Khaki colored walls and fluorescent lighting made the room feel cold and unwelcoming. The scent of cleaning products was easily discernible. Monitors beeped slowly. Family gathered around to say goodbye.
James “Bear” Bryt, an international business and ministry major and cheerleader, is known around campus for his friendly demeanor and contagious smile. One would never know the depth of his struggle without asking.
His dad Mark was a pulmonary critical care physician who worked 20 hours a day, but on Nov. 15, 2012 it caught up to him.
Bear had gone to get a haircut between classes when he received a phone call from his mom.
“I’m thinking no big deal, I’ll just answer ‘Hey mom, what’s going on?’” Bear remembered. “She basically said, ‘I need you to get in the car now, your dad had a stroke, and I need you to pick up your grandparents. Meet me at St. Francis Hospital.’”
Life for Bear became a scene in a movie. Time seemed to slow down and everything was blurry. Everything he knew was about to change.
When he and his grandparents arrived at the hospital, they saw what no child or parent ever wants to see.
“Dad was laying there. Dad was more or less unconscious,” Bear said.
The damage from the stroke was extensive. His father was completely paralyzed on the left side due to a brain bleed and he remained unconscious for approximately two months.
“It was hard. My days were spent in the AC at practice, in the GC at class or at the hospital with my parents trying to take care of everybody, as was proper,” Bear admitted candidly.
His father couldn’t care for the family, so he did.
Mark was released from the hospital and began physical therapy in January 2013. His cognitive abilities were still intact, and he understood the situation, but relearning motor skills was taxing. He was readmitted to the ICU 15 times.
“[There were] several phone calls during classes saying, ‘We need you to come and help your dad go to the bathroom.’ My mom was very strong physically, but not as strong as me. Cheerleading came in handy,” he chuckled.
Bear’s grandpa had a stroke in December 2013 while Mark was still attempting to recover. Everything changed again. This time instead of hopping between ORU, home and the hospital, he was now jumping between ORU, home, the hospital and his grandpa’s nursing home. Bear was carrying his family.
Then after nearly two years of rehabilitation, Bear and Mark began to talk about his condition during a stay in the ICU.
“It looks like you’re what I hoped you’d become,” Mark said as Bear helped him to the bed from the chair across the room.
It was hard for Bear to hear. It signified his dad’s loss of hope in the prognosis. Bear didn’t lose faith, though. He knew he had to stay optimistic for himself and his family.
Three short months later they were back in the ICU. This time there were only two options—a miraculous healing or the end of a 22-month fight.
Mark was in the hospital for two weeks with kidney failure. On the second Friday, Bear was in chapel when the speaker told students to come down if they, or someone they loved, needed prayer. He did. He pleaded for his dad.
“I lost it. I was overwhelmed with grief crying on the side of the stage,” Bear recalled.
Then he heard the Lord tell him the decision would be made the next day.
“I didn’t know what the decision was, I didn’t know what the situation was going to be, but I went in as optimistic as I could,” he said.
Saturday came and so did a 7 a.m. phone call. It was time for the family to come in. Mark’s vitals were dropping.
Bear took a nap at 2 p.m., had a dream, woke up an hour later to his mom singing. They were told everything would be done in three hours. Bear, his mom, paternal grandmother and uncle said goodbye and told Mark they loved him.
It was 6:30 p.m. and his vitals were dropping. Everyone knew what it meant. No extraordinary measures were to be taken. It was the end of a life. All treatments were to be discontinued and on Sept. 20, 2014 at 6:37 p.m. Bear watched his father die.
“It was over,” Bear sighed. “The two years we had tried to help him rehabilitate and get back to what we perceived normal to bethe fight was over. But the next fight was getting ready to start.”
Life changed again. Bear had to bury his father, tell his grandpa who was still in a nursing home and try to regain a sense of normalcy. He was officially the man of the family.
Since then, Bear’s faced two other life changes. His grandfather has passed—exactly 100 days after Mark—and he has had to care for his mom who is suffering from pinched nerves and a recently discovered broken hip.
Today, he admits he sometimes wishes none of it happened to him and occasionally blames himself for not being available enough at the time.
But even though his dad isn’t alive, Bear’s faith still carries him.
“Life is hard. Real life is hard. There are struggles, there are opportunities to crumble, there are opportunities to fall off the spiritual cliff. [But] ultimately, you have to persevere,” he said assuredly. “God is God, and He knows exactly what He is going to do even if we don’t. I know and I trusted that He was going to take care of the situation regardless. He did and He is, still.”