4 weeks ago I was outside our friends house talking to Brad about head shots; he was his usual energetic self, telling me exactly what he wanted me to capture down to the expressions he wanted photos of, then following it up with “But whatever you think, you’re the expert and I really don’t know what I’m looking for”. Typical Brad :) He was wanting to update his portfolio pictures which would help tv and movie producers see exactly what he had to offer them. We brainstormed for what must have been an entire hour while our friends, Emily, and his brothers just laughed and made fun of us. :) Brad was passionate about his acting career and was not afraid to dream big dreams of making it on the silver screen and having millions of adoring fans who loved him… I don’t quite know how to put this, and in fact I was just talking to his mom about this yesterday, but Brad was the least arrogant yet most confident man I have ever known. :) Terri (his mom) said “You were talking about your passion and Brad was talking about his :)… couldn’t have said it more perfectly! Since Emily and I have been INSANELY busy with photo shoots and weddings, I told Brad I would do his portraits when things slowed down in a couple weeks… what I didn’t know is that I would never get the chance and for that I have been completely heartbroken this entire week.
Emily got a text on Monday morning that Brad had an accident while working on his car on Sunday… it wasn’t good news, and he was most likely going home to be with Jesus. Now, this came amidst a morning that my son had decided to get into some ink and wipe it all over the couch, the walls, the piano, and his whole body. So you can imagine, Emily has tears in her eyes, I am trying to wrap my mind around what I just heard, while at the same time I am trying to handle the disaster of Wyatts mess. We called my mom to watch the kids, dropped them off, and rushed to the hospital. Here’s what I remember:
After getting off the elevator, Marie was right there and we cried together as we hugged. Bobby was sitting on the floor in the hallway. He got up and gave me a big hug, and I looked around and saw a room full of people who just loved Brad. Matt (Brad’s brother) was resting on the wall, just weeping. I wept when I saw him. I ran into Brad’s other brother Jeremy in the hallway, gave him a hug, and cried when I told him I wish I had been more intentional about doing Brad’s portraits. “Don’t do that” he said, “you can’t do that to yourself.” He was right, everyone could have done the same thing about this or that that they wished they wouldn’ve done or said to Brad. We were able to go and see him in ICU; even though we knew that when his accident happened he was immediately gone, we wanted to see our friend. Brad’s mom and dad were there with him, and Emily and I just wept when we saw them. Terri gave Emily a big hug and told us that Brad was just talking about us a week ago… I feel the need to explain that Brad was one of those guys who everyone just loved to death. Everyone loved to be around him because, for lack of a better way to put it, he just made you feel special. So to hear that he talked to him mom about us a week ago, I just felt a sense of pride. I knew Brad less than probably 95% of the people in that waiting room, but he was excited to know us and that just meant the world to me. I held Brad’s hand; he still had grease on his fingers from working on his car. His hand was warm and it felt like I was getting to hold it before he had already gone. Terri just held onto Brad and kissed his feet, saying she just wanted to spend as much time with him as she could. Michael, Brad’s dad, was right next to me. I gave him a hug. When I looked at Brad, through the tears and the pain all I could say was ‘Praise you, God… Praise you God”. In that moment, I was reminded of Job in the Bible when he was in great pain yet still praised the Lord. It was awful to see my friend, broken and surviving only by a respirator, yet I knew where he was. I knew the God he served. Praise and adoration was all I had.
We were at the hospital for what seemed like an hour but was actually 8. We left, completely drained from crying and without a grain of energy. Yet we picked up our kids and still needed to be parents. It was a hard thing to do, and that pretty much summed up our whole week; sunk with sadness yet still with priorities and responsibilities.
Friday morning was Brad’s memorial. The church was packed without a seat remaining, yet still more people poured in till there were people lining the sides of the sanctuary and spilling out of the foyer and everywhere else. One thing was certain, Brad was loved. As his casket was ushered in by his 2 brothers, Jeremy and Matthew, along with other close friends, sobbing was heard throughout the church. Jeremy cried while carrying his brother to the stage; he rested on the coffin, gave it a kiss, and just cried some more; if there has ever been a time that I have been so moved, I cannot remember. The memorial was incredible! I didn’t know I could be so sad yet laugh so hard :); the entire service was filled with hilarious stories of Brad doing anything and everything he could to get a laugh out of people… there was just no stopping him :) Brad had a way of cheering anyone up when they were down… he would go way out of his way to make you laugh, and if you knew him, your bad mood didn’t stand a chance! Some of his friends were even asked to do a skit in honor of Brad :)
Then, this morning just before noon, his family and close friends met the Patriot Guard Riders for the funeral processional and Brad’s last ride before his body would be laid to rest. When we passed, others would pull over, honk their horn, or salute out of respect, even though they didn’t know who it was that passed by. We arrived at the National Cemetery to a quiet gathering of loved ones as well as a group of Marines who performed the ceremony.
I was honored to photograph the entire weekend from start to finish; Brad was not your ordinary man. He truly loved life and taught so many others to love it as well. All of us who knew him were drawn to him, and it’s because of his tenacious love for life, and he knew what that love was rooted in. I am a better man because I knew Brad. I miss my friend, and I mourn for my friends who knew him so much better than I did. Bobby, Marie and Justin who have been hanging out with him for over a decade. Emily, Aubrey (my sister-in-law) and my brother-in-law Jared who have known and loved Brad like a brother for practically their entire lives. Jeremy and Matt, Terri and Michael and Andrea who have lost a brother, and a son. All of us who knew and loved Brad will miss him in our own ways. Personally, I will miss our conversations about acting and the Marines and photography and life and Jesus and all the random things that Brad and I talked about when we got together. I miss my friend and I’m not alone in this. Brad, you are so loved.
My favorite quote from the weekend was this… “Because we love deeply, we also grieve deeply. That is not punishment, it is privilege.”
Below is Seth, a fellow Marine who served with Brad and came to Christ because Brad was so full of life and he wanted what Brad had. Now, he is a pastor :)
Watching a video montage that one of Brad’s friends put together…
Saying their goodbyes and paying their respects…
Brad’s Grandma saying goodbye.
Closing the casket.
The skit to honor Brad’s life, and his sense of humor :)
12 years ago Michael (Brad’s dad) was about to throw out this old retro suite but Brad stopped him and said he needed to keep it and wear it to his funeral. 12 years later, Michael keeps his word :)
Singing ‘Proud to be an American’ before heading to the cemetery.