My best friend wasn’t just my BFF; she was my family by blood, my favourite cousin. We were close, close enough to tell secrets.

Lea was the type of girl who loved to have fun without worrying about what other people thought of her. She loved to take long walks with her relatives. She was full of smiles and laughter. She was loved by many people, but she did not see that.

No one understood why she took her life, but I do.

She thought the life she lived was not worth living. She didn’t realize that she had to go through a rough time to have a better life when she grew old. She thought no one loved her and didn’t realize that if she killed herself all the communities would have sore hearts when they heard the sad news.

I know what was going through her head before she committed suicide; she was bullied by three girls from her same community. I know this because I was also bullied. I was going through a breakup and I drank alcohol the night before I was bullied. I was walking around with a lot of other teenagers and they beat me up. I was drunk and I could not fight back. I thought that life was not good enough to live and that it would be better if I died, I felt so worthless. I thought of killing myself. I thought everyone would be happy without me, I cried myself to sleep for a week. But I did not kill myself because I fought the feeling; I fought my bad thoughts, soberly. I did not turn to alcohol. This was only two weeks before Lea died.

Lea’s thoughts were negative, like mine. Lea always moved from home to home, she traveled community to community, and she did not feel the love that she wanted to feel. No place felt like home for her because her parents were not together. And yet Lea had so many friends.

The day I heard the sad news was unforgettable. I was 588 kilometres away in another community for a tournament. I play hockey and I was helping my old teammates from the team I had played with when I was young. I changed teams because the same girls who bullied me were on the team, but they did not feel like a family anymore. That Saturday morning, after the game we played, I decided to have lunch at a restaurant at the arena with my little cousin from the community and with my foster sister.

Something didn’t feel right that morning when I woke up but I had tried to not let it bother me. Then, that afternoon, I received a phone call. The voice sounded so sad, I began to worry, and then the person on the phone told me the news about Lea. I have never felt so heavy in my chest. I was numb everywhere. My arms started to tremble and my phone felt as if it wighed 200 pounds. I was speechless. My foster sister looked at me with her curious eyes.

I felt weak as I got up and ran to search for my mother. I was holding my tears, but as soon as I saw my mother, I ran up the stairs, fell on my knees and I cried on her lap. I hadn’t cried that much since my late grandfather passed away. The whole crowd was staring at me, but  I did not care what they were thinking. My mother was scared and kept asking me, “What is wrong? Why are you crying?” I could not answer her, I could not speak. She asked me one last time and I finally replied, “Lea’s dead.”

My mother wrapped her arms around me and I cried even more. I felt so empty, I was not complete anymore, and my heart was broken. I could not believe she was gone. I lost my cousin, I lost a family member, and I lost my best friend.

The next day, we were in the arena dressing room getting ready for the final game. I was dressed but I was not motivated at all because I could not stop thinking about Lea. The same words were running through my head: “Why did she leave? Why did she do this to us? I should not have come; I would have been there for her, why now? I cannot go on without her, why didn’t I see her pain?”

My coach came and sat next to me, and said, “You’ve been staring at the floor for the past 10 minutes, you mind me telling me what is wrong?” I couldn’t really hear her but I knew what her question was. I couldn’t talk, I was still shocked from yesterday’s phone call. When she repeated the question a little louder, I looked at her and I wanted to cry. I was holding my tears back as my throat got sore but finally I replied, “My cousin from my community committed suicide.” I looked away and I almost couldn’t hold my tears anymore till she said, “Well, I am really sorry to hear, you go out there and play hard for your cousin.” She gave me a pat on the back and added, “And do not forget to be strong, because you are.”

The buzzer sounded and I did not want to play anymore. I just wanted to give up, be alone and cry. But I knew my old teammates missed me out there. I couldn’t just walk away and let them down. I put on my helmet, grabbed my gloves and stick, got up and that’s when the flashbacks hit, all the good and bad times that Lea and I had shared: the smiles, the laughter, the silly little fights, the sleepovers and all the secrets. I will cherish every moment. I was already at centre ice, not knowing how I got there but I never felt so strong. I felt so motivated to go hard for my team and for my late best friend Lea.

I did not give up when I felt tired. I did not give up when I ran out of breath. I played hard all through the game. I finally gave up when the last buzzer sounded. I felt so tired and I fell on my knees as the pain returned. After the excitement of the finals game, I won the best defense award. Never in my life had I played so hard for someone in my hockey career. As we celebrated our championship, I was on my knees, I looked up towards the ceiling and in my head I said, “Lea, this is for you.”

We returned home after our championship game, back to my mother’s community where we moved when I was seven years old. When I finally returned home, I found out Lea had been bullied by three girls and that she had turned to alcohol to get through it. She was drunk when she committed suicide.

At that moment I understood why she did it. Getting beat up and kicked in the head turns everything upside down. You think negatively. People and kids need to stop violence, alcohol and drug abuse. Nobody should be left alone when they are hurt, they need to feel the love that they need. Nobody should be left alone when they think negatively about everything.

This is how we lose our loved ones; I lost my best friend because of violence and alcohol abuse. I am one year sober, I have fought my thoughts when I wanted to put alcohol into my system and I am now healthy and I am happier than I was before when alcohol was my only friend.