For Corner Brook resident Michael Gaultois, words cannot describe the excruciating pain he once suffered. The physical agony. The mental anguish.
But Gaultois was determined, even desperate to ensure his son Ryan, then 15, understood the danger of a situation like the one he survived years ago.
Teenagers believe they are immortal; parents know the difference.
Twelve years ago, Gaultois brought Ryan to the site of a devastating fire in which his friend died, and in which Gaultois sustained third-degree burns over 90 per cent of his body. The blaze meant years of rehabilitation. At one point, Gaultois wanted to give up. The pain was too much.
"I remember Ryan looking around the site," Gaultois recalled. "He said, 'Dad, you are lucky to be alive, but you know what else? I'm lucky to be here too."
Reflecting on that moment during an interview, Gaultois knows he is fortunate.
"I've always had the attitude that anything is possible, but I never thought I would be a father," Gaultois said during a telephone interview.
"I have an incredible son, and it's a whole new world when you have a grandchild," he said, speaking fondly of Ryan's young son Blake.
"I see so much of Ryan in Blake," said Gaultois. "I've been twice blessed to experience that as a grandparent."
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Ryan Murrin, now 27, is a psychiatric nurse at Western Memorial Regional Hospital in Corner Brook. When he was a little boy, he noticed people staring at his father.
"Why?" Ryan would ask. "You're only burned."
In those three words lay a message of unconditional love and acceptance.
"Everyone has a story," Gaultois told his son. "The scars you see on the outside are only a very small part of mine."
A tragedy at a makeshift camp
March 25, 1991. Four boys. A makeshift camp in the woods. One door, one window, and a burning candle.
There was no running water. No smoke detector or fire extinguisher.
"My grandmother was one of the most important people in my life," Gaultois said. "That night she warned me. She said, 'Michael, for God's sakes, don't go up there. You're going to be burned.' I know now what that felt like for her. My grandmother lost her brother in a house fire. She never spoke much about it. She watched me go and couldn't do anything to stop me."
Gaultois is honest about the mistakes he made and his struggles with survivor guilt. He remembers how difficult it was to return home, heavily bandaged, from the Shriners Hospitals for Children in Boston.
His parents, divorced when Gaultois was five, watched their son suffer a long healing process.
"I don't have a strong relationship with my father, but I know how he felt," Gaultois said. "My mother carried a great deal of responsibility, raising my younger brother and [me] on her own. The fire affected her deeply. I am truly blessed to have her with me 30 years after the night that changed my life forever."
Gaultois graduated from Memorial University's Grenfell Campus in 2003 with a major in psychology. In 2019. Western Regional School of Nursing (WRSON) gave him an award honouring 25 years educating nursing students.
Ryan is one of the students who sat in the classroom listening to his father talk about mental and physical trauma.
"I told Ryan he could be anything he wanted to be," Gaultois said. "He went into nursing believing it was the best way to help people and that spoke to me because he's seen what I've been through, and he knows my story."
Gaultois, 46, is now a successful motivational speaker. "WRSON is where my journey from victim to survivor began," he said.
"I talk from my heart, and it all comes back to family and community. If you have a good relationship with your family and a good connection to your community, you have everything you could ever want."
Standing at the site of the devastating fire with his teenage son, Gaultois spoke about fire safety and making choices. He talked about the importance of choosing your own path no matter how difficult the road might seem.
"I told my boy, 'We are both very lucky.'"