We received some devastating news last week.
When Kyle’s phone rang late last Thursday night, I sat there in silence, knowing what was coming. In just that instant, our world was about to change once again.
My mind raced – who, how, when?
I flashed back to almost exactly five years ago, when Kyle’s phone rang and instead of his mom on the end, it was mine. My phone was turned off as we were already half asleep, so my mother phoned Kyle to tell him the devastating news of my dad’s surgery and cancer diagnosis. I remembered the shock, the coldness that overcame me, and the robotic way we packed our things and prepared for a midnight drive to Regina.
This time, his mom choked out the terrible news – her nephew’s son, our cousin’s boy Levi. 14 years old. Gone.
We still don’t have details, mostly because we do not want to ask. The haunting particulars of the end of his too-short life will not bring him back and will likely leave me even more restless, sleep-deprived, and tearful.
But I had to write about this. I had to share my pain, my anger and my frustration at the way the world is transforming right before my eyes.
In the last few months, our small city of 63,000 people has suffered loss after loss, so many of them suicide or overdose, likely pushed by the extreme mental health crisis this world is now facing.
I wrote about this in my last blog – how the loneliness of quarantine and the lock-down and complete government control of the things we value most in life – connection, laughter, silliness, music, movies, and shared experiences – is destroying us in a likely far worse and much longer-lasting way than this virus can.
And this loss hit me hard.
How long can we sacrifice our mental health and happiness in fear of the potential physical illness out there?
At what point does the reward of seeing those we love outweigh the risk of catching this incredibly contagious virus?
How many of us are willing to concede and live in a world with no connection to friends/family, no singing, sports, live music, no weddings or birthday parties, no facial expressions and no school or activities for our kids?
How many more lives do we have to lose to suicide before we recognize that a life lived in constant fear and paranoia is not a life worth living?
These people we are losing to mental health struggles and stress are family. They are fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, sons and daughters. They are cousins. And no matter their age, it is loss. Grief does not discriminate.
My work on this blog focuses on helping worn-out women, moms in particular, to feel worthy of a good life and to know that a good life is often a messy one. And this pandemic and mental health crisis is making life messier than ever – sometimes to the point where it is tough to write, to post, and to tell others, “Tomorrow’s a new day! Keep shining! Have faith!”
If you are a mom or empathic nurturer, these burdens likely weigh on you even heavier. How do you show up for your kids and make sure they can talk to you about their stressors? How can you keep your own bucket full so when the shit hits the fan, you can keep going? How can you even tell if your kids are struggling? If you are grieving, how do you let go of all the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” scenarios?
I wish I had a concrete answer, but sometimes life is just tough.
As I think of our cousin, a widower who lost his wife and the mother of his three children when his youngest was just a babe, I cannot imagine the excruciating pain of coming to terms with the loss of your child. Planning a funeral, writing an obituary, sorting through belongings and photos and coping with the energetic hole that losing someone places in your life – all these things seemed unfathomable to me when it was my 61 year old father we were doing them for.
This boy had so much ahead of him – so many things to learn, adventures and places to seek out, friends to make and girls to fall in love with; so many hugs, kisses, high fives and dances to share. He had passions to discover, talents to share with others, and compassion to give.
And if it he was bullied, I can relate. Being a teenager is hard and when I started grade nine, I was tortured emotionally by the girl who used to be my best friend – to the point where transferring schools was the only logical reprieve. It took me almost three months before I broke down and told my parents of the daily torment. I would come home and go to my room to do “homework” and just cry and cry and cry. I felt shame and wondered what the heck happened? What did I do to deserve this cruelty? We tried talking to the principal and parents and that only made it worse and more secretive. Thankfully there was no social media back then and I could “escape” the torture when I got off the school bus. People can be so cruel.
Bullies project their own pain and this pandemic is causing people’s vulnerabilities, insecurities and deep sense of lack to bubble up and out. The trauma and stress that people were already experiencing is being amplified and we are all being asked if we are going to face our shadows or not.
I’ve been trying not to think about the internal struggles Levi must have been carrying, instead doing my best to remember the sweet boy who was always kind to me, always gentle and friendly to my girls, and who loved his family fiercely.
But that is also the hardest thing – to know that this grief will always be with me. That he is at peace, but we are left to mourn. We are left to redefine our lives without him in it and to carry on, forever burdened by the love we have for him that he can no longer physically reciprocate. Words left unsaid and pain left forever etched on our hearts.
Unlike most of my blogs, this one isn’t full of exercises to use if you are feeling low. Instead, I wanted to bring even more light to the intense grief that is overtaking our community and world. I believe that talking openly and honestly about grief, loss, and mental health struggles will help remove the stigma and perhaps inspire those feeling crushed by burdens to reach out.
There is so much uncertainty, so much fear running rampant, and so many terrible people taking advantage of this fear, insecurity and pain. Please, please, please know that you are not alone in feeling frustrated, exhausted, overwhelmed, anxious, angry, discouraged and even hopeless.
I synchronistically published this blog on Suicide Prevention Day, so if you are needing help, you can call the Mental Health Help Line at 1-877-303-2642.
And please also try to remember that this too shall pass. Don’t let a bad day or a bad week end it all. Good things await, I’m certain of it.
Change is a constant and everything transitions. Even the shitty parts of life eventually shift and tend to lighten (in my experience). Do not let that hopelessness take hold too deep in your soul – honour the pain and then reach out to someone and talk it out. Pick a family member, friend, minister, counselor or psychologist and share your pain.
Let go of your fear of upsetting others or of being judged, for we all have dark, painful, shadow sides lurking within – it’s part of being human. And yes, it can suck, but those dark parts make the light and love we experience that much more enjoyable. When the good moments/days happen, soak them in. And know that you are not defined by your job, your bank account, your wardrobe, your relationship status, your family situation, your beliefs, what social media says, or any of those painful words that others spew at you. Rather, you are a strong and resilient soul, a force of energy that chose to inhabit your body – that sweet container – for an unknown amount of time, stuck by gravity to this spinning rock in the middle of an unfathomably vast universe. Your consciousness is an amazing gift and your soul needs you in this body to keep going. Keep growing, keep trying, keep waking up and showing up and putting one foot in front of the other.
You are loved.
P.S. If you are interested in helping Kevin and his family as they navigate this loss and try to keep the family business afloat while grieving, a GoFundMe page has been set up here.
There was also an article shared recently that shines light on a lot of the terrible and tragic losses Medicine Hat has experienced. It is another well-written article that stresses the importance of ending the stigma around mental health struggles, particularly in men. It can be read here.
And, if you are looking for support on your grief journey or the courage to keep going despite struggles and fear, my second book Leap! is full of exercises and guided meditations, as well as more of my story from 2015.