When I was 23, I would classify myself as a “young know-it-all invincible woman”. I had recently moved from the small town I grew up in to start a new independent life in Red Deer. It was not always easy paying the bills, but I always found a way to manage by taking on extra jobs to supplement my part time hours at TD.
One of those secondary jobs was counting cash for the largest hotel in Red Deer that had 2 night clubs, a liquor store etc so my weekend days were spent locked in a tiny room preparing and balancing the cash for deposit.
My life was turned upside down when I received a call Saturday, July 28th, 1990 while I was sitting in this little room counting money when I heard my Aunt say: “I’m very sorry to have to call you with this news Shawna, but your dad has taken his own life this morning.”
How can this happen? Why would he do this to me? How could he do this to me? How will my mom cope? My brother is due to be a father for the first time on August 1st…what was he thinking? The questions go on and on and on.
I don’t know where the strength comes from to work your way through these difficult times. At 23, I became the family member who had to phone relatives and friends, take calls from coroners, and talk to the police. But the adrenaline kicks in and there you are doing what needs to be done. We needed to realize that we were now and forever would be victims of suicide…how do you work through that label?
The most difficult part of “dealing” was not during the plans, services, family gathering, sharing and coming to terms; but the after-effects. How do I work through the sadness, the questions and most importantly the absolute anger I was feeling? How could I be angry at my Dad? I was raised to respect my parents…I can’t be mad…but I was.
Now, I understand fully how uncomfortable a topic suicide is for everyone involved, even how hard it is for anyone listening to my story. Here is what I know for sure. Mental Illness affects 1 in 5. Suicide rates are staggering to say the least, and I know that if we don’t start stomping on the stigma, talking about the illness, talking about our losses and start helping others to rise up, rebuild and recover, the results will never improve. I recently retired from a 31 year career at TD Canada Trust and plan to spend the rest of my career and beyond talking and helping others. My goal is to stomp as hard as I can on this Stigma called Mental Illness and to help the loved ones of those who lost that battle like my Dad.
Over the years I have been put in situations where I have been able to help others going through similar situations, helping others understand suicide and mental health and being able to discuss openly the ups and downs that everyone needs to go through to come out on top. I look to this as a gift my dad left me. He was a strong, successful, kind, giving man who saw no way out of whatever darkness he was in, but he left a legacy in his children to help others by sharing and contributing…
Every time I talk about my story, I am simply amazed at how many people reach out and relate to my story. I know there are many who suffer in silence; this needs to stop. This year I turned 50, the same age as my Dad was when he passed. It simply feels right to step up and make a difference. I’m ready to talk and be one voice to speak in memory of my hero…my Dad.