On the evening of April 15th, 2014, I got the call from my dad that my sister, Christine, was gone. It is the one moment in my life that I will never forget. I remember every detail down to the moment where I collapsed to the floor as though all the strength left my body. All I could do was pound my fists to the floor and scream "No! No! No!"
Words cannot express the type of pain that shoots through your heart; reaching every inch of your body, or the amount of disbelief that overtakes you.
For the rest of my life, I am without my sister. How could this happen? She was young. She was successful. She had a 5 year old son. She had so many friends and family who loved her. She was beautiful and kind, and witty beyond belief. How could she possibly take her own life?
I had a bad day at work. I came home, made dinner, fell to the couch with whatever crappy dinner I made for myself. I put my feet up and took a breath. Then my phone rang. I looked at the screen to see who was calling. It was my parents. Ugh. I did not want to talk to them. I did not want to talk about my day. I wanted everyone to leave me the hell alone. I let it ring. I wasn’t going to answer, but a feeling came over me that told me I should. With zero enthusiasm I answered. My dad said my name with a quivering voice. I perked up, wide eyed. I knew something was wrong, and then there they were; the words I never thought I would hear, ever.
“Holly <my dad sniffling>…Holly <my dad bursting into tears>…I’m so sorry. You’re sister killed herself this morning.”
“Killed herself”. What a fucked up concept. What a completely unbelievable thought. Did she kill herself or did she kill the pain? How could she go through with it? Why didn’t she talk to me? It’s her birthday in 9 days. We had plans. How could she? How long was she suffering? 1 million questions ran through my mind that night, the next morning, the next week, months later, years later even to this day 4 years later. I had never lost someone so close before. You hear about suicide all the time but words cannot express the all consuming feeling that clings onto you and reaches deep into your soul after the unthinkable happens. Suddenly your entire world comes to a halt. While everything freezes in time, your mind still manages to go 100 miles a minute; going over all the times you meant to call and didn’t. All the times she seemed upset and backed out on plans and you didn’t dig deeper to learn why. Why did it take this to realize the extent of her pain? Was I too caught up in my own shit to notice? Was I selfish? Did I not ask enough questions? Did I not show her enough support? Did she know I loved her and looked up to her? Did I tell her that enough?
The most difficult thing to do after losing a loved one to suicide it to not blame yourself. I think because we are never prepared for it, it leaves us with so many questions. We will never know their final thought. We will never know exactly what it was that caused them to end things at the moment they ended it. The only thing we can do is grow from it. It feels selfish at first to move on and build positivity through something so shattering, but it’s important to remember that grief still happens in between it all. Grieving is crucial. Nobody is ever better off avoiding the feelings of losing a loved one. Things will never be the same. There will always be that empty spot at the dining table at Christmas. Every year that passes will still mark birthdays and anniversaries. You cannot avoid something that is so blatantly in front of you, every day. All you can do is embrace it. Learn from it.
Christine enters my mind in some way every day. I embrace the thoughts of her because I loved her and always will. I choose to remember her because she deserves to be remembered. I tell stories about her because she was alive and she deserves to live on. Her son will want to know all about her one day and it’s my duty to be open to that, for him. Keeping her memory alive is far better than pretending her life and death didn’t happen. It was all real so pretending is not an option.
I’m grateful for what Christine has taught me. I know now how important my own mental health is. I need to take care of myself. I need to be open with my feelings and talk when things feel overwhelming or confusing. I need to pay attention to others and what they’re going through because they are likely to feel a lot of the same things I do. I need to be an ear for them. It’s time we all start to ask questions. Even when it seems like someone isn’t hurting; talk anyway. It's amazing what comes to the surface when you open up. I don’t know why there’s a stigma attached to something that effects each and every one of us, but it’s time to kick it to the curb. We have all seen what poor mental health can do to those around us, so it’s time we all support one another. Everyone deserves to be seen. Everyone deserves to be heard. Nobody deserves to live a life chained to the burden of mental illness.
To help fight mental health stigma, join me at #AxeTheStigma on June 16th at BATL Kitchener, 69 Agnes Steet.
This is for Christine. This is for all of you. You are here and you matter.