HALIFAX — The stark image shows a 50-year-old man with short, dark hair motionless in a hospital bed, eyes closed and a plastic breathing tube extending from his mouth.
He could be sleeping, or in a coma.
But the brief caption above the Facebook photo of Kevin Bernard makes it clear the Cape Breton man was close to death when the picture was taken.
"Today, I lost my younger brother to drugs," Barry Bernard, 57, wrote on Saturday. "My heart is heavy but he's in a better world."
The sombre and unsettling photograph had prompted more than 600 responses by Wednesday afternoon, most of them expressing sorrow for the Bernard family's loss. But a few thanked Barry Bernard for using such an intimate and moving moment to raise awareness about the scourge of drug abuse.
"Sorry to hear of this," said one post. "Yet proud of you for telling the story. Maybe ... just maybe it will help others realize the dangers of drugs. God works in mysterious ways."
Barry Bernard, who works for the Mi'kmaq Legal Support Network in Cape Breton, says there's no point in hiding the fact that his brother had struggled with an addiction to prescription drugs for more than 25 years.
"Some people were shocked, but people were proud that I put this image out there," Bernard said in an interview Wednesday.
Declared brain dead, taken off life support
"It's a story that has to be told ... I didn't think that this photo would be that powerful, but I was getting calls and messages from people I didn't even know ... and some were saying, 'It's about time that we took action.'"
After his brother overdosed last week while in Port Hawkesbury, N.S., he was transferred to a hospital in Halifax, where he was declared brain dead on Friday.
After discussing the matter with his sisters Pamela and Patricia, Bernard said they decided Kevin should be taken off life support.
"My question was: 'What quality of life do we want for my brother? Do we want it for us, or do we want it for him?' ... We all decided that we'll have to take him off the machine and let the Creator and him decide where he wants to go."
I wanted to show people who have loved ones with addictions that this is real. It happened to me.Barry Bernard
And that's when Bernard decided to take the photo.
"I don't know if it was my ancestors helping take this photo, but when I took it I didn't think about putting it on Facebook ... but I wanted to show people who have loved ones with addictions that this is real. It happened to me."
Kevin Bernard died at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning. The photo was posted at 9:35 a.m.
Barry Bernard recalled how his brother, a plumber by trade, was a kind man with an easy smile.
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"He loved fishing and he loved being with his friends," he said. "He always met you with a smile."
But he had a dark side. When he was young, he was introduced to some kind of drug at a party and his addiction grew from there.
Barry Bernard, who also runs the Eskasoni Red Tribe Boxing Club to keep local kids off the streets, said he would sometimes argue with his brother about his addiction, but the two would always work things out.
"At the end, he would still smile, grab my shoulder and say, 'Let's go for tea,'" he said. "People want to know his story. It's real. It's reality."
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