A CASA Family Story

Emily Taylor’s Story

This is Emily’s story as told by Rick and Stephanie Taylor at CASA Carnival 2016.

“This photograph of our family was taken at the end of July 2013.  Our son Isaac is 13 years of age in this photo and our daughter, Emily, is 16 years old.  Many of us are likely familiar with a song by Garth Brooks called “The Dance” that contains the line, “For a moment, all the world was right.”  That line describes this photograph.  You see, our beautiful Emily lost her battle with depression 3 months after this picture was taken.  After battling mental illness for most of her life, she lost hope that it would get better – that horrible illness had won.  This was our last family photograph of us while our world was right.

When we were thinking about what to say this evening, we decided that we wanted to try to convey to you the impact that mental illness has on families, and the absolute necessity for CASA.  I’m going to try to describe what it’s like to be a mom of a child with mental health challenges, depression and suicidal thoughts.  Since losing Emily, I’ve often been told that people “can’t imagine” what it’s like…”can’t imagine” what we’re going through.  I’ll see if I can try to describe to you what it’s like.

I often think back to when Emily was a baby and when she was a little girl.  How many of you here tonight are parents? I’m sure you were mindful that a dangerous stranger could be driving by your child as they walked down the sidewalk or played at the park.  Have you ever experienced that feeling of panic when your child was late coming home from school or a friend’s house and you didn’t know where they were?  Perhaps during those fearful moments before your child was located or walked in the door, your mind may have made you think that perhaps that dangerous stranger had gotten your child.  Well, mental illness is like that dangerous stranger.  It’s that feared “danger” that could be there at any moment to interfere with your child – to keep or take your child from you.  The worst part about it is that the child is unable to run away from that danger - it often becomes a part of who they are and so the parent struggles to keep their child safe from that terrible stranger that lives inside them.

I was a very protective mother and I always watched my kids like a hawk.  I made sure that I kept my children as safe as I could within my power.  When they were little, I never in my wildest nightmares would have guessed that the worst enemy of Emily’s wasn’t that unknown stranger who might be driving by her – the enemy was inside her own mind.

CP Emily2aWe struggled with Emily’s behaviours since she was around 6 years of age. Her behaviours eventually began affecting her friendships and interactions with people. In her teen years, she began to despise herself and she started to participate in self destructive, risky and then eventually life threatening behaviours.  At the end of February 2013, when she was in a severe depression and at an extremely high risk of suicide, Emily was admitted to the CASA House inpatient treatment program.  She connected extremely well with her therapist and he earned her trust and helped her to start addressing some of her issues. She was participating in the group therapy sessions and was starting to learn skills she needed to help her to get better.  She wasn’t ready to leave the program but because of funding limitations, she had to leave CASA House in July 2013.  We resided in Wainwright at the time which is 200 km southeast of Edmonton so we brought her back home to our community, where there were no mental health supports in place that she direly needed.  There are no CASA services within Wainwright or the surrounding areas.  The public mental health system wasn’t able to provide her with the ongoing treatment and support that she needed.  We were able to find a private psychologist who would continue to follow up with her but her treatment wasn’t as comprehensive as the CASA Program.  We felt like we were alone in the system, trying to find Emily the help that she continued to need.  She still needed the CASA program.

In September 2013, we felt helpless and could only watch as Emily’s depression, anxiety and impulsive behaviours continued to get worse and she again began a downward spiral as we desperately tried to be there to help her as best we could on our own along with the weekly sessions with her psychologist.  The morning of November 18, 2013 we experienced the most devastating heartbreak imaginable when Emily took her life after one week earlier, miraculously surviving a deliberate head on collision with a semi-truck.  After 2 years of us struggling to keep her safe from that dangerous mental illness monster in her mind, it had won and it had taken our beloved girl.  How do we describe what we felt that morning…  There are no words that can accurately describe the loss of your child.  The combination of heartbreak, pain, sorrow, aloneness, and broken dreams - how could a parent possibly survive this….how do you move forward from this?  18 years earlier, we were elated to find out that we were expecting Emily - our first baby!  Our dreams of who she would be, what she would do, how far she would go in life were crushed that cold winter November morning in 2013.  We were now left to figure out how to get through this incredible pain that the horrid mental illness had now transferred to us.  The thing is, there is no fix to our pain….there is no cure to fix our loss.  Our pain is forever.

CP Emily3bApproximately 4,000 children and adolescents receive help and services through the CASA program each year.  This program has a direct effect on far more people than that… there are the friends of the children and of the parents, grandparents, etc., who benefit by seeing the hope in their loved ones; by seeing their loved ones get the help they need from the CASA program. Parenting a child with mental health challenges is an extremely agonizing, painful, lonely, and sometimes a hopeless experience.  When one child is accepted into the CASA program, hope is given to that child as well as to all those who love that child, that there is going to be support and help for things to get better.  That there will be a dedicated team of professionals helping your child and your family is such an indescribable feeling of relief.  Every child deserves hope.  Because of your generous contributions to CASA programs, YOU are giving the incredible gift of hope to so many.  Thank you.”