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Opinion Half of what I say is meaningless...

Discussion in 'Breaking News' started by Archived_Member16, Mar 10, 2013.

  1. Archived_Member16

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    Jan 7, 2005
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    Half of what I say is meaningless ...

    Shaminder Brar led a tragic life. Her death, the result of a hit-and-run, is the final tragedy for her family

    He moves through the crowd like a shadow.

    "Sorry to bother you. Have you seen Sham? Has she been around?"

    People turn to look at him: a man in a baseball hat, his pale eyes scanning the faces at the women's Valentine's Day rally as he stops to ask an acquaintance if she has seen his missing friend.

    The man weaves his way to a small white tent set up beneath a canopy of dripping trees. A woman is speaking into a microphone, decrying violence against women. After some discussion, she lets him use the microphone to repeat his plea.

    "Many of you know Shaminder Brar. ..." Gary Goulet's words boom across the rainy park.

    He says Shaminder has been missing for four days. She hasn't been seen in the park or at the women's drop-in centre across the street. She hasn't picked up her social assistance cheque.

    "I have a bad feeling," he says.

    Shaminder will be found four days later at the side of an Abbotsford road. Although thousands of people will drive past her, she will be alone and unseen for up to 36 hours until someone's eyes are drawn from the road to the ditch by her pink sweater.

    Her death from severe lower body injuries will lead police to conclude she was the victim of a hit and run.

    The case remains unsolved today, almost three weeks later.

    This is Shaminder's story.

    It is as unique as she was, but it is all too common on the streets of this province.

    Gary Goulet saw Shaminder Brar for the first time seven years ago at the Abbotsford Salvation Army. She was sitting on the ground, head in hands. She looked up and they "locked eyes" across the room.

    But she wouldn't talk to him. "She wouldn't have anything to do with me," he says.

    The next day he met her on the street. She let him carry her bag, an old pillowcase stuffed with clothes.

    During the next two months, they "bounced around" together. If he had money he'd take her drinking. For a few days, they camped together behind an abandoned building.

    Both were battling addiction. They did what they thought they had to do to survive the streets.

    One night they ran into each other outside the Salvation Army. The shelter was full. She suggested they crash at her parents' home.

    They took a taxi to a berry farm near the border. Instead of stopping at the farmhouse, she directed the driver to a pickers' shack on the edge of a field.

    As they were getting settled, they heard the sound of a car outside. It was the police.

    Shaminder's father had called to report an intruder, not knowing it was his daughter.

    She spent the night in jail for failing to appear in court on an arson charge. A year earlier, she'd set a hospital bed on fire. She eventually received probation for the offence.

    That night among the raspberry canes, long before he fell in love with her, Goulet caught a glimpse of Sha-minder's life before the streets.

    Years later, when he sees a childhood picture of Shaminder in a purple bhangra dress, he says he always knew she was a princess.

    To her family, she was Pan'an Ji - "sister, with respect."

    Shaminder was the first granddaughter in her extended family, and even after other girls were born, she kept the name.

    "She was very much loved," says her father, Gurmeet Brar. He hides his emotion as he speaks, but it betrays itself in his smile as he watches his two-year-old granddaughter play with a stuffed animal beside her dad. The small girl looks a little like the aunt she's never met.

    A middle child with two brothers, Shaminder had a happy childhood on her family's Abbotsford berry farm. She loved to dance and sometimes taught bhangra to young girls. In her teens, she worked at Dairy Queen. She was smart, excelling in math and science. She went to Rick Hansen Secondary and then the University College of the Fraser Valley.

    An old family photo shows a smiling girl with long dark braids straddling a dirt bike, young raspberry bushes growing in the field behind her.

    The darkness came upon her gradually.

    Her moods began to swing between extremes, recalls her brother Gurvin-der. In her second year of college, she disappeared with a boyfriend. When she returned months later, she was almost unrecognizable. Her family suspected she had been using drugs.

    She was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder.

    Shaminder turned 22 on the day the twin towers were destroyed in New York City.

    A few days later, Gurvinder saw her pacing back and forth in the living room holding a black VHS cover. She eventually sat down on the arm of the couch and stared out the window. When she moved the cover, her brother heard the sound of metal hitting metal.

    He called his father, who asked if he could look at the cover. She handed it to him. Inside, he found five bullets.

    "What are you doing with these?" "Count them. There is one for all of us," she said.

    Shaminder was diagnosed with another mental illness - schizophrenia.

    She was given medication, but often hid the pills or spit them out in the bathroom.

    She began to disappear for days at a time and self-medicated with street drugs. Her father would come across her wandering the farm late at night. One morning at 4 a.m., he found her behind the house near the farm's fuel tanks. She had poured gas over her head and was holding a lighter.

    Her father asked for medical help over and over, begging her doctors: "What do we do?"

    He was told to call the police if she presented an immediate danger to herself or others. Barring that, she had to choose to undergo treatment.

    In the decade following high school, her father estimates she was admitted to hospital almost 100 times. She would be involuntarily committed to the psychiatric ward at Abbotsford hospital for an average of five days before medication brought her disease under control. As soon as she was declared mentally competent, she'd check herself out.

    When Shaminder turned 28, she agreed to attend a long-term treatment centre. She could stay up to a year, but decided she didn't like it and left after two months.

    Feeling they had no other choice, and at the advice of a doctor, her family decided to try the "rock-bottom" approach, cutting ties in the hope she'd eventually seek help.

    Her father began to prepare for the worst: "She will die," he told family and friends. "We can do nothing."

    When the end finally comes, he is shocked nonetheless, his grief shaded with guilt.

    Shaminder's home became the streets and a tiny rented bedroom at the house of a stranger.

    On a recent afternoon the room is cold and grey apart from a pile of colourful stuffed animals.

    "Sorry about the mess," says Gary Stewart, the landlord. "The detectives have been through it all."

    Goulet went on to rent a room at Stewart's house, a one-storey rancher with a large yard shaded by two weeping willows, and Shamind-er came and went. Eventually Stewart let her have the little bedroom off the living room.

    He kept any eye out for her: buying cigarettes (though he's not a smoker himself) and moderating arguments when she fought with Goulet.

    He also began visiting an MLA's office, hoping to tell him Shaminder's story. Like her father, who had previously sought a meeting with the same politician, he wanted to see changes to the mental health act. The secretary knew him by name, but he was never granted a meeting.

    Shaminder also had help from an outreach worker at an Abbotsford drop-in centre called the Warm Zone. Michele Giordano tried several times to get her a place at a Burnaby treatment centre that dealt with mental illness and addiction. The wait list was long, and Shaminder's willingness waned.

    Giordano repeated the same words to her often: "You are worth fighting for."

    Gary Goulet declared his love a year ago.

    He was in a White Rock recovery house, and all he could think about was Shaminder. When she visited, he told her he loved her, and when he got out, he returned to Abbotsford, determined to help her.

    While Goulet was away Shaminder had drifted back to the streets.

    "I asked if she wanted to go back to the house. I told her we were going to fix it up."

    She didn't say much, but a few days later, at 3 a.m., she knocked on the front door. It felt like a happy homecoming.

    "I will never leave you," Goulet told her several times.

    They talked about marriage, but she said her family would never accept him. Then she asked if Goulet would hold her until she fell asleep. It became a familiar routine as they sat in the dark living room, their favourite Beatles song playing softly in the background: Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it just to reach you, Julia . . . .

    On sunny days, Goulet would take Shaminder riding on his moped. She loved to feel the wind on her face.

    "She made me happy. She made me a better person," he says.

    But the fairy tale gave way to reality.

    On Sunday, Feb. 10, Shamind-er and Goulet got into an argument about money. She had been depressed for several days, and Gou-let lost his temper.

    "Leave me the f---alone," he yelled.

    On her way out of the house, Shaminder asked Stewart for a cigarette. He told her "not now."

    Two days passed and both men began to worry about her. She had disappeared before, one time hitching a ride with a truck driver to Edmonton. It was winter, and they'd eventually found her in the hospital.

    On Feb. 12, Goulet flagged down a police car and reported Shaminder missing. On Valentine's Day, he scoured downtown Abbotsford. He stumbled across the rally at Jubilee Park and used the microphone to ask if anyone had seen her.

    Two days later, someone told Abbotsford police Shaminder had been downtown at 8 p.m.

    The next morning began with more hopeful news: a friend told Goulet he'd seen Shaminder at the Abbotsford mental health office. Another friend confirmed it.

    Goulet called the office, but staff told him she hadn't been in.

    "I went from so high to so low," he says. "I yelled that they were lying to me."

    An hour later, he got a call from his landlord telling him two police officers were on their way to see him.

    "I thought, all right, I got through to them, they're coming down here and we're going to go to mental health and get this all sorted out. We're going to find her."

    "Gary, we found a body," the officers said.

    Shaminder was officially identified two days later.

    Abbotsford police have no indication her death was anything but a hit and run.

    Police believe she was killed sometime between Feb. 16 at 8 p.m. and Feb. 18 at 10 a.m., an unwieldy timeline for investigators struggling to identify a suspect vehicle.

    Those who loved her are devastated and struggle with another set of questions about the driver who hit her and how she died.

    "How were we to know the end was coming?" asks her father.

    "Did she think I didn't love her?" wonders Gary Goulet.

    Gary Stewart catches himself looking for Shaminder as he drives to work in the morning.

    A happy ending is out of reach, but she deserves resolution, he says.

    "She deserved better in life, and she deserves better now."


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    #1 Archived_Member16, Mar 10, 2013
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  3. Tejwant Singh

    Tejwant Singh United States
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    Mentor Writer SPNer Contributor

    Jun 30, 2004
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    This is what we sadly call a generation gap which is a common thing to create distance between the parents and their off springs which is taken for granted and accepted as a norm.

    For me, it is to the contrary. When I became a Dad for the first time in 1990, I decided to approach my kids as I was older, "wiser" than they were. Generation gap is demarked by the parents who expect for their kids to understand and accept their parents as they are rather than vice versa, especially among the kids born in the diaspora.

    It is our duty as parents to get closer to our kids in order to understand their mindset rather than expecting them to do the opposite.

    I find myself fortunate in this respect. I can talk about sex, birth control, LGBT and everything in between to my kids openly who are 17 and 22 respectively.

    Tejwant Singh
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    #2 Tejwant Singh, Mar 12, 2013
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2013

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