We Lost One. A Tribute To ‘Brian’
Last evening, crisis team members attended the home of “Brian” in Winnipeg’s West End. After no one responded to the team’s knocking, emergency services were contacted for a well-being check. Shortly after Winnipeg Fire Service and Winnipeg City Police attended and gained access to the home, our team was informed that Brian had passed away.
Brian came to Turning Leaf six years ago. Prior to receiving help from Turning Leaf, Brian slept in abandoned buildings and was chronically homeless. He struggled with a severe alcohol addiction and incurred a substance abuse related brain injury (Korsakoff syndrome). He was involved with the criminal justice system on and off for two decades and was frequently hospitalized for mental health crises. And as if that wasn’t enough for this quiet man, he suffered from an unsympathetic seizure disorder. He lived a very chaotic lifestyle and he hated it.
Up until yesterday, Brian was enjoying living in that little West End house for over a three years. He considered it his and he was proud of it. He was proud of how clean he kept his home. He was proud of learning to cook for himself and was even trying new foods. He was making plans to entertain his staff team by watching the Winnipeg Jets’ and Blue Bombers’ season on his new TV. And to his credit, he had not been involved with criminal justice for over three years, and he was clean and sober for three years.
He was a good neighbor. He went from being paranoid of people to meeting all new Turning Leaf staff and being a part of their new employee training. And who wouldn’t want Brian as a neighbour? He liked Bunty’s fried chicken, collecting movies and interesting baseball hats. He wrote letters of apology when he thought he may have offended people around him. He had a wonderfully witty sense of humour. He wanted a girlfriend to take dancing. He was sad and frustrated sometimes, but he was also caring and kind – ‘a man of peace’, who was proud to be living a positive, healthy and sober life and who happily responded to all who inquired, that he was ‘living like a king’ living on his own and utilizing his supports.
Amidst all of the sadness and anxiety that comes with a loss such as this, I’m also left angry. I feel he deserved more time to enjoy what he worked so hard to achieve. He had turned his life around. He showed us that, regardless of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles placed in front of him and the pattern of choices he made that harmed him on his path, he chose to be courageous and kind every step of the way. He had to be courageous to stop using alcohol. He had to be kind to trust the people around him after he had experienced victimization and discrimination. He had a vision for his life and he allowed us the honour of helping him achieve it.
There are heavy hearts here today. This community of people called Turning Leaf have been deeply impacted by Brian’s loss. But there is also a resolute determination. These caring, community members – members of Brian’s community – have regarded this as a challenge. If Brian can change, then the rest of our participants can experience empowering change as well.
Barkley J. Engel, M.A. – CEO
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