Note: this story was originally published in the Globe and Mail.Our son, Danny, was born on a cold winter day, one that did not foretell the warmth that he would bring to all who knew him. As the youngest of three brothers, he had to learn to make his place in the family. His parents first got the idea that he was a bit different when, asked what he would like for his third birthday, he replied, “A cactus.”
Danny’s big heart made him sensitive, both to people and to the world around him. It was this sensitivity that made him so creative. He learned to play guitar, both acoustic and electric, and drums; to write lyrics; and later, much to the surprise of his family, to sing beautifully. He often provided vocals in jam sessions with his friends, one of his favourite pastimes.
While in high school in Edmonton, he came out. Of course, his brothers and friends knew long before his parents were told. But even with an accepting family, being gay means facing adversity.
Around the same time, Danny discovered a passion for cooking and began working in restaurants, including Edmonton’s Fairmont Hotel MacDonald. He was inspired and encouraged by the talented chefs with whom he worked, and in 2011 graduated with a diploma in culinary arts from the Art Institute of Vancouver.
Cooking is a tough business, with long hours and high stress levels. Only those with a true passion for the trade, like Danny, stick with it. He had an uncanny ability to come into a kitchen, take whatever was in the fridge, and make a superb, original, tasty meal – although leftovers were guaranteed, as he could only cook in restaurant quantities.
Danny struggled with anxiety and depression, but his parents only learned three years ago about his addiction to opiates. Although unwarranted, the guilt he felt about hurting his family and friends was in conflict with his good nature and compassion for others. He sought and received counselling and support at many levels, especially from his family.
He worked hard to sort out his life and made many very positive inroads, at times two steps forward, at others one step back. In the months before his death, Danny worked full time at one of the best restaurants in Edmonton, re-established close ties with his supportive friends; and moved into his own apartment. But the monkey on his back was never completely tamed and ultimately overcame him. He did not want to leave any of us, nor did he want to hurt anyone.
Danny liked to keep things simple, and did not care for material things. He loved listening to and making music, cycling, longboarding, bowling, enjoying CBC Radio, seeing good movies, reading the paper with his morning coffee and, above all, sharing a good conversation and laughs with people around a table. He did not hold grudges, nor did he have a single mean bone in his body. His heart was just too big for that.
Petra is a founding member of mumsDU. To find out more about her work in drug policy reform and harm reduction, visit: www.petraschulz.com/