The loss of one family member inspires another to find her sense of purpose

A single hockey jersey hangs in the middle of the ice at the Pincher Creek Memorial Community Centre Arena, with the name Elliott, and the number seven, on the back. It’s there for my cousin, Taylor.

Hunting, hiking, and hockey were the passions that kept him afloat in the world. Many believed that he had the perfect life – I even bragged about being related to him, seeing as he was so cool. No one would have believed that there was anything troubling his mind.

But after a night out with friends on Dec. 1, 2013, he ran. His house was left empty, hunting backpack and rifle gone. His wallet and phone remained, placed neatly on the kitchen table. Scared of the unknown, our family called in to report a missing person.

Taylor Elliott’s hockey jersey was hung over centre ice in the Memorial Community Centre Arena in Pincher Creek two months after his passing, with a memorial game played by his teammates to follow. Photo courtesy of Pray4TayFacebook statuses were posted and shared all that December day. Within hours, flyers and strangers were spreading the word, asking if anyone had seen him. It was something that I never thought I’d see happen to my family. Seventeen days of endless searching, and we were left with nothing; all the sightings, tracks, and clues led us to dead ends.

My phone buzzed twice, my mom texting me while I was at work. ‘Please call me once you are at home,’ it read. I thought it was odd that she didn’t tell me to call her immediately. Curious and stubborn, I couldn’t wait.

Taylor Elliott was passionate about hockey, hunting, and hiking. Family and friends had nicknamed him Tracker. He was full of so much life. No one could have known of the struggle he was facing. Photo courtesy of Pray4Tay“I told you not to call me until you were home.” Mom didn’t even say hello.

“Did they find Taylor?” I asked, excited that the dread might be over and our family could start getting back to normal.

The other end was silent.

“Yeah,” she said. Straggling and shaky, it took every ounce of her strength not to break in saying just that one word. Rustling and murmurs filled the other end as the phone was passed. I then heard my father clear his throat. He said nothing else.

“Is Taylor dead?” I asked.

“Yeah, he is.” His voice did not quaver.

A wave broke over me, numbing my whole body. In the days, weeks, and months that followed, my family was broken into a thousand pieces. I lost them, I lost hope, lost sight of the idea that my family would always be happy and healthy, inside or out.

Mental health was a subject not often discussed in our community; it sometimes felt like no one ever really believed that people suffered from real mental health problems. It was a topic I recall rarely being discussed in the local high schools, and one whose impact I had come to consider myself protected from over the years.

Taylor’s jersey still hangs centre ice in honour of his life and as a reminder of the legacy he leaves behind. Photo courtesy of Chris DavisBut Taylor helped me realize that life is too short to remain silent, and I refuse to lose another loved one to a disease of the mind. It’s because of him that I wanted to do something to change the world with the life I have been given. Because of him, I am following my dreams of photography and film, studying my own passions, and writing about mental health weekly, bringing awareness to the real issues real people are facing every day.

Dec. 30, 2013 is the day we laid him to rest, but it was also the day I applied to university, to follow my dreams. His death made me realize that I could not afford to waste another day not being truly happy, and living the life that I wanted.

That day, I lost my cousin, but I started to find myself.

Thumbnail by Caitlin Paton.

cpaton@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this article is Michaela Ritchie, mritchie@cjournal.ca