Whispers – Bob’s Story


Time is relative and certainly something that you can never get back, I should know because for the last 40 years I have allowed time to go by without as much as a whisper.  Without a whisper to those who needed it most.  Those whose names I don’t know but faces that haunt me in my sleep and wake me remembering and wishing I hadn’t been silent. Could it have changed any of those faces?  I am not sure but if it had touched only one person, that would be enough to shout it out everyone that would listen. Loud enough for anyone to hear, especially everyone that feels alone, forgotten and misunderstood.  Why after all these years do I want to find a way to get the whispers out of my head? Just so I can sleep? Just so I can be relieved of my guilt that I could have done something to help those who would listen?  No, it’s the headlines I read in the paper and hear on the news today.  Suicide Attempts Spike.  Suicide Attempts Average One per Day.  Are these from world headlines or the Canadian news? No, it was my local paper with 85,000 residents.  I can only imagine what other towns, cities, and countries are going through.

Whatever I feel right at this moment won’t change the headlines, won’t bring my brother back, and probably won’t get the whispers out of my head or get back all the sleep I have lost. Yes, suicide was a headline in my family.  A headline that my parents decided to bury in the back pages, rather than talk about, rather than try to understand.  To try to make sense of what happened so we could help others. We buried it like we did my brother that day, without a whisper, except the ones that have stayed in my head for 40 years.

It would be easy to say it was my fault, because that is what people do, especially when those you trust the most decide to stay silent. In lieu of what is real, we are left with blaming ourselves or others for not preventing it.  Questions such as, “If we had just stayed home that day” or “if we had just given more of ourselves” haunted the background of our life.  But that would have meant we would have had to talk about it, instead we were left to try and answer or squash those voices in our head on our own.  As we struggled with the loss we also wrestled with self-blame, as our family became distant.  Instead of pulling together as a family we fell apart and we not only laid our son and brother to rest, so too did our family die.

But my words now are not for them, the words I write today are for those who need to know what happens to those of us left behind.  Oh I am trying to make amends with my family; I stopped writing this long enough to call my dad, as he was hit the hardest.  A big man who would smash his hand with a hammer without a tear but could not find a way to hug his family and tell them he loved them.  I am writing this for anyone who hears the whispers and needs to talk. That includes my sons. I constantly worried that something would happen to them and they would end their lives like my brother.  Now I talk to them at every opportunity, talking is what I am doing.  I have 40 years of whispers to share and I intend to get them out.

Yes, it was the statistics and the way they were written that triggered my memories. So many years of shutting them out and at times pretending they didn’t even happen. It was the astounding stats that boggle my mind so much that I can hardly comprehend them.  He became another silent statistic, one that takes more lives every year than car accidents, HIV, homicide, drowning and war combined.  Despite this horrifying fact, Canada still treats suicide with silence, without the prevention measures that many other countries have adopted.  We treat this emotionally sensitive disease without the funding that other causes get because we are embarrassed by the act even when it hits your family just like mine. So we don’t shout out loud at the powers that could change it, but it’s time.  Time for me to get the whispers and words out of my head and pray it helps, even for one person.

I did say astounding, but it is more like incredible sad that it touches all of us sooner than later.  I won’t waste words or space to list the number of family members we have lost to this mental health issue but to say that enough is enough.  Simple but complicated if we let it define you like I did me, so start there.  Simply let it out and let’s talk.  There isn’t any right or wrong way to do that, there is only talk and the most important job: to listen.  Listen to the whispers until they become loud enough to make out the words.  Words that do less to define who we are but will determine where we are going.  It’s time to check our egos and quit protecting our precious feelings and tell everyone how we really feel.

As I think back to that solemn day, a shy 15 year old who just wanted to play baseball and ride horses.  A boy who had shared a room with his older brother for as long as he could remember.  Sports, school, hand me downs  and games created when none could be bought.  Times that seemed ordinary but fun and fulfilling at the same time, but that all changed that day.  As I tried to comprehend what happened, I was confused as he had moved into the basement when he turned 16, a rite of passage like a driver’s license I guess.  Oh he had got that as well, but I only had ridden with him a few times, we had only one car for the family, unlike today, and dad needed it for work.  So he didn’t get to use it much but talked about getting his own as soon as he could.  As things run through my mind, I realized how much my Dad tried to make up for this, when I turned 16 and got my license it was only a few days until we were at the dealership and driving away with a car for me. It wasn’t new of course but it was his way of saying I’m sorry to my brother. He made some excuse that it was so I could drive my mom and sisters’ around but it was what lingered with him, blaming himself and trying to make up for it the only way he knew how.  When he carried this “tradition” on with my sons, I knew he was still trying to make up for what had happened.

Everything changed that day for me and my family. Sure, I was whisked off to my aunts to be kept busy, my sisters stayed with my mom. They were so young and needed her, but I was old enough to handle it I guess. Just the start of us not talking as a family, I had to listen in another room while my aunt explained to our other relatives what had happened. I listened and cried, no brother to share the bunk bed laughter, no mother to hug me and wipe away my tears.  I don’t really ever remember talking to my mother after that.  Sure, there were conversations but never any with deep resounding mother/son tell you anything talk. She passed away a few years ago and in her last days had lost her ability to speak. She tried to, she would look at me but no words would come out.  I am sure she would have wanted to tell me that she needed to talk.  That she needed to hug me to make up for all the times that she didn’t.  But she passed without doing that, just reinforcing me now to speak up.

There isn’t any way to get them back or to make up for what has happened to our families. The only course of action is to believe that all of us can make a difference.  We all have the words and the ability to shout them out.  We don’t have to buy them cars to show them love.  Just talk or just listen without judgments or bias. When you find a way to do that their whispers can be heard and you will share yours as well.  I do not have all the answers and I am most certainly not an expert in mental health. Right now, 1 in 5 Canadians suffer from some form of mental illness.  I do not know what was going through my brothers mind that warm summer day all those  years ago but I do know that he committed suicide and I need to start there.  I can’t change what happened but I can speak up and tell others that the tragedy wasn’t that he took his own life, but that we didn’t talk about it and help others.

Our Peer Support program services can be accessed over the phone at 403-297-1402 or through email at peer@cmha.calgary.ab.ca.