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Mother plants a tree in memory of her daughter lost to suicide

Tim Woodside, brother, Gaie Orton, mother, and Katie Puxley, sister, dedicate a tree to “M.E.” in the Everlasting Forest at International Children’s Memorial Place.
Tim Woodside, brother, Gaie Orton, mother, and Katie Puxley, sister, dedicate a tree to “M.E.” in the Everlasting Forest at International Children’s Memorial Place. - Desiree Anstey

SCALES POND - “She was a go-getter, had a lot of friends, a great spirit and she loved life. Then at age 32 she took her life,” shared Gaie Orton, during the annual tree dedication ceremony held at the International Children’s Memorial Place.

The last time Orton talked to her daughter was over the phone.

“It was almost a week before Father’s Day when she called. She was supposed to be coming home for the occasion, but she told me that she couldn’t because the help was not available on the Island like in Toronto. I asked her to come home; of course that never happened.”

Mary Elizabeth Woodside, known as “M.E.,” a former resident of Charlottetown, committed suicide in Toronto on Sunday, June 4, 2017.

“No one knows why. There are so many unanswered questions. Suicide is very hard, and that’s an understatement,” said Orton, with tears in her eyes. “I just keep thinking she’s that very bright candle that burned out too soon.”

M.E. had a bipolar disorder that caused episodes of depression.

“We saw it for a number of years. There wasn’t the help here when she was aged 15. It would be a case of, ‘Oh she doesn’t want to go to school, she’s not feeling well or she’s just faking because she has an exam coming up.’ There would be pressure she just wasn’t able to handle.

“There would be medications that could be given, but nobody seemed to really understand.

“When M.E. died I was told by a Roman Catholic priest that there were so many more suicides, but people weren’t identifying them.Because if you have a broken arm you can fix it, if you have a broken spirit that’s something people don’t discuss. There’s still a stigma of suicide.”

M.E. had always bounced back from her illness, and she had plans lined up for her future.

“M.E. for a lot of the time was very cheery. She was very much a chameleon and would let you see what she wanted you to see. She learned to hide a lot of what was going on.”

She worked with people with mental and physical disabilities.

“When she wanted something, she could make it happen, when it came to work, reaching out to other people and bringing them together or helping people with mental illness feel accepted,” said her sister, Katie Puxely, who travelled to the recent ceremony at the Scales Pond site from Halifax.

“She was an activist and protested at G20, she trekked across the country and went to California, she was just amazing,” added Puxely.

The family was among others who came to dedicate new trees in the Everlasting Forest in memory of their children who have died.

“We needed a place where we could come as a family to remember her,” said Orton. “She loved ‘The Lorax,’ written by Dr. Seuss, and years before she said she spoke to the trees.

“A friend told us about this memorial place, so we came up one afternoon and it really just somehow spoke to us. It was so peaceful, all the beautiful trees, and it just seemed there needed to be a tree for M.E. here. You can feel her spirit here,” she said.

Need to know

For more information on the International Children’s Memorial Place, visit www.icmplace.ca.

For mental health care, go to www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/information/sante-i-p-e/mental-health-services.

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