People receive gifts all the time, often never understanding what the other person had to sacrifice in order to give them. A gift given from the heart can be many things—a box of chocolates, a visit from someone you haven’t seen in a while, a huge bear-hug…or gifts that have no other explanation but that they are gifts from God or the Universe.
My brother, Jason, always loved gifts. I remember his excitement at opening up a Christmas or birthday present, the sparkle in his eyes as he hoped it was exactly what he wanted and not a pair of underwear or socks. He’d rip into the wrapping paper, even as an adult in his twenties. There was no thought of recycling for him. And he always gave us the biggest hugs afterward. In the past few years, when it came to giving gifts, he was either in no position financially or he simply forgot because of his social and mental situation. We always understood and the only presents we expected from him was maybe his presence.
Then in January, 2006, his birthday month, Jason left us more gifts than we ever expected.
It started with a book. My book. Whale Song was published in 2003 and months afterward, possibly even the following year, I mailed Jason a copy. I never knew what impact that book would have on the events that would later come.
But I digress. Jason’s story really starts many years before this one event. Jason’s story starts the night I dreamt my mother was pregnant. The night I dreamt she would bring a baby home in a green, pink and white blanket. Pink being more a girl’s color, I envisioned a beautiful red-headed girl. I was wrong on one account. Jason wasn’t a girl.
Jason Anthony Kaye was born in
Bermuda and kissed by a tropical sun. God gave him copper ringlets and a cherubic face…and the temperament of a little devil at times. (God does have a sense of humor.) Jason was the ‘golden child’ in more than physical ways. Sure, he was a pest at times—especially to me and my brother, Derek. We were so much older, but we loved that little pest. And he knew it.
Jason was the chubby kid at school who got picked on. I can relate so well because I was the first Kaye child to see that side of childhood. Jason overcame the weight issue at an early age, partly with my help but mostly on his own. And I was so proud of him. He overcame many things. But then his ‘demons’ called—in the form of peer pressure, alcohol and eventually drugs.
And he slowly began to slip away from us. We lost him…and we never got him back.
My brother, Jason, became an
Edmonton street person—one of the invisible people that we turn away from in fear, disgust, incomprehension, and shame. He lived in an area of the city that makes you want to lock your doors—especially at night. He lived in a one-room apartment in a rundown boarding house. He lived on social assistance. He lived a life of alcohol, middleman drug dealing and he was often beaten up. But the key is—he lived.
Almost two years ago, Jason called my mother after many months of silence and she invited him to dinner. He brought his girlfriend. And for the first time, my mother felt she had her son back. He was full of life and humor, and there was an air of hopefulness and possibility. It was a beautiful time, a time my mother will always remember. That was Jason’s gift to my mother.
He called me a few months ago. It was late and he had been drinking. On this particular night, he still seemed able to comprehend, so I took my phone into my office and talked to him. Jason said he was sorry. Sorry for his life, sorry for his choices, sorry for everything. I knew at the time it was heartfelt and sincere. But I also knew that he didn’t know how to stop it. He asked if I forgave him and I did. I do. And because the message of Whale Song is ‘forgiveness sets you free’, and because I included that message after my parents’ divorce and partly for Jason anyway, I told him he had to do something as well. Jason had to learn to forgive himself. I don’t know if he did. I hope so. But in case he didn’t have time to, I forgive him. My family forgives him. And that is more than enough forgiveness to set him free. That call was maybe my gift to Jason, but also a gift from him.
In December 2005, my father had a heart attack. He survived but was left with weeks to recuperate. Thankfully, he had his wife, Dianne, to nurse him. But he needed much more than that. He needed a peaceful healing place. And he got it in the form of an email that dropped from Heaven into my lap. An email from a man I had never met who owned a B&B close to my Dad. Bernard Vincent, owner of the Qualicum Bay Bed & Breakfast, contacted me because he somehow came across my name. I am a writer—no one famous or on New York Times best selling list, just a self-published author with a passion to write. Bernard was looking for help in promoting his B&B to the writing and arts community. And for some strange reason, he chose me.
I met Bernard for coffee in a Starbucks in
, just outside of Sherwood Park . But before he arrived, I noticed a police officer sitting by himself across from my table. His uniform said NYC Police, and that sparked my curiosity. So me being the ‘investigative reporter’ type, I had to ask. The man had been to Edmonton —I believe he said for a conference. So I took it a step further and told him I was writing a crime series and that sometimes I needed a source to verify my facts. Things like what kinds of guns do the police in New York City use. And yes, I asked this in the middle of a Starbucks while other customers were enjoying their coffee and wondering what to make for dinner. The detective gave me his contact information, and I thanked him and tucked it into my purse. Then Bernard showed up. Canada
Bernard’s B&B turned into a Godsend. While helping him promote his wonderful place, he gifted me with a free stay. Unable to get away, I asked if my father who was recuperating from a heart attack could stay on my behalf. And Bernard, being the awesome person that he is, said yes. My father and Dianne stayed there off and on in the first three weeks of January. I was so grateful that my father was able to relax. And even more so, now that I know what was to come next. The B&B was a miraculous healing place, and I believe it was Jason’s gift to my father.
January 23, 2006, two nicely dressed men knocked at my door. It was voting day so I assumed they were politicians. As I opened the door, one of the men greeted me and flipped his badge. I thought, “Is this how politicians are getting into people’s houses now?” They said they needed to speak to me and asked if they could come in. So I let them into my empty house—my daughter Jessica was at the mall, my exchange student, Akari, was just leaving and my husband was at work. As they took off their shoes, my husband, Marc, pulled up in the driveway. The odd thing was that it was early afternoon, he had a trainee with him and he had a few hours until his next job. The trainee stayed outside while Marc joined me. So, my daughter was out and my husband was with me. These were Jason’s gifts to me.
The men were police detectives. I knew from the moment they asked to come inside that something was terribly wrong. And although my family and I had often talked of the day, I actually had flickering thoughts. Maybe they were here because of the mysterious vehicles that had been reported in our area…maybe they were here because something had happened to Jessica. When I couldn’t stand the wait, I said, “I need to know what this is about.” And Detective Campeau said, “Do you have a brother named Jay?” My heart sunk immediately. It dropped to my feet and exploded. And I knew that the day we all had imagined and dreaded…had finally arrived.
Jason was dead.
My brother, Jason, was murdered in the early morning on
January 23rd, 2006. I can’t go into details, but he was injured and left alone to die in a back alley in downtown . The police had tracked me down through my book—Whale Song. Jason’s friends didn’t know my last name. All they knew was that Jason had a sister who lived on the south side of Edmonton and who wrote a “book about whales”. Jason’s gift to them and us was that the police were able to track me down on such limited information. Edmonton
The detectives offered to contact my mother in Vancouver, my father in
and my other brother, Derek, in Victoria . But I knew I had to do it. This was my family. They should not hear about Jason from a complete stranger. There was no choice in my mind. After the detectives left, I broke down and grieved with my husband. Then I made him go back to work so that I could prepare for what lay ahead. I called my best friend, Shannon, and she was here in minutes. Trenton Shannon is the closest thing I have ever had to a sister, and I had gone many years without the close relationship of a best friend...until last year when I met her. She listened and talked and hugged me and let me cry. But most importantly, she helped me to prepare for the phone calls to my family. Shannon was one of Jason’s gifts.
Those three phone calls were the most awful—the most difficult ones—I have ever had to make and I pray to God I never have to make them again. It nearly killed me to tell my mother that her baby, her beautiful son, was dead. And it hurt so much to tell her how. My mother and I now share the most horrible of bonds—we have both lost our beautiful sons. This is something no mother and daughter should ever have to share. Luckily my mother’s sister, Paula, was with her when I gave her the news. That was one of Jason’s gifts.
Two days later, one of the detectives took me to the scene. I stood in that alley, thinking what a sad place to die. I left a small bouquet of flowers on the ground. The next stop was Jason’s apartment. A one-room dingy apartment in a boarding house run by a woman who, when I called her to make arrangements to get Jason’s things, said “Who’s gonna pay me what he owes? I lent him money.” Thankfully, the police escorted me to his room and I was able to collect some precious things. They have no monetary value—none of his belongings do—but they are gifts he left us.
The first thing I saw was a small pile of CD’s. On the top was an Enya CD. My mother and I had just mentioned the day before how much Jason had loved Enya…how he had hooked my mother…and all of us, for that matter. I knew that Jason had left this gift for my mother. Beside it was a stack of books and one spine immediately caught my eye. He still had Whale Song…my first book. A gift for me. Later, we noticed that one of the CD’s was for Derek …because Derek, Debbie, Marc and I had gone to see the DJ on the album last time they were in
. A gift for Derek. I gathered all the CD’s and books and put them in a pile on the bed. Edmonton
Then I found some photographs in a drawer beside his bed. Most were of his girlfriend K.C., whom I had never met. Some were of Jason. I added the photos to the pile. I spotted a small framed picture of Edwin, my nephew… Jason’s nephew. I knew that Derek would like to know that Jason thought of Edwin, even though he had never met him. That was a gift to Derek.
In the drawer I also found a bible, the AA handbook and an AA coin. I believe this shows Jason was trying. He was seeking a way out. I added these to the pile. Then I prayed for a last gift from Jason for each of us. I found a beautiful little basket for my mother, a huge coffee mug for my father (with a ‘message’ that he’s to only use it for water), a baseball cap for Derek, a gargoyle figure for Jessica, and a mug for Edwin and Zoë.
Jason’s room was littered with computer parts. They were everywhere…in drawers, on counters, tables and floor. This was a gift to us all. Although there was nothing really salvageable, he left us with a sense of peace in knowing that he had gone back to his original passion—computers. According to his best friend, Glenn, the two of them would go “dumpster-diving” for parts. Then Jason would build computers and sell them. It is somehow satisfying to know that he found some enjoyment in an otherwise rough life.
As a result of his death, we were led to many of Jason’s friends…ones who live the same lifestyle. We spent time listening to stories of Jason, stories of putting his stinky feet up on Glenn’s table, stories of Jason coming home in the middle of the night and yelling “WAAAHHHH!”, stories of Jason cooking meals for the entire house. Perhaps this was Jason’s biggest gift…he left us with the knowledge that he had never really been all alone as we had thought. He had a close circle of friends—his family. And he was blessed by them and he blessed them. And he had never forgotten us, never blamed us and always loved us.
On the day of the viewing, I decided to keep my last memories of my brother and stay home. There were still things that needed to be organized before everyone returned to my house.
Shannon picked up the food for me and kept me company. Eventually she had to leave, and I dreaded that I would be home alone with nothing to do but think. But another of Jason’s gifts knocked at my door. It was Andrew, one of Jason’s friends from elementary school. So I never had to worry about being alone after all. Jason took care of me. Shortly afterward, my friends, Bobbi and Rus, arrived.
Later, my family returned from the viewing and we remembered my brother, Jason, with stories and tears. Apparently, even in death, Jason had a sense of humor. My mother told me that he looked just the way she remembered him. His mouth had formed his usual mischievous smirk. And for a moment, she half-expected him to open his eyes, sit up and crack a joke.
Yes, my brother was a prankster, a terrible tease and wickedly humorous. That was more evident when we took a closer look at the books he had left us. One book was The Mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls Revealed; another was Golf: How to Look Good When You’re Not. And then one title made my heart skip a beat. Lazarus .For those who may not recall or know, Lazarus was the man in the bible who rose from the dead. I couldn’t hold back a laugh as I absorbed the title, and without thinking, I muttered, “Jason, don’t you dare!”
There have been few leads and we have no idea what the outcome of the investigation will be. I learned afterward that the #2 investigator on Jason’s case was none other than the officer I had met at Starbucks just weeks before. Coincidence or another of Jason’s gifts? Who knows? But instead of worrying about the investigation, I am holding onto the best thing about Jason —his ability to make people laugh. From his impressions of drunken Haida Indians, to the message he left on my parents’ answering machine telling people (in an Sikh Indian accent) that Mary and Larry couldn’t answer the phone because they had gone on a camel ride, to his “Pardon me…said the blind man to the three-headed goat” after he burped, my brother always knew how to get a laugh.
To my brother, I say, “Jason, while you’re up there, give Sebastien and Grandma Hanna a huge hug, and since there is no grief up there we can assume your feet smell like roses now. Oh, and one final thing… Jason, don’t make an ash out of yourself!”
Yes, gifts can arrive in many forms, from unexpected places or people. Countless emails, cards and phone calls poured in after Jason’s death, and we all learned that we were not alone in loving Jason. His life, albeit short, had affected many people in positive ways. And it still does.
So, I thank my brother for the most precious gift of all—the gift of Jason Anthony Kaye.
~ * ~
When the 2007 edition of Whale Song came out, a percentage of my royalties went to three Edmonton non-profits, including Hope Mission, where they held a memorial one year later for all people killed on the streets of Edmonton. The 2007 print edition of Whale Song is now out of print, but you can buy the Kindle 2003 edition on Amazon.com.
If Jason's story touched you in any way, I'd appreciate it if you would consider donating to Hope Mission through their website at http://www.hopemission.com.
Merry Christmas, and hold your loved ones close this year. Have a safe and happy holiday!
~Cheryl Kaye Tardif