On November 26th, 2020 when Nick Owen received a phone call telling him that he had just won $10,000 from the Cash and Cars Lottery, he just knew that it was his late husband, Brad, watching over him.
“He always took care of me and I knew right then and there that this was him making sure I was taken care of”
On June 28, 2020, Brad Owen peacefully passed away in his husband’s arms at the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary. He was 46, a devoted husband, son, brother, uncle, friend, and mentor to many.
“He had a way of saying just the right thing at the right time and putting things into perspective. Even now, whenever I feel stuck or frustrated, I can hear his voice saying ‘one thing at a time’ or ‘take a breath’. All around he was a glass-half-full person, he was always so good at reading people’s energy and helping them when they needed it.”
“I didn’t realize how impactful he was, and what a big difference he has made for others until those last moments when the emails and texts came in from the people in his life. A lot of people who knew him since he was a boy, would share stories and tell me how he’s always gone out of his way to help people and has been the loving, caring and helpful Brad since day one.”
After Brad had passed, Nick integrated some of the items from Brad’s calendar into his phone. “I wanted to make sure that I took care of everything he wanted to get done and one of them was buying tickets for the Cash and Cars Lottery,” says Nick. Brad had been buying tickets to the Cash and Cars Lottery ever since he was diagnosed in 2018, as a way to give back to the Alberta Cancer Foundation for all of their support.
“We wouldn’t have been able to get through the last two years without the support of the Foundation. With his treatment, there were so many unknowns so we wanted to make sure we tried all the options and treatments available – from immunotherapy, different types of chemotherapy – and a lot of them were so expensive we wouldn’t have had access to them if it wasn’t for the Alberta Cancer Foundation and those who donate to them.”
In July when the reminder came up on Nick’s phone, not thinking much of it he purchased a couple of tickets for the Win Daily Draw (where each day in November, a cash prize was drawn). “I bought more tickets than we normally do just because it was the least I could do to give back. And oddly enough, just days before the end of the draw, I got the phone call.”
“I thought it was a prank at first but when she confirmed the ticket number I started to shake. I just knew it was him.”
And that was one of many things that have happened to Nick and Brad’s friends and family since he passed. “We call them ‘Brad Bombs’. They are these little moments and coincidences that felt like they were meant to happen. Things that I can’t understand nor do I want to. We all just knew it was him,” says Nick.
Nick recalls the first time he experienced one of these bizarre moments after Brad passed away. “After he died, I cooped myself at home and was afraid to leave because when I was home it didn’t feel like he was gone, it felt like he was just at work or on a trip,” says Nick.
It was around that time that Nick’s brother invited him on a trip to Invermere, B.C for the weekend. At first, Nick didn’t want to go but then he found that his friends were also going to be there that same weekend, they said: “well it’s serendipitous, we are going to be there too so you have to come”.
It was the week before Brad’s funeral and the funeral director encouraged Nick to write a tribute which he struggled with it for days. That weekend in Invermere, when Nick and his friends were walking downtown, they passed by a kitchen store. As his friends went in, Nick walked over to the other side of the store where there were kitchen supplies.
“I was the only one in the aisle when the lights close to me flickered for a moment. And then I turned around and saw a whisk and packaged knife on the wall swing as if somebody had brushed up against them but there was no one there aside from me. I was so shocked, I asked my friend from the other side if she could see the utensils moving too and she said yes. And some of my friends saw the lights go off as well, and I thought.. ok I’m not crazy, something strange did happen. At that moment, I just felt like Brad was there, saying ‘I’m here too, you don’t have to be afraid to leave the house, I’m everywhere you go’. That night, I wrote his tribute, I wrote a letter to him and the words just poured out.”
Brad’s cancer journey
On September 26th, 2018, Brad was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the bladder. “It was colon cancer in the bladder, but not present in the colon. It was a rare type of cancer, only a handful of cases were documented in the world, especially in someone so young. There wasn’t enough evidence on a way to treat or cure it” says Nick.
Soon after, Brad had his bladder removed and had to start using a Urostomy bag. It was a challenge for him at first to adjust and live life with that “new normal” of not having control of his bladder at 46.
“When we would have our meetings with his healthcare team, all the options seemed to cater to older people in their 60’s and 70’s, a lot of the options didn’t relate to someone like Brad who had a more active lifestyle and was in his 40’s,” says Nick. But with the help of social media, Nick was able to find other individuals that were young, fit and healthy and had a very active lifestyle while living with an ostomy or colostomy. “It made a huge difference, they sent him encouraging messages and emails saying that life doesn’t stop here and it was a really good motivator for him,” says Nick.
Things got more challenging when the pandemic hit in 2020. In May, Brad had to spend five weeks alone in the Foothills Hospital in Calgary.
“None of us could visit him, which was incredibly tough for us. But while he was there he built strong connections with his health care team,” says Nick. After his diagnosis, Brad started doing yoga and meditation, which helped him keep his mind strong. He shared the value of these practices with not only his family but also the nurses in his unit that he got to know in those five weeks at the Foothills hospital. To this day, Brad’s nurses talk about how he inspired some of them to start practising meditation and mindfulness.
“If there was a blessing through all of this, it was the timing of it all. Gradually towards the end of June, things started to open up and we could see him. And I was able to be with him and be by his side right up until his last breath. And even with the funeral, we were so lucky to have 50 people attend. Had everything been shifted back a month earlier, none of that would have happened.”
You can read more about Brad’s cancer journey on his blog.
Nick’s caregiver journey
Brad and Nick had been together for eight years and tied the knot on July 28th, 2018. They both shared a passion for snowboarding and travelling which is how they met in Lake Louise, Banff, Alberta almost eight years ago. “It was where we first met and in fact, it was where we shared our first kiss,” says Nick.
Since Brad’s passing, Nick has been taking his grief day by day. Some days are better than others, his sadness is still raw and unpredictable. Nick visited Lake Louise for the first time since Brad’s passing in December. Being there brought back a lot of emotions that he thought he had dealt with but he reminds himself to take it one day at a time and to live his life through Brad’s legacy.
“The biggest thing for my healing was to keep on living my life through his legacy. He was the biggest driver in pushing me to do things I wouldn’t normally do.”
Brad loved to hike and camp, so a month after he passed, Nick spent four days hiking and camping by himself in Jasper. It was on this solo journey that Nick had a profound moment of reflection.
“I was on top of this mountain, surrounded by nature, in complete isolation and for the first time in my life, I didn’t have anything to worry about. I didn’t worry about the past or what’s to come. For the first time in a long time, I felt present, free and alive. The last time I felt like that was when I was a child. And that’s when I realized that somewhere along the way, I had forgotten to take care of myself.”
“As a caregiver, I wanted to and did everything I could to take care of my husband and our family, but by making sure everyone’s needs were met, I neglected my own and lost myself in doing that. Going on this journey made me realize the importance of self-care. For the longest time, I couldn’t differentiate between self-care and being selfish. But now I understand that taking care of yourself allows you to be your best self and in turn, helps you take care of others organically.”
Nick still struggles with grief and loss but if there’s one thing Brad’s cancer journey has taught him is to live more in the present and not be afraid of the unknown.
“The grief comes in waves and some days the waves are bigger than others but all that matters is keeping your head above the water,” says Nick.
“A struggle we had to overcome when he was sick was that we couldn’t plan anything – any time we planned a trip or an event – something would come up from a health perspective. We then started to shift our mindset and live more presently and it was a lot easier that way because we didn’t have any room for disappointment. With all the unknowns of cancer, it forces you to live in the present. Not knowing, it’s the scariest thing but when you just let go and let the universe take care of things, it makes it a lot easier. Now more than ever, when I have done that the blessings just continue to pour in,” says Nick.
Nick is motivated to live his life through Brad’s legacy. He has been on over 25 hiking and snowboarding trips since Brad passed and is driven to expand his skill level with snowboarding. “Knowing that he is driving me and doing it with me, I am now finding peace and comfort in connecting with myself, pushing myself and doing things alone in a healthy way.”
Nick had been looking for a special trip to go and spread some of Brad’s ashes when – just a couple of days after learning he had won $10,000 in the lottery – he came across a silent auction for a cat skiing trip in British Columbia worth $3700.
“I was taking an online avalanche safety training course when I came across a silent auction on their website. I thought to myself, what are the chances that I see this, right after I win the lottery?” With 17 hours left in the silent auction, Nick placed a bid and the next day he learned that he had won.
“Had I not won the lottery, had the class not changed to virtual, none of this would have happened. It all just comes back to how everything happens for a reason,” says Nick.
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