Donald Reaches Out to His Lost Brother Over Christmas 2011 Article originally printed in London Free Press, Dec 24, 2011
Any day I wake up above ground, I’m happy. I know too many dead men and women walking.
My youngest brother, Erik, who’s been living off and on the streets of Vancouver for over two decades, is one such person.
My family hasn’t seen him in 14 years.
A couple of years ago, I wanted to donate some money to the Kettle Friendship Society that feeds the homeless in Vancouver like my brother.
Unfortunately, around that time and the last time I spoke to my brother (when he called collect from a phone booth), he told me he was banned from “the Kettle” because of fighting with another guest. So it didn’t make sense to send them money when he couldn’t even get in the door to benefit from their services.
So I thought of something else. The Palace Theatre on Dundas St. was continuing its restoration process. They were refurbishing seats at $200 a pop. My brother’s name is on one of those seats now — a small plaque. I wanted him to somehow have something permanent, something to say: Yes, you were here; you matter.
Or was it me who wanted, needed something permanent?
That’s what you do when you have a loved one you can’t reach, someone who lives on a street with no name. You crave something tangible. Well, you do during the moments that aren’t spent dreading an imaginary phone call that will tell you somebody found his/her body.
Erik’s life on the street actually began soon after a very real call I received in 1982, when he was 15.
“Your brother took an overdose of drugs and is barely hanging on to life. We’ve transported him to a London hospital. Meanwhile, I would prepare funeral arrangements.”
It’s difficult to describe the 29 years since that moment. A perpetual suicide watch. It’s unfortunate too many know exactly how my family feels. It’s like walking around with a knife in your heart. You laugh, you live, but it’s always there.
So imagine my joy when I recently received an e-mail from a Living Waters Mission minister in Vancouver telling me she had seen Erik.
“He is not well, but he is alive. He is staying at a hotel.”
By an odd coincidence, that same weekend I attended the University of Western Ontario’s musical South Pacific. These words kept ringing thereafter in my head:
Once you have found him,
Never let him go.
I contacted Gloria, this minister, or “angel” as I see her, and asked, “If I send you a money order, would you treat yourself and Erik to the biggest buffet dinner you can find in Vancouver?”
Well, she wrote me just last night. She took my brother to Uncle Willy’s in Burnaby. She didn’t tell him until he was done his meal that I had arranged it and thankfully, rather than be upset, he was thrilled.
Remember I mentioned craving something tangible?
Gloria sent an attachment: a photograph of my brother sitting across from her in the restaurant toasting her.
The first photograph we have of our brother in 14 years.
Erik is still a prisoner of his own war. But this year is yet another he hasn’t been declared a casualty.