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The day that changed everything: a critically important message from Kelsey Cross

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By Kelsey Cross – Originally written November 13, 2019

30 years today. Still remember it like it was yesterday.

It was a Sunday, and I remember how strange it was that dad wasn’t coming to church, as he NEVER missed church. I remember all morning, the feeling I was going to bury someone very close to me. very soon. Such a strange thought, came from nowhere, and yet I’ve never felt anything like that, before or since. I could feel it, though, just like if you reached out to pinch me.

There had been a lot of conflict in our home in the week leading up to my dad’s death. Dad and Wes had gotten into a pretty heated argument a week or two prior, and Dad took it too far, as he usually did. Wes moved out, but things just wouldn’t settle down.

My grandparents had come down Wednesday night to talk to my dad, try to help mom show him how out of hand his temper had gotten. He just seemed to be angry at everything, and all the time. Lying in bed, it was easy to overhear the entire conversation. There were suggestions, or rather, pleas for counselling, and always the same response… ‘I don’t need counselling’. Funny, I would say the exact same thing to my wife 19 years later.

Thursday night, mom was at bible study, so it was just Dad, Terence, and me at the house. My father sat us down to talk about what he perceived was his failure as a father… he wasn’t at enough of our games, he didn’t make enough time for us after work, he was too hard on us, and so on and so forth. I remember thinking he was being too hard on himself, but stayed silent, as did Terence. At the end of it, he gave us a big hug, and one of only three apologies I can recall in my entire life. He promised he would do better moving forward and I had no reason to doubt him.

Saturday night, he sent Terence and me up to grab a couple movies, so we could enjoy a family movie night. I remember the movie we watched, I remember why I rented it, and I remember his comment when it was finished. ‘Well, that was a weird one’.

Sunday morning just felt off from the start, and looking back, I recognize it more now that I did at the time. I think if I hadn’t been so self-absorbed for so many years, I may have been more attuned to what was actually happening that morning. I remember waiting in the car after church, thinking mom was taking her sweet time. She’s since revealed that she was stalling, knowing exactly what we were going to find at home.

When we got home, I failed to notice the rifle missing from dad’s gun rack in the porch. I did notice the half eaten bowl of cereal and a family photo on the table, but didn’t think much of it. Mom had already picked up dad’s suicide note, and headed straight to the phone to call my grandmother.

Meanwhile, I headed to my parent’s bedroom, still blissfully unaware; planning to give my dad a hard time for lounging around and not being out of bed yet.

My hand was on the doorknob, all it would have taken was a twist and a push, and I would have never recovered. But I didn’t open that door. To this day, I can’t give you a reason I wouldn’t have. I can only tell you why I didn’t.

I grew up in a Christian home, so I’ve always known God, but He showed Himself to me that day when He took my hand off that door and nudged me to my room.

There were a lot of questions, and even more rumours about why. I think that’s the case any time someone takes their own life. Ask me today, and I’m still not sure, and I’ve had 30 years to ponder it.

I suppose dad told us in part, that Thursday night when he promised to do better… He simply felt he had failed us. I wonder if he was hoping to break the cycle of anger, trying the only way he knew to prevent that anger from taking hold in his son’s lives as well.

I can tell you it didn’t work. I’ve been angry for most of my life.

After 30 years, it’s hard to imagine how life would have been different if he was still around. I often wonder about the relationship he would have had with his three grandsons. I think he would have been a pretty good grandpa, much like his own father was. I think the boys would have loved him dearly, and he would have shared a passion with each of them..For Caden, horses. Brody, cars. And my Brody? Well, he would have finally had his fishing buddy.

I’m curious as to what his relationship with Wes and I would be, if we would be the men we are, had his influence still been prevalent in our lives. How would he have handled the death of his youngest son? Would it have changed him, would it have softened him?

Most importantly, I wonder about the life he and my mom would have, if they had a life at all?

I used to think I was special because of what I’ve lost, that life owed me something to make up for the shit it had piled in my lap. As I get older, I realize I’m not so special. Everyone has endured tragedy, some much more than I. I think of my good friend Pete, who recently lost his mom, and my buddy Darcy, who just marked 5 years without his dad.

I don’t know that I’ve ever really talked about the loss of my dad, outside of counselling. Today I realize that I lived a lifetime with him, and I’ve since lived another two without him. People often say ‘it gets easier’, but I don’t know if it does. Over time, you find ways to cope, and life itself finds ways to distract you. There’s never been a day; however, I haven’t wished he was still here.

I don’t know that I’ll ever stop wishing, but in the meantime. I’ll keep counting… to 40, then 50, and so on and so forth. And I’ll try to be the best of him, as well as the best he had hoped to be, for my own son.

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A former Father Henri Voisin School student, Julie Burke, was lovingly remembered today through an outdoor blessing and dedication ceremony.

The Julie Burke Memorial Bench was unveiled to the Father Henri Voisin School community and blessed by Father Jan. Julie’s family, division senior administration and Grade 5 student leaders were in attendance in a socially distanced manner.

The memorial bench will be a friendship bench for students.

Julie’s former Grade 4 teacher, Jessica Maloughney, fondly remembers Julie as a girl who was full of kindness and bravery, despite her illness, and says that the bench will, “be a symbol of Julie’s love and bravery. Even though Julianna is no longer here with us, she lives on in all of our hearts. When a student is brave enough to sit on the bench, waiting for a friend – Julie will be there with them. When one of you sees someone sitting on this bench, and invites them to play – Julie will be with you too.”

Father Henri Voisin School Principal, Jeff Tuchscherer, added, “we feel extremely blessed and privileged to have been provided this bench by the Burke family. It will honour Julie’s memory and provide a powerful reminder of the value of friendship, as well as the importance of bravery. Present and future students will vastly benefit from this legacy of a child that lived her life with steadfast love in her heart for all.”

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