As the ripples of Valentine’s Day recede, I am thinking not of the sugary sweetness of love. Rather, I’m left pondering a love that is riddled with pain, a love that scars and tears at the heart.
In this week of Valentine’s love, I watched with amusement as a line, eight-men deep, formed for grocery store flowers. I brought chocolate to work for my co-workers.
Fleeting expressions of affection, such sentimentalities have their place. But in this Valentine’s week, they were not lasting impressions of love.
Instead, it is suicide I will think of when I remember Valentine’s Day, 2012.
I will think about it not as the horrific act that it is, but rather in terms of how much love existed for the people who took their own lives. It was enough, and yet it wasn’t.
I’ll think about it because I know that in every case — and there were three stories of suicide claiming my attention this week – in the midst of the awfulness, there was also love.
So much love, in fact, that those who remain to mourn the victim of suicide have been speaking out, using the word, not shrouding the death in the age-old-euphemism, ‘he died suddenly at home.’
I mourn for three lives in this week of love, not because I knew them, but because the people who loved them are talking, calling attention to their struggles, asking that their lives be noticed.
The three stories are vastly different from each other.
One was a little boy, only 11 years old, whose life has become a public witness against bullying.
Mitchell Wilson killed himself the day after he was subpoenaed to testify against a boy who beat him up and stole his phone. It was also the end of summer break, and Mitchell was supposed to return to school, where he would have to see his bullies every day.
He ended his life instead.
Although Mitchell is no longer alive, this week a judged ruled that his witness statements, identifying one of the boys who beat him up, would read to the court.
His voice is still being heard, his story still being told. His father, showing remarkable courage has spoken through the media about his son’s life and about his death.
There is no shame in the suicide. Only sorrow.
I don’t know any of the details about the life of a Toronto man who committed suicide a week ago. I heard about it from a co-worker, who knew him well enough to be invited to a memorial service this week.
The man owned an art gallery, loved a woman, was born in the United States. And somehow, his life became too difficult to continue living. That fact, exposed as people say the word suicide, has become part of his story. And well it should.
I know a lot more about a young woman who took her own life several weeks ago for she was the daughter, sister, friend, of people I know well.
This family, too, has been courageous in naming the cause of death, in speaking out about every aspect of this young woman’s brief, but vibrant life. They’ve talked about her passions, her values and her sense of humour. They’ve also shared her struggles, naming the anxiety that weighted her down, openly talking about mental illness and the effect it had on her life.
Three lives, so different, yet all tied together by that one word. Suicide.
It’s a sharp, cutting word. For far too long it’s been a shameful word. Hidden and secretive, it meant that the lives attached to it became hidden and secret, too.
But that is changing. Suicide, and the emotional and mental struggles that precede it, are part of many people’s lives. But these realities should never define who they were. They should not be our remaining memories.
In this week of Valentine’s love, I have been profoundly moved by the way three lost lives have been embraced and exposed. Their stories, with all the beautiful parts, and the raw pieces, too, have been shared.
No one has cowered. No one has shielded the truth. No one has allowed shame to rule the day.
Suicide is a terrible ending to a life. But it should never define that life. After all, death descends suddenly – even when preceded by illness — but life is about days, weeks, months, years. It’s the bigger story.
I will remember this Valentine week not because there were chocolates and roses and sentimental stories being told. I will remember it because three lives, tragically ended by suicide, captured my attention and caused me to think about love in a way that is courageous, transparent and true.
Lynda MacGibbon is a transplanted Maritimer living in Toronto. Her column appears on Fridays in the Moncton Times & Transcript. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @lyndamacgibbon.