My life has had many ups and downs. I have lost loved ones and gained loved ones. My brother committed suicide. I have contemplated suicide. I lost my mother when I was very young. I am still here today. This is my story.
It has been 7 years now without my brother.
March 31st 2012. It’s was a beautiful day. Sunny, t-shirt and capri weather. I started my day like I always do. Woke up, had breakfast, watched tv and went to work at my retail job at Bed Bath and Beyond. I liked it there. Good people, busy, and being a cashier was always so fun. I am a people person, so greeting and helping customers for 8 hours made me happy.
There was something different about this day. Very different.
I was about 5 hours into my 8 hour shift. Surprisingly it wasn't busy for a Saturday. I was behind the cash register, doodling on a notepad, waiting for my next customer when my Uncle stormed into the store. My Uncle? Why is my Uncle here? Those were the first thoughts to rush through my head. He quickly found my manager, whispered something in his ear and told me we had to go.
All thoughts rushed through my head. "Where are we going?" "What is happening?" "Is Grandma and Grandpa okay?" The unknown. My Uncle held my hand, as we drove in silence to my house in Bonavista.
When we pulled up, I saw my Grandpa stand up from his lounge chair in the living room.
I opened the door and saw both my Grandparents in the family room. Staring at me like they saw a ghost. Was I in trouble? Did I do something?
I sat down on the couch in our family room and began to get anxiety. Still nobody had said a word to me. "What is happening?" I asked. I started to tear up.
I looked at my Grandma, who was trembling and had a hard time making words.
"Your brother committed suicide."
Those four words. Those words will live in me for the rest of my life.
I fell to the floor. Screaming, panicking, trying to cry, yet the shock of those words, the reality wouldn’t let me.
They say before you die your life flashes in front of you.
I learned that day, that when a family member dies your life flashes in front of you as well. It was like a movie from the past to the present shot up in front of my face in warp speed.
The year of 1995, where my beautiful Mother passed away from an asthma attack and we are put into care with our grandparents, was a tragedy in itself. Our lives would never be the same after the loss of our Mom. My grandparents daughter.
We have a pretty typical childhood. We play sports, we find our loves and interests. Kevin becomes one of the best opera singers in Alberta and I am passionate about dance. We go on many family trips, we attend typical schools, make friends, graduate high school, and simply go through life together as a team, as an unstoppable sibling duo.
This all flashes through my head. All these precious moments.
I am then taken back to a year earlier. I am 17 years old and struggling with my own life.
Graduating, coming to terms with my Brother going back to University in New York, saying bye to all my friends as they head off to University too. The feeling of being alone. The classic thought of, What am I doing with my life? Sadly right after I graduate, I fall into a terrible world. A world called depression and anxiety.
To the point where I can’t even get out of bed.
I stay like this for a month.
My Grandma finally forces me out of bed one day and go see a doctor. This was the hardest thing I had done in a month. The last thing I want to do is see a doctor and talk. I want to be in my bed, alone, and unwanted. The doctor asked me a number of questions, asked me about my life, my childhood, my passions, my future.
Finally he got to a question that I'll never forget to this day.
Doctor: "Josie do you want to hurt yourself?"
Me: "Yes, I don't want to be here anymore"
Doctor: "Josie, have you had thoughts of suicide?"
Me: "Yes." I wished more than anything I wasn't here anymore.
Within minutes I was told I would be put into a care system at the Foothills Hospital. I was unable to be unsupervised with how at risk I was. I was scared, anxious, nervous, but I also felt a small feeling of hope.
I spent 2 weeks in the hospital. No technology, no phone calls, and a few night time visitors for brief amounts of time. My visitors were my grandparents and my brother.
I met with many doctors over the course of 2 weeks, I did a lot of work, and learned lots about myself and mental health.
As part of my healing, I had to write my suicide note to my family and then read it to them. This exercise was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Through tears, I was hardly able to get the words fully out.
This moment was when I knew I wanted to be here. I knew I was worth something and had a really great life. I was a lucky one, I made it through my mental health and depression. I wasn't perfect when I got home, it took therapy sessions, counselors, and lots of work, but I made it through. I had an amazing support system behind me, guiding me, and loving me….fast forward to seconds after I am told my Brother is gone, my life is back to reality.
That day, March 31st was the worst day of my life. It still is to this day.
Where do we go from here? What is life going to be like now? What am I suppose to do tomorrow? Next week, in a month, a year?
A police officer showed up to our house that night. After hours of communication between my brothers school in New York and Calgary police- they had confirmed Kevin was gone. My Big Brother. Taken out of my life just like that. All those memories, moments, my best friend, my partner in crime. Gone. It was like my arm got torn away from me and I was never going to get it back. We had already had such a hard life together, with Mom dying so early and my mental health, I couldn't believe this was happening. The worst part was, whenever hard things happened to us we always leaned on each other for support…I didn't have that anymore. I had to have been dreaming…somebody pinch me so I can wake up from this nightmare.
How could this even be happening? I had just texted him the day before. We had the best conversation about one of our favorite movies Cadet Kelly. He was happy, he was perfect, he was performing this weekend with his school. He loved performing.
As weeks and months went on. We had Kevin's funeral, we had an outpour of love from friends and family. We spent a lot of time together as a family, grieving, not sleeping, and asking the simple question over and over again- Why?
As time went on, the world kept going. Life didn’t stop. Even though in our worlds life stopped. Life was broken, the rest of the world was living. This was the hardest part for me. I felt I needed a sign over my head when I was out in public- GO EASY ON ME MY BROTHER JUST DIED.
Simple things like grocery shopping or driving a car seemed so hard.
Days when a cashier would be a little more snarky or a person walking by me gave me a weird stare would make me break down and cry.
I didn't go back to work for a month.
I hardly got out of bed on any given day.
But one day I realized something, and I made a decision.
A decision to live.
A decision to make a difference.
I needed to keep going with life, even though in my heart my life couldn't go on without Kevin.
I called Bed Bath and Beyond and asked if I still had my job there. They were happy to have me back and I started to next day. I still remember that day like it was yesterday. I came out from the staff room, and within seconds a nice lady came up to me and asked where the towels were. I couldn’t even reply to her. I started to cry. I walked away and asked my manager if I could go home. I never went back to bed bath and beyond. I wasn't ready to work, or be around such a high intensity job like that. I was too fragile.
For the rest of the Summer I got really close with my Grandma. We talked a lot about Kevin. We gained a tiny bit of closure going through his clothes, his room, and making a scrap book of all his pictures and awards.
There were days that I would text him, in hopes he maybe, just maybe would reply and this whole nightmare was just a mistake. He never did reply.
During the Summer I decided to enrol at Bow Valley College for the Education Assistant Program.
It was a full-time course, but I felt ready to be out in public and be in a classroom of roughly 20 students, passionately working toward the goal of helping special needs children. I also went back to dance two nights a week.
Dance and school saved my life.
I kept busy, focused, and fell in love again with my dancing. I worked hard. As hard as I could at school. These two things were my foundation to what re-gained hope from the worst year of my life.
As the year went on, I found myself being counselled yet again for grief, pain, stress, and the loss of a sibling. My one on one sessions were amazing, and I soon found myself attending a once a week Sibling Loss Group. THIS was the best thing I could have ever done. I needed a lot of push, and perseverance to go to my first group, but after the first one I was so happy I did.
Throughout my 3 months in this group. I met individuals just like me.
We all had one thing in common. We had all lost a sibling. Some of the people were my age 18-20. Others were in their 30's to 40's and others had lost their sibling over 20 years ago and had just found the strength to come to this group.
All our tragedies were different.
Some lost their siblings to car accidents. Some lost their siblings to suicide. Others to a long battle with cancer or other diseases.
What I learned most though, was that we all weren't alone.
Before my sibling loss group I was so jealous, mad, and confused, why all my friends had their siblings and I couldn’t have mine. Why couldn't I talk about Kevin the way I used to? It was like his name would shatter windows around me when I said it. My friends didn’t know how to respond, or how to process my feelings and loss. It was hard…I felt alone all the time and had nobody to relate to anymore. This is why my sibling loss group was the best thing that ever happened to me. I finally wasn't alone. Even though we were all brought together through tragedy and wished so badly we didn't have to be at this group, but we were connected and we found strength from one another's stories and hope.
As the year went on I graduated from Bow Valley with amazing marks. I completed my year of dance, and ended up being offered a job to teach the next dance season. I raised over $1000 for Survivors of Suicide that year and found anyways possible to keep my brothers legacy alive.
However, as my life went on I still felt a constant hole in my heart. A lot of my happiness was taken away with my ongoing battle of wishing my Brother was here to see my achievements.
I have done a lot in that time. For the past six years I have worked at an amazing company called Pacekids.
The reason I work with little children everyday who have special needs is because I see hope in all of them. Hope that I wish I could have given my Brother 7 years ago when he battled his darkest days. He truly is the reason I work in the field I do.
I may not have been able to save or help my Brother but knowing I can touch a young persons life daily makes me warm inside. I have taught dance for 6 years- a passion of mine that I truly don’t think will ever leave my mind or body.
My brother always told me to keep dancing. I dance for myself but also for him.
I got married last year to the love of my life. Another situation where I feel cheated from life that Kevin or my Mom couldn’t be at my Wedding day.
My Husband can't ever meet his Brother in Law or his Mother in law.
Our kids will never meet their Uncle or their Grandma.
I still have extremely dark days, and days where I feel alone in this journey through life without my Brother and my Mom, but also the journey of Suicide and Mental Health.
The main question I always ask and will have to live with for the rest of my life is Why? And unfortunately this question will never be answered for my family and I. We will go on living life through the unknown. I think this is the hardest thing for me.
I have taken my own tragedy and made it something worth listening to and talking about. I think of myself as an advocate for Mental Health. Last year I raised over $1500 for the Canadian Mental Health Association in memory of Kevin. On September 29th 2019 I participated in the Run For Life hosted by Centre for Suicide Prevention for the second time.
These are things that have made me feel light at the end of tunnel. I have truly learned that it is okay to not be okay, but to recognize when we need help and when we need the guidance toward that help. This past year my own tragedy and guidance helped me deal with my Husbands sobriety journey and his own mental health struggles.
If I didn't have the knowledge and strength from my losses, I don't think I could have been my Husbands guiding light through his darkest days. I am proud of my Husband everyday for overcoming his barriers and transforming into a better version of himself.
If I didn't have the support system I had 7 years ago and right now I truly don't think I would be where I am today. Support System is key and it is so important to make sure you have support, whether it be a friend, a family member, a coworker, or even the cashier you might see once a week. Feeling any type of support is what makes us stronger and braver to do things we might be afraid of doing.
I don’t think my life has been fair and I do think I have been dealt a crappy set of cards at some points in my life, but I do really believe everything happens for a reason. I am blessed to have the most amazing Husband and dog who have been my rocks throughout this crazy life journey. I have the best Grandparents, who through burying two children and making it through their own life's barriers have been my hero's and cheerleaders. My second family The Colborne's, my In laws, but really my sisters and second parents, have been my best friends and huge inspirations to me. But above all I have really had to be my own bestfriend and love myself for who I am. I am proud of myself and I am worth it. Everybody will grieve differently and everybody will go through their own mental health pain, struggles, and stories, but if I can give any advice as someone who has struggled through so much is to be kind. Everyone is fighting their own battle and just always be kind. Mental health is just as serious as physical health!
Reach out when you need a hand , or a hug, or just a good talk, don't be embarrassed for your health and the way you might be feeling. Do things that make you happy, whatever it may be. See a doctor, go to groups, ask questions, do research.
You are so worth it, and there is so much more to your story.
24 Hour Mental Health Help Line: 1-877-303-2642 or text 686868