Let’s Talk.

I’ve always participated in the Bell Let’s Talk mental health imitative but this year is different, and though I’d give anything for things to be anything but, they aren’t.

I’m a resident of one of the world’s greatest and most visited natural wonders and as such I’m privy to the untold truths of Niagara Falls:

  1.  There is so much more to this city than tacky tourist traps and cheesy heart-shaped tubs in poorly-decorated, over-priced hotel rooms.
  2.  This city is populated by decent, hard-working citizens who would go the edge of Hell itself for each other.
  3.  Every year millions of people gather at the base of the Canadian falls to marvel at its majestic power.
  4.  Hundreds of them will hurl themselves over the guard rails, surrendering all that they are to the depths of the Falls. Many will never be seen again, their forms claimed by the cataracts forever.

If you’re offended by my blunt nature, I suppose I should apologize.

But I’m not going to.

The truth is, every year on this day I read hundreds of tweets, Facebook messages and blog posts about mental health issues and while I applaud everyone who speaks out on Bell Let’s Talk day, this year I’m, as they say, sick and tired of being sick and tired. The number of people who reach out every day in an attempt to save those who are facing down the specter of mental illness is legion but it still seems like the battle is one we’ll never win.

 

I lost one of the best friends I ever had last year because too many people failed to act. The Canadian health care system failed him. Those closest to him, though they loved him dearly, failed him. I failed him.

We failed him because we couldn’t break through; he was trying to get his pleas for help out but we couldn’t decode the language he was using. The health care system simply wasn’t listening, and quite frankly, was too busy and overtaxed to give a damn. And so we lost him on an otherwise beautiful Monday summer afternoon, though we wouldn’t know it until six days later, after spending an excruciating week searching the Niagara region for him.

He’ll never know how many people were frantically searching for him. He’ll never know about all the media coverage dedicated to his disappearance. He’ll never know just how many people were beside themselves with worry as he became a version of Schrödinger’s cat, neither living nor dead. He’ll never know any of this because he made a decision that was heartbreaking in its finality.

It was his decision to make, it’s true, but my friend will never know how many dominoes were tumbled when he made that fateful choice. My life has never been the same; I’ve always been an emotional mammal but now I tear up at pretty much everything. Animated films like Coco, the sight of an old homeless guy in New York City, even Kleenex commercials. (Ironic, right?)

The week my friend disappeared authorities on both sides of the Niagara border were waiting for four bodies to surface. Think about that for one second. Four lost souls from completely different walks of life, facing completely different challenges, who made the same choice to sacrifice themselves to Niagara’s cataracts. In the same week.

This sobering truth sickens me. It makes me tired through to my bones. It makes me angry. Local politicians cover it up. The media ignores it. Very few people want to talk about it.

I get it, I truly do. No one wants to risk making Niagara a mecca for jumpers. No one wants to risk their livelihood if word gets out that Niagara Falls is so much more than a tourist attraction.

But it is so much more.

And so I implore you, if you know someone who is struggling with mental health issues, if your loved one is drifting away (the phrase, “lonely among us” springs to mind) if you can imagine, even for a nanosecond, that someone you care about is considering taking their life…

TALK TO THEM.

DO IT UNTIL YOUR BREATH IS GONE AND YOU RUN OUT OF WORDS.

Granted, a small army of us tried to talk to my friend, my brother, only to fail. In the end the outcome appears to have been inevitable. Now I have to ask myself the same two questions every day, “Why did this have to happen?” and “How many others are making the same choice right now?”

I’ll keep asking those questions but I’ll stay hopeful that the answers await me in the future. In the meantime, let’s not stay silent.

Let’s talk.

 

Yes, it’s beautiful, but if you can’t respect it’s power or see everything it represents you’ll never truly understand Niagara Falls.

About The Hook

Husband. Father. Bellman. Author of The Bellman Chronicles. Reader of comic books and observer and chronicler of the human condition. And to my wife's eternal dismay, a mere mortal and non-vampire. I'm often told I look like your uncle, cousin, etc. If I wore a hat, I'd hang it on a hat rack in my home in Niagara Falls, Canada. You can call me The Hook, everyone else does.
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39 Responses to Let’s Talk.

  1. nbratscott says:

    Thank You, Hook, Again!

  2. Sweet Robert… my heart breaks for you. I have lost friends but never someone that close in that way. So i will not insult you by saying I know how you feel. I clearly don’t. But I can still pray for your soul to heal and the pain to lessen and be an ear if you need it. We can talk anytime… ya hear?

    Sage advice we should all listen to.. peace be with you! 💕

  3. It’s hard when you can’t see a way out, when no one seems to hear what you say, when you try and try but get nowhere. When things, people, or symbols are lauded by the world for their value and goodness, yet they represent something that’s polar opposite to you. Yes, I do know these things.
    Thank you, Hook for being “blunt.” I never thought of your location as a place where people end their lives, but now I can see how it would be. Hugs to you.

  4. markbialczak says:

    You were a good friend. You are a good friend. You do your best, Hook. The system … keep talking, folks.

  5. What a powerful piece. My heart breaks for your loss and what you must see on a regular basis. Hugs to you, my friend. xx

  6. davidprosser says:

    I’m heartbroken for every soul lost either at the Falls or any other place people make the decision it’s time to go.Please don’t think you failed your best friend Robert, you didn’t. You just weren’t able to help but you tried. Sometimes the authorities can’t help either. Not because they don’t understand, though some clearly don’t, but because a mind is made up and firm about their intent. Vision is sometimes clouded so that a good future can’t be envisaged, that doesn’t mean those people don’t love you. Oft times they feel their nearest and dearest may be better off without them and it’s a sacrifice worth making even though we wouldn’t want them to.
    It’s time to accept no fault lies with you and there’s nothing more you could have done. A decision had been made.Remember your friend for the pleasure he gave you and others even if you feel the pain of his having left you. He could not forsee a future but you can carry him through in yours.
    Hugs my friend.

  7. “we couldn’t decode the language he was using” – this is the core. So lost, he couldn’t hear, and people couldn’t see enough or locate.
    Living so close – knowing one who made that decision, that brutal choice really haunts you – and lingers.
    It’s over for the person, but they leave so much wreckage behind. The doubts, the if only’s, the undeserved guilt.
    His choice was inched towards years and years ago – so slightly moment by moment – less obvious than mid summer’s breeze.
    Life hurts. It’s something we need to teach children early. We have to teach them young that there will be dark times and how to hang on and live through them. Connection must be felt – somehow that disconnection – that quietly floating off on an ice flow feeling builds to a terrible ending.
    Honestly the huge health care systems don’t notice or care.
    Honestly, society needs to take a honest hard look at itself – but that’s hard. And people are busy demonstrating how busy and important and “caring” they are to the unfortunate…the irony being…
    I think we all need to go outside and play in the sun a bit.
    Understanding may be asking too much but may peace find you, Hook.
    Only the Good realize and are impacted

  8. I feel for you Hook. ❤

  9. This is the sad part about suicide. Those left behind still wondering what they could have done to prevent it.I’m sorry for your loss, Hook.

  10. I have no words. So sad.

  11. Doug in Oakland says:

    You are a damned fine man, Mr. Hook, and please try not to doubt that is the truth.

  12. Theresa says:

    Hook, my heart aches for you, yet it is filled with admiration that you want to bring to light this tragic act that claims so many young lives. I sometimes hate the medical community. They’re so versed in big Pharma drugs that they tend to just push pills on people instead of listening. I recently had an experience with my Doctor’s partner (he was on vacation). I’ll spare you the details but lets just say I had a few choice words for her that went like this “don’t you want to help your patients? You are so young to be so closed minded”. I left the office that day, unable to get the help I needed and instead went elsewhere and got what I wanted and needed. I guess I can call myself one of the lucky ones, that I had the means to go out and search for someone who wasn’t tied to Big Pharma and the Insurance companies. I hope for more in the future and you my friend are trying and will make a difference, even if it’s only one life you affect. Stay with it Hook. You have a wonderful heart! That’s all we all what in this life, is to be the best we can be to ourselves and others. God Bless you Hook!

  13. Mark Myers says:

    This is beautiful, Hookie. I’m sorry for your friend and I hope more people will be spared to action to help those who need it.

  14. Wendy says:

    It is heartbreaking to know of suicide or even suicide attempts which fail.

    As a former Critical Care RN, I’ve cared for people who’ve not succeeded in their suicide attempts and due to some needing repeated surgeries, have seen them on more than one occasion in the ensuing months and even years. They are often forgotten with their battle to overcome the demons which caused the suicide attempt in the first place. With the right kind of care, I do think many will evolve to have a much more healthy outlook and perhaps be more gentle with themselves. One young man who had a very dreadful injury due to a gunshot injury, which did not kill him, had multiple surgeries to rebuild his face.

    I cared for him about 2 years after the incident which nearly took his life. I was impressed with how positive he was in the Recovery Room and in a conversation with me, I asked him what was the biggest difference in his life now compared to before the incident. His reply was one I’ve never forgotten. He said, “I found out who really loved me.” It was for him the turning point – he felt truly loved.

    So, as you said, it is so important to reach out toward someone who you may even suspect is struggling and love them, listen and care until they hear you and feel loved.

  15. @Jolchu1701 says:

    Wow. So powerful. Thank you.

  16. Tara says:

    We definitely need to keep talking, keep advocating, keep communicating … so that the effects of suicide on everyone aren’t ignored or the symptoms that we do or do not see aren’t either. My stepbrother’s ex-girlfriend shot herself in his house a few months ago, and everyone was reeling over her decision and what drove her to do such a thing. We’ll never know. And the worst is that it appears she was planning it, and how does HE live with it? In any case, we as a collective community of souls need to keep talking, so that mental health becomes a natural conversation, not a taboo to be hidden.

  17. StillWaters says:

    A tough, wonderful article. Bless you, Mr. Hook.

  18. curvyroads says:

    So we’ll said, Robert. Ronnie was lucky to have you as a friend. Hugs

  19. We miss Ron everyday. No one will ever take his place in our hearts. Ron was like a brother to The Hook. Time goes on and you heal but we will never forget Ron.

    • The Hook says:

      No, we won’t.
      He was one of the most genuinely-decent souls I’ve known and I miss him every day.

      And he thought you were the coolest chick ever, wifey.

  20. granny1947 says:

    Wow. A very strong post. Made me stop and think. Is there anyone close to me who is reaching out. Can’t think of one. Hope I am right. So sorry for your loss.

  21. You break my heart, Hook. My hometown, the place I love more than any other is often misrepresented and misunderstood. The shear magnificence, power, force and magnetism of that vast waterfall can reach inside you, taunt you, tempt you and grab hold of you. Not everyone can escape that particular essence of Niagara Falls. You understand that and respect that. Many don’t. It really isn’t the place to be when we are feeling lost and alone. Doesn’t it make you want to tap everyone on the shoulder and say, “Hey, are you OK? How can I help?” Even in the ones we love the most we can’t always see it or hear it. I guess we just have to keep asking.

  22. H.E. ELLIS says:

    The best advice I ever received about loss goes like this:

    “When you first lose someone you love, every memory of them is painful. As time goes on, every memory of them becomes joy. You just need to give it time.”

    Easier said than done, I know. But I’ve found it to be true just the same.

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