Written by Debbie Tyree
Brian Zachary Rosell was two years old when he fell 16 feet out of a townhouse window. He was climbing up on his rocking horse, playing house and pretending he was taking a shower. Christina came and told me that something fell out of the window. Next thing I know, she was telling me that it was Bubba (Brian’s nickname). I thought the kids were throwing toys out of the window. I remember running out of the screen door and watching my little boy hit and roll on the ground. That was the beginning of Brian’s difficulties and his journey through life.
They Medevaced him off the base so fast. We didn’t know the extent of his injuries until we got to the hospital. They had him at the Harbor view Children’s Hospital in Seattle, Washington. I didn’t know the severity of his injuries until we got to the hospital. The doctors came out to tell us just how bad it was. They told us that he had an open and closed fracture of the frontal lobe. This area of brain damage would have the most long-lasting effects. He was in the Intensive Care Unit over two weeks and had to wear a helmet. When he came home, I remember the importance of giving him the prescribed seizure medication.
When you think the worst is over; he turned 3 1/2 and got Meningitis. Again, we didn’t know how bad this was. I remember going to Bingo to pick up my Mom, and when we got home, Brian was very sick. We took him to the Emergency room with a very high fever. They told us that it was just a virus, not to worry, and to wait until he could get into his pediatrician the next day. I took him to his pediatrician the next day, and they too said that it was just a virus. They gave us a prescription, something for the fever medicine and sent us home. By the time, I went to the pharmacy to get the medicine and come back, my son went into convulsions and turned blue. He wasn’t breathing. The first responders didn’t even bother with a stretcher. I’ll never forget the sight of the firefighter running out with Bubba in his arms. We all got to the hospital, and they had a doctor on call for special diseases. They did a spinal tap on him and told me that he had Meningitis. The first thing done was place him in a medicated coma to keep the brain from swelling. At this point, we were told that we would have to say goodbye to him. What they didn’t know was that my son was a fighter and he would fight again to stay on this earth.
Brian has always been a free spirit and loved to explore. He cheated death and injury more times than I can count. Bit by snakes on one of his many adventures or barely escaping a fall from climbing. He tended to be a loner and preferred the solidarity of his own company. He had the kindest heart when it came to animals, and there were many rescued critters to be found in our home. Brian had a temper when it came to people though. had a hard time fitting in or a short fuse when it came to confrontation. This made it very difficult for Brian to stay out of trouble and often would result in suspension from school. His mind worked at a different speed compared to his peers. Brilliant when it came to numbers but struggled with application on assignments. These obstacles led to more isolation and a need to find himself. He considered himself to be an outsider and ventured towards other individuals that felt the same way. School and society became too much, and he wanted to leave it all behind to follow his own rules, on his own path, in his own way.
Chasing his path lead to many encounters with different religions, people, and drugs. He couldn’t function in society and was unwilling, or unable, to conform to society norms. He lacked impulse control, and his temper often got the best of him at this point. I remember the doctor telling me he didn’t know the long-term outcome from Brian’s brain injury. This unknown outcome, along with his father’s history of mental illness always had me worried.
Brian was still searching for his place in this world when he met Katrina. This beautiful woman grounded him in ways nobody else could. They had a love so wild and so deep that nothing could tear them apart. On the darker side, they often did drugs or had extreme fights, and we all thought “how can they live this way?”. We saw two wild kids with no boundaries. That is until they got pregnant. Their baby boy would change their lives forever. Ashton was born happy and healthy. Katrina and Brian realized they had to change their lifestyle and do things right by their son. Brian, coming from a military family, decided to conform and join the army. This decision changed their life for the better. They had a home, a car, and an income. He was so proud to be serving his country; he served for as long as he could. What couldn’t change, were Brian’s mental demons that he fought every day. The voices in his head were loud, and he once told me that he had a hard time not listening. His anxiety would get the best of him, and his temper made him lash out. The only person he had was Katrina, and she took the very worst of the abuse. Brian sought help with the mental health facility on the base, but it just wasn’t enough. He turned back to drugs to try and silence his demons. This choice created a vicious cycle that he could no longer hide. He was medically discharged from the military for mental illness and was no longer capable of serving. Diagnosed with severe PTSD, anxiety, bi-polar, and schizophrenia, Brian went onto the next chapter of his life.
The voices grew louder, as did the paranoia and lack of impulse control. For the safety of their son, Katrina left and took Ashton to create a stable life. Through the hallucinations always loved his son. During his lucid periods, he would reach out to his sisters and always to his son. I talked to Bubba all the time and would send him money or boxes with goodies. I wanted him to know that he was loved no matter what. He would get so excited when I would put a box together for him. His sister and I would try to set him up in different places to live, but it usually ended up being temporary. My free-spirited son was right back to wondering his own wilderness. He walked a different path now — one of fear and paranoia. He became obsessed with scripture and would recite verses to me on the phone. I never cared what we talked about, as long as I heard his voice.
Bubba had many run-ins with the police and experienced homelessness. He made his way to the small town of Wausau, Wisconsin. Here he met a young lady just as lost as he was. He found refuge with her and seemed to be happy. She was mentally sick like him, but they navigated their demons together. They often ended up at the VA hospital, and Brian would receive treatment with their mental health facility. We would later find out through the medical records that they knew him very well. He spoke of his living nightmare and of his suicidal thoughts. They would medicate him here and there, but he was unable to comply fully with their care plan. He would also frequent their crisis center when the suicidal thoughts took over.
Brian’s final chapter started with his frantic visit to the mental health clinic at the VA on September 3, 2016. His mind was overwhelming him, and he was going to kill himself. This is what he told them. He said those exact words to the individual who was supposed to help him. Unfamiliar with who Brian was, the employee went to grab someone else to come help. Unfortunately, Brian took this as a threat and told his girlfriend that they were coming back to kill them both. He was frightened and trapped in a delusion. The VA representative had failed him. He left him alone, and the end result would be irreversible. The next evening, Brian told his girlfriend to go to work and that he’d be OK for the night. He had his service dog, Sasha, and they were going to go on a walk. She went to work, and Brian called me.
He said “I love you mom”; that was the last time I would ever hear my son’s voice.
On the night of September 4, 2016, his living ended. Sasha had no collar or leash on and wouldn’t leave the cement wall next to the river. Brian’s girlfriend called me and said she couldn’t find him anywhere and hadn’t heard from him. She went to the local police who dismissed her and treated her in such a way that was inexcusable. Because of who they were, my son was not important enough to warrant their time or attention. Our family immediately called the police department and demanded a search. We knew he had been suicidal in the past and we knew that Sasha would never leave his side. We were relentless until they listened to us. We flew out to Wisconsin and searched for my son. I knew, I just knew in my heart that Brian was no longer in pain. I didn’t want to accept it. I was out on the boat when the call came through. They found a body in the river. My memory is still so foggy during those moments. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think, I couldn’t accept that it was my Bubba.
Brian was cremated and honored for his time served in the military. His death has helped raise awareness for others that suffer with mental illness. The VA would hear his voice and ours in the end. We need better care for our Veterans. I lost my son, Ashton lost his father, his sisters lost their brother. He matters. He will always be our Bubba.