Talking about his loss helps Brackett get through pain

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Colts linebacker Gary Brackett has told the story so many times that you almost hate to ask.

He patiently explains over and over how he lost his father, mother and brother in the span of 17 months.

During a 45-minute interview at the Colts' team hotel Thursday, three TV reporters stopped by to ask subtle questions such as, "What's it feel like to lose three family members?"

"Pretty damn bad," most people in Brackett's shoes might say, but this 26-year-old from South New Jersey now refers to his loss as "a blessing."

"The more I tell my story, the more others can know they're not alone in dealing with tough times," said Brackett, an undrafted player who's the second-leading tackler on the team. "And talking about my parents and brother helped me get through this."

In October 2003, Brackett's father, Granville, died of a heart attack. The Vietnam veteran suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, causing him to spend a lot of time in mental hospitals.

Brackett said his father often watched his high school football games from a car in the parking lot because he couldn't deal with crowds.

A few months after losing her husband, Sandra Brackett checked into the hospital for a hysterectomy and never woke up. She suffered a stroke after the relatively routine surgery.
Three days later, it was Gary who helped convince his three brothers and one sister to take their mother off life support.

An ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Sandra had always been the family's anchor.

"She died without a will, and I found myself having to close out her estate," said Brackett, who'd just completed his rookie season with the Colts. "It was like I grew up overnight."
After his mother's death, Brackett said he almost became "numb" to the pain.

"I started hoping for the best but expecting the worst," he said.

By then, Brackett's older brother, Greg, had been diagnosed with T-cell leukemia. His four siblings were all tested for bone marrow donations, but Brackett was the only match.

Greg, who was three years older than Gary, had been a standout linebacker for Glassboro High School. He had already graduated when Brackett made his debut at linebacker his sophomore season and promptly made three consecutive tackles against Salem.

After the game, the Salem coach filed a report to the state office saying Glassboro had used an illegal player.

"We looked so much alike that he thought we'd brought Greg back for a fifth year," Brackett said.

After finding out he was a match, Brackett began injecting himself with medicine to boost his white blood cells. He attempted to participate in an off-season mini-camp, but Colts head coach Tony Dungy ended up telling him to focus on helping his brother.

"There was nothing I could do financially," he said, "so I gave him a part of me."

The transplant may have extended Greg's life, but he died Feb. 26.

On his flight into Miami, Gary found himself flipping through pictures of his family.

His mother, a huge Eagles fans, would have been especially proud.

Before each game, Brackett joins the "back 7" defensive players for a time of prayer. Then he walks over to his locker and talks to his late parents and brother.

On Sunday, he will run out of the tunnel and pump his chest three times to honor his late parents and brother.

Brackett, who took over as a starter at linebacker last season, has pictures of them in a display case in his home in Indianapolis and is having his mother's robe framed.

"I feel like they're still with me," he said.

And you'd like to think they have a pretty good view Sunday.

Matt Mosley covers the NFL for ESPN.com. He may be reached at matt.mosley@sbcglobal.net.