New Brunswick

'He was so loved': Mother of man who died by suicide wants to erase stigma

A mother whose son died by suicide last summer wants to see more people talking about addiction and mental health. Brent McLellan took his own life by jumping off Saint John's Reversing Falls Bridge on July 11, 2019.

Family of Brent McLellan waited months to find his body, after he jumped from the Reversing Falls Bridge

Brent McLellan loved playing hockey and baseball while growing up on Saint John's west side. He took his own life on July 11, 2019. (Marjorie McLellan)

A mother whose son died by suicide last summer wants to see more people talking about addiction and mental health.

Brent McLellan took his own life by jumping off Saint John's Reversing Falls Bridge on July 11, 2019. He was 43.

But Marjorie and Allan McLellan had to wait six months to be able to bring Brent home. 

They knew Brent died because a tourist visiting the Reversing Falls took a photo of him in the water, according to his mother.

"Otherwise, we would have been sitting here all this time saying, 'Where's Brent?'" Marjorie McLellan said.

"As bad as that sounds, we at least knew what had happened."

Brent's remains were discovered in September in Sandy Cove Beach in Digby County, Nova Scotia.

For months, police tried to piece together the mystery man's identity. The Nova Scotia RCMP pleaded for information from the public, offering details on the Urban Heritage jeans he was believed to be wearing and his Terra work boots.

A forensic artist from the New York Academy of Art also developed a facial reconstruction to try to give people an idea of what he looked like.

But the boots were a crucial clue. A family friend was with Brent on the day he bought the boots for a new job and she called the RCMP, McLellan said.

A couple of weeks ago, the family got the news they'd been waiting to hear.

'A really friendly, outgoing guy'

Growing up on Saint John's west side, Brent loved being outside and playing with other neighbourhood children. He was also close with his two sisters.

"They just loved their brother and he loved them," McLellan said.

Brent McLellan grew up in a tight-knit family with his parents, Marjorie and Allan, and siblings, Jillian and Katie. (Marjorie McLellan)

Brent was a star athlete in hockey and baseball, even playing for the Saint John Alpines senior baseball team in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

He was one of several players who grew up together playing baseball in Lancaster and who made the jump to senior baseball at the same time, according to Terre Hunter, general manager of the Saint John Alpines.

Hunter remembered Brent for his competitive drive, but also for his distinctive laugh.

"Brent was a really friendly, outgoing guy," Hunter said.

"Just one of those guys that people sort of migrate to."

Brent moved to western Canada to work as an insulator, but struggled to find work when he returned to New Brunswick, Hunter said.

"We certainly knew that he was having a tough time," he said. 

"That was no secret."

Standing room only at funeral

McLellan said her son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction.

While he was receiving mental health services, McLellan didn't see her son getting better.  She said Brent had attempted suicide in the past.

"I really felt that's how he would die, by suicide," she said.

"You don't have children to bury them, that's for sure. You should not outlive your children."

As his family waited to find his body, they held Brent's funeral at Our Lady of the Assumption Church on July 24. 

More than 800 people packed the church to remember him.

They sang, "Take me out to the ball game" as the funeral procession left the church, so loud that McLellan thought the rafters were going to collapse.

Members of the Saint John Alpines pose with Brent McLellan's family and his Alpines #7 jersey. His former teammates formed an honour guard at the funeral. (Terre Hunter)

"I think it surprised the family because I don't think they had any idea how many lives he had touched," Hunter said.

He organized an honour guard of former Alpines players, who came to remember the player who once wore #7.

'He was so loved'

While McLellan is happy to finally know where her son is, she's not sure she will ever have closure.

"People talk about closure, but our son is still gone," she said.

Still, she is hoping something good can come out of her family's tragedy.

McLellan would like to see more resources for people struggling with mental health issues and addictions.

Most of all, she wants people to know it's OK to talk about mental health and addiction and that they shouldn't be ashamed if they are sick.

She was happy to see hundreds of people line the Reversing Falls Bridge last September to honour those who have died by suicide, including her son.

People held lit candles and cell phone lights as they lined the Reversing Falls bridge during a gathering in September, just two months after Brent McLellan took his own life. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

"It has to come to light more, be out in the public more," she said.

"People have to take advantage of what's out there and not be embarrassed by it."

After Brent died, McLellan went back into her messages to look at her final words to her son.

"Have a happy, happy day Brent," she wrote to her son on the morning before he died.

"He was so loved and I'm so glad he knew that."

About the Author

Karissa Donkin is a journalist in CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Do you have a story you want us to investigate? Send your tips to NBInvestigates@CBC.ca.