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A young life cut short

By Jamie Hall

“We had this gift—we had him—and it didn’t last.”

Bob Bailey was joking with his neighbour over the fence, about to pick up his wife Valerie from an appointment, when the phone rang with news that would forever change their lives.

Their son P.J., who was about to start an apprenticeship in auto mechanics and worked as a service porter/detail technician with a car dealership had been injured in a serious motor vehicle accident when another vehicle crossed into his lane.

PJ Bailey

They raced to the hospital, sick with dread. Even then, Valerie knew in her heart it was bad.

Her worst fears were confirmed when a social worker met the couple at the hospital and led them to his room. Despite outward appearances—“he looked like our son,” remembers Valerie—they were told P.J. had suffered catastrophic injuries, including multiple skull fractures and a massive brain injury.

It became clear their beautiful, healthy, strong son would not survive.

Hours later, in the early morning of Sept. 23, 2011, P.J. Bailey died, surrounded by family, friends and co-workers.

He was 19 years old.

“We had this gift—we had him—and it didn’t last,” says his father.

He says that even now, more than two years later, the enormity of their loss can be unbearable, and even surreal.

“Quite often I’ll still think to myself, ‘we should go to Edmonton and take P.J. out for dinner and a movie,’” he says, his voice fading.

Solace from their grief sometimes comes in the words stenciled above an archway in their home: “Where words fail, music speaks.’ A quote from Hans Christian Andersen, it’s an indelible reminder of P.J.’s love for music, a passion shared by the entire family.

After his death, Valerie organized a tribute concert during which everyone who performed had significance in the young man’s life. In fact, his memory lives on in music inspired and composed specifically for him—In Our Hearts, written by Allan Gilliland of Grant MacEwan University and Bailey’s Bounce, by Kodi Hutchinson of the Karl Schwonik Jazz Ensemble.

The musical legacy has given the couple and their two daughters great comfort, every note evoking a memory of his unforgettable smile, strength of character, genuine helpful nature and his kind heart.

“P.J.’s ease and love of people—young and old—always shone through,” says Valerie. “It didn’t matter if they were friends or strangers. He always seemed to have a smile on his face.”

On April 28th, people across Canada will recognize a Day of Mourning for all workers who have been killed, injured or disabled at their place of work. Please take a moment to honour their memory.

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