Meet dynamic, protective, brilliant Brennan… Brennan positively impacted the lives of countless people … Brennan died of an overdose the day after his 26th birthday.
Brennan came into the world in November of 1991 in Reading, Pennsylvania. As he grew up there were a few things that became evident about him – he loved to argue, he loved being active, and he loved being with people. Brennan’s cohort in crime during his younger years was his sister, Carly, seventeen months his junior. She says , “He was the ‘not me’ to my, ‘I don’t know!’” They had quite a few adventures when they were younger, the most memorable being when Brennan decided to play “hair stylist” and removed half of Carly’s hair – on PICTURE DAY!!! The two filled the house with noise – either laughing or hollering. They each took different tracks in school – his in sports, hers in the arts – but they reconnected when she moved to Minneapolis to be near him in 2016.
Brennan was also wickedly smart – too smart for his own good. Brennan was always a straight A student – academics came easy to him. By the age of 8, he was completely bilingual, speaking German fluently. When we went on vacation to Germany in spring of 2000, Brennan and his mom, Janice, were in a marketplace in Rothenburg. Janice wanted to make a purchase but had no idea how to go about it. Brennan said, “I’ll handle this mom!” and took care of the transaction. When Brennan was in 9th grade, he was involved in instruction for the Rite of Christian Confirmation. Part of the requirements for the class was to serve a meal to the homeless men at The Guest House of Milwaukee. After Brennan finished serving dinner, he sat down to talk with the guys and play dominoes with them. One of the men spoke German. For the next forty-five minutes, Brennan and this man carried on a conversation while his classmates looked on, awestruck at the whole situation. He learned a valuable lesson on that day – a person is a person is a person. He continued with his German studies throughout his undergraduate work at the University of Minnesota, being awarded a “Scholar of Distinction” merit by the German Department faculty in December 2013.
He enjoyed sports, cheering for The Brewers, The Packers, The Bucks, and The Badgers, and later The Gophers.
Brennan enjoyed the outdoors. He could sit by a river for hours, by himself, casting a line into the water. When we would spend a week in the Northwoods of Wisconsin in the summer, every free minute Brennan had, he was fishing. On his eighteenth birthday, while hunting with his uncle and cousins, he got a ten-point buck. He also loved people and thrived on bringing people together. The more the merrier. In autumn of 2012, before the Gopher/Badger game to be played in Minneapolis, Brennan organized the largest pre-game party in UMN history, with 2000 people gathered in their Gopher garb. No one in his house thought that many people would show up, but that was how extensive Brennan’s connections were. The more people there were around him, the more alive and animated he became.
Brennan’s nick name was “Red Bear” which was indicative of his personality. He was a ginger, hence the “Red”. He was also intensely loyal and protective of his friends. During his undergraduate days, he would be at the gym late at night working out. Some of his female friends were at cheer practice. He would wait for them and walk them home. When he was in Law School, every night when the Law Library closed at midnight, he made sure everyone was safe and would offer to walk or drive anyone home. All of his friends knew him as a protector, always looking out for them. He had a soft spot in his heart for those who lived on the fringes.
When Brennan was doing an internship after his first year of law school at UMN, he befriended a homeless man in downtown Minneapolis. Each day, Brennan would check on him, make sure he was OK, make sure he had food and water, and also make sure that he had a place to shelter in extreme heat. While at Law School, Brennan would check in with his classmates before class to see if everyone had finished their readings. If not, he would quickly send them notes, just in case they were called on by a professor.
After his Junior year at UMN, Brennan applied for MLEAP –Minnesota Law Early Acceptance Program. In August of 2013, before beginning his Senior year, he learned that he was one of 18 students accepted. In celebration of the event, he went skydiving. We are glad he did not tell us until afterwards! Brennan graduated from The University of Minnesota Law School in May of 2017.
Brennan died the day after his twenty-sixth birthday. Hours before we were celebrating at dinner. Just a few weeks before we watched him be sworn in as a lawyer before the Minnesota Supreme Court. Like everyone who has lost a child to the opioid crisis, we were shocked and devastated. Our world, as we knew it, was shattered in a million pieces. In that brokenness, numerous things came together. We learned how extensive our son’s relationships were. People from all over the country contacted us and shared stories with us about how Brennan’s life had touched theirs. It helped us, tremendously, to know that our son’s life and love had affected so many other people in such significant ways. It made us feel better as a family and as parents.
When the first “Ethan’s Run Against Addiction” came around, we posted the information on our Facebook pages, and we put flyers in our work-spaces. Before we knew it there were one hundred and sixteen people signed up to walk in support of us and in love for Brennan. Our daughter, Carly, designed a special t-shirt for “Team Brennan” and it was so comforting and amazing on the day of the walk to see people with this shirt at every point of the walk. It reminded us that we (all of us) are not alone on this journey. Mother Theresa once said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” I don’t know if what we experienced was “peace” as we walked, but we were able to see in a very tangible way that we were not forgotten and that the definition of who was in our family had grown exponentially.
David and Janice Gaeth