Doug Bringmans video chatted with his father March 18, and like so many previous chats between the two, everything seemed fine.
His father, Mathieu, lives in Belgium, more than 4,700 miles away from the United States where his son is a major in the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Department. Between video chatting and annual visits to Europe, the two stayed in touch as much as possible.
But that day in mid-March would be the last time Doug would ever talk to his father. That night, Matthieu had breathing problems. He was taken to the hospital.
The next morning, he was diagnosed with coronavirus (COVID-19).
At that point, his contact from the outside world was cut off. Though the majority of his family lived in Belgium, no one could visit.
“You feel totally helpless and totally frustrated. There’s nothing you can really do,” Doug said.
Back in Florida, Doug was in a tough position. He attempted to find a flight overseas, but that was a mission that proved nearly impossible.
“I checked with several different airline companies, and because they were only flying at a third of the capacity, tickets were few and far between. The earliest I could find a flight was mid-April or the third week,” Doug said.
Even if he had been able to find a flight soon enough, it wouldn’t have mattered. He wouldn’t have been able to go visit his dad in the hospital anyway.
“I talked with my uncle, my dad’s oldest brother, and he said don’t come over here. This isn’t a good place to be right now,” Doug said.
He also knew the odds were stacked against his father. His dad had an aortic valve replacement many years ago and turned 79 years old in December.
Doug prayed for the best but braced himself for the worst.
“I knew this was going to be hard, if not, impossible to overcome. One because of his medical condition and two because of his age. He was also on blood thinners,” Doug said.
On March 22, just days after his father entered the hospital, he passed away from complications stemming from the virus. Doug received the call around 1 a.m. from his stepmom.
“It’s hard to describe. You feel totally powerless and helpless,” Doug said.
His stepmom was only able to see her husband one last time at the funeral home, more than a week after dropping him off at the hospital. Her doctor took her there and then brought her back home. Mathieu was then taken to the cemetery and laid to rest without anyone from the family present due to restrictions of the quarantine Belgium is under.
“The country is roughly eight times the size of our county and they have 7,000 cases. They are on full lockdown,” Doug said. “Other than going to the grocery store or to the doctor, everyone is hunkered down.”
These past two weeks haven’t been easy for Doug but he’s managed to find comfort in being able to stay in touch with his family. His mother lives here in the states and he has talked with his wife through this difficult time as well.
“I call my stepmom every morning and I talk to my wife and other family members. That’s been a big help,” Doug said.
Doug grew up in Belgium and came to America at the age of 17. He joined the marines after graduation and spent eight years in the military, serving from beginning to end of the first Gulf War. He’s been with the sheriff’s office in Santa Rosa County for 20 years.
His father was born during World War II and life wasn’t always easy for him. But he served as an example for Doug to follow.
“He was very driven and always successful in the things that he did,” Doug said. “Life wasn’t easy for him. He grew up in a small town in Belgium and worked in the coal mines when he was young. He didn’t finish high school, but that’s the way it was then. Everything he achieved he had to do it through heart, drive and desire.”
Those same characteristics have guided Doug to where he is today in life and he’s thankful for those life lessons that have served him well.
“He taught me that if you really dedicate yourself to something and apply yourself, there’s nothing you can’t achieve,” Doug said. “He knew I wanted to come to the United States and build a life here, and he never stopped me from doing it.”
Doug said the family is planning a memorial service in Belgium once life returns to normal. No one knows when that will be but Doug does know from experience that COVID-19 isn’t something that should be taken lightly by anyone.
“It makes you realize we all need to be very careful and pay attention to the things we do,” Doug said. “We need to listen to the advice from medical professionals and use common sense to keep ourselves healthy, our families healthy and our community healthy.”