Ten years ago tonight, I lost one of my biggest inspirations and best friends in life to suicide. Clint was only 24 when he killed himself.
Our friendship went back a while. After I failed in grade five in the early 1990s, I was in his grade. We got along well (as I did with the other guys), but it was really going into high school that our friendship truly strengthened and shined. We worked together, played floor hockey, joked and teased, drove around, went to the movies, shared ambitions and dreams, and most of all, just always got along so well that we were never on bad terms. Then entering grade 12, our friendship became even greater. Like many First Nations people, we didn’t grow up in luxurious homes or affluent families, but that never mattered. We talked often about making sure that, after high school, we would become successful in life. Before grade 12, I wasn’t the greatest student (I also almost failed grade nine, and even thought about dropping out since that is what a few others were doing too). I think my grades were around in the 50s, 60s, and 70s (nothing special). Then going into grade 12, Clint told me that he was going for the highest average. Listening to this, I too decided to do my absolute best for that year. For the next several months, after assignments, tests, and report cards, we compared each other’s grades to see who was in the lead (I actually had the lead only once in the first term; Clint ended up beating me in the end). Nevertheless, like Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat at WrestleMania III, we both walked away looking great. At graduation, we earned several awards and even had to share a few.
Eventually, the grade 12 fun was over. We had to grow up and we went our separate ways. He enlisted in the Marines and I went to Saint Mary’s University. I always wished that he went straight into university instead. Clint had so much potential and knowledge that I knew that he could have gone further than I ever could have. The two wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) obviously changed him. After he got out and returned home, whenever I would see him, the vigour, ambition, and energy I remembered in him from high school was gone. He was barely the same guy. He became apathetic, uninterested, and depressed. I don’t know if he ever got the mental health/debriefing after the wars/Marines and or when he returned home.
It was September 7 when Clint took his own life. He was missing for just over a month. During that time, there were searches for him back home. I was unable to help, as I was 300 kilometres away and in second year law school. Then one of my cousins came across his body in the woods. While the autopsy had to be performed, we all knew that it was Clint. I was at the law library when I got the news, and oddly enough, my immediate reaction was relief; we finally found him, although only hours later I learned that it was suicide. Him dying did not hit me yet, and when it did, it was like slamming into a brick wall.
In the weeks and days leading up to the funeral, I didn’t cry. I don’t even remember really being that sad. Sometimes things just don’t hit me right away, and it takes time for anything to sink in. At the funeral, I was pleasantly surprised that the Canadian Armed Forces were thoughtful and sent a bagpiper. I did the First Reading. After the funeral and with everyone walking to the graveyard, I carried his only goddaughter (who was just one). At the burial, three Marines (who drove up from the United States) came as Honor Guards. Then, in what was the first wave of it, I finally cried (triggered by my sister crying). It probably was the hardest that I may have ever cried to date. Walking up to his grave, I embraced with several others, and we had to say namultis (Mi’kmaw for telling someone that you will see them again. We don’t have a word for good-bye).
In the weeks and months after his death, things went from bad to worse for me. The second wave of mourning hit me on Remembrance Day. Handling law school and the job hunt didn’t help either, and as a result, my grades went down and I was struggling just to barely pass. At times I found myself calling home at odd hours, crying over how sad I was and how much I missed him. While some in law school reached out to me, I don’t know if many knew what I was going through or how to approach me, given suicide and depression may be an uncomfortable and taboo topic for some. I had dreams and nightmares about Clint, and they both hurt. Dreams reminded me of when he was alive and how much I missed him, and the nightmares were of him killing himself. I kept asking myself about Clint, “Why did you have to die?” Then on January 24, 2007, more or less, I finally broke down and reached out. I resigned and or took time away from law school groups that I was involved with, got in touch with student services, and had folks in the law school administration get me into counseling. I needed someone to talk to, and at that time, I felt alone, lonely, and deeply depressed. Besides low grades, I was overweight (at about 260 pounds). I stopped exercising for months and ate badly. I was somewhat back into jogging, but knew I was unfit, slow, and easily winded. But my priority was my mental health and well-being.
Throughout January until the end of March, I went to counseling once a week. It was my first time ever asking for such help, but I badly needed it. When I think back on the sessions, it was probably me talking for eighty percent of the time and the counselor responding for the remaining amount. Mainly, I expressed how hurt I was. Given what I imagined what he went through, and with what I knew about First Nations suicide rate statistics, it wasn’t supposed to be a mystery as to why Clint took his own life. Yet, I found myself always asking why he did it. Even if he was able to thoroughly explain to me for hours on end or write out hundreds of pages in a detailed suicide note, I was still asking why he did it, why did he have to die. As time and weeks went on with the sessions, I learned that I was angry with him for what he did. I found myself thinking that, if he was killed during the wars, then I couldn’t be mad at him. But by him being the one who took himself away from us by taking his own life, I was only capable of being mad at him. I could’ve been mad at the wars, the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), all the statistics that he fell into, gaps in services for those with PTSD, anything. But I was really just mad at him.
Then in mid-March, I realized what was hurting me. While him being gone via suicide hurt, what was also hurting me was finding myself being mad at him. When he was alive, I was never mad at him. Friends never stay mad at each other. If friends hurt one another, they apologize, and then forgive each other. Clint couldn’t apologize to me or to anyone else for what he did. He’s dead. But as a friend, I forgave him. I forgave him for hurting me and everyone else who loved him when he killed himself. I forgave him for leaving us too soon. I forgave him for all the pain he caused. I forgave him for what he did. I forgave him, and that’s when I started to heal emotionally. By forgiving him, I was no longer mad at him. With that, I finally let go of my own pain and suffering that I carried since I learned what he did.
Life went on. I finished law school, became a lawyer, got a day job, a home, a nice car, and an awesome side job that I’m passionately in love with; instructing LesMills programs (which has opened a whole new world of great times). With that, I’ve been able to travel across the continent and the ocean. I’m finding new adventures (e.g., racing) in life. I’m blessed, and in so many ways, I’m still thinking about Clint (even when I’m travelling for LesMills events, instructing a class, out with friends, or doing a race), and how so many wonderful things in my life are possible because he inspired and motivated me to work hard back in grade 12. That same work ethic is still with me. By inspiring me, he made me a better person, and helped me find my potential, which I doubt I would’ve ever found on my own. At times, I reflect on our friendship as parallel to Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed; through great competition (grade 12, or the fight from Rocky), you can bring out the best in someone, and it was because Clint pushed me to do so, he brought out the best in me. Just like (but also somewhat unlike) Rocky IV, I lost him along the way. We all lost him. Rocky avenged Apollo’s death in Rocky IV, and so I guess I feel like I’m “avenging” Clint’s death by continuing to work hard in life, to give it all I got into anything that I do, and to try and be a positive role model for Mi’kmaw youth. Sometimes I hear, when someone that we love dies, a part of us dies with them. Ten years later, I don’t think any part of me died with him. I was hurt for a while – depressed, emotionally wounded, “knocked down,” – but I have become stronger because of it. Maybe that was one of the great strengths in life I learned through his death, and maybe it was last thing I ever learned from him; to forgive, no matter the pain.
Some of us wonder what we should have told our loved ones before they pass away suddenly. Fortunately, I did tell Clint a few things throughout the latter part of his life that I wanted him to hear. I told him “Thank You!” I thanked him for befriending me back in the day when I felt like a loser for failing. I thanked him for being someone to talk to. I thanked him for his advice, guidance, and wisdom, and I thanked him for my success. Because of Clint, I have carried on that grade 12 work ethic to university, law school, and now, for the rest of my life. I used to thank him every once in a while via e-mail and in-person for what he did for me back in grade 12 because it has helped me get so far in life. While his life has ended, I will always know that my success is also his success. He befriended me, motivated me, and encouraged me to go far in life, and to make something of myself, which is one of the greatest things a friend can ever do for you.
I love you Clint. Your friendship, encouragement, motivation, as well as persona, sense of humor, and guidance, will never be forgotten. Thank you for all that you have done for me, aq namultis.