I often found myself in tears at events with people staring at me, and on occasion I realized people were actually waiting to see if I cried as my habit of wearing my emotions on my sleeve (and my face) was becoming quite well known. Almost 1000 blog posts and almost four years later I don’t cry nearly as often, at least not in public. I learned to keep those feelings in another place, still present but a bit more tucked away for private reflection.Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, I cried again.
I had heard the story already but had been reluctant to write about it, unwilling to do anything that could add to the suffering of a family already experiencing a searing kind of pain and loss. I feared anything I wrote would simply magnify their pain and I was so hesitant to do so, but yesterday I saw they opened their hearts to the public so we could all learn from their tragedy.This year in June a very young woman in our community, not much younger than the Intrepid Junior Blogger, took her own life. She was only thirteen.
I remember being thirteen and being in Grade 6, because that was the year I was bullied by a group of other young adults who took great pleasure in tormenting me. The abuse went on until I finished Grade 8 and began high school, where I was able to disappear into a much larger crowd of students and my bullies moved on to new targets. It was the late 70’s and bullying was not talked about much back then – in fact I never told my parents or siblings or anyone else about the bullying, because I felt I had no recourse. I had changed schools for Grade 6 as we had moved to a new neighbourhood and while the kids in my old school were still very much kids the ones at the new school were far more sophisticated – they were dating and kissing and way further along in their development to young adulthood, and I simply didn’t fit in. In those pre-internet days, though, I was able to escape my bullies every night and weekend by going home and closing my door, because it was my refuge from them. In this era of social media there is no such refuge, and the bullying continues unabated as the bullies move their activity online and right into the homes and hearts of their victims.We talk a great deal about bullying now, a far cry from what we did decades ago when I was thirteen. In some ways I think we have diluted the discussion as far too often people claim “bullying” when dealing with conflicts between adults, diminishing the true nature and impact of bullying on our children. The reality is adults have resources, experience and skills our young adults and children simply don’t have. We need to ensure we do not dilute or diminish the true nature and impact of bullying, and part of that may be ensuring we are not using the term too easily or too freely when doing so could lessen our understanding of what true bullying is – and what it can lead to.
Perhaps the most troubling part of this story is that Morgan ‘s parents sought help for her and were unable to find it. It is an indictment of our health care system that she was unable to access the assistance she needed in a timely manner and that she carried her pain alone for so very long.In fact I feel this story is a story of our collective failure. We failed to help a young woman in need. We failed her and her family. This family came to Fort McMurray – my community – to call it home and build a life. And in this new home they lost their child, in a way that could have – and should have – been prevented.
I extend my deepest sympathies and condolences to the Dunbar family as they are living an experience beyond what I can imagine. This loss, though, goes far beyond their family and right into the heart of our community as when a young adult chooses to end their life we have all lost something profoundly special and unique. This is the kind of loss that rips at the fabric of our community and that speaks to our need to not only have open and frank conversations about bullying but about the lack of mental health care services for young adults and our own role in allowing these situations to occur. It is tragic that it takes the loss of a beautiful young woman to start that dialogue, but it would be even more tragic if we neglected this dialogue for a moment longer.As the parent of a young woman I know what a long journey it is to raise a child. You get them through the childhood diseases, high fevers and visits to the ER. By the time they hit young adulthood you think you have managed to get them through all the major threats, never truly understanding that the biggest threat to them may not be physical diseases but the trials and tribulations of navigating a world that can be harsh and unkind, especially to gentle souls who are young and fragile.
You never, ever want to believe that your child could take their own life. That this occurred recently in our own community should be our clarion call to action: to a stronger stance on bullying in our schools and online, to a stronger health care system to provide support to young adults who can fall through the cracks and to speaking to the young adults in our lives about bullying, mental health and suicide.I don’t cry very often anymore, but last night I went to sleep in tears thinking about a young woman gone far too soon and in a way that should have never happened. I am so very sorry that we as a society failed Morgan and her family. There is no way to bring her back or to lessen their pain – but perhaps we can each pledge to never allow ourselves or our community to fail another young person again. Maybe that is the pledge we can each make to honour her legacy and keep her memory alive. Too little perhaps, and too late for Morgan – but maybe just in time and just enough to save the life of another.