Tomorrow, January 15, 2011, is my brother's birthday. He'll be 33. Sadly, Jason is not alive to celebrate it. Though this day is always bittersweet with memories of a freckle-faced, copper-haired younger brother with a goofy sense of humor, it is also a day when I recall some very special gifts my brother gave me--AFTER his death.
Jason's Gifts: part 1
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 later. 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 Sherwood Park, just outside of Edmonton. 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 New York City—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 Canada 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.
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.
On 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...