By Stacie Byrne
On Sept. 10, 2017, World Suicide Prevention Day, I met Leon Remus. I’d seen him around town and never thought anything of it nor that our paths would ever cross. But now here we were, side-by-side, lighting a candle in the Plaza on World Suicide Prevention Day. We exchanged pleasantries, I thanked him for attending the event, handed him a brochure and assumed that would be the end of our conversation.
But that wasn’t the end; it was only the beginning. He shared a story with me that night that he has agreed to share with you here now.
Revelstoke residents gathered in Grizzly Plaza on Sunday evening to mark World Suicide Prevention Day with a candlelight vigil. The event was hosted by the Revelstoke Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use committee, who will be hosting a suicide prevention awareness clinic on Sept. 26 aimed at community leaders such as coaches and others who access youth. Find them online at www.revelstokecymhsu.wordpress.com
Why does he share his story? Because it is in breaking the silence that we come to realize that we are not alone. Because it is in hearing someone’s story that we learn that we can help. This is his letter.
Breaking the silence
I had the privilege of being with my son the first hour after his birth. It is an amazing gift to look at those little eyes looking up at yours. You wonder what thoughts are going through their little mind. I imagine I was thinking more than he was. I was thinking ahead to all the special times we would have together as father and son. I had activities planned … fishing, hockey, cottage life, family gatherings. This was a magical moment, a moment where you thought, ‘life is good,’ ‘life is perfect.’
Life though, as we know is not perfect. Life, at times, sometimes many times, may be seen as less than good.
This is the story of my son Josh.
The process of learning who your son is, who your dad is, is just that — a process. Josh and I learned about each other through daily activities, through special moments, through times of challenge.
Josh was a typical young man, yet atypical in many ways. He was a very gifted young man whose creativity and passion for life were expressed through writing, music and beer-making to name a few. Josh worked hard at improving his marketability. He went back to college to get a second degree, seeking to discover a ‘paying profession’ to accompany his creative personality. He accomplished this, graduating with a great resume after two years of hard school work.
I write the aforementioned ‘history’ so you may know that Josh was a ‘normal young man’ in many respects. Outwardly he looked successful, bright, handsome and had a good job. It was what you could not see though, that ultimately became overwhelming for my son. Josh struggled with mental health issues. I knew about them to some degree. We talked about some of his struggles. When Josh moved away, we would talk over the phone about his ‘battles within.’ Sometimes when Josh was going through an ‘episode’ his grasp on reality was skewed. Medicine, professional help, mental health support and loving family were there for him. Unfortunately, there never came a time when all these supports were in sync enough with Josh for him to fully move forward.
I had high hopes for my son: Family, lifelong friends, familiar territory and new job connected to his professional training, a new start, a new life, a new love.
The call came early Saturday morning. ‘Josh took his life.’ My ears heard the message, my mind tried to piece this news together, my body reacted automatically in survival mode. I got out of bed, felt my body become more and more tense. I began to feel shock, sadness, anger and questions racing a mile a minute through my head as to why, why, why? I’m calm, I’m frantic, I’m in auto mode.
The journey, the ‘new reality’ has just begun. Life will never be the same.
I look back and wonder ‘What did I miss? What signs were there?’ I feel guilty, angry, sad and alone. Ultimately though, I have come to accept I could not fully know all that was happening inside my son’s head. I do know I loved him. I know Josh knew he was loved. The ‘demons’ (as my wife describes them) in Josh’s head distorted Josh’s rational thinking to the point where he took his life. I don’t know Josh’s last moments, hours, day which took him to make this choice. Was death more of a relief for Josh than living? I don’t know. I could tell him (as we often did) of all his positive attributes, about how loved he was, about how he had so much going for him, that tomorrow would be another day.
Somehow it wasn’t enough. I even wondered where God was in all this. I’ve come to accept God was and is there for my son. This is my greatest comfort.
Mental health illnesses take our loved ones on an incredible journey. Often it is a war being waged that has no outward visible wounds. This makes it difficult to share, to fully understand. There is social stigma which affects the one living with the illness and loved ones caring for their loved one. This battle though is winnable. Sharing our stories, sharing the battle scars, sharing our love for each other, helps remove this negative and hurtful stigmatization, this labeling.
This is why I have shared ‘Josh’s story, my story.’ We all need to know we are in this world to love and support each other, regardless of our battles. ‘You do not walk alone’ needs to be the mantra. This message needs to be said and be heard for all.
Please know I am proud of my son. I am proud of his life, his living. I am proud he fought as best he could. Josh’s legacy lives on. His death is opening opportunities for people to come out from the shadows and not be ashamed. Hopefully one day, we will all be able to say, ‘you are not alone, we walk together, we walk with hope.’
Thank you — Leon Remus
It’s time to speak up and have your voice heard. Come and join a group of like-minded individuals with a solution-focused lens who want to talk about the state of mental health and substance use in Revelstoke for children and youth between the ages of 6–24 years old and their families.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.