Published in the Fredericton Daily Gleaner, Monday, May 30, 2011
READ ORIGINAL ARTICLE HERE
It feels wrong for a grandmother to have to comb through belongings, looking for something special to keep as a memento of her granddaughter.
Life is not supposed to work this way. Sifting through memories – searching for some special keepsake – is something a granddaughter does when a beloved grandparent has lived a long life and has passed on.
It was never meant to happen the other way around.
Last Thursday, at a wake for a 19-year-old who took her own life, I experienced what it must feel like to drown.
Marissa and her brothers on a recent family vacation
Walking down the hall of the funeral home, passing by pictures of her life – milestones, funny faces, gleaming smiles, pictures with siblings, parents, grandparents and friends; vacationing, happy, gorgeous photos, all full of life – I couldn’t breathe.
In each photo I saw my own children … similar experiences, similar milestones, nearly identical happy smiles.
How could this happen?
I was overcome.
I thought I’d have to leave at one point. I had to calm myself down a few times, I talked to my husband, I breathed deeply, I tried not to look anyone in the eye.
When I reached her grandmother in the receiving line – this sweet, quiet, always positive, but now heartbroken friend – I couldn’t hold back. We held each other tightly and wept.
“We don’t always know what another person is going through sometimes, do we,” she whispered through her tears.
This broken family stood for hours consoling loved ones, acquaintances and some strangers – all people visibly hurt and bewildered by what has happened.
The line up started down the side of the road, and ran on for what seemed like forever, up into the entrance of the parking lot, across to the front steps, up and over the threshold, winding its way around the outside of the funeral home lobby, down the long hall to the room where this young, beautiful girl lay in her closed casket, surrounded by family and flowers and pain.
“If she could have only seen the support she had,” said the girl’s mother, gesturing to the long line behind me. She held my hand and then she hugged me – a stranger, weeping before her, someone oblivious to her earlier life, but hurting with the realization of her current one.
I found this more difficult than being at my own father’s wake.
My dad got to live a life, see children born and grow and make him proud, got the chance to travel and have a career and spoil grandchildren.
Marissa never got that chance.
But her family isn’t alone. Many people will read this and feel horrible for her family, able to imagine the pain. Many others will nod their heads and know that pain.
There is such guilt with suicide, and so many are afraid to talk about it after it happens. Some people feel they can’t talk about it with friends and family, that they can’t mourn their loss because of the circumstances surrounding that loss.
A long time ago I received a beautiful email from a hurting mom who found it difficult to talk about her son to friends because of his suicide. She felt many people made her feel ashamed to honour his memory because of those horrible dark last moments of his life.
But she had carried him joyfully for nine months, watched him grow and learn and make mistakes, was proud of him and his accomplishments. He was and will always be a part of her. She loved him with all her heart, and yet, because of mental illness, he felt the need to stop the heart she helped create, to end his life, and in turn, end the life she knew.
She will never stop grieving – no parent does. She will forever feel the guilt and pain associated with what has happened, but there is also sadness in the fact that his life will never be measured in a way others are.
Sadly, suicide is measured differently – with less dignity, with more shame. She mourns not only the loss of her sweet boy, but the loss of his worth. She knows that our society will forever measure his life NOT by the way it was lived, but how it ended.
How can one moment define a long journey?
Why do we let it?
And why do the majority of us continue to sit quietly on the sidelines while people continue to die needlessly.
Suicide statistics are scary.
Suicide makes Canada’s ‘top 10’ list for what kills people in this country.
Statistics Canada’s latest numbers say that in 2007 there were 3,611 people who committed suicide. Out of those, 790 people were under the age of 30.
In the only comparison table I could find, New Brunswick had the second highest rate of suicide in Canada in 2002. A woman I talked with at Mental Health didn’t think the statistics moved much in our favour since then.
The latest published provincial coroners report says 109 people in the province ended their lives in 2008. Provincially, the highest rates were in the Saint John and Moncton regions that year, each logging 31 suicides.
The majority of these people are under the age of 40, with the majority of them ending their lives violently. Hanging and shooting are the top means, with drug overdose coming in a close third.
The numbers are horrific and yet what are we doing, collectively?
Sure, we have small pockets of groups out there. Sure, we have provincial bodies that offer outreach services.
Sure, mental health is a part of our health care system. But why aren’t we shouting from the rooftops, why aren’t we demanding better care, better services, better education and support for our young people?
How many Marissa’s do we have to lose before someone realizes we’re losing beautiful people who could make a difference?
I talked to my kids, I talked to my students, I’m talking to you. I want you to talk to family members, educate your children, speak to the people you care about, find out what’s out there for help, make donations, join groups, start something at your college or university, set up something with your neighbours, ask your employer about mental health workshops for the workplace, talk to your school boards and make them make mental health education a priority and start it early.
Talk to your provincial and federal government representatives. Hound them, write them and make them understand that these lives need to stand for something.
Our young people are in crisis, and we have let this crisis go on long enough. I have no idea why we haven’t been shouting from the rooftops to make things better, but we can start now.
I’ve got my ladder in hand, and I’m making the climb … more voices make change happen. Won’t you join me on the rooftop?
Theresa Blackburn is a wife, mother and New Brunswick Community College instructor who lives and writes in Woodstock. You can email her at email@example.com, or join her group, Big Fat Life, on Facebook. You can also follow her on Twitter @MY_BIG_FAT_LIFE