Bits and bites of everyday life

What ever happened to Big Red?

In a garden, as in all of life
interconnectedness is of the essence
True North Perspective
Alberte Villeneuve-Sinclair is the author of The Neglected Garden and two French novels. Visit her website to learn more

Again this year, my garden was bountiful. You should see my green peppers! Huge, juicy, crunchy! My yellow peppers on the other hand didn’t do as well. Why remains a mystery… Just like the rosebush named Big Red, on the north side of the property.

For many years Big Red was the best-looking rosebush there. His fuschia-coloured roses bloomed in June and again later during the summer. But last year, Big Red developed a disease, a fungus of some kind. I trimmed him back as much as I could but this year the fungus came back in full force. I have already started cutting back some of the diseased branches but now I really don’t know if Big Red will survive. Should I use a fungicide? The choice of intervention is always critical. 

Our lives have the same cycles as do all creatures of this Universe and when something goes wrong, one must question the various aspects of the creature’s life, whether it be plant, animal or human. This musing comes at a time when we, as a collectivity, are looking once more at suicide intervention and prevention.

Suicide Prevention Day is today, September 10th and this year’s theme is “Many faces, Many Places: Suicide Prevention across the World”. Suicide knows no boundaries and although there are differences in the profiles and circumstances of suicidal individuals in different parts of the world, it is clear that the experience of connectedness plays an important part in the mental health of people. 


The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about one million people die by suicide every year: 16 per 100,000 or one death every 40 seconds. Intervention is crucial: family, educational systems, community, professional and medical groups, governments at all levels... Successful approaches to suicide prevention have included restricting access to means such as guns, drugs that are commonly used as overdose medication, establishing community prevention programs, establishing guidelines for media reporting, engaging with frontline professionals through gate keeper training programs… 

Of course as someone who has had to deal with suicide first hand when my first husband committed suicide at age 31 and someone who has spoken about the topic, I always take notice when the subject is brought up.  

This is why when I read Kelly Egan’s Citizen article that mentioned James Thomas, a 28 year-old man from the Brockville area, who has produced a one-hour film pertaining to his sister Chantal’s suicide in 2005, I read it carefully.

James hopes the film will enable people to seek help when they see a buddy engaging in a dangerous activity or exhibiting suicidal tendencies. Chantal committed suicide during a camping trip. She used a shoelace to hang herself from a play structure and was found by an early-morning dog walker. She had warned her friends she was going to do it.  

She fell through the cracks somehow. Reason? In all probability, no one person could put all the pieces of her life’s puzzle together and truly access the real reason of her inner torture. As a child, the youngest of three, she was a tomboy, an athlete, a good student. What was unknown is there had been an episode of sexual abuse that Chantal had kept secret.

Her problems intensified in high school, maybe earlier, first with experiments with cutting and burning herself. Drug use and suicidal planning followed. She went into counseling and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder the fall before she died. 

In retrospect, a tortured soul lost in a world of her own, not knowing where to find peace and self-love, numbing her pain with drugs, fighting her demons the best way she could. Chantal had hidden art work, poems and meditations behind holes in her bedroom wall… James found them when he tried to make sense of the tragedy shortly after her death. 

This could have very well been the description of my first husband’s teen years. He was a brilliant introverted, anorexic and terribly lost young man. At age seventeen, he was talking suicide. He would carry a small switchblade in his shirt pocket and once said that when he couldn’t cope with life anymore, all he had to do was press the trigger and the blade would go through his heart.

My sister had been traumatized by that comment. I honestly believed love would conquer all and these death wishes would go away once he realized how much he was loved. Paranoid and still terribly unhappy fourteen years later, he couldn’t bear living with bipolar disease for the rest of his life. I couldn’t cope anymore; it was starting to make me sick. The realization I had to leave him drove him to his third suicide attempt. He overdosed on medication that he had stashed away for that purpose. On the doctor’s orders, I had searched every nook and cranny of the house but had come up empty-handed. Chantal’s friends may always wonder was it a cry for help? Did Chantal expect her friends to stop her from ultimate self-destruction? Or was it “the straw that broke the camel’s back”? The end of the road… A point of no return.  

I admire James for making this documentary and his parents for accompanying him. I wrote my first novel The Neglected Garden with the same idea in mind: to break the silence and dispel the taboos, to help others cope with the aftermath of a suicide and tell them they are not alone. Suicides happen! 

In the scheme of life, interconnectedness is of the essence. Feeling connected is our saving grace. If a support system fails along the way, it can cause irreparable damage. In the August issue of Reader’s Digest, Susan McClelland introduces Gabor Maté, one of Canada’s most influential thinkers in the area of addiction and mental health.  

“He believes what happens in childhood shapes a person’s emotional patterns for life. In fact, such formative experiences can alter the very physicology of our bodies and brains, and predisposes us to physical and mental illnesses. And until we learn to liberate ourselves from destructive thought patterns, usually set in place to cope with unhealthy parent-child attachments, we will stay stuck in unhealthy patterns of behaviour.” 

*When I questioned the psychiatrist about my husband’s illness years ago, he explained that, though there was a slight tendency towards depression in his family, my first husband’s problems were in great part due to traumatic experiences during his childhood. And unfortunately, he had been left to fend for himself during those critical times… 

Gabor Maté’s gift is his intuitive ability to ask the right questions thus enabling his patients to see their mental programming more clearly. Through his studies, he arrived at the simple idea, “There is an emptiness inside each individual”.  

Community breakdown, he thinks, accounts for many of today’s problems: depression, ADD, bullying, addictions. If there is a breakdown of communal support, (let’s say family for example) the stress produced causes the child’s brain to tune out to protect itself. The problem, obviously, is that new mechanism once in place becomes the tool to address life issues and it can last a lifetime. 

“For Maté, social breakdown also undermines adult relationships and people’s ability to keep jobs, and has resulted in much of Western society being addicted to something, be it drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex or work. Addiction fills the emptiness or kills the pain.” 

To me, Dr. Maté’s approach makes so much sense. Full disclosure in order to fully understand “your self” and its outdated coping mechanisms is primordial. A friend compares this to peeling back the different layers of an onion in order to get to the heart of your “sacred self”. Holding on to buried secrets only makes the wounds putrefy and will slowly poison you. These buried secrets can cause physical ailments because what we carry in the darkest recesses of our being reflect on the outside, in our bodies. It’s like planting the empty shells of seeds that have been stripped of their life-giving force; we cannot then expect to harvest the bounty of life if there is no germination possible. 


Humans are often their worst enemy, constantly berating themselves and inventing extreme ways of challenging themselves and others to no avail when it would be more beneficial, through honest disclosure and subsequent accompaniment, to learn to love oneself for real and thus remodel our interior so it shines bright, inside and out. Mind and body are one. Chinese, shamanic and Buddhist cultures have understood that for centuries. And we are all connected to each other and to the Universe. We can help one another but, as I said in my previous article: “Background and circumstances may have influenced who we were but we must choose who we become.” Where adults have an important role to play is making sure our communities, and this includes family, work towards being better connected because every child, every teen deserves to be cherished, deserves to be guided through the maze of modern society. Self-respect and feeling cherished should be a natural state for all.  

P.S. Be sure to look for James Thomas’ film, “The truth About Teenage Suicide”. 

Blessings to all! 


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