This is a repost of a special tribute I wrote for my brother and appeared on my previous blog. I wanted to post it again. Thanks for indulging me.
Today would have been my brother’s forty-eighth birthday. At the tender age of twenty-one, he died much too soon.
As tragedies go, Kirk’s young life was punctuated with struggles and awkward growth. He was the middle child of us three, adopted as a baby. My mother was told she would never have children again after several miscarriages and my parents began adopting. My eldest brother first, then Kirk when she found out she was pregnant with me. I was born one year and seventeen days after Kirk’s birthday. She had three children all under three by the time she was 36. Fun times, I’m sure.
Kirk was always the most mischievous and curious of us three. Dark haired and deep brown eyes, his coloring matched that of my eldest brother and my mother, but with my flame of red hair and pale skin, I was mistaken for the adopted kid.
Kirk’s journey into academia was, to put it mildly, just awful. He was put into what was called ‘Special Ed’ in those days for his poor reading and writing skills. He just didn’t have any. School was the catalyst that set his behavior into spiraling temper tantrums and downright defiance. His esteem suffered with every failing grade and the segregation of Special Ed only served to feed his negative self-image.
By the time Kirk had hit his teens, he was functionally illiterate. He had basically dropped out of high school at 14. He could take anything apart and put it back together again…maybe not in exact working order, and there may have been some random pieces left over, but for all intents and purposes, it was together. His behavior had escalated to new and frightening heights and he was relegated to a group home in Dover, a country town outside of Chatham, for a period of time; a life altering event for him, but also in my young eyes. He transformed from a troubled youth to a caring socially contributing member of society in the mere few months of living there. I remember visiting him at the group home when I was thirteen. The people who worked at the home presented a whole different perspective than the troubled difficult youth he had been known to be. He was responsible for chores. He chopped wood, cleaned rooms, mentored other youth in the home. He was learning to read, getting some perspective on his behavior and learning the meaning of the word ‘respect’. I instantly felt a kinship to the people who had made such an enormous impact on my brother. Kirk was discharged from the home a few months later, deemed ready to return home. He returned to a sick father, dying of cancer and a distraught mother. His behavior flailed, but the people from the home were instantly at our house when my Dad got the news he had cancer. He died that September and Kirk reeled. We all did.
The high school years were difficult with Kirk hardly attending and his absences felt. There were run-ins with police, and a few harmless asides but he was struggling. Then he got a job. The local bowling alley hired him to take bookings and bowl on the local team. He was good. He worked hard and met a girl who ran the snack bar. She helped him with his reading and writing since taking bookings meant he was forced to write people’s names. They became inseparable and she became his constant. A few years later I graduated high school and was embarking on my own journey to head to Toronto for school. I had decided I wanted to be one of those people who had helped Kirk find his way when he was at the group home a few years previous. I applied to a college in Toronto for the Child and Youth Worker program and was accepted. That Christmas, he gave his girl a ring and moved out into his own apartment. My eldest brother had moved on a few years previous, going to university in Thunder Bay and making a life with his then girl, now wife. My mother moved from our townhouse we had lived in for fifteen years and moved into a brand new co-op going up on the opposite side of town.
The year had proved to be a good one for Kirk. He had a job, had a girl and a new apartment. His relationship with my mother, rocky at times, was beginning to mend itself into a more mother/adult-son union. I came home from Toronto a couple of times during my first year and we were able to see each other. He was proud of me for taking a big step to Toronto and me of him for his big step into adult-hood. In our last conversation I remember teasing him that I was getting older. He said I would always be his little sister.
The following fall, with the help of his girl, he bought a brand new motorcycle. It was fast and big, but he was not licensed to ride it on the main roads of town. He decided to take it out on the back roads for a bit of fun and to test it out. He took a buddy who had his own bike and off they went. Never taking anything slow, Kirk rode that bike down a dirt road, took a turn too fast and hit a rut in the road. He flew off the bike and into a hydro pole. He was killed instantly. Yes, he was wearing his helmet.
I was telephoned the news while in Toronto just beginning my second year of college. I got home the following day. The ensuing days are still a bit of a blur. I remember Thanksgiving was the same weekend as the funeral and we went to my Aunt and Uncle’s for dinner. A joyous reprieve from the tragedy at our feet, I remember laughing at the dinner table. The next day was Kirk’s funeral. The air was fraught with tragic despair and mourning for a life taken too soon. I remember riding to the grave site and looking behind me at the procession. There were so many cars that I could not see the end of the line.
It is true that Kirk had impacted a lot of people in his short life. Despite his difficulties, he proved to be a young man with heart and abilities that were not clearly defined, but were budding as he edged further and further into adulthood. I graduated in my program and worked with kids like Kirk until I began having my own. Life comes full circle and again, I have been presented with working with young adults burgeoning into their own path and learning to work with the challenges that have been bestowed upon them. I feel his presence when I sit down to work with another student flailing in the wind of Learning Disabilities and I know he approves. He greatly contributed to what I do and who I am without even knowing the impact of his life on mine. He is missed.
Happy Birthday, Kirk.
July 5, 1965 – October 2nd, 1986