Five lives, infinite lessons

By Scott Wolchek

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Hailey Brouillet, Maya Michelle Horton, Eric Pauli, DeMal Coleman and Adam Wilson. These are the names of the brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, classmates, friends, family and loves lost during this academic school year.

The oldest of the deceased was 25, the youngest, 18. Combined, they lived 100 years.

Losing somebody is never an easy experience, especially when someone is so young. And just like how the daffodils bloom despite the harsh winter, some of those who have lost are learning to persevere through their tragedies.

“At first it was a struggle,” said Dominic Gaudino, Brouillet’s boyfriend. “Every day it was different. For the last month or so I’ve channeled it toward more positive stuff. I’m taking the lessons she taught me and I’m actually applying them toward everything I’m doing.”

Brouillet died October 28, 2013 from injuries sustained in a car accident. She was a Troy High graduate and involved in OU’s Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) study-abroad consortium.

Since her death, Brouillet’s parents, Lori and Wayne, her best friend, Jessica Zacharias and Gaudino, have started a movement called Share Her Spirit. One of the goals of Share Her Spirit is to create a scholarship fund in honor of Brouillet through the CIEE.

“She was the first OU student to go through that program,” Zacharias said. “OU was very for it. We are in the process of raising that $25,000 to keep the scholarship year-by-year.”

Taking action has helped both Gaudino and Zacharias deal with the loss of Brouillet.

“I’ve actually connected with a couple people who had tragedies themselves through Share Her Spirit,” Gaudino said. “It’s been good to connect with people who know what I’m going through and to know that Hailey can live on.”

“The fact that I’ve been helping a lot of people has been really cool and really rewarding,” Zacharias said.

The friends and family of Brouillet aren’t the only ones who are staying proactive. LaDonna Scott, the girlfriend of Coleman, is taking action as well. Scott used to play volleyball and Coleman always told her she should get back into it. Now Scott is taking the steps to make the man she loved proud.

“I have a [volley ball] team that I’m coaching right now in his honor,” Scott said. “That’s how I’m trying to channel things− It’s working.”

Coleman died February 11, 2014, from complications caused by a pre-existing heart condition. He was a graduate of University High School in Ferndale and a first-year student involved with the Center for Multicultural Initiatives (CMI) program at OU.

Although friends and family of the deceased are working to overcome their hardships, the journey has not been easy.

“There’s sometimes when I just want to call Hailey,” Zacharias said. “Because I know she would just have the right thing to say.”

“The hardest thing has been those moments where you kind of have a lapse in reality and you think she’s just on a trip,” Gaudino said. “You have a dream that just feels so real and think you’re going to get a message or call when you wake up.”

Scott also experiences hardships with the loss of Coleman.

“He and I were more than just boyfriend and girlfriend,” Scott said. “We were best friends. It’s weird not having him around. We talked all the time, and not having him around is just kind of strange. And that’s the hardest part.”

The same goes for the loved ones of Wilson.

“It’s a hard thing to deal with, but we’re trying,” said Jonathan Geister, Wilson’s best friend. “It’s still hard for me to wrap my head around it.”

Wilson died April 1, 2014. He was a graduate of Romeo High School and will still be receiving his Bachelor of Arts and Science in Studio Arts, later this month. One of his family members will stand in his place.

Even throughout the lapses and the pain, those who have lost have changed their outlooks on life for the better.

“I’m more open to saying yes when an opportunity is given to me,” Zacharias said. “I say hi to people. That may be the last time you see them. I had to face that and that’s just the reality of it. Not many people want to be open all the time.”

“I’ve got a greater sense of what happens every day,” Gaudino said. “Before, everything was taken for granted. Every day is different, take it in stride, just cherish every moment.”

Gaudino and Zacharias both live by a quote they shared with Brouillet.

“I find myself saying “why not?” Gaudino said. “Hailey and I used to say that together a lot.”

This growth the survivors’ experience is fueled by memories of the times spent with the people they loved. Most of all, they say the memories inspire them to keep going.

“It’s still hard,” Scott said. “I still think about DeMal every hour of every day, but I’m getting better. I put my religion into perspective. When my time comes, I’m going to see him again. That kind of keeps me going.”

“Anything can happen in your life,” Zacharias said. “You just have to keep your head held high and just keep going.”