In Honor of My Daughter, Rehtaeh Parsons

by Leah Parsons
Originally Published: 

My name is Leah Parsons and I am the mother of three girls, 10-17. On April 4th 2013, life as I knew it would never be the same again.

The first trauma occurred when my 15-year-old daughter, Rehtaeh, attended a gathering where she was raped by four males. Several days later a photo of her assault appeared throughout her school and community. Following the photo distribution, Rehtaeh was harassed by her peers. She became a target for others to take her traumatic experience and use it to harm her further.

Within days my smart, confident girl with so much to offer this world began to crumble and she never came back.

We saw glimpses of her from time to time as she tried to move forward, to stand up for herself but her strides of accomplishments were short lived. Each time she attempted to stand, another emotional barrier followed. Rehtaeh and all of us were left traumatized and struggling to find her the help she required.

For 17 months, we all stumbled through life asking why us? Why Rehtaeh? Begging for help from the very agencies set in place to protect her. On April 4th 2013, at approximately midnight, Rehtaeh hung herself in a moment of desperation while I was downstairs and her friend by her side just on the other side of the door.

The image I have finding my daughter that night will haunt me forever. We knew she was in pain. We knew she was struggling. But I felt she would get through this traumatic time in her life.

We talked about her feelings so often that I didn’t think she would follow through on her thoughts of wanting to die. Anyone who knew Rehtaeh would have said the same. Rehtaeh was the level headed one in her group of friends. Rehtaeh always helped her friends with sound advice. Rehtaeh was strong!

But what happened to Rehtaeh and how she left this world is not who Rehtaeh was – those are horrific events that changed her view on life and permeated her very being. She was so young. She became defined by these events partly due to her age. She found it very difficult to cope and move forward.

Since Rehtaeh died, I am left trying to put together a “new normal”. Rehtaeh has two little sisters who are looking to me for guidance. Two little sisters who are also hurting and missing their big sister. I need them to know that our life has crumbled but we are still together. We will still will be okay and that its okay to cry/fall but we will not fall apart. I will always be there for them. We will honor their sister, my daughter, every day in little ways and in big ways. We carry her with us wherever we go and we talk about her just as much as if she was still here. I still divide my time among my three girls as it should be.

When Rehtaeh was born, it was just the two of us for seven years. Her dad was an important part of her life, but I was a single mom in many ways. The day she was placed in my arms I vowed to make a better life for us. I went to University and earned a degree a Bachelors Degree in Psychology then continued on to earn a Masters Degree in Counseling. Rehtaeh was my driving force and the reason I was so driven and focused. She changed my life for the better and I can honestly say those seven years were the best years of my life.

Through my tremendous loss, I have learned to reach out to make a difference for others and to live life moment to moment. Finding the smallest of things to be grateful for was my daily mantra and still is in many ways.

I advocate for young girls who have suffered similar traumas by telling Rehtaeh’s story, so they too can speak out and try to change our societal views towards females. I speak of harassment among youth commonly called “bullying”. I also tackle the topic of suicide and speak openly of my daughter’s death because the stigma attached to suicide needs to change. If we talk more openly, we can address the feelings that many youth are facing.

In this day and age of social media, we need to teach more compassion/empathy in our youth instead of the desensitization that is occurring due to so much exposure of graphic images. Rehtaeh tried so hard to stand up for herself. I witnessed her sadness, anger and mostly disappointments. I deal with anger over what Rehtaeh endured every day, but I choose to focus on channeling these feelings into positive action. I would rather become a beacon of change to honor her than to allow my pain/her pain to destroy me emotionally. I carry the pain of losing my daughter, but she also inspires me to make an impact in this world – to honor her life. Please join me.

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