Manitoba·Opinion

Sister's suicide brings out need to discuss 'dark, shameful secret,' Janine LeGal says

Every year at this time I think about my sister, whom I still miss very much. She was found dead in her apartment, alone, in May 2005. Every year at this time, I ask myself whether anything could have changed the outcome of her life.

'When my sister's body was found, too decomposed to establish the cause of death, my life was changed forever'

Janine LeGal's sister was found dead in her home in 2005. (Courtesy of Janine LeGal)

Every year at this time I think about my sister, whom I still miss very much. She was found dead in her apartment, alone, in May 2005. After my family hadn't heard from her in a while. She was a writer, loved her cats and music, had a big heart and never hesitated to give whatever she had to those in need. She was also a hard-core drinker who tried drinking away her pain and was known to take a few too many pills and maybe other things too, all of it to try to rid herself of the despair she'd lived with since childhood.

She'd tried to end her life on more than one occasion in her 49 years, as her stories in her countless diaries over decades vividly documented. Isolation and lack of hope ultimately killed her. She'd tried all kinds of things to regain strength, but none of them worked for her. Support groups. Self-help books. Counselling. Watching her life spiral into despair, my own pain grew to the point of needing to seek professional assistance to help with the profound frustration and fear of watching a loved one kill herself slowly. For family members of those suffering with depression, anxiety and substance abuse, the daily experience can rob us of many good things as we are often overwhelmed with grief on a daily basis.

When my sister's body was found, too decomposed to establish the real cause of death (alcoholism was noted on the death certificate), my life was changed forever. Every year at this time, I ask myself whether anything could have changed the outcome of her life.

Suicide every 40 seconds

According to the World Health Organization, every 40 seconds there is a suicide somewhere in the world. While most countries with high suicide rates are poor, there are also a surprising few highly developed and wealthy nations that rank high in these sad stories and statistics. In Canada, and in Manitoba, we have our own share of them.

I'm no expert on suicide, but I do know that my sister couldn't hold on anymore. She'd lost hope completely. I could see it in her appearance, in her attire; I could hear it in her voice, watch it in her demeanour, find it in her writings. She seemed to smile less in the last few years, and I remember the day I thought about it and realized she didn't smile at all anymore. She'd stopped seeking and finding joy. Anywhere. So she continued to self-medicate. And isolated herself more. This sadness didn't just happen overnight. It was a cumulative descent into a sadness more profound than anything I'd ever seen in anyone.

These days I read stories of an increased number of young people being bullied to the point of taking their own lives. I hear of the suicide rates soaring in some communities, and among children at risk, many of them in our foster care system. I'm told of people young and old who can't hold on anymore. And every year at this time, I think about the sister I miss very much.

We've got to find ways to get more comfortable talking about things that make us uncomfortable

The other thing that happens every year around this time, largely inspired by my big-hearted sister, is that I look for a special cause to bring attention to, and to raise funds for, for my annual birthday gathering. This year it came to me in the form of two super-talented young men who have created a short film about something very important. Hold On is a film about two strangers who find purpose, clarity and connection in life. Written by Winnipeggers Austin MacKay and Stuart Fletcher-Cook, Hold On deals with depression and themes of acceptance and addiction. My hope is that this local film will be seen by many.

Suicide remains a bit of a dark and shameful secret, and I'm sure that keeping it that way is not doing anything to alleviate the suffering of the many affected by it. Somehow we've got to find ways to get more comfortable talking about things that make us uncomfortable. Replace shame with conversation, sadness with hope, death with life. This short film is one invaluable way to start making this happen. You can find out more on its fundraising page.

If you've got someone in your life you're worried about, there are helpful community resources. They can't always do what we'd like them to do, but they're there. We've gotta keep trying. Keep holding on. No matter what.


Janine LeGal is freelance writer and grassroots activist in Winnipeg.

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