(PHOTOS COURTESY SUZANNE JACOBS)
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Warning, this article talks about suicide, dealing with trauma and loss. If you or someone you know needs help, there are links at the end of this article.
It was a parent’s worst nightmare. Suzanne Jacobs wakes up every single day wishing it wasn’t true. She wishes her daughter Lexi Fox was still with her, still that vibrant and creative teen, drawing and making art with a touch far beyond her years.
But she took her own life on January 5, a day shy of her sweet 16.
“I don’t know how I felt,” said Suzanne. “I was in shock. I was hysterical. I didn’t know what to do. I just wanted her to wake up. I cried all day. I think a piece of my heart broke off.”
With that loss came feelings and thoughts of the good times with Lexi, and how she brightened up a room with her smile. “I enrolled Lexi in an art class in the West Island, but the class was too big and the teacher was too busy, so she taught herself instead,” Suzanne told The Eastern Door. “Lexi would turn her art creations into plushies, sewing her visions.”
She was a “natural born, self-taught artist in so many ways,” said her mom, “from drawing to sewing to music. Her art was number one in her life.”
Those skills led her to commission her artwork for YouTube channels and she traded art with fans in the United Kingdom, France, and in the United States.
“Since she was small, she drew herself into a cartoon. This cartoon or character grew with her through the years,” Lexi’s mom said.
Lexi had a deep love for music – playing the piano, violin, and trying out her recent Christmas gift, an acoustic guitar.
The joy that she felt flexing her creative muscles did not always translate into her daily life.
“Lexi was bullied from an early age, from elementary to high school,” said Suzanne. “It’s hard to see your child go through that. My job was to keep her happy and stay in school.”
But it wasn’t an easy task.
“She refused school so much, but she went because I made her. From principal meetings, phone calls, things got a bit better, but once the damage is done, it’s done.”
Although she dealt with mean peers, she continuously taught those around her, especially her siblings, to be patient and caring.
“That was her gift,” said her mom. “To accept the mean from people and leave them with a nice smile or good thing said to them.” Lexi wanted to be a taxidermist and would hunt animals, and, according to her mom, “fix them.”
She has so many fond memories of her daughter. One funny memory she shared with The Eastern Door, was when she and Lexi were crossing the border.
As her mother often called Lexi “my girl,” the five-year-old told the border guard that her name was “Miguel,” sounding similar to her mother’s nickname for her. This, of course, caused confusion for the guard, and her mother had to explain the situation.
“Almost got me arrested that time,” she said, with a laugh.
Dealing with suicide is especially difficult during a pandemic.
The Eastern Door spoke with Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS) to better understand how to deal with serious mental health issues, and signs to look for.
“You always take someone who’s talking about suicide very seriously,” said Dave Martel, psychologist and clinical supervisor in Psychological Services at KSCS.
“And you pay attention to what they say – because if there’s one thing universal I’ve learned in my own career, is that someone who talks about suicide is expressing a high level of pain. They are fed up with something,” he said.
Rebecca D’Amico, clinical supervisor of Secondary Prevention at KSCS, said it is important to ask hard questions, when there are signs or you feel it’s necessary, such as “are you thinking of committing suicide?”
“There’s a misconception that if you ask that question, that somehow you are encouraging it or planting that seed in someone’s head – and that’s not the case,” she added.
The KSCS staff explained that it’s actually quite the opposite, and that these questions can be very useful in supporting those around you.
Parents are encouraged to take training to better understand how to properly deal with a child going through a tough time, like the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) that KSCS has offered for many years – which is on hold for now, due to the pandemic.
“In the meantime, if there are parents in the community that are concerned about their children, they can give us a call, and we can help them with the assessment of the situation,” said Martel.
KSCS’s role is to do the preliminary safety risks, safety assessment, and then refer to hospitals and psychiatry to do the follow-ups, D’Amico stressed.
There is a video on KSCS’s Facebook page where the parenting team has a dialogue with a psychologist addressing the issue of suicide.
Oftentimes, Martel explained, people that knew the victim of suicide may feel helpless or responsible.
“I’m not saying it’s the case every time, and in an ideal world, we could predict everything and control everything. But there are signs and when they are there, it’s a blessing and we can more easily act on them,” said Martel.
The problem of bullying
Bullying is especially tough to tackle in high school.
Lexi was unsure how she fit into this world, said her mom, and her anxiety, self-esteem issues, depression, and LGBTQ questions made it tougher.
Suzanne didn’t remember exactly how Kateri School responded to the bullying, since it was many years ago, and she declined to elaborate further.
But Lexi’s elementary years were very tough on her. Lexi’s father Levi is Oji-Cree from Bearskin Lake First Nation in Ontario, and her mother said this played a role in her being left out, often being treated as an outsider.
On top of being an artist, Levi explained that his daughter loved the outdoors.
“I had great enjoyment being with her when she would come up north to visit. “She helped me get back to the things I liked doing, especially being outdoors after I lost my father. I will miss her lots,” he said.
The New Frontiers School Board was contacted for Lexi’s story and the principal of Billings Regional High School in Chateauguay responded by email.
“I want to thank you for the opportunity to share with you how deeply saddened we were to learn of the tragic loss of one of our students,” principal Lynn L’Esperance Claude wrote. “I only had a brief opportunity to extend my personal sympathies to Lexi’s family, but they have often been in my thoughts.
“I believe it’s a tribute to Lexi that the students and families in our school community reached out to share not only their condolences, once the news went out, but also stories of Lexi’s talents as an artist and a writer.”
She is remembered by her teachers and classmates, the principal added, “As having great passion for her culture, and for her ability to beautifully express that in her paintings, sculptures and stories.”
Billings Student Services met with members of the Complementary Services team from the School Board to develop a plan to support all students and teachers who were affected by her loss, according to L’Esperance Claude.
School psychologists, guidance counsellors, social work technicians, resource teachers, and several administrators came together to support students.
“We arranged to have teams in her classes, and we had people on stand-by to support any student who needed more individual or small-group time to process this terrible news,” she said.
“In these difficult times, we offer our heartfelt sympathies to her family and her friends. We are here to continue to offer support, be it a shoulder to lean on, someone to reminisce with, or a safe place to express confusing emotions,” L’Esperance Claude concluded.
Steps were taken by Billings’ administration to address the bullying situation.
Lexi started to go to Nest at lunch – a Native service at Billings that lends a supportive ear.
Through it all, though, the hardship, the sorrow, the pain, Lexi stayed the sweet little girl her ista knew so well.
Her mother recalls that one day Lexi gave an eagle feather to a peer that continuously bullied the young girl, because she felt he needed it.
“She had a heart of gold,” said her mother.
It’s important for anyone reading this article to know there is help out there and you are not alone. Any form of bullying and abuse is not acceptable and needs to be addressed, even if it comes from those we are supposed to trust and love.
Mélanie Lamarre, a psychologist specializing in treating teenagers, said it’s crucial to talk openly about suicide and depression.
“We all want to be heard and listened to,” she said. “Most of the time, what prevents us from sharing our feelings is the fear of being judged by others. To be told that this is wrong, or that this isn’t how we should be feeling and how to stop feeling this way. To avoid hearing those things, we tend to shut down and refrain from sharing what’s going on.”
But the only way to get those feelings out and to heal is to be heard, loud and clear.
“It’s all about caring for the person, taking their responses seriously without judging and without trying to solve everything, but rather to put ourselves in a position where they feel listened to and welcomed,” said Lamarre.
Lamarre explained that wanting to stop a child from suffering in any possible way is a natural and human reaction to witnessing pain of a loved one.
“Seeing our child suffer is one of the most painful experiences one can go through. We don’t want it to happen, so we tend to quickly look for solutions, or we try to reduce their pain by saying it’s not that bad, that they won’t remember it on their wedding day. But while we say those things because it’s unbearable to witness our child’s pain, it actually increases it,” she said.
The pandemic’s end is not yet in sight, which means the stress levels people of all backgrounds and ages are feeling will not be going away anytime soon.
“With the current situation, mental health problems are on the rise,” said Lamarre. “The Order of Psychologists of Quebec conducted a few studies, and most of them observed a general increase in mental distress among the general population; children, young adults, elders, everyone is affected.
“This includes anxiety, depression, relationship problems, trouble focusing. All these symptoms can be associated with mental distress – that’s why we generalize it by saying there’s an increase in distress,” she said.
“The level of distress in the community is increasing,” said Martel, who also explained that the overall amount of people requesting help within the community is on the rise.
Lamarre said that when talking about suicide we need to offer a safe space, where victims feel like they are being heard.
“It’s usually in that space that young people feel comfortable to open up,” she said. “We can slowly bring the person to understand and accept the idea that problems that seem permanent are only temporary – whereas suicide is a permanent option for problems that are temporary.
“But it can be really difficult for young people to understand the notion of ‘temporary’ because they still haven’t gone through a lot of experiences and tend to believe everything is the end of the world,” said Lamarre.
Suzanne’s three other children had fond memories of their sister.
Cree, 11, said she was very nice and he would love when she played PS5 with him. He loves her and misses her.
Kiana, 12, said: “What I think about Lexi is she is nice, funny, and she’s a very cool and chill person. Every time we would go out, she would always make people laugh and smile.
“What I liked about Lexi was everything,” she said.
The eldest, Naomi, 18, feels as though it’s important that the community addresses suicidal awareness, so that something like this does not happen again.
This is a phenomenon within Indigenous communities, and Naomi feels it’s crucial to use this as an opportunity to talk about mental health and create a deeper understanding of the complexities surrounding our own emotions.
“Everyone who sent heartfelt condolences also gave a piece of her kindness with it,” said Suzanne. “She touched every single person with either a drawing or just kind words. She was loved and so wanted.”
Lexi’s mother explained that the young girl struggled deeply with her own body image.
Suzanne tried her very best. “Do you know how hard it is to try and tell or show someone that they are worth everything?”
To make things tougher on Suzanne and the family, both her parents passed away in the last 19 months.
“We live right across from them and just walking over anytime of the day to say hi or sit and chat…it was hard. We moved back to Kahnawake to spend our time with them and just wished it was longer. It was like just something ripped away and it was heartbreaking for us all. I get comfort in thinking that Lexi is with them,” she said.
Right now Lexi’s mom is taking things day-by-day.
“I am researching grieving and trying to learn about the emotions that I’m feeling,” she said. “The kids are just going on. We always say ‘Lexi loved this’ or ‘Lexi did this.’ Remembering her is our healing.”
She’s gotten a lot of support but still feels numb.
“I absolutely loved my time being her mom,” said Suzanne. “She was my miracle child. I was not able to get pregnant so I adopted and after that I was pregnant with Lexi.
“I will never understand this. She was an amazing daughter. She had a caring heart. She always made people feel special.
“My heart hurts, my eyes burn, and my body is tired. I asked the investigator ‘how do I go on?’ He pointed to my three kids and said ‘right there, those babies need you.’ So I snapped out of it and realized that I have to take care of them still,” she said.
Eastern Door Editor/Publisher Steve Bonspiel started his journalism career in January 2003 with The Nation magazine, a newspaper serving the Cree of northern Quebec.
Since that time, he has won numerous regional and national awards for his in-depth, impassioned writing on a wide variety of subjects, including investigative pieces, features, editorials, columns, sports, human interest and hard news.
He has freelanced for the Montreal Gazette, Toronto Star, Windspeaker, Nunatsiaq News, Calgary Herald, Native Peoples Magazine, and other publications.
Among Steve's many awards is the Paul Dumont-Frenette Award for journalist of the year with the Quebec Community Newspapers Association in 2015, and a back-to-back win in 2010/11 in the Canadian Association of Journalists' community category - one of which also garnered TED a short-list selection of the prestigious Michener award.
He was also Quebec Community Newspapers Association president from 2012 to 2019, and continues to strive to build bridges between Native and non-Native communities for a better understanding of each other.