Wednesday, June 15, 2011

In Celebration Of A Life

I had posted the other day a sort of tribute to my brother Bernard on his birthday. A few of you wanted to learn a bit more about his life.

                                      Bernard at about 16 years old.

Here goes........on June 12th. in 1952 a third male child was born in a row to my parents. This meant that the family now had five children.........the two oldest were girls, then there was me, then another brother Dennis and then Bernard.

I was four when he was born and I remember when he was first taken home from the hospital. He was a BIG baby, 12+ pounds. He was fairer than my brother and myself I remember. He had blondish hair and brown eyes.

Bernard had a pretty normal childhood. I remember that as soon as he was old enough, he moved into Dennis' and my bedroom. That was what families did who had 'tons' of kids. We had a four bedroom house but since a 'pattern' seemed to have been set, there were four more babies to come after every two years.

Sounds planned but it wasn't as far as I can tell. Anyway, there we were the three of us to share a room for the next 10 years or so. And brothers being brothers, we had our 'ups and downs' when things got a little claustrophobic.

As happens in some families, you get along with some better than you do with others. And this was the case in my family. Bernard and I 'clicked' as soon as we realized that we had a lot in common and that this could matter in sibling relationships.

I remember Bernard as having lots of energy as a child. I actually remember when he was about one year old and the family was at a cottage at a beach. Bernard was in a 'playpen' and I walked up to see what he was doing. He was playing with something and I saw it was a black snake. I guess I went and told my mother and she went up to him and lifted him out of there as fast as she could. 

Bernard, as he grew into adolescence, began to form close bonds with his friends when he was around 12 years old. It was at this time that my parents decided to move from Halifax to Dartmouth ( the neighbouring city across the harbour). It was a brand new house and most of us kids were excited about the move........except for Bernard.

The move was very hard on him. He did not want to be so far away from his friends. He actually 'ran away from home' one weekend. My parents did the best they could but not to his satisfaction. He was found under a stairwell in an apartment building after two days of searching in our old neighbourhood.

                                         Bernard at our new house.

Of course he came home but things were never the same for him. For the next few years he was constantly getting into trouble at school.....nothing that bad but annoying the teachers and playing the 'class clown' a lot. 

Everyone that met him loved him. He was funny, smart, talented......he taught himself to play the piano while the rest of us needed years of lessons to play anything......handsome, and loved to talk about everything. 

I remember I was in university and he was in high school. It was the mid 60's and things were changing in the world.....for the better we thought and believed (and still do). So we would stay up for hours and discuss anything and everything.....much to the chagrin of some other members of the family.

We thought about the same things and were interested in what was happening around us at the time. I remember when I was about 18 or so I was having a difficult time with everything that was coming at me all at once it seemed. Who helped me through....Bernard.

He was very insightful and an 'old soul'. 

The times being what they were in the late 60's attracted a lot of us.....especially to the experimentation with drugs. Pot was everywhere and everyone was trying it. I did and had some fun with it but knew that it wasn't suited to my personality and made me anxious.

Bernard on the other hand wanted to try it all.....and he did. It was after high school that it became pretty routine for him to be 'stoned' most of the time. 

Looking back now, I can see that he was escaping from something or at least attempting to. When he was in high school he became very moody. There would be days when he wouldn't speak to anyone......even me. Then there were days when everything was GREAT and WONDERFUL and he was going to conquer the world!

I didn't of course know it at the time but now I feel he was suffering from depression, with all the 'ups and downs' that were occurring on a very regular basis. I cannot base this on anything but  now I think that he had some form of bi-polar illness. And since my mother had this for most of her life, it only stands to reason that Bernard may have had the predisposition for acquiring it as well.

I don't want to leave the impression that Bernard was always a problem child, he wasn't. His intelligence I feel was left at bay in the meager school system that was available to challenge him intellectually so that he could channel his energies into something positive.

I do not blame anyone....schools, parents, friends........for what eventually led Bernard to take his own life on April 6th in 1972. He was a complex child of his time in a very traditional family setting that did not and could not meet his needs.

After a few very erratic and dangerous situations in which he put himself, it was obvious to my parents that he needed help. At one point he admitted himself into a psychiatric hospital  because he feared he would kill himself. He was there a week and I remember being there one evening and he told me that it was scarier in there than it was outside. He checked himself out the next day.

This is proving very difficult for me right now.....after all these years I get very upset for him and the pain he was going through.

He was home for a while after this but soon headed for Toronto to visit my sister and her family. Before he left I remember him telling me that he could handle life much more easily when he was stoned than when not and he liked it a whole lot better.

Oh yes, I should mention that Bernard had the nicest hair. It was long to his shoulders, silky and very well kept. It was his pride and joy. I hated him for it because I always wanted STRAIGHT HAIR!!! lol

After about a week in Toronto Bernard told my sister that he was going out for the evening. He left early in the day. He even got his hair cut short. He went to a lab and pretended he was an employee at a certain company and bought potassium cyanide. Booked a room at the Holiday Inn and took his life.

Whew! This was hard. It always is when I think about that time. This was difficult for my family. Especially for my grandmother who died two months later on Bernard's birthday June 12th. They too were very close.

I have no idea how this will read. What I would like to come from this post is recognition of a troubled child/youth and what can happen if nobody is 'present' to see what is happening. There is help out there and very good help. I know it is more readily available today than it was in the 60's. 

Also I wanted to 'out' the whole stigma attached to depression and mental illness in our society. It is like any illness and needs treatment/therapy/medication like any other disease.

As sad as it may sound and read, I have the happiest memories of Bernard as an integral part of my family. 

                                      Bernard (14 years old) and youngest brother Laurie.

Related Posts with Thumbnails