‘The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.’ – Psalm 34:18
This was supposed to be a post full of joy, celebrating the beautiful children I’ve had the privilege of working with over the past several weeks and how great and glorious a God we serve. While that is all still true, the joy in my life is so overshadowed by the great waves of grief sweeping through me that I cannot fully feel it anymore.
Learning of someone’s passing is never easy, far from it, but when a life so young and full of beauty and promise is ripped from us, with such a tragic end, it’s even more poignant, the shock and sorrow. Nothing can prepare you. Colleagues and friends here have been asking me over the past few days, as they heard the news, whether it was a close friend of mine who passed. He wasn’t. Does it matter? I know those closest to him, his parents, younger siblings, fiancé Sarah, and best friends, are feeling this more than anyone, I can only imagine their grief, and send up continuous prayers. What do you do when your life has been rent apart? How do you put it, and yourself, back together? My heart goes out to you, dearest ones.
It’s tempting to ask myself, do I even have the right to grieve this death? There are so many others who were closer, knew him better, loved him more, were really friends with him, who now have very real and significant holes in their lives in the place he filled. Then I have to stop myself. Something I learned after the sudden death of my classmate Chris two years ago, is that trying to justify grief and who “deserves” to grieve is ridiculous, as one of my best friends reminded me so wisely at the time. Grief comes in many ways, in many forms, sometimes with an unexpected intensity, and you can’t quite understand why this one in particular really got to you. Grief isn’t something you can control. It comes in waves. Just when you think you’ve gotten yourself under control, something sets it off again, and another wave crashes. It’s not just the one lost we grieve for. We grieve for our friends and family in pain, we grieve for lost hope, for a lost future. We grieve for each other, with each other.
There is something about sudden deaths that just knock our feet from beneath us, and we’re left scrambling. I still remember where I was when I heard about Elizabeth’s skiing accident, waiting to rehearse for a concert in the very change room I’d shared with her numerous times getting ready for cross country and track practices, or sitting at my new desk on the second day of my first architecture internship when I got the news that Chris’s injuries from the accident finally claimed his life after a valiant fight. I can still hear my mom’s voice breaking during the phone call that delivered the news of the snowmobiling accident which took the life of one of my parents closest friends the night before. When I picked up my phone and read the message from my sister just three days ago with the news of Brett’s passing, I didn’t believe it at first. I thought there must have been some sick mistake. He couldn’t be gone. I’d just opened a photo he’d posted on Facebook commemorating his friend not 3 days previously. The Class of Personality missing a member? How could “the boys”, Nick, Cam, Brett, Ben, and Emrik, be missing one of their own? No. It couldn’t be.
When you see someone multiple times a day for 7 years straight, sharing countless experiences, the same choirs, the same orchestras, bus rides to and from school, to Toronto, to Stratford, to Kiwanis festivals, carpools for early morning rehearsals, in short watching someone grow up, and growing up alongside them, you can’t wrap your head around the fact that their life has just been snuffed out. The strings of our lives were crossed in so many ways.
It’s difficult to explain the bond we share as a St. Mary/CCH music family to those outside it, and it truly is a family, within each grade and among the different classes. But those of us who are a part of it, we know. We know the bond that links us cannot be broken no matter how many countries, how many time zones, or how many years apart, separate us. Brett, I desperately wish you’d remembered this, that you’d known deep down to your very core that you were never truly alone. Not ever. I wish that you had been able to break through the darkness and feel the lights of love in your life, from the seemingly endless number of people who loved you and cherished your friendship and your unique person. I can’t help crying out to God, questioning why? Why didn’t you send someone? Someone in those final moments to be a visible and tangible example of Your love to him? I know I’ll never find the answer to that question. Instead, I’ll pray that Jesus was there to great you the moment you left us, and now you know more about His tangible love than any still here on earth.
I’ve read so many beautiful, funny, and heartbreaking messages shared over social media within the last few days remembering Brett. Right now, I’m incredibly grateful for all of that, as I’m too far away to be a part of the remembrance in any other way, and it’s breaking my heart. As Taylor so eloquently put it in her recent blog post, family, friends, mentors, and books can try to prepare you as much as possible for the various experiences in store volunteering in a foreign country, but death is something you can never be prepared for. It was my worst fear when coming here to Uganda, a death at home. No one tells you how to deal with death in a different corner of the globe with no connection to home, when you’re mourning alone, because no matter how hard they try, no one around you understands the grief. It’s not their fault, it’s just not there’s to share. Assurances that God has a plan and that everything will eventually be OK again do nothing to lessen the pain. It demands to be felt, and should be. You’re allowed to not be OK after something like this, whether it takes days, months, or years to work through it. Those around me, just know that in the moments I’m quiet over the next days and weeks that my thoughts are with the same people, in the same place. They are home, where I cannot bodily be for another month.
I’ve been listening to recordings of our CCH choir in a continuous loop for the past two days because it brings me right back, better than anything else. If I was home, I would’ve driven to CCH the day I heard, I would’ve attended the mass Josh arranged, I would be at the funeral Saturday to try and help lift the burden of this sorrow from my classmates and friends, lifting my voice in song to celebrate the life of such a special soul. My heart is home in London right now.
Brett, you dear and kind soul, we didn’t know each other that well on a personal level, but I will never forget the impressions you’ve left on me. For years, I remember being awed and inspired by your love for our country, and your determination and passion to achieve your goal of becoming a pilot to serve Canada. I always loved seeing you at each Remembrance Day ceremony, in uniform, showing your gratitude for all those that came before you. I’ve thought of you at every ceremony I’ve attended since graduating, and that certainly won’t stop now. Though I seem to remember you getting constantly reprimanded by Sills during rehearsals for talking or being disruptive, it usually resulted in laughter from most of the choir. You were great at that, entertaining and making others laugh and smile. It was one of your greatest gifts. You were one of those rare people that always welcomed the outsider and stood up for the weak or oppressed. One particular memory that came back to me over the past couple of days was one afternoon on the bus as we were waiting to leave CCH. One of the guys in my grade had started harassing a younger student, trying to get him out of one of the back seats, teasing him and basically being a complete jerk. You decided to step in when no one else would, and tell him to get a grip and leave the kid alone, continuing to reprimand him until he moved out of the seat and went to sit closer to the front. Then you just sat back down and continued talking with Ben and Emrik. I was inspired. It’s a small memory, but I’m sure it made a great impact on that younger student. My respect for you just kept increasing over the years because of moments like that. You were a true gentleman, a rarity among teenage boys. I choose to take this tragedy as a reminder to remind the people in my life how important they are and to love them that much harder and more intentionally. I’ll take this as a reminder to appreciate each moment I am gifted with here on earth, to know that they are precious and we never know how many of them we have left. I don’t want to waste any more. I have a newfound passion and desire to truly live out “carpe diem”. I desperately wish you could be here to live it out too.
Thank you for the gift you were to so many people. I am a better person for having known you. I look forward to singing with you again in Paradise. Rest in eternal peace, my friend.