In the midst of a crisis wreaking havoc over another First Nation community, I also lost someone. My family lost someone. People I didn’t even know lost someone.
My cousin passed away in early January.
It was hard to accept when I first got word. It took me a while to process it, and to stop those tears.
It was hard to talk about, but I knew it was something that should be mentioned because of the matter at hand. I wanted to say something; because I knew so many were going through the same thing. I was scared to mention it on social media, where I do most of my connecting to friends and family in the forms of memes and funny gifs, but I had to talk about it. I had to call it by its name instead of shying away from it.
I used that word, the s-word on the Facebook post talking about my family’s loss. I was scared to use it, but I had to be honest. It was what I was told, what we were told, when it came to learning of how she passed. I didn’t believe it, though. It hurt me so much I felt like my chest was collapsing when I thought of it.
I didn’t want to accept that my cousin, my childhood companion, had taken her own life.
Things happened that separated me from my family on my father’s side. There was the break up of my parent’s marriage, and pieces of my family scattered all over far away from that side it seemed. I lost touch with that side for a while, but finally reconnected on social media. I missed out on family events. I didn’t have the means to attend most times, or it wasn’t a possibility, but I tried to keep tabs. I kept them in my prayers, my thoughts, my heart, and I loved loved loved every time I would see them in person. It was like no time had passed.
And everyone was busy with his or her lives, including her.
She was making the best of hers. Her name was Cheri.
She wasn’t a computer person. She can’t be found on social media. She lived on the streets for most of her life. She was in Kenora, Dryden, Thunder Bay, and Winnipeg from what I can remember, living on and off those streets. She was living in Winnipeg the last few years. I saw her on the news once talking about her friend, a fellow homeless person, who had died. She had it rough, but she stayed so kind. She cared for that friend a lot. She cared for all her friends, I am told.
When I learned in college about the different ways that the Indian Residential School system and the foster care system had negatively impacted First Nations people, I thought of her. And I saw her in those stories.
When I learned in my research as a reporter looking into the issues of homelessness and poverty, and the dangers that women and girls in those situations face and the life they are forced to live, I thought of her. And I saw her in those women.
And I was so glad last fall to hear she would be coming back, and she would be taken care of by my family.
And she was so close to coming home to us. She was here with family in Ontario this past fall, but due legal matters she had to return to Manitoba. And so she came back in a different way.
We laid her to rest in Red Lake where my late grandmother and late great-grandfather are.
One of my aunts said, “We were robbed of Cheri.”
How many others have been robbed of their loved ones in the same way?
That word describes the feeling so perfectly: robbed. Something robbed her from us. She was taken from us. There’s no getting her back in this life either. So that’s where the despair comes in, and the guilt, and the regret, and the feeling of hopelessness. After laying her to rest, and after being with so much family, I left Red Lake feeling positive, but there is a sadness that creeps in. I feel it come over me, and I grieve. It’s hard to accept the ending to her story, which is a story that involves that s-word: suicide.
Many people are dealing with that word, with suicide. They are fighting it, trying to prevent it; some are thinking about it, and a lot are living in the aftermath of it.
I never heard of my cousin making attempts, but I heard she talked about depression recently. Maybe she felt there was a shame in it, in discussing why, or maybe she didn’t know how to talk about it. There is no shame in talking about things like this.
I hope others will talk about it, and not suffer in silence. I hope there is more help to confront the epidemics that plague our communities.
Suicide isn’t the answer to any problem, and it just creates more questions. The issues that lead people to consider suicide, those need to be talked about. As painful as it may be to discuss, they need attention. And the people, young and old, need support.
I am praying for all of those who are suffering the same loss.
I am praying for all of those who are suffering, too.
I love you, Cheri.