Remembering Adam: the short, inspirational life of Adam Prashaw
Whose bench is this underneath a canopy of leaves along a short winding brick pathway in St. Luke’s Park in downtown Ottawa? The name on the small metal plate reads Adam Prashaw, and there is an invitation too: “Sit down. Relax. Enjoy”.
But who was Adam? He was a young trans man who lost his life too early, but of course there was more to Adam than that.
You could no more define Adam by saying he was trans than you could by saying he had epilepsy. Diagnosed at age five, he suffered countless seizures and endured two brain surgeries to ameliorate the condition. Epilepsy is a serious challenge, that much is true, and it seems likely from his determination to live his own life that it shaped his character; and yet in this big picture there must always be room for the little things, those nuances of personality that bring colour to a life.
Adam was a big Batman fan. He loved children and animals and his dog Dallas. He enjoyed sports and as Rebecca played goalie in the Kanata Girls Hockey Association, from which sprang an admiration for Carey Price and a love of the Montreal Canadiens. He graduated from Algonquin College. Later, as he explored his path as Adam, he became Canada’s Capital Kings’ biggest supporter, helping them with promotion and publicity and setting up their shows. There is more, of course, but what these details of character reveal beyond the obvious challenges he faced is an exuberance for life.
Adam’s dad Rick is telling me this as we sit together on Adam’s bench. A cool, drizzly morning has given way to warm temperatures and soft breezes. Rick Prashaw has a gentle personality that exudes love for his son and a passion to tell his story. That passion has resulted in the book Soar Adam Soar, due to be published by Dundurn Press in February 2019.
Some of the stories Rick has to tell about his son seem almost magical. His mom Suzanne was so certain their unborn child was a boy that she and his dad took to calling him Adam. Told she had delivered a girl, his astounded mom sat upright and asked the attending nurse whether she was sure. The nurse said she was. So his parents gave her the first name Rebecca, but in an astonishing bit of foresight retained Adam as a given name. Adam enjoyed telling people that his mom knew before he did that he was a boy.
When he did know for certain, he published his revised birth announcement on Facebook in September 2014: “…inside I always loved boy things: playing with boys, playing video games, being Prince rather than princess, hated Barbie, built forts and played lego with my bro, power rangers etc! It has been very difficult for me to speak my mind and what my heart and mind wants. And been afraid of losing people or making people laugh at me… but thanks to a lot of newer friends and close friends I’ve had for a while some I call “bro” lol love them all … but now I want to start being who I really am… I’ve had to hide it well all my life… and felt uncomfortable till now and I just want now my family and friends to still be there and love and accept me for who I am… So everyone, as of today as you saw already on my [Facebook] name I am a transgender named Adam.”
His determination to be independent and to define his own life led him to the neighbourhood he loved most. He found an apartment on Elgin Street and worked at the Nature Cafe in the Canadian Museum of Nature just blocks from where he lived. He could take a short walk and meet his dad for a meal at the Elgin Street Diner. Adam flourished on Elgin Street. He was happy and looking forward to the rest of his life.
Life can be cruel, however. Adam was alone in a hot tub in his apartment building when he suffered a seizure. He was 22 when he died.
But Adam’s story doesn’t end there. Perhaps he was always aware of his own mortality, or perhaps foresight runs in the Prashaw family. Adam had registered as an organ donor and talked with his mom about his decision. When he died, his liver and kidney gave three others another chance at life. His heart saved the life of a 53 year old man from Welland, Ontario.
How do you thank someone for such a gift? John Dickhout, the man who received Adam’s heart, was moved to write a note expressing his deep gratitude to the anonymous donor’s family. Although they could have chosen to remain anonymous, Rick took the opportunity to meet with the recipient and had the profound experience of hearing his son’s heart beating in the chest of another man.
Rick Prashaw struggled to find a meaningful way to commemorate Adam’s life when some more magic happened. “A park bench, dad.” It was as if Adam had spoken to him directly. Where to put the bench but the neighbourhood he loved, that had spawned his journey to independence. So Rick took a walk in St. Luke’s with an employee from the city and there, as if the space had been waiting for Rick to arrive, was one open spot nestled between two trees. It seemed so perfect Rick wondered whether there weren’t some reason there was no bench here. Was there some hydro underground or some other infrastructure perhaps? But no. The man from the city leaned down and marked the spot reserved.
And so we find ourselves back sitting on Adam’s bench. It is off Elgin Street, of course, just opposite the diner where he and his dad shared meals, just past a piece of public art called the Listening Tree. It’s on the right, before you reach the black steel fence that surrounds the children’s play area. It is the only part of St. Luke’s Park that is not fenced in. An appropriate place for a spirit that could not be contained.
For more on Adam see https://www.rickprashaw.com/
Soar Adam Soar is due to be published by Dundurn Press in February 2019. https://www.dundurn.com/books/Soar-Adam-Soar
In Ontario, you can register your consent to become an organ and tissue donor online: https://beadonor.ca/
Facebook page for Canada’s Capital Kings: https://www.facebook.com/canadascapitalkings