“It was November 1st, 2018. I was starting to get nervous about the viewing of the film, ‘1999 Projections du documentaire de Samara Grace Chadwick.’ I remember calling my sister that day and saying, ‘Aren’t you nervous about tonight?’ She replied, ‘No, why?’ I had so many emotions running through my body and mind, I couldn’t think clearly and I had a hard time comprehending how she was so calm.
You see, we went to ‘suicide high’ back in 1995. The high school I attended was actually called suicide high. Although at the time, it’s just what it was, today it means so much more than that. I still can’t wrap my head around the whole concept. There were 3 ‘suicide waves’ and we were part of the first wave. My high school made headlines in the newspaper back in the day and the whole province of New Brunswick was affected in some way, shape or form.
I come from a broken home. My parents separated when I was 12 and I became an adult at that time. Without truly understanding what was happening at the time, I just did what needed to be done. Mom was a mess and I would catch her crying a lot. My sister was dealing with her own problems, so I naturally stepped up to the plate and took on the parenting role.
Within the first 2 years of my parents’ separation, my father came back to live with us 8 times. My mother thought she was doing us a favor by having our family back together. I saw the patterns and I actually remember hearing mom on the phone one morning chuckling away, and I knew right away dad was trying to come back. When she hung up the phone, I pointed my finger at her and said, ‘Don’t you even think about it.’ She looked at me and said, ‘If I take him back, hit me so hard that I won’t get back up.’ I said ‘deal,’ and she never took him back after that.
Growing up too early wasn’t a choice at the time, but it truly made me feel like parts of my childhood were taken away. I was in survival mode all the time. I would hide in my room at night crying underneath my covers and didn’t want anyone to know I was weak because I had to be strong for them. On November 26, 1995, the ‘peaceful world’ I lived in was shattered in a moment’s time. My sister and Siobhan were best friends and still are to this day. Siobhan has always been like a little sister to me. Siobhan’s younger brother Yannick passed away, and we were all notified at school that day. Our school and community were devastated. My sister had a huge crush on Yannick so this really affected her. She told me she was very saddened by his loss. This day marked the beginning of suicide high. That same year, we lost 4 students to death by suicide.
My mother and I were terrified because my sister was very close to this crew of people killing themselves. I remember being scared every time I would hear the doorbell ring, thinking she was the next one on the list. I actually prepared myself for my sister’s death. This was my reality at the time.
My sister was part of the ‘suicide crew.’ And because I was acting as a ‘parent figure,’ I was so scared the next one on the list was going to be her. I was freaked out… living in constant fear. My sister was a lost soul at the time. I couldn’t even talk to her. She was angry at the world and I didn’t blame her one bit, but man, it was hard seeing her hurt so much. My heart was hurting for her and for my family. I was carrying all the weight because that’s just who I am. It’s how I’m built.
I remember the school being closed for days at a time. There were several rumors circulating there was some sort of a cult and these students were all in this together and had a list of who was next, but who had the list, and was this actually the truth? I honestly don’t have the answer to that and I will probably never know.
I was literally preparing for my sister’s funeral. I needed to be prepared because if she was next on the list, I had to be strong and I had to protect and help others.
Thank goodness I wasn’t right, but it was definitely a possibility at the time.
My sister found out the news about Yannick at school from her teacher. She told me, ‘All I can remember is getting up and wanting to jump down the stairs and die.’ Then she went to the payphone and could not get it to work because her hands were shaking so much. She went to Siobhan’s house and they cried together all day, mourning their loss.
My community was in a scramble and the teaching staff were not properly equipped to deal with this kind of tragedy. At school when we would hear the intercom, I remember looking at my classmates with big eyes and thinking to myself, ‘Did somebody else commit suicide? If so, who was it this time?’
Luckily, a lot of the teachers thought outside the box and tried to help us all in different ways. Amongst all of these amazing teachers, was Janelle. Janelle was an English teacher at the time and actually got her students to journal and write our thoughts down. She had the natural ability to connect with students and a lot of us felt comfortable talking to her. She was so gifted in helping us, and still is to this day. Janelle is currently a guidance counselor at the same high school I attended.
The night of the viewing of the documentary I previously mentioned, we arrived at the capitol theatre for a meet-and-greet beforehand. It was awesome to see so many familiar faces and reconnect with people I went to school with. After we mingled, we went to grab our seats. I was sitting with my sister and her husband. This documentary was more specific to the second suicide wave which occurred in 1999. Siobhan and Janelle were interviewed and part of this documentary.
During the show I was very emotional because it was bringing back a lot of emotions I hadn’t dealt with from my past. I thought I had dealt with this dark place within me, but obviously not. I kept looking at my sister – she still wasn’t crying. I was like, ‘I don’t get it. How can she not be crying right now?’ Then, all of a sudden, she touched my leg with big eyes as if to say, ‘Something just hit a nerve over here.’
When the show was over, I asked her what that was all about. She replied, ‘When I saw Janelle on the screen talking, it dawned on me she was one of teachers who actually saved my life.’ I replied, ‘What the heck? Seriously?’ She then said, ‘I need to go talk to her and tell her in person.’ I was like, ‘I’m coming too, I can’t believe this, I need to thank her as well.’
We approached Janelle. My sister with her ‘all business’ to-the-point character said, ‘Hey, do you remember me?’ Janelle said, ‘Do I remember you? How could I forget a troubled soul like you?’ We all chuckled. ‘Thanks for being the teacher who saved my life,’ my sister told her. ‘I honestly don’t remember much about my high school days, but I do remember you were amongst one of the many teachers who helped save me. I needed to say thank you.’
Obviously, this hit home for me. I couldn’t believe it. My sister never shared any of this with me, probably because she had blocked a lot of the past out, like most of us did.
I am so incredibly blessed and grateful to have such an amazing support system. The community I live in and the people who surround me mean the world to me. As the saying goes, ‘it takes a village to raise a child, and a whole society to help a child who has been traumatized.’
I don’t think things can ever be the same again, but I do know that through communication, journaling and a great support network, we all got through this crisis. We are all productive members of society today. We all have children and we are all very protective of them because of what we went through. I want to ensure that my children know they can talk about their emotions, because at the end of the day, we are all human. Life will never be easy, and healing is not linear. As humans, we want at least 1 person to understand us, whether it be a teacher, a therapist, a friend, a parent. Talking about our feelings can honestly save our lives. It’s so important, which is another reason why I’m putting myself out there.”
[If you’re thinking about hurting yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionhotline.org to live chat with someone. Help is out there. You are not alone.]
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Amanda Rondeau of New Brunswick, Canada. You can follow her journey on Instagram and Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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