Staying Alive

🕔Dec 04, 2006

People often fear what they don’t understand, and what they don’t understand they may also refuse to talk about, especially if it is painful.

This was a hard story to write and a hard story to read, being the recounting of conversations with two women whose lives are impacted by suicide.

They were offered anonymity, yet they choose to put faces with their stories. They do not want suicide to be allowed to hide; they want it talked about until the fear and stigma disappear, to force it out where it can be battled. They know that talking about suicide can break its power.

Laurie Marsh survived three suicide attempts, the last occurring nearly 30 years ago. She was not born frail but life threw her some wicked curves from an early age, leaving her with the baggage of unresolved trauma.

Laurie witnessed the accidental death of her younger sister, and assumed the undeserved guilt that children so readily take on when bad things happen around them. She was sexually assaulted as a teenager. Laurie is still healing.

“I tried to commit suicide three times. The first time, I don’t know if it was just a cry for help.”

“I was 19 years old and had a baby. My parents were out seaweed picking and I was home babysitting nine children. My parents took in four foster children and I was the oldest.”

“I was playing softball at the field and I was married to an alcoholic. My drunken husband comes up and demands money, because I was left money by my parents to run the household. He wants money to buy a case of wine. I said, ‘No, the money is not for that.’ He wouldn’t stop bothering me. I just kept saying, ‘No, get away from me.’”

“I had long hair. He dragged me off the ball field, twisting my hair in his hand, for everybody to see, and he was beating me on the way down to my Mom’s house. It was awful.”

“Once he got me in, he locked the children out and threw me in the bedroom and continued to bounce me off the walls. It was a small room. There was blood everywhere.”

“At 19 years of age, I was on medication already for my nerves, so I had a bottle of pills. He wouldn’t let me out of the room. I ended up in the closet. On the way into the closet I grabbed the pills. I was desperate and I said, ‘If you come near me I’m going to take these pills.’ He said, ‘Go ahead and die…no one is going to miss you.’”

“He came towards me and I took the whole bottle.” Laurie’s eyes are wide with the memory of her fear. “I was trying to stay awake. I didn’t want to die!”

As she began to lose consciousness, her husband let her out of the room to call for help and she was transported to Prince Rupert hospital.

“They made him my escort!”

The RCMP and a social worker advised her to charge her husband, which she did upon returning to Port Simpson. The social worker had other advice as well.

“I was beaten, both eyes were black, my head was all lumpy and the social worker kept saying, ‘You know, you really have to make this marriage work!’”

Time then gets confused for her. She believes her second suicide attempt occurred in Simpson, before her husband moved to Prince Rupert. “I cannot remember at this moment.” The missing time startles her. “I attempted to slit my wrist.”

Laurie headed to Rupert, knowing her family would care for her daughter, and lost herself in alcohol and drugs. She passed out on a fisherman’s boat one night and woke to find herself half-way to the Charlotte Islands. “I had no say in the matter.”

“On the way… I don’t know if it was a flashback from drugs or if I didn’t care. It was my third attempt. I found a razor blade. I went up where the steering wheel was and I had no feeling at all, nothing…it was like in a haze, like another person watching me. I just took it and went…”

My own eyes blur with tears as she lifts her wrist, makes the drawing motion across it. Her eyes register mild curiosity.

“People that have committed suicide successfully, I can see where they could do it, because for me it was a numbing feeling. It hurt afterward.”

NW: “What took you away from that?”

“I don’t keep things bottled up inside me.”

Day by day

Debra Kelly quietly breaks the silence that is suicide’s mantle of protection.

At a workshop in Rupert, Deb’s group created a powerful visual. “We were asked to do map…what’s available for the youth. In the middle we drew a big, black hole. That represents what we’re going through. With all the suicides, there was never any real answer…there was nothing.”

“The sad part of it was they had representatives from all the communities; there was nobody there for us, a total lack of support from our leaders. It should be a huge issue but they couldn’t even send anybody. How sad is this?”

The young woman also stood up at a council meeting in Simpson last year, calling for help for the village’s youth at risk. “Have more workshops on suicide and help out the young generation, get them doing after-school jobs, something other than hanging out at the rec centre or whatever.”

“I spoke at my cousin’s funeral, saying that if you’re someone in that situation, get help. Alcohol is not the answer. I meant everything I said and I think that’s the only thing that has stopped me and is stopping me. I don’t want to be a hypocrite.”

Deb continues to ask valuable questions. “What do you say to someone who is reaching out…when you’re depressed yourself?”

NW” “What do you say?”

“I think they should seek help together. Having someone there for you is probably easier.”

“I’ve been through a lot. It’s not only suicide. Stuff has happened to me and I’ve never spoken about it with anybody. I can’t just come out and say what I’m feeling. It’s hard to talk about how you’re feeling.”

NW: “How do you get through?”

“Day to day. It’s hard. I tried myself. It has nothing to do with just thinking about yourself.”

Deb keeps an online journal. She wrote, regarding a youth forum: “The teenagers had a lot of great ideas and we got them out there. I was happy that the teenagers stepped up and made it clear what they wanted, what they were going through. It takes a lot to talk about this issue. For some they can’t even mention the word “suicide” because it just brings tears to their eyes or they’re scared that if someone hears that word it may give them ideas to do it themselves.”

“This helps. I like to write things out…and when I know other people are reading it…it makes me feel better.”

“We asked a lot of questions and OUR voices were heard.”