After the death of a close friend, a small Central Alberta town still mourns

In the small town of Didsbury, as students returned for their last year of high school, the entire mood of a Grade 12 class shifted in an instant. Instead of being excited, pumped up and eager to escape the confines of high school forever, we mourned the loss of our close friend, Luc.

Luc committed suicide in August 2009. He didn’t leave a note. No one really knew why. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention states there may be several reasons why an individual commits suicide but it is never the result of one particular reason. Personally, not understanding the situation, not being able to help, and not knowing why this was happening, was hard for me. Learning that my friend had died changed my life.

He was so full of energy, always made people smile from his Chewbacca impressions, was known for his love of gelato and was an all around normal, high school student. To this day, I can’t pinpoint one reason why he might have done this to himself, and inadvertently, to our town.

Five months prior to Luc’s death, he and I had become closer friends when we travelled to Italy with a group of students from our high school. Although everyone in Didsbury knew each other, people still had the tendency to roam around in cliques and Luc was in mine. After spending three weeks with a small group of people, everyone really got to know each other. I learned Luc was in love with a girl who didn’t love him. He didn’t mind having attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) because it made him stand out, and too much gelato literally made him run up walls.

A TOWN IN MOURNING

Luc and I take a quick photo before our tour guide shows our group the gondolas, and begins talking about the history of Venice, Italy.
Photo courtesy of Facebook
Even though I was grieving over the loss of a close friend, the whole community was mourning a beloved young man. Our classmates were shocked, paralyzed with the idea that this was our reality. Their previous fake suicidal thoughts and acts for attention ended.

Up until the fall of 2009, friends’ MSN statuses read,
“The finger fits the trigger nicely,”
“I’m often silent when I’m screaming inside,”
and “no one really cares until something dramatic happens…”

These are the same people who showed up to class with sweatbands on their wrists refusing to show anyone what was beneath them because “it was just too gruesome” for anyone to lay eyes on. Supposed self-harm and depression was joked about on a regular basis. Now, no sweatbands were worn, MSN statuses became blank and no one pretended anymore.

Luc’s suicide was real, especially to me. I was one of those people who said “emo” things, and was in fact depressed. It was at this point that I knew it was time to re-evaluate my life.

I knew that no matter how tough my life may have been, I always had the chance to fix things as long as I was alive. Although I had seen enough TV commercials to have this message programmed into my brain, it didn’t stop me from acting irrationally at times. I made small marks just deep enough to draw crimson droplets of blood from my legs because of trips to the counsellor over the boyfriend who would break up with me every holiday, the best friend who “jokingly” bullied me about my weight over and over, and the dad who left while I was still too young to do anything about it, but old enough to feel hurt.

It all stopped that August in 2009. My issues no longer seemed as important compared to what Luc must have been going through. Statistics Canada says 185 people between the ages of 15 to 19 committed suicide in 2007, a number that climbed to 198 by 2011. My friend had become a statistic and I had come close.

I remember that evening when I was told Luc had died. Every little detail of the following hours will be forever engraved in my mind. I can vividly remember an ad for Dell laptops playing on the TV in the background. The song the company chose for the commercial, Lollipop by the Chordettes, played on repeat.

It was then friend texted me asking if I had heard about Luc, and asked if he was okay. Of course at the time I didn’t know anything so I replied, “Yea, he’s fine. Why wouldn’t he be?”

“He killed himself though?” was the response.

My heart froze, my chest hurt and my hands trembled. This wasn’t possible. This was probably just a misunderstanding, there’s no way it could be anything else.

I immediately called Luc’s closest friend, who happened to be one of my best friends.

“Hey Sarah, uhm, how is everything going?” I asked, trying to sound as calm and collected as I could.

Without any unrelated talk, Sarah said, “Not good. Luc hung himself. We’re at the hospital waiting to find out what’s going on.”

The only three words I could mutter were, “Oh my God.”

Luc poses with his father, Gord, as the tour bus pulls over at the top of a hill that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea in Sorrento, Italy.
Photo courtesy of Facebook
I couldn’t believe that I had seen Luc just two days before, his arms wrapped around me as we hugged. When I asked him how he was doing, his response was, “I’m doing alright.” Now, I was in my mom’s arms with tears streaming down my face, with the realization that my friend was gone.

Even though I remember that night moment for moment, the week after that leading up to the funeral was a complete blur. The next thing I know I’m standing in front of an oak casket, staring at all these pamphlets full of suicide prevention information. Emotions filled the room. All I could do was stand there, speechless. Are you supposed to be quiet at a funeral or is that reserved for the library? I don’t know. I don’t think any of us knew. We all just stood there.

After the funeral I had to find some answers to what was happening. Because I couldn’t ask Luc, I had to ask the Internet. The World Heath Organization states that every 40 seconds someone in the world commits suicide and every three seconds somebody attempts to take their life. I didn’t ever want to think of Luc, or his life, as a ticking clock. He was more to more to me than that. He meant more to our community than that. Even though it was more apparent than ever that life had a time limit, our friendship will always be thought of, by me, as timeless.

MOVING FORWARD

Six years later I still can’t bring myself to watch lynching scenes in movies, and I even get choked up when I talk about August of 2009. However, I’ve learned it is better to deal with my problems head on and I am learning to talk about issues before I bury them completely in the pit of my stomach. I don’t post depressing instant message statuses, my self-harming habits are becoming less of a habit, and I’ve made sure to be available to anyone who may be in need of help or just a friend, since I learned these life lessons from Luc’s passing.

I can’t say how much our small town has changed because no one really discusses deep issues, like suicide, for very long. I can say, though, that I have seen an ocean of support for everyone who went through that difficult time. Heart-warming Facebook posts on Luc’s page, an overflow of individuals at his funeral, and new friendships popping up around Didsbury.

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making in complicated.” –Confucius