Maybe it's every big brother's burden, but Nicholas Bulger was certain it was his job to make things right in his world. He was a natural problem solver, and given his large and complicated East Coast family, Nick grew up with plenty of opportunities to exercise that skill. He was never more animated and intense and happy than when he was taking on someone else's challenge. With everything then squared away, Nick would smile like he'd just taken a big bite out of the world.
When his mother Kathy returned from the hospital with his baby sister Jess, there was Nick at nine years old, relaying bottles and diapers and minding his two brothers, Christopher and Sheldon. Sensitive to her fatigue, Nick provided a break by taking his week-old sister to school under the guise of his contribution to the Grade 4 show and tell.
Occasionally, his solutions fell short. When his grandmother ran out of icing sugar during a cookie-baking marathon, Nick jumped into action. With cousin Ritchie he made the long hike into the village of Buckhorn, Ont., where he grew up, for supplies. They returned some time later with Nick proudly bearing a melting block of ice on his shoulder, and Ritchie a bag of sugar under each arm.
Nick knew something about self-preservation too. As a teenager he borrowed his uncle's kayak for a tour of PEI's Malpeque Bay. Back at the cottage, Nick left the kayak and hurried up for dinner, forgetting that a rising tide floats all boats. That kayak has never been found, and for a short time afterward, neither was Nick.
When he began considering careers, Nick looked hard at professions that would combine his big-brother ethic with his need for adventure. He settled on firefighting, and graduated from a preservice program at Fleming College in Peterborough, Ont. But fire departments generally don't hire 20-year-olds. Nick needed some seasoning, and he saw in the Canadian military the perfect mix of adventure, excitement and a chance to be a big brother on a much larger scale.
During a CBC interview on Canada Day, Nick looked sternly at the camera and suggested there is a future in Afghanistan. As a dad himself, seeing children run through the streets unafraid to play made him certain he was making things right; he was there for the kids. Two days later, the LAV he was driving ran over a roadside bomb.
There's a cruel irony in this, one that would greatly trouble Nick. His work to make things right in Afghanistan has left his wife Rebeka and their two beloved young daughters, Brooklyn and Elizabeth, with a large and ragged hole in the fabric of their lives. It's a problem without a solution.
John Bowker is Nick's uncle.