I was at an event on Monday that was a challenging one for me to navigate through. It was a “Planning Day” hosted by VIHA (the Vancouver Island Health Authority) and the MCFD (Ministry of Child and Family Development), specifically relating to child and youth mental health. This is a subject that is close to my heart since losing my son to suicide on Feb 1 2012.
So many thoughts and emotions are swirling inside my mind right now that it’s hard to formulate them into any semblance of organization so there will be a lot of writing over the next little bit as I process what I took in and try to make sense of feelings.
The day stirred up a lot of emotions. I can’t say that my grief or depression are ever really far below the surface to be honest, but this certainly ripped off any scab that was starting to form. I knew it was going to be a tough day and I was well aware that I was walking into a room that would be filled with clinicians, mental health care workers, maybe some fellow parents and possibly some youth who all were there to talk about youth mental health. I was prepared for the fact that I was going to have to be very cognizant of my emotions and that self-care was going to be a big thing that day. My psychiatrist was going to be there as well so there was at least one person who I knew that would be a familiar face though.
The drive up to Nanaimo, a little less than 2 hours, was stressful and anxious for me. I was nervous and wasn’t sure what to expect. As I got closer to Nanaimo my anxiety increased and tears started – which only made me more nervous because what if I couldn’t control the tears there? I needed to be “strong” and in my mind that means not crying in front of people, especially people who I don’t know. Once arrived at the hotel where the event was to be held, I spent almost half an hour sitting and breathing and calming myself down. Walking in to the event, I felt like I could do this – I could keep my emotions in check and function and be clear in my thoughts.
One look at the agenda and I realized that I had no idea how I was going to deal with the inevitable question about who I am and where I’m from. We were instructed to get to know the people at our tables and the first question was “how are you associated? who do you work for?”. I answered simply, “I’m a parent” as there were about half a dozen parents invited, I wasn’t alone completely in that capacity. We were there to offer insight on the mental health system from a different perspective than the doctors or case workers or ministry policy makers.
What has left me somewhat reeling and trying to recover is what came next… the question of “how old is your son… how is he doing now?”. Trying to stammer out the answer made me feel like a baby giraffe trying to stand for the first time. I stuttered and didn’t know what words to use and I teared up and barely got out that he was “no longer with us”. When asked when, I managed, “Feb 2012, almost 18 months” and then there was an awkward silence as the person nodded and looked sad and I just sat there. Even in that environment where youth mental health is openly discussed and the word suicide is not shunned, I couldn’t say the words that would explain how he died. I realized that 18 months on one hand is such a long time and feels like an eternity… and yet, opening my mouth and saying those words on Monday seared with a pain that felt like it was last week. It felt fresh and raw and recent. It felt like i had him in my arms just last week and now he’s gone.
I have spent the last 2 days wondering if I will ever feel like it’s not that raw. If 18 months has gone by and mentioning him out loud to new people hurts this profoundly, will it ever be any easier to live with?
I took away so much from that day, and there is so much in my mind that is screaming to be put down here but for now it all comes down to that question. I am feeling the grief, I am living with it… It’s so hard and the pain is so much. I need to believe and have hope that it will get easier.That belief and that hope can’t be given to you in a pill or made to be known by someone (or many someones) telling you that it will. You just have to feel it inside. Only time will give me that hope.
I miss Willie every day. I wish he had had hope… I wish he had seen the truth that he could have a full and good life, living with mental illness. I wish that he had been more patient. But none of those wishes will change what is, now. All we can do is move forward and see what we can do to help the others who are like him.