Farewell to a Friend

Farewell to a friend

~ 2 July 2024 ~

It is with sad hearts that we mourn the loss of Bradford Sytes. Brad was a loving son, a cherished friend, a brave and dedicated colleague, and deeply committed to humanity. He pressed for the dignity and respect of all people, everywhere.

Brad was always laughing. He saw the humor in just about everything, including the oh-so-corny jokes he told. I remember the day I met Brad like it was yesterday. He strolled into our class with his charming looks, and strong Louisiana Bayou drawl (with a hint of Cajun), and asked, “Is this seat taken?” If he hadn’t pointed to the chair, I might have never known what he had said.

An alum of LSU, Brad was a fierce competitor. When his LSU Tigers met my Alabama Crimson Tide during the SEC season, there was always playful rhetoric up until gameday – and then “it was on!” In 2012, when Bama and LSU played for the National Championship – all of our friends threatened to divorce us.

He was Jack, from the Jack in the Box restaurants at Paris Hilton’s Halloween party at LAX. He once bungee-jumped from the Stratosphere, and he often said that the inspiration to become a defender of humanity was from the time he played Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Brad spent his career helping the people he encountered, most of the time on the worst day of their lives. He served the displaced population trapped in conflict and violence, often abused and neglected, with a passion that led many of us to stand in awe. He was not afraid to rush into danger. He lived the standard of what it means to be the change he wanted to see in the world.

In August 2012, Brad suffered severe burns to eighty-six percent of his body after an airstrike in Syria. He spent nearly eight months in a burn center and had at least fifteen surgeries to repair damage. But more than the physical scars, Brad struggled with emotional and mental scars of trauma on the inside. He battled depression, suffered excruciating pain, experienced vivid flashbacks, and struggled with bouts of self-blame and guilt because of his inability to return to the field. He believed he was letting his team down and not fulfilling his purpose.

On Saturday, 27 June 2024, Brad lost his battle to escape the trauma he carried within and ended his life. But even in his end, he showed great courage and care for the ones left behind. He is survived by his mother, Elizabeth, his community, his many LSU and UNLV alumni, his field team, and his besties: Jason, Chad, Alex, Noelle, and Lara. He will be forever missed.

Humanitarian workers and healthcare professionals in the field often work in extreme conditions, under intense pressure, and are exposed to frequent trauma. Those conditions are constant and the only relief they experience is when they leave the field. But physically leaving the field and mentally and emotionally leaving the field are not the same. We encourage our brothers and sisters in humanitarian service to make self-care a priority. Reach out to a qualified group, trauma counselor, or therapist and request help. Please do not continue to carry the trauma alone. You are not alone.

With gratitude… Lara

Photo credit: Melanie, Carmie, and Brad in the field. (2012)

#thinkingoutloud #LaraKajs #traumacare #humanitarianservice #selfcare #suicide

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