In front of me on my computer screen are photos of lovely floral displays, everything from roses to lilies. I click a link and order a beautiful arrangement, but as I do so I feel no joy or happiness in the flowers.This is not a celebration.
I am ordering flowers not for a birth, a wedding or an anniversary. I am sending flowers to a dear friend who has just lost her eighteen year old son to suicide, and my heart has cracked in half.I met Kathleen Smith four years ago when this blog began, and she has been a constant in my life ever since. We are so similar in some ways, so different in others, but one firm link is that we are both mothers who fiercely love our children. The Intrepid Junior Blogger is a scant three years younger than Kathleen’s son Mackenzie, and when Kathleen told me Mack was gone I cried in a way I have not cried in a very, very long time.
It wasn’t just about her loss, though, but the loss to our society when a young man chose to end his own life. I won’t speculate on his reasons, because they don’t matter. What matters is that this young man was in pain, as are so many of our other youth. And our youth are not getting the access they need to mental health services, and it is destroying them – and us.The loss of every single young person is a tragedy, because when they die we lose their potential, a potential which has not even come close to being realized or recognized. When they choose to take their life we are left with heartache and grief and a keen feeling of the senselessness of it all.
Suicide has touched my family, too, as has depression, anxiety, anorexia and a host of other mental health issues. I have seen the struggle to access mental health services as we are still so woefully underserviced in this regard. I know in my community that young adults with mental health issues often fall in between the cracks as we have so few services available to them, and as a result we too have seen young adults taking their own lives. This is a travesty. This is unacceptable. And this must end.Mental health is in no way different from physical health. If our youth were dying because they could not access treatment for cancer we would be outraged, storming the legislature and tearing down the doors to demand more for them. And yet with mental health, perhaps due to the stigma, far too often we remain silent. But not anymore, because my friend Kathleen is turning her son’s tragic, untimely death into a cry for better mental health services for our youth. She is tearing away the stigma, ripping it off and exposing her pain so that others will not need to endure it.
You can read her own words here – in fact I ask you to. It is difficult to read and painful, but not nearly as painful as it must have been to write. That Kathleen is a picture of dignity and courage is without question – and even more than that she is a grieving parent who has done the thing no parent should ever do: write her child’s obituary.This weekend, on Saturday, there will be a celebration of Mackenzie’s life in Edmonton. I wish I could be there, but I cannot. Instead, in honour of Mack, in his memory and with respect for Kathleen and her family, I will be toasting Mack with my favourite gin and tonic, and with a fedora on my head as Mack was known for his passion for wonderful hats. I will take one of those ubiquitous selfies and send it out in my social media world, hashtagged with #hatformack – and I hope you will join me. If you care about our future, about our youth and about ensuring all those who need it have access to adequate mental health services I ask you to add your voice to ours in demanding better for our children. I will raise a glass to Mack, with hat on my head, not only in his honour but for all those who left us far too soon. I will toast his memory and make a promise to never be silent on this issue, because our silence is deadly.
And we will not be silent anymore.