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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