(Editor’s note: each year we observe the holidays with this commentary by the former Minister of State for Science & Technology. When first published December 17, 2012 it drew overwhelming response from readers as the best Christmas essay they’d read — though it touches only peripherally on Christmas itself, makes no mention of Santa or the birth of Christ, and involves a boy most of us never met. We publish it again now, and every Christmas to come)
My son Bruno was going bowling with his friends.
It was Friday, December 20, 1996, the last day of school before the holidays. I saw them off at 5:40 that evening and went to Canadian Tire for some Christmas shopping. On my way out of the store a hot dog vendor said, “Did you see the police lights? There must have been an accident.” And I replied, “Isn’t that a shame – just before Christmas.”
The police called the house later that evening. Bruno was 14, the youngest passenger in the car. He was killed with a friend. Another boy survived with permanent brain damage. The driver, a 17-year old I knew to be responsible, was not injured but has relived the accident many times. They were all wearing seatbelts. They’d just had a bite at McDonald’s; maybe they were excited school was over for the holidays; maybe the music was a little too loud. They made a bad left turn at a busy intersection and collided with a fuel truck. The impact blasted the car apart.
You try to find purpose to this. That was a struggle for us. God and I have had many arguments on this one.
After the funeral, after the visits stop, this is when the grief set in. Six weeks after the accident I was at my brother-in-law’s home and spent the whole evening talking about Bruno. I needed to talk about him. But people don’t know how to respond.
The tragedy of losing a child can be unbearable. Parents feel guilt, and many families suffer a terrible strain. We found a lifeline at Bereaved Families of Ontario. There, parents come together in openness, empathy and understanding. I urge anyone who suffers the loss of a child to reach out to this group.
You would have loved Bruno.
He was gorgeous like his mother, and a Grade 8 Athlete of the Year. The girls liked him because he was kind and good-looking and athletic, and the bullies respected him because the girls liked him.
Bruno had a good heart.
Once in Grade 7 we received a call from his principal: “Bruno is eating at the Breakfast Food Program, and we know your family doesn’t need it.” I asked Bruno about this at home. Do you know what he said? “I go because I have friends who need breakfast and are too embarrassed to go themselves; if I don’t join them they won’t eat.”
Bruno played house league hockey, as captain or assistant captain. Just before the accident there was an incident in a game; he led a rush on goal, and right out of the blue Bruno back-passed to a teammate who’d never scored, and he popped the puck in the net. At the funeral that boy’s father came up and thanked us.
This year my wife Judite undertook a pilgrimage for Bruno. She walked 225 kilometres along the El Camino in Spain, in the footsteps of one of the Apostles. Conditions were rugged: steep hills, 40-degree heat. Then something odd happened.
All along the trail, day after day, there were red rosebushes – always red, in town after town. On May 28th she called home: “You won’t believe it; I walked into a village and saw a yellow rosebush.” They were the only yellow roses she saw in all of Spain.
It was Bruno’s birthday. Yellow was his favourite colour.