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.


  1. Jim, I loved this post. I won't go on and on like I sometimes can but it was good of you to put this out there. For us and for yourself. And yes, we keep a close eye on depression around our house. Maybe more so now after reading this post.
    Your Friend, m.

  2. What a tribute and I understand it must have been difficult to write. I have tears in my eyes because I didn't know we also have this in common. My brother stayed alive longer,until he was 40, and the downhill slide was horrendous to watch for my mother at home and me over here. One felt so helpless. Thanks for this long and loving tribute to a brother. One can feel your love for him. I'm sorry this had to happen.--Inger

  3. that must have been a hard SIL took her life also...I believe she was bipolar also...they lost their Mom at a young age...and she grew up with 2 younger brothers and a Dad that wasn't around much...had to work to keep everyone fed..she also had gotten into drugs this was in the 70's...we all thought she had gotten it together...but she hadn't...

  4. Oh Jim, I am just so sad to hear this and so sorry for your pain. I have always felt such a deep sadness inside of me for those who suffer from depression or mental illness. I've shared a few posts.. one was my grandma and another my son, Justin who is 'different' in a special way. Justin has got help and is doing much better.
    What a beautiful tribute this was to your brother. My heart aches for you and for your family.
    Bernard was a very handsome boy. This post makes me wonder... how many people - hide behind laughter and clowning around - that are really dying inside?

  5. I think after the pain has subsided it's the good memories that keep our family and friends alive. Depression is a horrible disease and thankfully today there is much help available.

  6. Dear Jim:
    Thank you for sharing this part of you life with us. Because of my interest/"calling" to work in mental health I am moved by your story of Bernard. . . There is so much of the sacred in your narration. . .you touch souls - that quiet inner part of us.
    I truly hope to have the clarity and empathy you show in your story-telling.

    I think we always do all we are able and often wish it was more. . .
    I see you guys are still very close. . . .
    Again, thank you.

  7. Thank you for sharing your brother's story with us, Jim. I know it is still painful after all these years. My mother lost a little brother when she was about 16 and she never got over it. Anyway, you are probably right about your brother being bi-polar. Back then nothing was known about things like that and many people suffered and died because of it. As a teacher, I've been taught in trainings that those who don't receive some kind of intervention will seek other methods of relief from the anguish, and that is usually narcotics or other drugs. I have never attached a stigma to suicide, nor do I feel that it is a sin. It is the deepest darkest depth of depression and one can't be held accountable for that kind of health issue. He is truly at rest now.

  8. I can relate!

    I'm sure you read on my blog about my oldest brother Mike, who committed suicide in 1993.

    Poor Bernard - if only we had the resources then that we do now. My heart breaks for you and him.

    My brother was an alcoholic who masked his mental illness with booze. Even in the 90's, doctors didn't take depression all that seriously.

    I'm glad you told this story because people need to hear these stories. And I'm so glad you have happy memories!


  9. Hugs to you, Jim. Thank you for sharing Bernard's story with us. There were and are so many young people like him. It's tragic that he was not able to get the medical care he needed back then. I hope things have changed today and improved for those with bipolar illness.

  10. This is beautiful, Jim. To write so tenderly of your Bernard after all these years is a tribute to you both.

    I got to wondering how you were, so I thought I'd pop by. I got stopped on this post, but I intend to read further back. Things are still very complicated here. The three of us are doing alright, but my daughter is not . . .

    Anyway, good to see you again!

  11. Oh dear. Thank you, Jim, for sharing some of your memories, and putting them out there for who knows who. My husband's sister killed herself in her twenties, probably bipolar as well. We've endured anger, sadness, helplessness... wondering if something could have been done, and seeing what it did to their parents. But it is what it is. And I've known many more bipolar friends and acquaintances since, who have taken their lives or attempted to, and I believe that for some people, Life is too painful. And I understand their decision to end it.
    I am so thankful that I can find beauty and humor and friendship in my life, and I wish this for everyone. Life and health are so precious and fleeting.
    Thank you for sharing your memories and feelings. I hope that it has helped you heal.

  12. Well done Jim!!!!So true, all of us need to accept that depression, "mental illness" can happen to anyone. My own grandmother spent many days in a depressive state, and also recived shock treatments in the 1960's.

    You are right about help being much more available, it is important to know how to obtain it.

  13. I don't think it is sad that you have happy memories of your brother as part of your family. I am glad to hear you do have these happy memories. I can only imagine how hard this must be. So brave of you to share your story that it may help someone else!

  14. Oh, Jim. I'm so very sorry for your loss. I'm sending you tons of {{{hugs}}} I lost my brother-in-law to suicide, and when I stop and think about it, the pain is just as fresh and raw now as it was when it happened 16 years ago.

  15. hi jimbo, i know i have been a slacker blogger lately but i am very down too, still cant find a job.. blah blah blah..

    i am so sorry to hear about your lil brother. how sad, and unfair it seems ro me.i too have a sister from my dads first marriage, who was murdered by her boss.. we never met. but i have letters from her and pictures. anywhooo its not at all the same but i can relate.

    i like to believe that when thoughts of a loved one suddenly enters my mind, it means he or she is sending me their love.. letting me know they are watching over me, from where ever we go from here.

    aometimes i can even feel them, or smell them, even if faintly.

    hugs to you..

  16. touching post.
    an handsome fellow for sure, with an intense stare touched by sadness. i see it. family and friends feel helpless but it's not given to everyone to be able to help. in some cases, TLC is required, others need tough love. working in the health sector, i had to deal with patients as they were brought in a total state of psychosis. i think my approach did some good to some of them, as i could understand them, very well... my first attempt was when i was 8 years old, and it was not my last episode. so i can relate to these patients, even if i've never been diagnosed myself. the stigma that comes with this still prevails in our society to this day, and that's one thing i'd rather do without. i know i am loved by my friends, and they know that as long as i write/blog, i'm coping with life, somehow... though that can be deceiving....

    people shouldn't feel guilt. i believe some souls are too sensitive and get overwhelmed by Life itself, and perceive more the pain prevailing than the beauty. the pressure of expectations can also contribute. who knows what really goes on in someone's head?...

    i am certain he appreciated having you as a big brother, but sometimes, someone needs more to justify one's existence...


  17. Thank you for sharing this. It's these things that make our lives what they are. And it is through death, that we truely learn to love.

    I wonder if the issues that you grew up with, with both your mother and brother helped you to get started in your career. And do you think that it made you that much better at it.

  18. Stew, you are correct. I think that we are shaped by what we experience as children. My experiences helped me tremendously in my career.....I am very patient and hopefully understanding of other people's concerns and difficulties. So there are definite positives to be gained through a seemingly difficult upbringing.

  19. I'll correct that. Through death and tribulations, we truely learn to love.

    The people that have survived the most trying situations are always the best people you could ever know.

  20. This was a heartwrenching tribute to your brother. It touched me on several levels. Bernard and I were the same age. I know oh-so-well the times you describe.I remember my limited experimentation with drugs.They weren't for me either. But a close friend of mine spun off into the ozone...were the drugs the cause or was her use of them an anitdote to the cause? I will never know.

    Later I was married to a man with bi-polar disorder. He was the rare individual who was and adult at the onset of the illness and who recieved immediate medical attention. After a brief hospitalization he participated actively in therapy and learned to understand his disorder. He stuck to his meds like a diabetic sticks to their regime of pin pricks. We had endless discussion about the dark times in which he would try to describe to me what that felt like. He took his illness seriously and managed it admirably. But he is the exception to the rule. It is an awful affliction.

    Thanks for shining light into the darkness.


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