and myself. Brenda and I then left at the end of May for our month long cruise through the Baltic Sea visiting many of the Northern European countries and Scandinavian countries. The completed digital photo book was delivered while Brenda and I were on our cruise, and after we returned from Europe I packaged it up and couriered it to Jeff. The book had turned out beautifully.
I’ve always been careful about backing up my computer files. I hadn’t yet, however, backed up all the scans that I had done of all Mom’s stuff. I was in too much of a hurry to get them done so Brenda and I could go on vacation at the end of May.
I have about 1.5TB of digital music files and another 350GB of pictures I have taken over the years. Both of these are resident on an external hard drive and then backed up again on a second external hard drive that I have. When Brenda and I returned from Europe I had every good intention to go through the other 90% of Mom’s pictures that I had scanned and saved on my computer hard drive, and finish the digital retouching, cataloguing and naming before I backed everything up. The summer came and went and I had set myself up to begin the final process on Mom’s pictures in the fall. Unfortunately, disaster struck in late October before I could start the process. The hard drive on our ten-year-old computer crashed, and all the scan’s I had taken of Mom’s pictures, cards, and letters were gone. Corrupted along with most of the rest of my computer hard drive. Brenda and I bought a new desktop computer to replace the old one in November, and I resigned myself to pulling the storage box out of the crawlspace, setting up the 6-foot collapsible table in the den, and then begin the arduous task of re-scanning everything. I would begin again in January after the Christmas season was over. This time though, I would save and back up as I went to ensure I didn’t lose them again. Lesson learned! But it was going to be painful for sure.
So here we are, the middle of January, and I began once again. I’ve seen all these pictures, cards and letters before. It was just last year after all, but as I was going through and organizing everything to begin once more, I came across the old family pictures that included my brothers Brian and Jeff from the days when we were growing up and living in Edmonton. So many memories came flooding back once again, and as I started organizing and scanning some of the letters and cards that I had stored away I came to the realization that an important anniversary was approaching. But it was when I started looking in her wallet that it really hit me. I had found an in memorium piece that we as a family had taken out in the Edmonton Journal on February 10, 1999. It was the poem that was written on the 15th anniversary of our brother Brian’s death. The carefully folded little wallet clipping read …
In loving memory of our son, brother, and uncle Brian.
A simple soul for we do weep, Always eager, mild and meek. Loving mem’ries we all do keep, A simple soul we all do seek.
A green balloon sails on a cloudy sea, Quietly drifting the skies’ light current. Vast glorious heavens stretch before me. Feelings, loving laughter from all are sent.
Eternity’s journey awaits us all. Bright hearts awaiting vast bright heaven’s call. Our link to heaven holds us in thrall – A verdant ballon drifts the winds of fall.
A simple soul would laugh and never cry, Spotting a green balloon high in the sky. Golden leaves drift under fall’s golden sun, Dear mem’ries of our uncle, brother, son.
Ever remembered by Mom and Dad, Keith and Jeff, and Craig, Kevin, and Bryan.
Brian’s nephew, Craig, wrote the above poem to mark the 15th anniversary of his death. Twenty years ago. It’s been thirty-five years since Brian died … all those years, don’t they go by in a blink …
You see, February 10th, 2019 marks the day thirty-five years ago when Brian became a suicide fatality. Brian was 27 years old and was living in downtown Edmonton on his own. He was two years younger than me. He had a pretty good job, a nice apartment, a nice car, and nice clothes. Growing up, Brian was always the quiet one in our family. When you compared Brian to Jeff and me, we were always loud and boisterous and continually surrounded by friends where Brian was forever the quiet, studious, mild brother. Then in late January of 1984, Brian was laid off from his job, and his world came crashing down.
The early 1980’s were a tumultuous time in Western Canada. Canada was hard hit by the recession of the early 1980s, with interest rates, unemployment, and inflation all running higher than in the United States. Differences in prosperity among the provinces increased during the 1980s, and while the central provinces were relatively robust, the western provinces suffered declines in growth because of lower prices for oil and other natural resources. Interest rates on thirty year fixed mortgages were at 18% on a 30-year fixed mortgage in the early 80’s. It’s almost unthinkable. Inflation was rampant.
None of us who loved Brian would ever understand what despair would really drive Brian to do what he did. He was always the quiet and studious one between Jeff and I. I was living in Calgary with my then family at the time, and I remember talking with Brian the day before he just disappeared from all of us. It was February 9th, 1984. When he and I spoke for what would be the last time, I remember telling him to just get in his car and drive down from Edmonton to be with us and just get away. He could spend the weekend at our house, spend some time with his loving nephews Craig and Kevin, and just get out of Edmonton. I told him I would fill his car with gas while he was here, as well as for the trip home when he did finally decide to go back. But, as it turns out, he was devastated with the turn of events and the loss of his job, he said he just needed some time to himself, and he declined the invitation.
Mom phoned me in Calgary on Monday, February 13th. I know all these dates all too well. I don’t like this time of year, even now. Mom hadn’t been able to get in touch with Brian, and she was worried. The wasn’t like him at all. He and Mom were very close and he talked to her at least twice a week. The weekend had come and gone, and Brian hadn’t shown up for his usual Sunday dinner and hadn’t been in contact at all. Mom was thinking that he may have just picked up and left for the weekend, maybe gone hiking or off to Jasper to just be in the mountains. I assured her that this was probably the case and that he would most likely be back early this week. I could hear and feel the worry in Mom’s voice, and as we hung up I could hear her beginning to cry softly.
The entire week came and went and still no word from Brian at all. We were all extremely worried by now. The second weekend with no contact from Brian was now here. It was Saturday, February 18th, and it was right after dinner with my family when we got a call from my then RCMP brother-in-law, Bruce, that there was the unidentified body of a man at the coroner’s office in Edmonton. Apparently, there was no identification of any kind on the body when it was found, and he thought that it might be Brian. He suggested that somebody would need to come to the office of the Provincial Medical Examiner in Edmonton to make possible identification of the body, and confirm his findings. Bruce wanted to know if he should call my Mom and Dad so that they could come and view the body? I said no. We packed some things as quickly as we could, put Craig and Kevin in the van and drove the three hundred kilometres to Edmonton shortly after receiving that call.
Bruce met us at the coroner’s office. He briefed us before going into the viewing room, and I went in alone, shaking like the proverbial leaf and unbelievably afraid of what I might now see. I was lead to a room with a large window that had a curtain drawn across that was on the other side of the glass, and after a few moments, the curtain was pulled back from inside the room. There was no mistaking that it was Brian, and I collapsed backwards into the chair in the viewing room and sobbed uncontrollably for what seemed like an eternity.
Brian had been found on the night of February 10, 1984, by a passing motorist on River Road in Edmonton beneath the High Level bridge. 9-1-1 was called, and the kind person who had discovered him waited with his lifeless body until the ambulance got there. He had no ID on him at the time and was dressed in jogging clothes, so all we could do was speculate that he left his downtown apartment looking like he was going to go for a walk or a jog, but that he had other things in mind. The High Level bridge was about four or five blocks from his apartment, and although his mind was clouded and in despair, in his mind his route was clear. Or was it? We’ll never really know …
It’s been thirty-five years.
So much happened immediately after that fateful night and that trip to Edmonton. It should be all a blur, yet it all comes back so clearly. Faded, yet somehow clear vignettes that come and go. Slowly at first, and then rapidly increasing in speed to the point where they just dissolve into the back corners of my mind, until February comes each year and they come once again.
Long time no see, Bri …
Through all these years, I’ve often wished I could just be with you again. Two brothers, talking and chatting and catching up with each other. Jeff joining us to make it the three of us. We would go over to Mom and Dad’s old house, wander through the large garden in the backyard, reminisce.
Remembering. Missing. Reminiscing. Loving. Wishing.
Remember those lazy days of summers when as kids we would spend all day at the picnic table in the backyard playing Risk with our friends? Kicking the football around the backyard and through the window in the back bedroom. Me telling Dad that it was an accident because my shoe fell off. Meeting all our friends at the park a half block away from our little house for an impromptu game of field hockey, flag football or baseball. Remember this beautiful Mountain Ash in the front yard? When we would climb it and give Mom fits that we might fall out and break our neck. The epic backyard water fights. The Sunday night dinners around the TV with Mom and Dad waiting for the start of The Wonderful World of Disney. Dad making us help Mom by doing the dishes after dinner, clowning around, snapping the wet end of the dishtowel at each other, but especially at Jeff’s butt when it was his turn to wash the dishes. You and I pretending to grab a dish and dry our hand in the towel. Remember the noises you and Jeff and I would make when we put our palm in our armpit and would make those disgusting farting noises as we pumped our arm up and down, squeezing the air out of our cupped palm beneath our armpit. Dad laughing at us, Mom shaking her head and telling us how disgusting we sounded. We were such boys! Me carefully balancing a wet facecloth on the top of the bathroom door as I backed out and left the door just slightly ajar, hoping you would be the next one to use the bathroom and it would fall on your head as you opened the door … but Dad going in before you. That didn’t go well for me at the time, did it? The little hockey games in the house, you at the entrance to little brother Jeff’s bedroom and me with my back to the little linen closet, using rulers in our hand as hockey sticks and absolutely firing that little rubber ball at each other in an effort to score. It hurt like hell when one of us would slapshot it and it would hit in just the right soft spot.
Vignettes, fading in and out as they rush by.
I remember so many of the things we did together as adults. Helping you wash and wax your prized 1972 green Mustang Mach 1 fastback. You were so proud of that car. You raking the fall leaves into huge piles for your adoring nephews, Craig and Kevin, and laughing along with them as they jumped in and out of the leaves spreading them all about the yard again so you could rake them into a pile and begin again. You making paper airplanes with Craig and Kevin, and then test flying them all over Mom and Dad’s house. You setting up the mini putting course in the backyard and all of us … you, me, Jeff, Craig, and Kevin playing around and trying to putt the golf ball on the less than perfect backyard grass that served as the golf green. Sitting in the backyard having a beer together while Mom busied herself in the kitchen and Dad struggled to get the briquets lit in the barbeque. More epic backyard water fights as adults with Jeff. Craig and Kevin joining in, and then Mom fussing about somebody getting hurt.
I wish that you could have experienced all the joys that life has brought all of us over the years. We have all missed you terribly during all this time, but there were so many joyful moments. Jeff and I continuing the water fights over the years. Jeff sneaking a pair of my underwear from my suitcase, discreetly wetting it under the kitchen tap, and then attaching it to my back licence plate in the dead of winter without me realizing it for the long trip home to Calgary. Me egging Jeff’s red 1967 Camaro and hitting it twice on the back window from two houses away as he and Lynn drove away after dinner together at Mom and Dad’s. He was pissed. The birth of your namesake, Bryan, to Jeff and Lynn five years after you were gone. Little Bry with a “y’ …
We’ve all had our struggles through the years, Mom Dad, me, Jeff, Craig, Kevin, Bryan. Mom getting so sick in the late 90’s, followed by breast cancer early in the new century. She beat it back with her cane though, Bri. Dad getting so sick and passing away in 2008, but not before making sure that Mom was well looked after before he passed and then enlisting Jeff to help her after he was gone. Mom’s passing away last year, she was amazingly brave and her legacy of love lives on in all of us. Allison and I separating, ultimately divorcing. Jeff and Lynn doing the same. Life has had its tough moments, but somehow we all managed to get through it all and soldier on. I know you’d be proud.
For Jeff and I, there were new joys as we rebuilt our lives. We both met wonderful new girls who are the love of our lives. I ended up transferring from Calgary to Vancouver in 1997, and busied myself with picking up the pieces of my life after Ali and I had separated and divorced. I met Brenda in 2000 and we married in 2004. Brenda and I were beyond the stage of having kids when we met, but we would have made a great parenting team together if we had had the opportunity to have children of our own. Brenda and I are now both retired, she in January of 2016 and me on June 30, 2017, and we moved from Vancouver to Parksville on Vancouver Island. As Brenda likes to say, we are working hard at being retired and enjoying our new lives together, golfing and playing pickleball several times per week. And I’m a Grandpa now! Penelope calls me Papa, and she lives with her mom Chelsea in Malta, so we don’t get to see her in person nearly enough. I am the incoming President of the Oceanside Pickleball Club here in Parksville. You would be very impressed if you had the chance to meet Brenda, Bri, and see how proud and happy I am now to call her my wife and my best friend. I wish you could have met her, you would like her, and she would feel the same about you. Jeff and Marianne met in the mid 90’s, married, and had a baby girl together, Amy. The first and only girl in our immediate family. I wish you could see how proud Jeff is to be with Marianne, too. I am so very proud of him, and especially of the son he was to Mom and Dad. He is true man of his word. His only fault is that he still follows and cheers for the Oilers, though. Craig and Kevin both have good jobs and are living and working in Calgary, and your namesake Bryan is now married to his junior high sweetheart, Jackie, and they are both working as lawyers in Edmonton. Amy is now in college and studying nursing. I know you would be proud of how we have all carried on.
I need to say thank you for a couple of things. Firstly, thank you for being in my life. I never got the chance to tell you that when you were here so that you could hear me say the words. I hope that I at least showed it, and that you felt it. Brothers don’t often do that, say thank you for that, tell each other that they love each other, it usually just gets taken for granted. I’m sorry that I didn’t realize it at the time and tell you so back then. When I could have, when I should have.
I also want to thank you for coming to me in that dream at least 21 years ago now. I remember this vividly, like it was yesterday. Remember? I was having such a difficult time with the falling apart of the little family that I loved so much and tried so hard to keep together. When that didn’t come to pass, the opportunity came for me to transfer to Vancouver from Calgary. I was living in that tiny furnished bachelor suite in that little walk up in New Westminster. I had just moved there a few months before, and I felt lost, alone, and afraid. The night you came to me. I had just gone to bed, and I tossed and turned for quite a while while I was trying to find the sleep that I needed, Finally I did. It was about 2 AM when you came to me that fateful night, and you said just 6 words … “It’s going to be alright, Keith.” I woke with a start, and walked to the open window and stood and just looked into the dark, calm, clear night. I stood there for such a long time trying to process that dream. Except it wasn’t a dream, Bri. It was you, and you were as alive as alive can be in the deep recesses of my mind. I didn’t go back to bed that night. Shortly after that fateful night, my life did start to turn around, and I began the process of building a new life for myself … I moved into my own place, had all my furniture moved out of storage in Calgary and into my new little rental apartment in Burnaby. I eventually bought myself a little townhouse in Burnaby, and shortly before moving into it I met Brenda. That’s when my life really started to turn around, Bri, but the true catalyst was that little visit from you 21 years ago. Your unexpected visit started it all. Thank you for coming to see me, for telling me that it would all be okay. I miss you so much. And I love you so much.
Time passes along … thirty-five years.
I also need to tell you how upset I was when I found out that you had completed suicide. I went through all the initial stages of grief … denial, anger, bargaining, depression … until I eventually got to the acceptance part of the equation.
But one thing never changed, Bri, and that was how much I love you. We all do.
Long time no see, Bri. I was angry, upset, and all the range of emotions associated with you taking your own life … but … I missed you most.