It is odd, sometimes, how you can remember the past without truly remembering. Seeing it, as it were, through what has been called a distant mirror. Recognizable and yet somehow beyond real comprehension.
This is, for me, what it is like to have been the son of a mother who took her own life when I was very young.
While I can remember everything that happened, I have spent a lifetime trying to understand why it happened. And I am no longer sure that that is the point.
My mother, Krista Maeots, committed suicide when I was seven years old by jumping to her death off a bridge near Niagara Falls. I have vivid memories of being told about this. I have, sadly, far less vivid memories of her.
But, of course, over the years I discovered a lot about her.
Krista was an early radical feminist. Passionate and driven by issues of social justice and women’s rights she became involved with the left-wing, late ’60s, early ’70s Waffle movement in the NDP and was the first person to propose gender equity within the party’s governing institutions at its 1971 convention (which, sadly, was opposed and defeated at the time, though it eventually went on to become party policy). She wrote about this by saying “I find it particularly frustrating to hear both NDP men and women repeating the old adage that women should run for party positions on an individual basis, according to their own individual merits, competing equally with their fellow male socialists. Has it not sunk in yet, after 50 years of recorded precedent, that this system does not work? Fellow socialists when did we become liberals? When did we accept the liberal myth that equality of opportunity exists, and therefore all we have to worry about is running elections without corruption?”
It was ahead of her time and was opposed by not only two-thirds of NDP delegates, but also by all of the people we associate with the “Golden Era” of the NDP, such as the supporters of David Lewis who called it “tokenism”.
She was a pioneering female print and radio journalist. Krista was a producer of This Country in The Morning which helped to bring Peter Gzowski to fame. She also was the creator of, and first executive producer of Morningside. Morningside was a show that helped to change the face of North American radio with its distinct interplay of music, news and ephemera. It was enough that Ryerson University created a Krista Maeots Scholarship Award in Journalism after her death.
Distantly I can still recall her circling songs on the backs of LPs that would be played during the program. Tragically, on the day of her suicide, they could think of no better tribute than to simply play music for the entire show, which they did.
Why did she commit suicide? I was very young. I have, over the years heard many theories, and as they sometimes involved people I knew and loved, it is impossible for me emotionally to say. I have to leave it at that.
To say that I have had trouble accepting her death would be obvious. Even all these years later it is difficult for me to understand. And, as a result, I spent many years being very angry at her. I could not even speak of her.
But it is incredibly important, on this, World Suicide Prevention Day, to heed what the day is about and to tell each other our stories of loss and recovery. “On average, almost 3000 people commit suicide daily. For every person who completes a suicide, 20 or more may attempt to end their lives.”
So many people lost.
This is a day that should not a be day of despair, it should be a day of hope. We can stop many suicides. We can intervene. We can end the hopelessness felt by so many, like my mother, in those final moments.
We can do it through a social acceptance of depression and mental illness and through not being afraid to confront it when we find it among our friends, lovers and family. We can do it through funding programs that will aid in this and that will de-stigmatize it. We can do it by fighting misogyny, homophobia, racism, poverty and desperation and by standing together, as citizens, and saying that we will unite with our sisters and brothers around the world to achieve this and to stop this terrible consumer of lives.
So many of us who are survivors of the suicides of others feel that somehow we are to blame. It is the most difficult part of moving forward. For many years I was unable to admit that my mother had been a victim of suicide and that I could have been a son to someone who would have done this. The sense of shame was palpable and overwhelming to the point that I would lie, as a child and teenager, about how my mother had died.
I know now that these feelings are wrong, but they are also the feelings that stop us from telling each other, as friends and comrades, the truth about where we are and how we are feeling. It is shame, in part, that prevents those that believe they can no longer go on from telling friends that they are confronting this. And it is shame that prevents those who have lost loved ones to suicide from telling their stories and from saying that we have to, we must, do more as a society and as individuals to stop it.
As leftists we must stand together against this sense of shame and we must stand united with all those we have lost and who still suffer and tell them that their feelings are not shameful and that we are here for them. That they have our solidarity. That as leftists we stand together against depression and know that feelings of hopelessness and emptiness are human and that we will support each other through them.
And that, most importantly, we will tell each other when we feel this way. That we will reach out and expect to be listened to and understood without any fear of stigma. That we will be able to seek help without enduring labels of being “insane” or “hysterical”.
This is why I wanted to share my mother’s story.