Suicide discussed at Bread and Roses dinner

Chantelle MacIsaac
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In a dimmed room, decorated with black, red and white accents, people from all over the southwest coast celebrated International Women’s Day.

The board and employees of the Gateway Status of Women’s Council in Port aux Basques, from left, executive assistant Christine Seymour, executive director Lavina Morris, Shirley Ingram, Carol Ingram, Cindy Seymour, Natasha Battiste, Susanne Ingram, Yvonne Lane, Kayla Hayman-Purchase, April Janes, Candace Matthews and Kim McNeil.

The 32nd annual Bread and Roses dinner, hosted by the Gateway Status of Women’s Council, was held at the Lions Club in Port aux Basques on March 2.

The theme of this year’s event was “Inspiring Change” and all 185 guests in attendance were inspired by the powerful night of presentations, speeches and by guest speaker Sandie Batt.

Emcee for the evening Candace Matthews started the night with an introduction of the board members and employees of the Gateway Women’s Centre and a minute of silence for another victim of violence, with the murder of Loretta Saunders.

Before supper was served, grace was said giving thanks to God.

A steak, potato and vegetable supper was served, followed by dessert, tea and coffee.

Lavina Morris, executive director of the women’s centre, gave a warm welcome to everyone and talked about the positive gains in women’s equality.

Morris also talked about the continuous work to making those positive changes and spoke about the fact there is still a need for healthcare issues, affordable housing and violence prevention.

The women’s centre has an open door policy, said Morris, and everyone is welcomed to drop by at any time, even for a chat and a cup of coffee.

She left the crowd with a quote from author C. JoyBell C.

“The strength of a woman is not measured by the impact that all her hardships in life have had on her; but the strength of a woman is measured by the extent of her refusal to allow those hardships to dictate her and who she becomes.”

Port aux Basques mayor Lloyd Mushrow brought greetings to the crowd on behalf of the town and said being the mayor and being able to congratulate and recognize the works of the women’s centre is very nice.

Burgeo-La Poile MHA Andrew Parsons brought greetings on behalf of the provincial government, and congratulated Kathy Dunderdale as deserving accolades for her work as being the province’s first premier.

He said this province needs more females involved with public service.

Cindy Seymour played a musical selection before the introduction of the guest speaker, which was given by Carol Ingram.

“It is a pleasure to introduce Sandie Batt. At 13 she lost her father to suicide, and in 2009 she also lost her sister to suicide. Sandie decided to become involved and help others, and so she co-founded a suicide and prevention society in Corner Brook. Her passion comes from loss,” said Ingram.

As Batt started telling her story and her experiences, the room was quiet enough to hear a pin drop.

She asked everyone to look around them, to look at the people seated next to them, and reminded everyone that suicide does not discriminate.

“You might think that you can see it, but that is not always the case,” said Batt.

She said there is almost an unwritten rule around suicide that it is not spoken about. She asked everyone to keep an open mind, and reminded people that this is real life.

She described her experience as a moment in time that forever changed her.

At 13 years of age, she found her father after committing suicide. She described her feeling of helplessness, and just for a moment, thought her eyes were playing tricks on her.

She then had to deal with the realization of it, that he was no longer there.

“I felt as though I should have been able to do something,” said Batt.

She remembers the expression on his face.

Batt said she went on with her life, and throughout it, she often questioned herself, thinking it was only her that had seen how he really died.

“I truly began to believe that this didn’t happen to other people, it only happened to me, to my dad,” said Batt.

There were times Batt thought she had done a good job at forgetting, until graduation, until she got married, and until she gave birth to her sons.

She found herself then screaming and being angry with her dad for being so selfish.

Batt also talked about having to take her two sons to a funeral for a classmate of theirs who committed suicide, and not knowing how to be there for them.

In April of 2009, Batt laid at home, recouping from a car accident when her husband approached her.

She remembers the look on his face, and although she had seen that look before, she could never have prepared herself for the words that he spoke of.

Sandie, sister, suicide.

“This could not be happening again, the pain and the misery, I wanted to be left alone,” said Batt.

But this time, it wouldn’t let her put her thoughts into the back of her mind. Her sister had everything, or did she?

“Wait,” said Batt. “My sister was not a selfish person.”

It was then that Batt remembered the look on her dad’s face, the look of desperation, the look of a man searching to find peace.

“He didn’t do it to me or my family,” said Batt. “He did it for us.”

Batt then realized that perhaps the biggest issue facing people with depression was the unavailability of places and people to turn to when you are dealing with these feelings.

“This is where we can help,” said Batt. “We can provide a place for people to speak about it, a place they can reach out to.”

Batt has now made a mission out of her experiences and has realized that a difference can be made.

“Often it takes someone who knows how you feel,” said Batt. “That stigma needs to be lifted.”

Batt now speaks at conferences all over the province, with tears in her eyes and a sadness in her heart, but knowing she might be giving the opportunity for people to speak out.

She too left the crowd with a quote.

“Never underestimate an act of kindness because it can change a person’s day.”

Seymour once again played a musical selection she titled “The gift” and dedicated it to her mother Susanne Ingram, the former executive director of the women’s centre.

After the song, Alisa Chard gave a presentation, dedicated to Ingram as well.

She spoke of the tireless efforts Ingram put into her work and called her passion for her job infectious.

The board then all came together and presented Ingram with flowers and a watch, which had to be specially ordered with the women’s symbol on it.

Ingram then addressed the crowd herself.

“What a journey this has been, and what awesome people I had the privilege and honour to work with,” she said.

She spoke of her 30 years experience and thanked the many board members and staff that worked with her throughout those years, helping ensure a better quality of life for women.

She said the support from the community has always been wonderful, and said anyone would just have to look around the room to see that.

She thanked her family and her friends, and gave special thanks to her husband, who was always there to support her.

Ingram talked of the years at the centre, and spoke of Lavina, and how proud she is to have her step into her shoes to fill the role as executive director.

She encouraged everyone to engage with the women’s centre and gave hopes that everyone will embrace the women working there the same way they did with her.

“The women’s centre was not a job for me,” said Ingram. “It was and always will be a part of who I am.”

As in with the other speakers of the night, Ingram too left with a quote:

“Don’t cry for me because it’s over… smile because it happened.”

The emotional night ended with presentations to the women’s centre employees, and Matthews thanked the women for being there every day, for keeping the door open.

As with tradition, the Bread and Roses song was led by Seymour and sang by all in attendance.

Organizations: Lions Club, Gateway Women

Geographic location: Port aux Basques, Corner Brook

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