Family of André Parker speak of teen's suicide and healing
'He worked hard to get better,' sister recalls how André Parker battled depression
Three years after the suicide of 19-year-old André Parker, his family still struggles to understand why his suffering persisted despite their love and his own efforts to be happy.
"My brother didn't want to be sick … and he worked hard to get better," Jennifer Boutin, André's older sister, said, recalling how depression haunted her brother despite his having a close relationship with his family, a large circle of friends and psychological treatment.
The grief after a suicide is different because it's a different kind of death.- Jennifer Boutin
Members of Parker's family are speaking openly about the young man's death even though it stirs up raw emotions. They hope to honour his memory and provide insights to other families that may be experiencing similar challenges.
"The grief after a suicide is different because it's a different kind of death," Boutin said.
A happy childhood
André Parker grew up in Melville, Sask., a small city about 150 kilometres northeast of Regina. He was the youngest of five children in the family, eight years younger than the next-oldest child. Family videos show happy times of him playing hockey, singing and dancing and giving a funny speech at his grandmother's 80th birthday party.
Depression hit him hard at 16. Family members recall a number of challenging things going on in his life at the time: he had left home to play hockey in Yorkton and was homesick; he suffered a concussion playing hockey, and for several months he took Accutane, a drug that has been linked to depression as a side effect; and he had a relationship breakdown with a girlfriend.
While family members urged him to take setbacks in stride, Boutin said the difficulties weighed heavily on her brother.
"Challenges that we — his brothers and sister — would tell him, 'It's not that big of a deal,' for him these things were really difficult," she said.
In his later teens, Parker graduated from high school, played Junior A hockey for the Melville Millionaires and completed a semester at the University of Saskatchewan.
His mother, Sharon Parker, remembers how deep episodes of depression would occur unexpectedly in her son.
"He could go out and be the life of the party and come home and be crying in my arms like a baby," Sharon Parker said.
She also remembers how anguished he felt.
"'Make it go away, Mum, make it go away'," she recalled him saying. She said that in the year before he died, André spoke openly of his desire to end his life.
"He'd say it sometimes casually, driving: 'Oh you know what Mom, when I'm gone, it's going to be so much easier for you and Dad, you won't have all these bills.' And I'd say, 'don't talk like that, André,'" she said.
The youth went to see a psychologist and a psychiatrist but fretted about the cost.
Sharon Parker said she wished such services were available closer to home, because Parker had to travel to Saskatoon or Regina for appointments.
The summer that André died, in 2012, his family says that he actually seemed slightly happier.
But things fell apart in the space of a few hours on June 16.
After a day spent at Crooked Lake with his family, Parker went out with some friends where his family believes he consumed some alcohol and marijuana. He was also taking an antidepressant at the time.
On his way home he had a small accident when he hit a post. Although he was OK, the crash seemed to unnerve him.
He left his vehicle and ran the rest of the way home, screaming for help when he arrived.
His father Leo Parker was the only one home at the time and recalls rushing downstairs in his pajamas to encounter a very distraught André who was yelling "Help me. I need you," and "You have no idea what I've done."
Leo Parker tried to console his son, but the downward spiral worsened. He said André's mood altered drastically.
"He just became another person, just like that, bang," Leo Parker recalled. "It was like he lost his ability to control his emotions."
In a desperate sounding voice, André spoke of how he wanted to kill himself, and "get it over with." His father pleaded with him repeating that his family loved him. Then, before he could stop him, André grabbed two kitchen knives and stabbed himself in front of his father.
Leo Parker remembers taking his dying son in his arms.
"Every day I think about that," he said. "Every day I think, if I would have done that or done this, how would that have changed everything. So you think about those things."
Grieving and healing
At André's funeral, his brother Derek gave the eulogy. Derek Parker was once a professional mixed martial arts fighter and said the ceremony was more difficult than the 500 bouts he'd fought.
After, he became numb and weary. "Getting out of bed was just like, Why? Like literally, just, Why?" he said.
André's mother tried to return to work six weeks after her son's death and says, in hindsight, that was too soon.
"About six months after, I crashed," she said. "It was like a post traumatic stress syndrome. And that's when I myself needed help."
With time — and counseling — moments of reconciliation also appeared. Derek recalled a dream in which André appeared apologetic. That led Derek to realize that his brother would never have wanted to cause him suffering.
His sister, Jennifer Boutin, who relied greatly on her faith, remembers a moment when she was praying in her bath, as sunlight shone in from the window.
"I had a moment where I received a kind of message," she said. It was like my brother told me: 'Everything's fine with me. I'm okay. I'm okay. I'm surrounded by love. I'm okay. But you need to treat yourself with care.'"
A legacy to help others
The family has also found comfort in a fund they created to help people facing mental health problems in the Melville community. After André's funeral — which was attended by 800 people — the family asked for donations instead of flowers. Other community events in Melville also collected funds, and the André Awareness Foundation collected more than $13,000.
"I think our family was chosen to deliver a message to many people: 'You're not alone,'" Boutin said.
Even though it is difficult, talking about André's death has been part of the grieving process for the family.
"This is part of healing too," Sharon Parker said. "Bringing things up that we haven't talked about for a while. And grief is like waves on an ocean ... the ocean's been flat for a while. I think we needed a few waves."