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Sixteen year old Ben Nelson died September 24, 2010, when he committed suicide in a shed on the family's farm in Ashton Ontario, Canada, about an hour west of Ottawa. The couple bought the farm for Ben, in hopes it would help his precarious state of mind after an attempted suicide earlier in the year. (Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
Sixteen year old Ben Nelson died September 24, 2010, when he committed suicide in a shed on the family's farm in Ashton Ontario, Canada, about an hour west of Ottawa. The couple bought the farm for Ben, in hopes it would help his precarious state of mind after an attempted suicide earlier in the year. (Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

Teen suicide: 'We're not going to sit in silence' Add to ...

“You can’t blame it on anyone,” Kyle’s grandmother says. “But the people who should know don’t have the knowledge.” Even she, a public-health nurse, wasn’t thinking about suicide. “I was worried about him losing another semester of school.”

When she was finally able to get him into see the school psychologist a few weeks before he died, she was told that “there were no immediate concerns.”

But maybe, she says, no one was listening closely enough, seeing Kyle simply as a behaviour problem, an indifferent student who would put on his earphones during class. In the white noise of his bad attitude and lacklustre school record, was something missed? As she learned from her days in palliative care, Ms. House says, “pain is what the patient says it is, not what I think it should be.”

But she adds, carefully, “Nobody did anything malicious. People just didn’t know.”

The Nelsons, on the other hand, already had known they had demons to chase: Ben had tried to commit suicide before, in January, 2010, skipping school and chugging cough syrup by the train tracks near their west-side Ottawa neighbourhood; he had thrown up after the first bottle, and later confessed what he had done to his parents. They found him a psychiatrist, who put him on an antidepressant. They relaxed on school, especially the math that gave him so much trouble. Even when they found pot in his room, they let it slide.

“You feel like you are walking on eggshells all the time,” says Mindy.

At the farm he appeared to be getting better, and when school began he found new friends. But at home he didn’t talk much about his feelings. “You didn’t get a lot of echo from him most of the time,” Gary says. You had the feeling, he says, that Ben “had bricks piled on top of him.”

His parent felt helpless, trying to buoy him up with shawarma dinners and movie nights at home, and not to leave him alone for very long. They hesitated about sharing the full story with his new school (although they did give some details) – they didn’t want to violate Ben’s confidence, and weren’t sure how the information would be handled.

“I feel we were working in the dark, stumbling around,” Mindy says.

In a journal started after Ben’s death, Gary calculated the number of days he had with his only son: 6,007. Not nearly enough.

Rebuilding and reaching out “I forgive you that you didn’t tell me you were in such pain,” Shelly Graham wrote recently in a letter to her lost son. “Please forgive me for not hearing.”

And yet, it seems, more and more people are listening. In Lanark County, committees have been struck to try to build a plan for prevention and intervention. With every family that comes forward, another one is inspired to do the same. Across the country, Facebook memorial pages remain alive with birthday wishes and memories, months and years later, suggesting a fledgling vehicle for a real discussion.

What’s more, the families are reaching out to their children’s peers – on Kyle Leron-McCready’s birthday, his mother went to Ottawa and invited a few of his friends; they spent hours talking in his bedroom, where his last load of laundry still sits unfolded on the floor, and his hockey trophies stand on the shelves.

Going even further, after opening the Grahams’ home to Jesse’s heartbroken friends, Shelly is taking a course so that she can run a program on grief for youth.

“I had no idea, the hopelessness that’s out there,” she says. “And kids telling me they had suicidal thoughts. They don’t know how to deal with loss and disappointment.”

Finally, today at the Nelsons’ place in Ashton, on the anniversary of their son’s death, they are hosting a party, inviting Ben’s friends out to the farm. Maybe they will share some of his secrets, or a few of their own.

“I hope they tell me something I didn’t know about Ben,” Mindy confesses. “I want to know him better.”

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