"Where do you even start? Bear was a very energetic, very loving kid. Everything he did, he just had fun with it." - Patrick Brzozowski
When I asked Patrick and Stacy Brzozowski to describe their son, that's the first thing they said.
"He was always full of energy, constantly moving, on the go, doing stuff," Patrick said.
"Probably because he knew his life was short," Stacy said.
Bear is also known as Jacob Eli Brzozowski, but to anyone who knew him, he was just Bear, or Bear, born July 21, 2008.
That sweet, lovable, blond-hair, blue-eyed 4-year-old died April 16, leaving his parents and baby sister, Eva, with a loss that is just incomprehensible.
Bear was one of my son Henry's first friends. Henry and I met Stacy and Bear at Boob School, otherwise known as the Breastfeeding Support Group at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center.
Stacy and Bear and Laura Ames, with her son, Kevin, started Little Explorers, a group of friends who get together socially for all kinds of events - hikes, walks, trips or just play dates. I've been fortunate to be part of this group since it began, and to know such wonderful women and their children. Were it not for this group, Henry and I would not have some of the friends we do.
Patrick and Stacy don't know how Bear died. One week he was happy-go-lucky without a care in the world, and the next he was at University of Maryland Medical Center Pediatric Intensive Care Unit heavily sedated. He'd suffered seizures and his brain swelled. Test after test was done, but what caused that to happen is still a mystery. An autopsy was done, but it may never give Pat and Stacy the answers they're looking for.
But even if it did, they're not sure it would give them any closure.
Instead, they're focused on their memories of Bear.
They talk about how he loved trucks - monster trucks, dump trucks, little Hot Wheels or Matchbox trucks. It didn't matter. He even build his own.
He loved to ride his bike. By the time he was 3 1/2, he "took off on a two-wheeler," Stacy said. In a Chesapeake BMX race, he won second place in his first race and first place in just his second race.
He loved the game Rock Band, and the drums. And he always wanted to be outside, even if it was 50 degrees and raining.
And he was an amazing big brother, who was three years older than 18-month-old Eva.
"He loved his sister so much. Even though he could be rough with her, he always found a way to make her laugh," Patrick said.
"He shared everything with her, and now she's doing that," Stacy said.
"He taught her so much in those 18 months. He definitely lives on in her," Patrick said.
They're proud parents, proud of how many lives Bear touched in just a few years. So many people are offering help for the family, they're overwhelmed with pride that "he affected all these people who want to help."
"We're really moved by how many lives he actually touched. We never realized it until now. People are inspired by how we raised him," Patrick said. "I'm proud of what we accomplished with him."
Patrick and Stacy have a mountain of medical bills from Bear's three weeks of hospitalization and litany of tests, plus their regular bills. Both of them were out of work for three weeks, and if they don't work, they don't get paid.
"But we were not leaving his side no matter what, even if we lost the house," Stacy said.
Several fundraisers have been planned for the family. A silent auction was held at the Bel Air Athletic Club, where Bear went to pre-school. And this Sunday, May 19, is the "Walk for Bear" tribute and fundraiser, being organized by some of the moms in Bear's class.
"I want to do this because this touched me deeply. Bear and my son were in the same preschool class and we are a pretty close-knit group. As we spent the year together, we get to know the moms, dads and the kids," Cathy Frattali said. "I helped every Friday so I get really involved. Bear's story touched us all as it could have been anyone of our children. A tragedy like this that seems to have no reason is all the more heart-breaking.
"We wanted to do a walk as a fundraiser for Bear to celebrate his love of the outdoors. Stacy and their family embrace living life to the fullest. Bear touched so many lives and he had such a sparkle and contagious energy. Bear deserves to be remembered and celebrated in a way that brings families and nature together. We hope that everyone joins us on Sunday to help show our and support for the family," Frattali said.
The walk is from 10 a.m. to noon at Jerusalem Mill. Tickets are $20 a person, $30 a couple and $40 for a family.
Chris and the kids and I will be there Sunday, and I would encourage everyone to try and come walk.
We'll also be eating at Chick-fil-A in Forest Hill, 1980 Rock Spring Road, on Tuesday, June 4, sometime between 4 and 9 p.m., when the proceeds from ticketed sales that night will be donated by Chick-fil-A to Bear's family. (You must have a flier to have the proceeds donated. Anyone who needs one can contact me and I will gladly e-mail it to you.)
I would encourage anyone who can to help out Bear's family during what has got to be the most difficult times they'll ever face in their lives. It's not something I can even begin to understand. All I can do is lend a hand, and an ear when necessary, and perhaps some paper.
Patrick, Stacy and Eva are doing what they can to deal with the loss of their son. They have good times and bad times.
"We miss him, miss having new memories," Patrick said. "But at the same time we're happy to have brought him into this world. I think every day he had a happy day. At the end of the day he was always smiling, and that makes me smile."
And they would say to all parents: "Don't take any moment for granted. You never know when it's going to end. You never get those moments back."