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A Father Remembers

Updated on February 4, 2018
Brian's Memorial Card
Brian's Memorial Card

Eight Years Ago

Eight years ago, we lost our second son, Brian, after a brief medical illness. April 20, 2018 would have been his 36th birthday.

I believe there is no greater tragedy than for a parent to have to bury a child. It doesn't matter if it is an infant, child, teenager, or adult, there is nothing more tragic.

If you lose a child, you soon find you a part of a club that you never realized existed. A club that no one ever wants to join. A club that shares the one common connection of the loss of a child. When you become a member, you pray that no one else will ever join you.

I Remember:

I Remember the day Brian was born. Maybe not as well as my wife, but I remember. There was a contraction in the middle of the street on the way into the hospital. Her water broke in the elevator. Brian was born less than 2 hours after we arrived. The obstetrician not only made it home for supper, he made it home for the 6 o'clock news.

I Remember a thunderstorm during the delivery. Immediately after Brian was born the sun came out! Brian still brings out the sunshine when my wife needs it most.

Brian (left) and his older brother Jeff hoist the Stanley Cup
Brian (left) and his older brother Jeff hoist the Stanley Cup | Source

I Remember Brian as a happy child who was never far from his older brother. He loved being with family; his grandparents, his aunts and uncles, his cousins. I don't know anyone who didn't like Brian nor do I know of anyone Brian didn't like. He found the positive in everyone and everything. He wouldn't hurt a fly. In fact, if a fly was in the house, Brian would catch and release it outside, unharmed.

I Remember moving a lot as Brian grew up; Erie, Philadelphia, Portsmouth, VA, Pittsburgh, Memphis, Bangor, Maine and finally back to Erie. Despite all of the moves, I think Brian would still call Erie "home". Born in Erie, living in Erie, with family in Erie, that would make it home.

I Remember Brian as a small, but happy, shy, almost frail child. The type of child you would expect to play chess and run cross-country, and he did. Not the type that would play ice hockey or basketball, but he did those too.

I Remember Brian playing on a hockey team one year that would struggle to score a goal let alone win a game. The next year, a different team, was so strong that it came within 1 game of winning the state championship. Good team or bad, Brian always remained positive and sure that today was the day they would win.

Brian's Mile Swim Badge
Brian's Mile Swim Badge | Source

I Remember Brian in scouting, a Life Scout and member of Order of the Arrow. We would go to the meetings, the camp-outs, the hikes or whatever. Brian did not often get yelled at but, one incident in scouting stands out in particular. Also in scouting, Brian accomplished what I, and probably he, believed was one of his greatest achievements.

I Remember Brian loved bacon. On one camp-out Brian was assigned to cook the bacon for breakfast. A carefully planned menu allowed for only 2 pieces of bacon per scout. Brian couldn't help himself, he loved bacon. The scoutmaster had to yell at him for eating all of the bacon.

I Remember Brian wasn't particularly fond of water and swimming, but one swim may have been one of his greatest accomplishments. At Boy Scout summer camp in Maine Brian signed up for the mile swim. A swim that would done, not in a pool, but on a lake. Brian did not like swimming freestyle with his face in the water. I figured he would complete the swim with a combination of breast, back and side strokes.

I Remember that day as being a little windy with some small waves on the lake. I asked the waterfront director, a friend, how Brian did. He said that it was slow, but Brian had made it the whole mile. All of the other boys had finished well before him. And, to his amazement, he had never seen someone swim a whole mile of sidestroke! Until Brian died, we didn't realize how much this meant to him. While going through his possessions, we found that mile swim badge in his wallet. That badge seemed so significant to him that I knew we could never lose it. Today, i know exactly where that badge is. It is in my wallet.

I Remember Brian being very inquisitive, but one who struggled in school. He could ask deep probing philosophical questions, but couldn't seem to concentrate on his studies. He got into some trouble at school, tried drugs and alcohol and eventually dropped out of high school. Brian would run away or leave home, but eventually come back.

I Remember the day Brian tried to take his own life. The police went looking for him and when they found him, they had to take him by force to the hospital for care. Brian was barely 18, legally an adult, but in reality a confused, terrified, child in a cold, harsh world.

I Remember repeatedly visiting Brian, first in the ICU, then the nursing floor, and eventually in the mental hospital. I had to convince, to reassure him, to take his medicine, to have the tests done, to get the necessary treatment.

I Remember when we were told that Brian had schizophrenia. That the drugs, the alcohol, the suicide attempt, were all attempts at self-treatment to make the voices go away. We learned that schizophrenia often presents itself in teenagers, particularly males. These patients don't know what is wrong and don't know how to make it stop, so they self-treat. The issues we had had with Brian all made sense. We had just missed the warnings.

I Remember the slow process back to a normal life for Brian. He was terrified and didn't want to go back to where he had been mentally. We were very fortunate that Brian received great inpatient treatment in Maine and outpatient treatment in Erie. With much coaxing and reassurance Brian became independent. He learned how to drive, had his own apartment, and even a part-time job.

I Remember how hard it was to get Brian back into school. Brian had earned his G.E.D. by then, but getting into college was met with tremendous resistance. Not by Brian, but by the college. With success in a few courses, it was time to switch schools and enroll in a respiratory therapy program. Knowing the job of a respiratory therapist, I was surprised to have Brian chose this career. Even more to my surprise, he was very successful at it. Eventually Brian was making the Dean's List. The semester before he died, Brian had accomplished something he had aspired to all of his life but was never able to achieve. He had earned all A's for his final semester grades! He died a little over a semester after having earned an Associate of Science Degree in Respiratory Therapy.

I Remember the weekend Brian died. It was the weekend after New Year's, 2010. We had moved from Erie over the summer and Brian came to spend a few days after Christmas at our new home. We had taken him back home for New Years and we spent a few days in Erie. On the 2nd, as the weather was turning stormy, we decided to head home early before it got too bad.

I Remember Brian calling shortly after we had arrived home. I could tell by the tone in his voice that he was afraid. That he wanted help. That he needed us. We couldn't travel the 2 plus hours back, the weather was worse. I had Brian call an ambulance to take him to the hospital. He agreed. I called ahead to let them know he was coming.

I Remember talking to Brian at the hospital as well as to his doctors. I was comfortable that things were under control and everything would be fine. We would get up in the morning and my wife and I would decide if she or both of us would travel back to Erie to tend to Brian.

I Remember the phone waking me up about 6 AM. I remember the conversation. Brian had gotten up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. He fell to the floor. His heart had stopped. They couldn't get it started again. Brian was gone. I remember my wife's scream.

I Remember driving back to Erie. The weather didn't matter any more. We talked about Brian. We tried to remember.

Life is hard to understand. When Brian wanted to die, we stopped it. When Brian didn't want to die, we couldn't prevent it.

I don't think a day goes by that my wife and I don't think about Brian. We remember, we talk about his quirkiness, his shyness, the special ways he said or did things. We remember how special he was to us. We want to remember him today as well as we remembered him the day he died. We want to remember him until we can't remember anything anymore. Until we are together again.

I remember that day 5 years ago like it was yesterday, but it seems so long ago. Memories fade, but I won't let it. So much has happened since then. So much has changed. While Brian hasn't been with us, we feel like he always is. We remember.

Love, Dad (and Mom).

"I'll Lend For Awhile a Child of Mine"


© 2012 Mark Shulkosky


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