Bev Cadham was on a plane the first Christmas after her son took his own life. It allowed her to get as far away as possible from all of the reminders that her only child was gone.
Cadham spent much of the next year pre-planning distractions in anticipation of the milestones she’d typically celebrate with her son, Shaymus Cadham-Higgins.
“First year is a tough year because you have every holiday, you got birthdays,” Cadham said in an interview. “I kind of thought, ‘Oh, how am I going to get through his birthday or how am I going to get through Christmas?'”
At first, it felt impossible. Cadham said the death of her son in 2017 at age 22 left a huge hole in her life. She described him as her bright light.
But by the time his birthday came around the following year, she decided to throw a party.
Cadham invited anyone who had a connection with Shaymus to a local restaurant. Friends, teachers, employers and many others showed up.
“It was packed,” she said. “People had just come because they wanted to celebrate Shay.”
She made a tree of pictures of Shaymus. There were also pieces of paper lying around prompting people to write down something they loved about the late birthday boy or a favourite memory they have of him.
“It was a good way for them to work through their healing process as well.”
Helping others find hope
In the months after Shaymus died, his mother found herself speaking to a lot of people about her son.
Cadham, who works for the Canadian Mental Health Association in Halifax, spoke to students at her son’s old high school about mental health. She also held a vigil for Shaymus in her home community on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia.
She remembered these experiences when she continued to struggle years after his death.
“I’m a doer and I work in mental health,” she said. “So, I thought my journey is that I have to start looking at ways of talking openly and sharing.”
Cadham now volunteers with Roots of Hope, a national initiative through the Mental Health Commission of Canada and Nova Scotia Health that offers support to people who are suicidal or have lost someone to suicide.
“Surprisingly there’s a lot of people out there trying to tell their story. There’s not always safe spaces for people,” said Seana Jewer, community engagement lead for Roots of Hope.
Jewer has talked to people in rural communities throughout Nova Scotia who have lost loved ones to suicide. She says they’re often isolated and don’t have access to others with similar experiences.
“The people that I’ve met have been very open to meeting others who are also telling their story,” Jewer said. “They were very excited to know that there were other people on similar paths.”
This led Jewer to create a storytellers group to make it easier for people to raise awareness about suicide and talk about loved ones they’ve lost.
Cadham was the perfect candidate for the group, so she took the Roots of Hope training.
“There’s different types of loss,” Cadham said. “We lose our parents, we lose people through illness, we lose people for a variety of different reasons. Suicide is just kind of in a category of its own.”
Cadham’s first advice to parents who have lost a child to suicide is to not hide from the emotions you’re feeling. Talking to someone who has an idea what you’re going through can help with that, she said.
“Knowing that you can just sit in silence, in grief, or you can talk about it,” Cadham said. “It’s a unique journey and everybody has to move at their own pace.”
If you or someone you know is struggling, here’s where to get help:
If you’re worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them about it, says the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention. Here are some warning signs:
- Suicidal thoughts.
- Substance abuse.
- Feeling trapped.
- Hopelessness and helplessness.
- Mood changes.