Rick’s Gift

For months I had been telling my wife, Wendy, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue to be married. It seemed, at the time, the only way I could hold off telling the truth of what was really going on for me.

She and I sat quiet on that Saturday morning in March of 1988 in Calgary; it was the blare of a telephone ring that shattered the silence. As I picked up the phone, my Aunt, the most devoutly Catholic woman I have ever known, sharply asked, “Why didn’t you tell me about Rick?” I can still feel the crush of my knees as I fell to the floor.

Within an hour, and accompanied by my dearest friends, I was taken by the funeral home staff to a desperately quiet room. At the front of it lay the body of my eldest brother Rick. He was draped in a white sheet. “Is this your brother, Ricky Bruce Dolan?” quizzed the Funeral Director.

Rick would be the second of ten children, which Dorothy and James (our parents) brought into the world, to die. None of us were around for Mom and Dad’s first, Dorothy, to pass on after surviving only five days. Plus, it was the 1930’s.

Rick was the most accomplished of the Dolan Tribe; that’s the name Mom used to describe her children. He was Calgary’s football star and shone brightest in most athletic endeavours he chose. He was a brother, uncle, nephew, father and firefighter. He also had a secret.

Rick and I, although best of friends, seemed to embroil ourselves in this pretence of who could be the most perfect in the family. Each of us knew exactly what it was that made the chase of perfection so elusive. Yet, it seemed, no one else did.

Rick was alcoholic and I was gay; those were our secrets. The family, like most dysfunctional families particularly with alcoholism, did everything it could to make sure no one knew Rick’s secret. If I had named Rick’s, he might have named mine. With such shame for my gay self, there was no way I’d whisper a word.

I listened to Rick tell me one day; without naming what he was talking about, he said, “You have no idea what it is like to yearn for something you can never have.” I sensed it was alcohol he spoke about. I did know the yearning. Mine was the love of a boy.

When I went to the rooming house where Rick died, after getting the key from the Police, to clear out his things I was stunned to find drafts of a letter he had partially completed to his two sons.

Rick had asked Wendy and I to come visit him at a halfway house just before Christmas in 1987. He shared with me that he had been trying to write to his sons. He simply wanted to communicate how sorry he was for not raising them and to tell them part of his truth about who he was. He did not want to keep the secret from his boys anymore. It would be the last time I saw him.

So here were drafts, practice letters, which I thought he had never finished. My story was that he got really close to sharing a part of himself he hid for so long, but didn’t quite make it. The letters were never completed and never sent, so I thought.

My tale about not wanting to be married intensified after Rick’s death. I wasn’t sure why, but it did. It was so unfair of me, but it was the only thing I thought I could do. It was clear; my secret was still safe, yet one Dolan was dead.

As I grieved the loss of my brother and attempted to make sense of how close he got to finding joy in life, I suddenly wondered about those letters. I remembered him telling me, “I’m going to practice writing them and perhaps one day I’ll mail them.” I had learned not to listen to the promises of an alcoholic. Yet something stirred inside me.

Unbeknownst to me, I was seeking some relief from the torture of pretending to extend the cover up of being married to a woman, and being gay. So one day I found myself calling Rick’s first wife and before I could ask, she said, “The boys received the letter from Rick, just days before you told us he had died.”

When the forensic report came back detailing the levels of every substance in Rick’s body, the one ingredient missing was alcohol. Rick died sober. I was so proud of him.

Rick died finding joy in telling his sons how sorry he was for not raising them and that he was challenged by alcohol. Rick, it seemed, chose joy and told the truth.

It was overwhelming to learn of these additional details and allow their meaning to seep into my heart. What began as a whisper in my head, that perhaps I could come out by telling my truth to the world, was quickly moving to a commitment in my heart.

My big brother told his truth. He did what was the most difficult thing he could ever think of doing. He found joy in his life I thought he’d missed.

I received Rick’s gift. He inspired me to choose joy. To tell my truth. In August of 1988 I sat with Wendy to tell her I was gay. Thank you, Rick. I love you.


About Thomas Kevin Dolan Coaching

Thomas Kevin Dolan, Master Integrative Coach Professional™ has, for close to a decade, coached or advised everyday folks who need a gentle reminder to get out of their own way. People – such as athletes, high-profile executives, parents, siblings, couples, artists, activists, those pretending to know, those willing to not know, entrepreneurs, and seekers of ease, effortlessness and grace – who wish to effectively and successfully participate in a healthy relationship with themselves, and with others they value. Thomas and his work has been featured on HealingPodTV, Yinstill Reproductive Wellness, and The Ford Institute for Transformational Training. He has also been featured in major publications such as Xtra West, Business In Vancouver, Living Out Vancouver and Out In Singapore. He resides in Vancouver, British Columbia and Honolulu, Hawaii. Magic exists in his life because he knows that which he seeks is already seeking him, and he allows wisdom to have its way.
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4 Responses to Rick’s Gift

  1. Cate LaBarre says:

    Your words touch me more deeply than I can express fully at this moment. The “S” word. Secrets. Thank you for sharing how liberating it is to be free of our secrets.

  2. Volker says:

    We all have our demons that we must face and come to terms with in our own way and in our own time. Seems you have done it!

    My mother had looked for me to marry and have children so she could have more grandchildren to look forward too. If I did as was expected, that would have been the case but I chose not to live a lie nor have a partner that was living one as well. No one would have been happy and joyous, least of all me. Truth is a far better choice!

    Thomas, I’m glad you found the way that works the best for you! Awesome!!!

  3. marilynphilp says:

    I don’t know why I am doing this. I went to st Francis with Rick and like many others was totally infatuated with Rick. I was Marilyn Mcbride and reading your blog I feel your writing about my own family. all the same dynamics large Irish catholic family. poverty alcoholic violence sexual abuse. I was devastated by the death of Rick and still am to this day. the old saying that to whom so much is given so much is expected. I am so glad that you rose above your environment to nourish humanity. your a true inspiration.

    • Hello Marilyn… Thank you for reaching out. It’s comforting to know that writing this blog not only contributes to my healing, but it contributes & resonates on many levels with your family experience. It feels good knowing that someone else survived the wackiness. Rick touched a lot of hearts. Thank you for sharing, with me, the connection you had to him. He was my hero. His secret with alcoholism & my secret with being gay made for a powerful connection between he & I. My world still feels a little empty because my oldest brother is not here to guide me. He was such a sweetheart. I feel him all the time & there are moments when I hear his gentle voice. His absence only gets more familiar, I miss him dearly. He dear some great work in his life before he left. He found the courage to apologize to his boys & share his truth with them about who he was before he died. I am so proud of him for being so courageous. Thank you for the lovely sentiment about rising above the environment. All of those times with my family & the many difficult situations have added up to me being who I am today. A man with courage, strength, conviction, vulnerability & a desire to express gratitude for all those that have gone before me. I send you a blessing for continued healing & a gentle reminder of the strength that you are.

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