To the River
In the spring of 2006, Don Gillmor travelled to Whitehorse to reconstruct the last days of his brother, David, whose truck and cowboy hat were found at the edge of the Yukon River just outside of town the previous December. David's family, his second wife, and his friends had different theories about his disappearance. Some thought David had run away; some thought he'd met with foul play; but most believed that David, a talented musician who at the age of 48 was about to give up the night life for a day job, had intentionally walked into the water. Just as Don was about to paddle the river looking for traces, David's body was found, six months after he'd gone into the river. And Don's canoe trip turned into an act of remembrance and mourning.
At least David could now be laid to rest. But there was no rest for his survivors. As his brother writes, "When people die of suicide, one of the things they leave behind is suicide itself. It becomes a country. At first I was a visitor, but eventually I became a citizen." In this tender, probing, surprising work, Don Gillmor brings back news from that country for all of us who wonder why people kill themselves. And why, for the first time, it's not the teenaged or the elderly who have the highest suicide rate, but the middle aged. Especially men. (From Penguin Random House Canada)
To the River won the Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction.
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From the book
In late November, my brother didn't show up for his first day as manager of the bookstore in Whitehorse. He'd done his training, had physically set the store up. The staff was hired, the systems debugged. All that was left to do was to open the doors. But he didn't get there. The next day, December 1, his truck was spotted at a rest stop on the Alaska Highway 30 kilometres south of town, beside the Marsh Lake Bridge that spans the Yukon River. A woman who used to work with him saw it and assumed it had broken down. But she noticed it was still there eight days later and reported it to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who drove out there and found the truck under a light dusting of snow, almost out of gas, unlocked, with the window rolled down. More ominously, they found David's cowboy hat sitting on the ground near the river. They got in touch with his wife Katherine, who phoned my parents. That's when my mother called me in Toronto to say David was missing.
From In the River by Don Gillmor ©2019. Published by Penguin Random House Canada.
"One of the things that was interesting was that I'd talk to people who'd known him for a decade and they'd have a completely different perspective from the next person I'd talk to. Someone would say he was clean and sober and happy. The next person would say he was neither of these things and he was very unhappy. You could see that he was able to compartmentalize and present versions of himself to different people. It was hard to get past all that and find what was at the core.
"Every suicide leaves that question: Why did they do it? I think a lot of people that are left behind end up pursuing that question, even though there's often no rational answer. We want to get closer to finding out what happened.
Every suicide leaves that question: Why did they do it?- Don Gillmor
"There were no firm answers. But I did get much closer and I think I came to a much better understanding of him and why he took his own life, as well as a better understanding of other people who have taken their own lives."