“I can reassure those who have lost hope that they are loved. That they are valuable and they are not alone.”
Warning: This story contains discussions of suicide.
As a young boy, Roxanne Philibert’s son Jordan loved rolling up in her newly finished quilts. He’d even help her choose the perfect fabrics and iron out the wrinkles.
After Jordan died by suicide in 2015, along with a family friend just a few years later, the Domremy woman knew she had to do something to make people feel less alone.
What better, she thought, than gifting her quilts to people who are struggling with suicidal tendencies and mental illnesses.
Soon she’d give out blankets to children as young as seven years old who have been affected by these tragedies, complete with a logo of a cross bearing Jordan’s purple shoes and a yellow ribbon representing suicide prevention. The logo sits on the inside of the quilts where the heart would be, and reads ‘Inhale courage, exhale fear.’
“I felt when Jordan died that I didn’t want his name to die in vain,” said Philibert.
“Suicide and mental health have been hushed for too long.”
Philibert’s been involved with Prince Albert’s peer-to-peer support groups for first responders and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). She and her ex-husband have worked in corrections, and her younger son Cole has FASD.
She and a friend—who she met through one of these support groups—also launched their own group last week for non-first responders dealing with trauma.
In a first responders conference, Philibert explained what it was like to hear about her son’s death—something she’s always been open about.
“I’ve never been a sugar coater,” she said.
On a -40 C day in March 2015, she went to work her custodian job at the local school. As students started to arrive, she heard an announcement calling the principal to “an immediate situation.”
“It is said often that at the moment of birth, a mother develops instincts and those instincts kicked in when I saw teachers lined up in the hallways as I walked down it. One stepped forward to meet me and I knew instantly that something had happened to my Jordan. My beautiful, bright, loving son,” said Philibert in her speech.
“My son died that day, and so did I. In that moment, with his decision, our lives were forever changed.”
Jordan was 16 years old.
In the year’s following Jordan’s death, Philibert would turn to a friend who also lost a child. She’d question if what she was experiencing was normal: constantly feeling tired, walking Cole to the bus every morning in her pyjamas and picking him up wearing the same thing.
Philibert left her job at the local school. Eventually, she’d return to work at a different one.
“People would ask me how I was and I’d be bawling and this went on and on and on and I didn’t know what was wrong with me. And that’s when the doctor said it was a sudden onset of PTSD.”
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, post-traumatic stress disorder—which can be triggered by crime, natural disasters or other threats of life—shows itself in many intrusive symptoms. This includes nightmares and flashbacks.
“I never know when it’s going to trigger, and I think it triggered really bad last week,” she said. Philibert said there’s been several recent suicide attempts in Domremy, which has a population of about 125 people.
Things slowly started to get better as Philibert discovered support groups, and she turned her son’s death into a mission to help others.
Naturally, she started quilting. That’s when she and Jordan would bond, when he’d tell her all of his hopes and dreams.
Her compassion quilts, as she calls them, were sparked from a collaborative project where she joined a group of women making quilts for sick children in hospital.
“From my broken heart, I offered comfort to another parents’ child,” said Philibert.
When a 21-year-old family friend, Adam LeBlanc, died by suicide in August of 2018, the compassion quilts began.
Just over a year later, in November 2019, Philibert lost another family friend at the age of 19. Rebecca Georget was on her way to Saskatoon to write her final paramedics exam when she was the victim of a fatal car crash. Philibert said her passion was raising awareness for mental health.
A separate logo on the compassion quilts is dedicated to first responders. It contains symbols for Jordan, Adam and Rebecca.
“They are a soft and cozy fabric that offers a warm hug,” said Philibert.
“I can reassure those who have lost hope that they are loved. That they are valuable and they are not alone. These quilts cover a person, a parent, a sibling, someone’s child, in love.”
At the time, her daughter was a waitress at a Saskatoon restaurant. One of the first compassion quilts was gifted to a regular customer, who her daughter learned was autistic and suicidal.
This spiralled into shipping quilts last year to Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation, for example, which declared a state of emergency after a spate of suicides. One of them was 10 years old, whose mother emailed Philibert thanking her for putting “hope into our broken hearts.”
Recently, Philibert gifted a compassion quilt to Colonsay volunteer firefighter Erik Foster. He embarked on his Ride to Survive campaign last month with his son Kaine, raising awareness for PTSD.
“If you know somebody who has attempted suicide or is suicidal and you want to give them a quilt, you can just call me,” she said.
Often she will ship the quilts and won’t be there to see their reactions, but when she does, she said they usually cry: “It’s very emotional.”
Philibert said she wishes she had been there when her son decided to end his life.
“I would have wrapped my arms around him, held him so tight,” she said.
She hopes her quilts provide that same warmth to other people struggling, and continues to encourage people to simply talk, whether it be in a peer-to-peer support group, to a therapist or to a family member or friend.
“You need to tell people; you need to talk about it; you need to get it out there to get better,” she said.
“We’ve buried enough.”