Tag Archives: hope

Eileen | Home of the Brave

“And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” Joni Mitchell, Woodstock.

For many of us, finding our way “back to the garden” is difficult simply because we have forgotten where it is!

When Jeanne and I were married 23 years ago, Jeanne’s niece Eileen was the flower girl at our wedding ceremony. At the time she was 3 years old.

Eileen has since grown into a “child of the 60s.” Her interest in the environment, Middle Eastern spiritual philosophies and women’s rights reminds me of similar values coveted by a generation active thirty odd years before Eileen was even born.

But it would be unfair to dismiss the values and ambitions of Eileen’s generation as inexperience, idealism or simple naivety. Our youth are – and always have been – our last great hope.

So the fact the majority of mental illnesses emerge during adolescence should concern us all! We must do what we can to help eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness so its emergence can be diagnosed and treated as soon as humanly possible.

The first step is letting our children know that it’s OK for them to talk about how they feel.

My mom told me about your project, Home of the Brave. I think it’s really awesome. I didn’t know that you had suffered with mental illness. It can be hard to talk about because I think there’s still a lot of stigma. I think if you can be brave to share your story, I can too. If you need any more stories then I would be happy to be one for you – Eileen.

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400


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Lori and Val | Home of the Brave

While lying on my back in a beginners Yin yoga class recently, the instructor asked us to “surrender to our mats.” She wasn’t asking us to give up (to raise a white flag), she was encouraging us to let go.

Normally I would visualize releasing a balloon into the bright blue sky whenever someone had asked me to “just let go.” But in my yoga class that day, instead of envisioning a floating balloon, I felt myself (for the first time ever) letting go and falling into a net. “Is this what it feels like to surrender?” I remember asking myself, followed by “I wonder what surrender actually looks like?

When I asked Lori to choose her sanctuary for her Home of the Brave portrait without hesitation she replied, “my sister Val.”

I grew up with Lori and Val in our hometown of Swift Current, Saskatchewan. I don’t see them as often as I should these days but I couldn’t count the number of times we have been in each other’s company at house warming parties, birthday parties, class reunions and celebratory Friday beers.

These days Lori and Val publish a weekly humour blog called Sangria Sisters where they write about an impossibly diverse range of topics from ‘80s fashion trends to The Top 10 Reasons Women Love Wine! The Sisters have also been busy volunteering for the non-profit aid society Mealshare whose mission is to end youth malnutrition and hunger.

Right now, at this exact moment two of their posts stand out for me: their beautiful, poetic description of depression and a touching Father’s Day card to their father Don and to Lori’s husband Scott who is bravely fighting a recent cancer diagnosis.

When I took Lori and Val’s portrait this past July two things stood out for me. First, I had suddenly realized I had never been alone with the Sisters before and second, how humbled I felt by their spontaneous, unconditional love and acceptance of one another. Taking their portrait was effortless as they moved into each pose with tenderness, humour and grace.

So this is what surrender looks like! Emotional and physical honesty in the presence of unconditional love.

To feel safe enough to cry when we are sad, and laugh when we need it the most.

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400

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Bruce | Home of the Brave

In Bruce Masterman’s recently published book One Last Cast: Reflections of an Outdoor Life, there is a line that reads “After helping set up his 5-year-old partner on the riverbank overlooking a deep hole full of promise, he started casting his own line a few yards away.”

For those of us who don’t fly fish, the phrase “overlooking a deep hole full of promise” might seem a contradiction. Some might ask, “How can a deep hole possibly hold promise? How can a deep hole be anything but dark, dangerous and threatening?”

You would be forgiven if you thought One Last Cast (Bruce’s third published book) was written for outdoor enthusiasts only. As much as this book joyfully describes a life spent outdoors with family and friends, hiking, camping, hunting and fishing, it remains a testament to the enduring power of hope.

In the chapter, Into the Light Bruce writes that he “self medicates” to manage his symptoms of depression. “I prescribe for myself generous regular doses of the outdoors whenever I’m feeling down. Being in nature helps level out my emotional peaks and valleys … Whether it’s for an hour or a day, I always go home feeling better, more energized, more hopeful.”

The words hope, healing, hopeful and blessed are generously sprinkled throughout the pages of One Last Cast like the wildflowers growing in the mountain meadows of Bruce’s “Not-So-Secret Place.” For me the magic found within these pages is the message that hope can be found (and cultivated) anywhere.

When I asked Bruce if he might consider participating in Home of the Brave, he seemed genuinely puzzled. I had found him in one of his classrooms during the last week of the winter semester. His students were exuberant and chatty as their first year of studying Journalism at SAIT was quickly drawing to a close.

“Yes, but why me? I just want to know – why me?” Bruce had replied in response to my invitation.

“Because you would be perfect! I said with a conviction that surprised us both.

We agreed to continue our discussion later, over a coffee, but I remember leaving Bruce’s classroom thinking …

“Man, I sure hope his answer is yes.”

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400


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Joy | Home of the Brave

In the summer of 2013, Joy’s 20 year old son Eric Schmit took his own life.

Su•i•cide: from the Latin sui “of oneself” and cidium “a killing,” literally “killing oneself.”

It is unfortunate the word suicide is indelibly associated with the verb kill. Add the ubiquitous phrase committed suicide and we begin to understand the Herculean effort required to focus on suicide prevention rather than toxic, moral judgements that serve only to fuel stigma. Survivors of suicide loss, those left behind, avoid use of the term “committed”; the language itself hearkens back to the time and place not so long ago when the act of taking one’s own life was considered a criminal act. How can we possibly hope to have an honest conversation about suicide if the word itself is considered taboo?

Enter Joy Pavelich.

Joy is the Communications Lead for the Canadian Mental Health Association of Calgary. Whether she is writing for the CMHA’s Balance Blog, leading the team which organizes annual mental illness awareness events such as Ride Don’t Hide or Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, building a youth mental health strategy, or personally working on her upcoming book Chasing My Son Across Heaven, Joy is the tireless, inspirational mental health advocate our city so desperately needs.

Ending the stigma around mental illness and suicide in particular is not for the faint of heart. Some would consider it a calling not a job, a vocation rather than a career. The amount of commitment, resilience and courage required could only come from someone who knows what it feels like to be “left behind.”

Joy’s calling manifested itself immediately after Eric’s death when her instincts told her to talk openly about Eric’s suicide and not “cloak it in the died suddenly and unexpectedly euphemism.” Since Eric’s passing, Joy and her sons – Justin and Conner – have spent the years trying to “realign as a family without their middle child, without their glue.”

Ask Joy and she will promptly tell you “the two brave ones are Justin and Conner, they are the heroes in this story.”

Justin’s mixed martial arts gym, Apex MMA, is their sanctuary where Joy, Justin and Conner can be close to Eric. In Justin’s words, “The gym was Eric’s dream. It’s what he wanted to do.” Here, in honour of Eric’s journey, the family strives to help others find a sense of serenity, and in that peace.

The Warrior’s Code by Eric Schmit
You’re a fighter.
You’ve got the spirit of a warrior;
The champion’s heart.

I can’t help but think that Eric was thinking of his mother when he wrote this.

Silver gelatin print
Hasselblad 500c
Hasselblad 80mm f2.8 lens
Ilford HP5, ISO 400




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