Tyson Bell described his uncle Dennis as a kind-hearted and generous man, always willing to help out in his role as a volunteer fire firefighter or try something new.
Which made Dennis's decision to kill himself a year and half ago all the more baffling. A father of two young children from Fort St. John, Dennis's death in May 2012 came after a battle with depression.
"Suicide is something everyone knows about and people know it happens but it's something that you don't think could ever happen to you or your family, that you'll ever experience it," Bell, a 21-year-old UNBC student said Friday in the office of the Crisis Prevention Intervention & Information Centre for Northern B.C.
Bell was drawn to the centre in the months after his uncle killed himself and now is a regular volunteer answering the phone when people call in the midst of a crisis. It's not only a cathartic experience for Bell as he deals with his grief, he also sees his volunteer work as honouring his uncle's legacy.
"It's a way to find a silver lining in something as terrible as suicide," he said. "The inspiration that my uncle gave me and the strength he must have had every day to make it as long as he did, I think it's a huge piece of therapy for me."
Bell remembered being shocked when he heard the news. Living in Prince George, he was away from his family, but soon made the trip back to Fort St. John.
Bell's family had never been one that shared many emotions openly, but that changed out of necessity after Dennis's suicide as family members grappled with sadness, anger and guilt. Learning to speak out and share how they all felt was a big learning curve, but Bell said his family quickly realized the value of open communication.
"Going through the grieving process and watching your family go through the grieving process is difficult because it's different than losing someone to normal causes," he said. "You still have the grief and sadness and you miss the person, but I think the things that define suicide are the guilt and the anger that you can also feel with it."
Bell worked with his cousins to put together a slide show of his uncle's life for the funeral. He said it was important to remember all the good things about Dennis's life and not to let the suicide define his legacy.
Dennis was one of an estimated one million people who killed themselves worldwide in 2012. According to 2005 figures from Statistics Canada, there were 412 suicides in British Columbia, representing an age-standardized rate of 8.8 per 100,000 people.
High risks groups include aboriginals, people questioning their sexuality, youth and elderly men. Females attempt suicide three times more than males, but males have a death rate three times higher than females because males often use more lethal means of suicide.
Crisis centre co-ordinator Sandra Boulianne cautions that people shouldn't be blinded by the numbers and demographics, since anyone from any background could be at risk for suicide.
The crisis centre in Prince George handles about 10,000 calls a year on its two lines - a 24-hour crisis line and a dedicated youth line which operates from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. daily. About a third of those calls are from people in crisis.
The number of suicides could be lower if more people were willing to talk to their loved ones about what's going on in their lives, according to Boulianne.
"It's really important to me to talk about suicide to reduce the stigma because not talking about it isn't working," she said. "We've seen great strides in cancer, heart disease - all these major killers - but not in suicide because it's an uncomfortable subject."
Risk factors for suicide include changes in behaviour, hopelessness, changes in mood, impulsiveness and making preparations for death. If people see those signs in a loved one, she recommends asking the person straight out if they're contemplating suicide.
"If you dance around it, you're contributing to the stigma," she said.
The crisis centre will be holding a candlelight vigil on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in front of the Native Friendship Centre where people can honour their loved ones and find out more about the resources available in the community.
Representatives from the Canadian Mental Health Association will be on hand and the Street Spirits theatre troupe will give a performance at Art Space, with admission is by donation.
The crisis centre will also be beginning its next volunteer training session on Sept. 24. More information is available by contacting Boulianne at sandra_pgcrisiscen...@telus.net.
When Bell first started taking calls, he said it was nerve-wracking but as soon as the person on the other end of the line starts talking, it gets easier.
Time and talking has also made the grief Bell continues to feel for his uncle ease.
"It will always be a difficult thing to think about but for myself, personally, I think I've come to terms with it," he said.