Thank GOD we have DIDS in this country.
5 males a day, every day, suicide in this country.
In Canada, it’s 9 a day.
We are establishing links to start DIDS over there.
Andrew T. Renouf committed suicide on or about October 17, 1995, because he had 100% of his wages taken by the Family Responsibility Office, an agency of the Government of Ontario, Canada. He asked for assistance for food and shelter from the welfare office and was refused because he had a job, even though all of his wages were taken by the Family Responsibility Office. Andy was a loving father that hadn’t seen his daughter in 4 years.
A memorial service was held in October 1998, for Andy in front of the Family Responsibility Office at 1201 Wilson Avenue, West Tower, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This is in the Ministry of Transportation grounds in the Keele St & Hwy 401 area.
All members of the Ontario Legislature were invited by personal letter faxed to their offices. Not one turned up. The Director of the Family Responsibility Office and his entire staff were invited to the brief service. The Director refused and wouldn’t let the staff attend the service, although it was scheduled for lunchtime. There was a peaceful demonstration, followed by a very touching service by The Reverend Alan Stewart. The text of the service is below.
Although the memorial service was not well-publicised, a small group attended with 84 letters and emails of support from groups across Canada and the United States. The service made the TV evening news.
It was Andy’s last wish that his story be told to all.
An annual memorial service is planned for October 17th.
(Note: The Family Responsibility Office was formerly the Family Support Plan.)
7470 Ninth Line, Markham, Ont. L6B 1A8
16 October 1995
To Whom It May Concern
Last Friday (13 October 1995), my bank account was garnisheed. I was left with a total of $00.43 in the bank.
At this time, I have rent and bills to pay which would come to somewhere approaching $1,500.00 to $1,800.00.
Since my last pay was also direct deposited on Friday, I now have no way of supporting myself. I have no money for food or for gas for my car to enable me to work. My employer also tells me that they will only pay me by direct deposit. I therefore no longer have a job, since the money would not reach me.
I have tried talking to the Family Support people at 1916 Dundas St. E. Their answer was: “We have a court order,” repeated several times.
I have tried talking to the welfare people in Markham. Since I earned over $520.00 last month, I am not eligible for assistance.
I have had no contact with my daughter in approximately 4 years. I do not even know if she is alive and well. I have tried to keep her informed of my current telephone number, but she has never bothered to call.
I have no family and no friends, very little food, no viable job and very poor future prospects. I have therefore decided that there is no further point in continuing my life. It is my intention to drive to a secluded area, near my home, feed the car exhaust into the car, take some sleeping pills and use the remaining gas in the car to end my life.
I would have preferred to die with more dignity.
It is my last will and testament that this letter be published for all to see and read.
The letter that Andrew Renouf left before he ended his life on October 17, 1995, was addressed: “To Whom It May Concern”. We gather here today, whether we knew him or not, because we are concerned, deeply concerned about the pain he experienced and the issues that he brought to our attention as women and men in a civilised society.
We want to make sense out of his death.
We want to learn from his experience.
We want to receive his last will and testament, his legacy, as he asked.
We are attempting today to hear his cry, to learn and self-examine ourselves from his scream, which in this letter he made as loudly, as clearly, as emphatically as possible. He used his whole life to propel these words into our consciousness and into the fabric of our society. As his letter was his last will and testament, for all concerned, we are extending his legacy today by sharing his inheritance as he passed it on, in this letter.
As Andrew was a man, I will speak first about what the letter may point to in terms of those of us who are men; what we can glean from Andrew; what is his legacy for us?
In this letter, we are either Andrew, or there is an Andrew who is our acquaintance, our friend, our brother, our co-worker. We are reminded that four times as many men kill themselves as do women.
The trigger that seemed to set this death on its course was that Andrew had no money. Do we measure a man by how much money he has in his pocket or his bank account? The first thing that he mentions in his letter is the 43 cents in his account. He obviously felt that 43 cents pointed to his worthlessness, the 43 cents was a metaphor for how he felt and how much he was valued on the open market.
Andrew had no connection to the amount of money that was garnished. He had no connection to the value of the money that he had actually earned the previous month. His value was focused on the 43 cents that was left to keep his account open.
Andrew was a man who did not have a place to take his pain. He says that he has no family, no friends. In the years that he lived on this planet, why did he not have any friends? Why did he feel there was nobody to call? Why was there no man or woman he knew personally that he could reach out to and that they would grab his hand? Why was there no brother-in-law, no buddy from work, no friend of a friend, no clergy? Why was there no “best friend”?
To respond to Andrew’s letter, we men have to ask ourselves if, along the journey of our lives, we have been investing in relationships to help us live our lives. Are we cultivating, investing and risking to have good friends? Do we make excuses that we are too busy? Are we sabotaging our own lives by living in isolation from our brothers and sisters in our own communities or families? Are we in a life-long process of estrangement?
Do we hide our pain? The name ‘Andrew’ means “manly” or “strong”. Does our notion of strength mean to go it alone, to be silent, reserved, to hide our feelings and pretend that we are in control and that everything is OK when it most definitely is not OK? When somebody asks us how we are, do we lie to them and say that we are fine? Do we hide our feelings under the pretence that other people do not want to know? Do we blame the unwitting for our lack of self-expression? Are we hostage to what we think that other people think of us?
Do we cultivate safe places, safe times, and safe people where we can really be who we are? Can we ever give ourselves permission to be vulnerable? Have we found someone we can trust with our secrets?
Andrew’s letter says that estrangement, going it alone and hiding pain, spells d-e-a-t-h.
In his pain, Andrew chose to end his life. We who gather here without that pain can say that there were other choices he could have made. He could have told a police officer or clergyperson that he was suicidal, or walked into an emergency ward of a hospital. Strong men are not supposed to say, “I need help. I am scared. I feel like killing myself. Help me!” This is a lie! Our choices determine our life or our death. As men we are free to ‘choose’ to get the help that we need to get through our difficult times and live our lives.
(to be continued)
[Photo by John-Mark Smith