‘Ottawa’ Brotherly Love: a Coach’s Personal Story Ahead of DIFD Night
Hockey games are often won or lost in a single moment, off one mistake or lapse in judgment.
The same is true of a fragile life. One decision made at a dark moment, through a dense fog, can alter a family forever.
On Thursday, when the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees men’s hockey team plays host to the Carleton Ravens on a DIFD (Do It For Daron) night, Gee-Gees head coach Patrick Grandmaitre will be thinking of his big brother.
Jean-Eric Grandmaitre was many things. Creative, outgoing, funny, he could light up a room. He was also bipolar and gay.
In early July 2014, during a dark period, before he had settled on the right treatment for his newly diagnosed mental illness, JEG ended his life. He was 37.
A combination of circumstances, along with some horrible luck, all came crashing down on this charismatic young man, who could have used a break in fortune.
“From going through this, and from talking to others that have had dark thoughts, it gets explained,” says Patrick, two years younger than Jean-Eric. “When you’re in that state, they say there is this urge, there’s a voice inside that is pushing you. It almost rationalizes everything for you — saying that’s the only way out. That’s the way to end all this misery.”
Giving strength to that other voice — the one that says we can find another way — is part of why Patrick recently championed a Pride Night at the U of O and now Thursday’s DIFD game.
“There’s so much help out there, if you give it time,” Patrick says. Often, that help is found online, as telephone help lines become passe.
“I think my brother would be pretty cool with this. He was very well-spoken. He could speak French and English and, if he had stuck through it, I would have done these initiatives anyway and he could have been the spokesperson for them.”
Jean-Marc Grandmaitre, who scored 111 points for the 1976-77 Hull Olympiques, met and married Lynne Woods, the daughter of long-time CFL referee Lorne Woods. The Grandmaitres had three children: Jean-Eric, Patrick and daughter Dani.
Patrick, showing his dad’s promise as a hockey player, left home at age 16 and went on to a pair of 100-point seasons in the QMJHL before a career in college hockey and pro in Germany.
Jean-Eric liked sports, but shared his mother’s passion for the arts. Lynne was a choreographer and Jean-Eric, a gifted dancer. He loved music and had an eye for design.
“He would come into my house, and move the furniture around,” Patrick says.
JEG lived in the east end, worked as a letter carrier for Canada Post and loved the job. It suited him. He enjoyed chatting with people on his route and had a knack for making others feel important.
The year before he passed, Jean-Eric went through an extreme manic phase. Feeling invincible, he quit his job, believing he could do anything he wanted — start his own business or become the mayor of Ottawa.
When he crashed down to the inevitable low cycle, JEG was depressed, remorseful. During his psychotic state, he had hurt friends, unintentionally. Now he had no job, was in debt, and felt he was a burden on his family.
There were previous losses, very personal. While Jean-Eric developed strong relationships with solid partners, he wondered why this lifestyle fell to him.
“Being gay was not why it happened, but it was just part of the struggle,” Patrick says.
Unsure he’d ever be a father, he treated his pet dogs like his children. Jean-Eric had a beloved, loyal English Bulldog. One summer, when Patrick was preparing to head back to Germany for his second pro season, a group of family and friends were assembled at the cottage on Lac McGregor. Patrick wanted to have one last ski, and JEG offered to drive the boat.
Unknown to anyone, JEG’s dog leapt off the dock to follow the boat. Bulldogs can swim, but not for long due to their heavy heads. The dog drowned. Jean-Eric was barely over the loss of that dog when his new dog, a pug from the shelter, dug up a lot of mischief in the cottage sand and died of clogged intestines. To JEG, these were devastating blows.
“He got dealt some bad cards,” Patrick says.
It might have helped if his bipolar diagnosis had come sooner (for years, the family was told he had depression), with appropriate medication. One thing JEG never lacked was care and support from his family, before and after the moment he came out in his late teens.
Some who are suffering don’t have that support, all the more reason DIFD has been taken on as a cause by Patrick and so many others. Recently, Patrick shared his story in a video with J.P. Augustine, a Carleton University student.
“My brother is giving me the strength to do this,” Patrick says. “It’s cliché, but through JP’s amazing video, the game and the conversations we’re having — if it gives somebody one day; one extra day just to get through that fog. I’ll be happy with that.”
Long-time NHL defenceman Luke Richardson has been invited to drop the puck for Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. game between the Gee-Gees and Ravens at the Minto Sports Complex. Luke and wife Stephanie started the DIFD campaign after they lost their daughter, Daron, to suicide.
The U of O chapter of DIFD will sell items in the stands and proceeds from sales of food and the 50-50 draw will go to the DIFD Fund.
Players will wear stickers on their helmets and, at the end of the game, Gee-Gees and Ravens will join together for a picture in front of a DIFD banner.