The Doc Project

'The smartest, funniest person you know is dead': Five roommates on a tragic loss

Once, there were six college roommates and close friends. But then, there were only five. Now, four years have passed, and the five guys have come together to pay tribute to the friend who was lost.
The roommates. From left to right: Kyle, Taylor, Dylan, Chris, Matt, and Kale.

By Matthew Kariatsumari and Katie Hill

In fall 2009, Kale Laviolette left small-town Sauble Beach, Ontario, to attend McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. 

There, Kale pursued a Bachelor of Science, specializing in chemistry, though his curiosity and desire to learn crossed disciplinary bounds.

Those who knew Kale remember him as both fascinating and mystifying. He was charismatic, and passionate about eclectic used clothing, the band T. Rex, and the people in his life.

A zealous conversationalist, Kale frequently engaged those around him in debate... whether they were up for it or not.

Kale, in 2011.

While in university, Kale made countless friends, but became close with five guys – Taylor, Dylan, Kyle, Matthew and Chris – who would become his roommates over the next four years.

The six of them lived with their rambunctious cat, Dee, in a big, purple and yellow apartment on a small cobblestone street in Montreal. Life in a household of six college-aged male friends meant that boundaries were occasionally tested, but also that lasting bonds were formed.

In the summer before their final year of university, Kale committed suicide.

Taylor and Kale sitting in Parc LaFontaine during the sunset.

It's been almost four years since Kale's death, and Kyle, Dylan, Taylor, Chris, and Matt remain close. Though they often bring Kale up in conversation, the friends haven't talked much about how Kale's death has impacted them as individuals or as a group. 

Until now, that is.

Told from the perspectives of Kale's five former roommates, this radio documentary is a memorialization of the charming and complicated person that Kale was, and an emotional reflection on mourning, friendship and memory.

The roommates staging a photo before going to a “metal” dance night at a local bar in Montreal.

The piece begins with a description of who Kale was to each of the roommates – individually and as part of their collective friendship. Each discusses their immediate reaction to Kale's death and what it means to grieve him today.

Interlaced with each of the roommate's thoughts on the trickiness of nostalgia, the piece culminates in the tension between memory and truth, the personal and the collective, and authenticity and performance.

Reflecting on Kale for the radio was an honest and deeply personal process for Kale's former roommates. Kale is remembered by many more friends, and is survived by his loving parents, Chuck and Lisa Laviolette, and brother, Peter.

Kale in April, 2012. (Ian Murphy)

Need help?

If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues or suicidal thoughts, the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention website is a good resource.

About the producer

Matthew Kariatsumari
Matthew Kariatsumari is a freelance radio producer who has worked predominantly in the realm of radio fiction. Matthew's work has been featured on Radiotopia's The Heart and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's PocketDocs. He is also a founding member of Toronto-based radio collective Mixtales. Matthew lives in Toronto and spends his days working for a visual effects studio.

The associate producer is Katie Hill; documentary editor is Alison Cook. Music is written by Kyle Jacques & Matthew Kariatsumari, and is performed by Kyle Jacques.

Special thanks to Lisa & Chuck Laviolette, Taylor Berce, Dylan Bokyo, Kyle Jacques, Chris Taggesell and Michelle Macklem.