I was awake at 3:30 am when the sirens went by on Main Street down below our house. I had no idea to what sort of tragedy the sirens were responding.
Then I received a call at 6:30 am.
Come over right now! My closest girlfriend said.
What’s going on? I asked.
Just come over. Her voice urged.
On my way. I said.
I envisioned helping with a flood or some other household problem, like a lost dog.
I was up, dressed in the car and driven the snowy few blocks in six minutes. What’s going on? I called out in the direction up the steps from the entry. The air was thick with emotion and fear. I could almost see it hanging there.
He died. She said simply.
Who died? I screeched as I ran up the steps in my boots, snow falling off. I was glancing around for a body.
Calvin. She said.
A sound came out of me involuntarily. I grabbed her and hugged her small body fiercely. The sound was primordial. Painful. A deep keening. Her Ex, the Dad, appeared and enclosed us in his arms and we all cried together for a few seconds. In my mind’s eye I was still looking around for his body.
I asked… where is he?
He had been the first of three steps at age three, when we moved in next door. Our Leo was the second step at four and his older brother Kevin at five was the third step. Fast friends who ran all over the neighbourhood together, Calvin usually bringing up the rear, on his toes – he was a toe-walker then and so cute as he nimbly rushed to be included. Countless sleepovers, snacks, tumbling, trampolining. He would sometimes gather up his courage and ask me for a drink of water, almost like I might say no. I must have been scary to him?? In recent years, in their teens, Leo would visit and and he would later tell me how Calvin had offered him tea, or soup, or whatever was available. Leo told me how kind Calvin was.
I had watched Calvin grow into a six foot two, curly blond-haired, blue-eyed quiet young man. He loved the outdoors, experiments with pond-like aquariums, fishing. He was a fierce competitor in jujitsu and, sadly, had some other darker pastimes which I would guess were self-medicating. He struggled with anxiety, addiction and with social situations. For the past several months, he could not sleep, due to anti-depressant medication. This would be the straw that broke the camel’s back – the not sleeping. I had heard about many many attempts to get him into counselling and to a psychiatrist or even to get him to emerg. He just would not go. How does a parent force this? It’s next to impossible.
Daisy told me the whole story of the few days leading up to this disaster. We sat by the fire on her couch in the early morning hours. When the door opened and her eldest, stepped in, he collapsed against the wall crying and keening loudly in despair. I slipped unnoticed out the back door. My Blunstones leaving their distinctive print in the freshly fallen snow. Down the back deck steps and around the house to my car. I drove home in a daze. I walked in to find my husband Dean and my son Leo silent with despair. All I could manage to do was to make a pot of soup for my friend in her grief.
In the wee hours, Jonah had followed his son’s bootprints (and many obvious signs of his slipping and falling on the trail, like bad snow-angel attempts). He entered the park, slipping and cursing the hidden ice as he went. A few hundred meters in, he saw Calvin’s backpack at the base of a tree and looked up, his headlight finding the silhouette of his youngest son hanging in the tree. Jonah struggled to get him down. He was still warm. He did CPR for almost an hour, crying, praying and shouting at him to wake up but systematically counting in keeping with his advanced military training. The paramedics finally arrived having had a hard time locating them in the dark woods and slipping and falling many times due to the deceptively slick ice under the layer of snow.
Jonah called his ex-wife, The Mom, telling her not to come to the park. She went up there anyway. At the gates she was met by a cop who loved Calvin – knowing him through the dojo they shared. He avoided her eyes. Her heart sank to its deepest despair.
Where do you go when your child takes his own life? There is nothing worse than this.
Dean and I organized meals and visits to Daisy so that she wouldn’t be alone, especially at night. The outpouring of support was incredible and humbling. Thousands of dollars were raised through a single email asking for support on her behalf. Daisy couldn’t work due to grief. No income, bills and life carrying on. A full day of yoga was organized by a group of women with lunch, live music and incredible local art in a silent auction. Daisy was given therapies like massage, osteopathy and reflexology. Two cords of wood were delivered, fully paid for. The guys from the dojo arrived and stacked it in fifteen minutes, based on a simple request to them that morning. We cleaned her house, Dean shoveled the driveway. Another friend swept the chimney. We walked the dog, picked up the mail, painted a room, helped her sort through the bills, baked her a cake and brought flowers. A woman knitted a special scarf to encircle her in love and comfort.
The celebration of life was at a large hall downtown. Every aspect of the day was taken care of by volunteers: planning, decorating, food, drink, crafts for little ones, boughs of evergreen, writing implements for sharing snippets of memories. Hot drinks and marshmallows outside by the fire. A beautifully hand-crafted wooden box to store parchment pages of written memories — the blond wood the colour of his beautiful hair, his name etched in the sliding cover. The place was packed. One friend introduced the speeches and thanked all those who helped. The owner of the dojo gave a recounting of the fierce fighting competitor that Calvin was and also of the kind teacher with a huge heart for his young charges. The gym guys shoulder-to-shoulder, sniffling, their hands folded tightly. Eyes lowered. Cheeks wet with tears.
Jonah and Daisy talked about Calvin’s life. The kind of person he was, the kind of brother and son he was. His personality and some funny memories of him. Jonah finally said that he had decided to find solace in the joy of seventeen years that they had had with Calvin. At least they had had the honour and pleasure of him for seventeen years.
Extreme grief and mourning ensued for the loss of one of our boys – the first step of three.
A year has passed and not many days have ended that I haven’t thought of this young man. I feel that he slipped through the cracks in our mental health system. He was so loved and so well taken care of, yet he still slipped through. Can you imagine the youth who do not have attentive parents? I feel sick that I personally couldn’t DO anything to help with this nor could I stop the loss of his life. I replay my last face-to-face with him when I dropped off a huge bag of dog food because our Lady-Jane had passed. Could I not have asked him if there was anything he wanted to talk about? Could I not have swallowed my pride and told him that I too suffer with mental illness? It’s so fucked up. I find that I am still quite angry about my lack of ability to help with this. To take action. To DO SOMETHING.
I know one thing for sure. The next time I detect a sadness in someone, I will ask them if they need help. I will simply ask them.
Rest In Peace dear dear boy.