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On Suicide

One of society’s most persistent and pervasive stigmas, hundreds of BC families are forced to grapple with the aftermath each and every year. Bob Price shares one story.
Edyn and Mykel.

As a veteran journalist and former newspaper editor, Mel Rothenburger has written thousands of stories. He is also a successful author. But no story has been more difficult to write than the one he is working on currently. While he hasn’t put pen to paper yet, he thinks about it daily. It is a true story of life and death, filled with questions which will never be answered and unspeakable grief that no one should ever have to endure.

An accomplished newsman who took a break from reporting to serve as Kamloops’ mayor from 1999 to 2005, Rothenburger is a straight shooter.

“The last great stigma in my mind is suicide,” he says while sharing his painful experience surrounding the deaths of his 16-year-old grandson Mykel and 38 year-old daughter Edyn, who took their own lives in 2017 and 2018.

Refusing to shy away from a topic that many find exceedingly uncomfortable to discuss, Rothenburger is determined to use the deaths of his daughter and grandson to change attitudes.

“We still can’t talk about suicide except in very indirect and oblique ways,” laments Rothenburger, who notes that society in general cringes when they hear the term suicide.

“How can you fix something or work to repair something if you aren’t talking about it directly?”

Recalling how his daughter suffered flashbacks to the morning when her son died, Rothenburger is resigned to the fact that no matter what we do, suicide isn’t always preventable.

“Knowing how deeply she was grieving, we hoped beyond hope that we could get her thought it,” recalls Rothenburger as his eyes moistened. “I said to her, that if you ever feel like you will do that, just stop and call me. Just do that one thing.”

“She said she would…but of course she didn’t.”

Not only is Rothenburger resolved to changing public attitudes toward suicide, he is also adamant that society needs to call it what it is. He courageously opened up on the issue earlier this year in his online column The Armchair Mayor.

The Executive Director of the Centre for Suicide Prevention Mara Grunau completely agrees “one hundred per cent” with Rothenburger that we need to be more open and blunt about people killing themselves, and contends that while attitudes are maturing with time, we still have a long way to go:

“Mr. Rothenburger is right…the more we don’t talk about it openly, the more we increase the stigma and mystery surrounding it.”

“I said to her, that if you ever feel like you will do that, just stop and call me. Just do that one thing. She said she would…but of course she didn’t.”

Asked about Rothenburger’s contention that some suicides can’t be stopped, Grunau laments he’s likely correct about that as well.

“For those experiencing overwhelming psychological turmoil, part of that pain is a tunnelling of vision” explains Grunau. “Typically, people at risk of suicide don’t want to die; they just want out of their terrible pain.

“The only way they can see it is through death.”

Regrettably, the B.C. Coroners Service counted 572 suicides in 2017 with just over half of those (52%) in the 30 to 59 age group. The latest statistics also suggest that the highest age-specific suicide death rate was the 40-49 age category. The updated government suicide data is available here:

Having endured the indescribable pain of losing two family members to suicide, Rothenburger freely suggests that there is nothing nice about prematurely ending your own life.

“I would like to see the day when the families of people who commit suicide are able to say ‘my son or daughter killed himself or herself,’ and not feel they have to hide that fact.”

The author of three books, Rothenburger says he fully intends to complete another book to further share his thoughts and experiences, with all the proceeds directed to suicide prevention.

Edyn and Mykel would be incredibly proud.

The new Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS) by Crisis Services Canada, enables callers anywhere in Canada to access crisis support by phone, in French or English: toll-free 1-833-456-4566 Available 24/7

As always, I welcome your comments and criticism on Twitter @kammornanchor and email [email protected].

Bob Price is a veteran B.C. broadcaster who anchored the morning news on CHNL radio in Kamloops for the past 30 years. Bob is also a past Webster Award winner whose previous stops included Vancouver and Calgary.