In memoriam: Wield your words carefully

Graphic by Carleen Loney @shloneys

How my already broken heart was shattered by a joke.

Trigger warning: suicide, loss.

“Ugh, it’s so disappointing that Concordia’s windows are suicide-proof,” declared a random Concordia student on a random afternoon at the Hall Building. A loud giggle ensued.

Gen Z is often criticized for being too touchy and sensitive—they call us the “snowflake” generation. I wrote a story on trigger warnings last year and often had people tell me: “You youngsters take everything so seriously.”

That student might’ve simply been laughing with their friends because they couldn’t open a fourth-floor window. It might have been an inside joke. I can try to understand that. But it wasn’t a random afternoon for me.

I felt numb sitting there, trying to study with the knot in my throat. I had a funeral the next day that I couldn’t attend, and it was breaking my heart all over again. Three weeks prior, I’d received a message that shattered me—someone I admire and respect beyond words had died by suicide.

It felt so unreal and unfair to lose someone who believed in me with such force that I had no other choice but to believe in myself too. This was someone whose days in my life deeply impacted who I am and where I’m going. Someone whose convictions drove them and who always encouraged me to do the same.

The student gleefully skipped back to their friend group, whispering and laughing about the “major side-eye” I’d given them. They didn’t know their joke had inadvertently reopened a wound. They didn’t know it also made me replay (too many) close calls I’d had with friends. They didn’t know, but they might not have considered it.

Did you know the suicide death rate is twice the road mortality rate? Every single day, nearly three people die by suicide in this province, according to the Centre de prévention du suicide de Québec (CPSQ). For every suicide in Quebec, there are 30 attempts, says the Suicide Prevention Centre of Montreal (SPCM). 

Odds are that you know someone who’s struggling, if it isn’t yourself.

The irony of it is that I also have no way of knowing if that student has ever gone through this, or if they’re struggling with their own mental health and joking about it is their coping mechanism. I considered the possibility though. I’m being careful with my words now. I’m asking the same kindness of you.

While it can sometimes feel like people are too sensitive, is it so hard to be a tad more considerate—especially when using dark humour in public? Someone right next to you might be grieving, might be struggling, might be right on the edge.

I’m not saying that we should all constantly censor ourselves. I believe in freedom of expression, and I am an avid user of dark humour myself. However, I am aware of my audience, especially when surrounded by strangers—I don’t know who might receive my comment as a gut punch, so I’d rather err on the side of caution.

The person I am grieving taught me this: Wielding words is wielding power. In their memory, I am reiterating that concept. Words have weight. Words hurt.

In this harsh world, kindness and consideration make a difference. Words and actions have an impact. Make yours positive.

If you or a loved one is struggling, please know there are resources available to help in English and French throughout Quebec, available 24/7.

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 9-8-8

Centre de prévention du suicide de Québec (CPSQ): 1 866 APPELLE (1 866 277-3553)

Visit for additional resources, tips and tools.

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