MARSHALL, Minn. (WCCO) – It’s a sports story, but it’s much more. Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU) basketball coach Brad Bigler and his wife Heather lost their five-month-old son to a drunk driver last summer. He would have turned one last Monday.
“When you become parents, the last thing you think is that you’re gonna have to bury one of them,” Heather said.
Dana Schoen was four times the legal limit when he swerved head on into their car last summer. They are dealing with what could have been prevented.
“If you’re not careful, that anger’s gonna consume you. It’s gonna change who you are as a person,” Brad said. “We’re not gonna bring Drake back – that’s not gonna happen. And hopefully he finds a way to make an impact on someone else’s life and learns from it.”
Brad is aided by his job. He’s the basketball coach at SMSU, where he originally met Heather. SMSU is where he goes to focus, and in some ways to heal. It is a healthy diversion to an ongoing process.
While the coach is called-on to uplift and guide his players, this time his team is helping him. It’s been that kind of community and basketball outreach.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have people step up, not only in Marshall but in Minnesota and, honestly, the support that we’ve received across the nation,” he said.
It’s been a challenge in so many ways to function as a healthy married couple.
“You see other people go through stuff, losing children, and you think, ‘I don’t know how they could go on,’” Heather said. “But going through it – you don’t have a choice.”
It cannot mask the massive pain the two children, Nash and Telia, cannot yet comprehend but can sense.
“Telia doesn’t like to see me cry. She’ll always run over and give me a hug. ‘Mommy, please don’t cry,’” Heather said.
On this day, Telia is honoring Drake in her own way. She unaware of the impact.
“Telia made him a birthday cake, presents. But he’s not here, you know, to smash his first cake,” she said.
So they try to move on, knowing time, people and faith will have to anchor them; knowing that they are setting an example every day for their children.
“We pray a lot, you know, about Drake. And every night we blow kisses to him and prayers,” Brad said.
This is not a story of closure, of happily ever after. It’s a story of dealing with the ultimate tragedy; of hoping that they can help someone else by how they handle it. And it is the belief that one joyous day they will be reunited with Drake.
“Trying to stay positive, and you know, keeping our faith in God and our strength in that. To know that someday we will see Drake again,” Heather said. “So it’s ‘How can we live a godly life to make sure that can happen for us?’”