‘Light a spark’ World Suicide Prevention Day event tries to spread hope

It was a message of hope at St. Alban’s Cathedral in Prince Albert on Sunday evening.

St. Alban’s Cathedral hosted a special awareness and remembrance event for World Suicide Prevention Day on Sunday.

Michelle McKeaveney of the River Valley Resilience Retreat (RVRR) spoke and Cheyenne McDonald from Saskatoon gave a testimonial. The event also included a candlelight vigil and a goodwill offering taken for the RVRR.

McKeaveney said that she hoped to bring a message of hope and awareness that could empower attendees and help them heal.

“That group can hopefully light a spark and ignite some hope in somebody else who may have ideations, may have lost someone and never got to grieve,” McKeaveney said.

“I go to funerals all the time and Father does funerals all the time so this is not a one day a year thing,” she added. “This is why we’re here to stop these funerals.”

McDonald followed McKeaveney and the testimonial told the story of her life in gangs and the correctional system before she turned her life around.

“Tonight is huge because tonight is the first time that she identifies with her own story. She’s a professional, she’s a speaker now and she works for STR8 Up and the Elizabeth Fry Society, so she gives hope to incarcerated individuals and mothers,” McKeaveney said.

McKeaveney spoke of her connection with her support groups through text messages and how she does not let there be silence on the other end.

“I’m kind of everybody’s mama. God said I have to,” McKeaveney said,

“It’s important because we’re literally just people. We understand it and we understand the depths of feeling like your loved one’s life would be better if you weren’t there. It’s never usually in my experience, and I’ve been a social worker for 30 years.”

McKeaveney said it’s important to acknowledge the people who are struggling with suicidal thoughts. She also said it’s important to acknowledge the friends and family members who are impacted when someone commits suicide, and mourn with them.

“Do you know how many people ended their lives by suicide during COVID that never got a service, never got a funeral, never got a wake? The amount of responses since we put out a post asking people to send us those people’s names?” McKeaveney said.

“We have kids from La Loche, Stanley Mission, sending me names of 11, 12, and 13-year-old kids, and I worked in a First Nations community for years so I get it. Yeah, and I get it here.”

McKeaveney wears the ashes of Chris Siddons on her wrist in a bracelet. Siddons died by suicide in 2019. He was a veteran from the UK who immigrated to Canada, became a paramedic, and began advocating for mental health before his death.

She noted that St. Alban’s rector David Butorac has experience helping people who are struggling with suicidal thoughts.

Butorac said many people who attempt suicide need someone to tell them they are welcome, and not a burden.

“In the survivors that I’ve seen or that I hear their stories, it’s never about them wanting to not be here because they want to just be done. It’s usually because they feel they need to rescue a loved one from their presence.” Butorac said.

“What if we just said, ‘there’s hope.’ What if we said, ‘you’re amazing. I cannot have you not be here,’ and just get that to switch and the mind gets rewired.”

Butorac said that as a church, they were there to serve everyone but the evening was non-denominational.

“It’s a part of our Christian service to open the doors to everyone,” he explained. “This has nothing to do with faith. This has to do with hope and humanity, and this is what we have to stand by and to proclaim loudly that there is hope, we are not alone.”

Butorac and McKeaveney had just met and discovered that they shared similar beliefs on the subject.

“We are made in the image of God and we are infinitely precious,” Butorac said. “Obviously, life can be hard and the darkness can slip in pretty strong and then you can feel alone in it. Today is just one day where we light candles against the darkness and say, no, you are not alone.

He added that it was also about creating an open space to be near people who have been affected by suicide in any way.

He said the event was for McKeaveney to share her story as a leader but also for attendees to here about her experiences.

“We’re all in it together and now more than ever, communities of any shape or size need to get together, reach out into the darkness, and say, ‘there’s hope,’” Butorac said. “That’s what we want to do at St. Alban’s.”

McKeveney said that suicide is something that affects residents of all backgrounds. No matter what your ethnicity is or what country you come from, she said, everyone is united by their heartbeat.

“Every nation, every race, and every human on earth has struggles,” she said.

After Butorac began the service people were invited to light candles. As people lit candles at the front of the church, McKeaveney sang “Amazing Grace” from across the church. People wrote down the names of people that they had lost and at the end of the service, the papers were burned on the steps of St. Alban’s.

Butorac acted as emcee and introduced the speakers, with Elder and St. Alban’s member Priscilla Joseph giving the opening prayer. The evening closed with a set of prayers from Butorac.

McKeaveney said she wanted to share the profound effect that people can have on others by being present and not even speaking.

“Maybe just stop talking, sit and hold space. Most people that come to us from a first responder demographic or clergy or nurses, they just need a place to just sit and ground themselves,” McKeaveney said.

Attendees had an option to give a free-will offering to the River Valley Resilience Retreat after the vigil. McKeaveney said RVRR has been an amazing experience since it opened.

“We take them there, we put them in the water, make them feel the rocks at the bottom of the river (and) let them sit there for a minute,” she explained. “(We discover) what binds them and feeds them, and then we can nurture that.”