Aftermath of loss

Eau Claire student shares her experience with brother’s death



Brianna Shoulak and her late brother, Chad Shoulak, reunite in 2013 at the Austin Straubel airport in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Chad had just returned from South Korea.

Story by Lauren French, Copy Editor

Words have power.

They can inspire, comfort, chastise, inform, nurture. Sometimes, only ten can alter reality.

“Is this Chad Shoulak’s sister? I’m so sorry. He’s gone.”

Brianna Shoulak hung up the phone. Her parents didn’t know yet – she would have to be the one to tell them. On May 2, 2014, Shoulak called her parents to tell them her brother, their son, had committed suicide.

The rest of that Friday was an outburst of phone calls and travel. Shoulak was in La Crosse for the weekend, and her mother hadn’t yet answered the phone.

When Shoulak’s mother came home that evening, grieving friends and family members greeted her. He’s gone, they told her.

“What do you mean he’s gone?” Shoulak’s mother asked.

Nearly a year later, Shoulak recalled the supporting role she assumed with her parents. While she lost a brother, her parents lost a son.

“It matured me in a weird way … I think I’m a better daughter because of it,” Shoulak said. “I’m an only child now.”

Shoulak found her greatest comfort and support from her close childhood friend, Meg Heafy. While most people tried to give Shoulak advice on how to cope, Shoulak said Heafy never told her how to feel. She was simply there for her.

Heafy and Shoulak met as fifth-graders on their bus ride home from school. While they now attend separate colleges – Shoulak at Eau Claire and Heafy at La Crosse – the two stay close.

Heafy said she’s noticed a lot of positive change in Shoulak over the past year.

“It was definitely really hard on her,” Heafy said. “But she knows what she wants now. She knows how she wants to be treated as a person, and what she deserves. Her empathy has really grown, she’s a great listener, and she gives great advice.”

Since her brother’s passing, Shoulak decided to make changes in her life that better align with her passions.  She dropped from the nursing program — a profession she always felt pressured to pursue — and picked up chemistry instead.

“It sounds cliche, but life is short and I don’t want to waste my time,” Shoulak said.

Some small things bring back the pain of losing her brother — songs they both liked — but Shoulak said it’s sometimes easy to let denial take over and forget what happened.

“Some days I’m still in denial because he was in the air force for six years,” Shoulak said. “It’s easy to think he’s just on another tour.”