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Remembering Keira Walsh

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Written by Claire Ramsfield, Coordinator, Steps Youth Program

I connected with Keira on a peer level as the Steps Youth Program Coordinator. Keira joined Steps in September 2018. We developed a relationship in the times that I drove her home after group, and she slowly opened up and shared with me how difficult things were for her on the inside. We met each week just so she could be seen, however it was that she showed up. Sometimes it was in good spirits, and sometimes it was not; sometimes she didn’t have anything to say and we just walked together. On days that she was feeling okay, we celebrated it.

My most treasured memory of Keira was when she and I played outside in the enclosed playground of the ward at Children’s Hospital. For half an hour she was not a patient there and she was not unwell, but was just herself, innocent and confident. I will always remember her exactly in this way  ̶  playing in the sandbox and sliding down the slide.

As someone overseeing the group, I was constantly reminded of how her presence in the world was important. In spite of her mental illness, she was able to show up for other youth in the group who were also struggling. She was an exemplary model of being kind and sensitive to other young people who were scared and felt alone. Notwithstanding the rough moments, weeks, and months, Keira still showed up to Steps. I remember being in awe of her persistence and commitment. She requested a hospital pass so she could join the group in volunteering for a charity half-marathon.

Keira died by suicide on December 10, 2019. Her passing sheds light on the complexity of life, death, and of mental illness. Keira’s suicide might leave us bewildered and grieving, but it can also push us to challenge the process of navigating and functioning within a large mental health system. It shows us that there is still work to be done in understanding and supporting young minds, but also in awareness of how systems can be fortified so that people with an array of challenges can be cradled. How can we do this better? What needs to be rebuilt?

Perhaps Keira’s journey can also remind us that every human being needs a place to be seen, however it is that they are in the world. The opportunity to show up exactly how one is is necessary, but not always safe or available. Spaces where we can be who we are offer us the opportunity to build meaning, purpose, and community.

I would like to acknowledge that it is with a mix of deep gratitude and sadness that we have accepted numerous generous donations on behalf of Keira for the Steps Youth Program and CMHA in general. These contributions can be used to help Steps continue to support young people in staying connected, feeling able to be who they truly are, and show up honestly, even when it is difficult. Keira’s spirit can thrive in another way: through the actions we take and the gestures we show to those in need.

To make a donation in Keira’s memory, click here. Your donation will ensure the sustainability of our Steps program. Steps is more than a youth recreation program, it’s often the only place youth are accepted and supported without expectation.

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