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South Surrey parents honour daughter by shedding light on teen suicide

‘We did everything we could’ve done,’ said Felicity Donovan’s mom

Warning: This story deals with teen suicide and contains details that may be distressing to some readers.

It was no secret to Felicity Donovan’s family that the teen had struggled with depression, in particular over the past year.

In fact, they put everything they could into helping their daughter – from getting her into a specialized program at Surrey Memorial Hospital, to connecting her with a counsellor, to always ensuring she had a “really supportive” home environment that included open, honest communication and the knowledge that she could come to her parents about anything.

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The efforts seemed to be working, Felicity’s parents, Laura and David, said Jan. 5, reflecting on how, in the weeks ahead of Christmas, Felicity had seemed lighter, brighter. The “giving, kind” teen was making plans, enjoying the holiday season and looking forward to playing on Elgin Park Secondary’s rugby team.

“It was at that moment that I actually allowed myself… to finally accept that, yes, she’s doing better, things are going to get OK,” Laura said.

In that light, making sense of the 16-year-old’s Dec. 19 decision to end her life has been all the more difficult.

“In the (previous) couple weeks, she’d been doing really good,” David said. On the day she took her life, “both me and my wife told her, ‘We’re so proud of you.’ As she was going upstairs… we told her we loved her.

“Ten minutes later, my (youngest) daughter found her.”

“I can’t comprehend it,” said Laura. “We did everything that we could’ve done.”

As the Donovans grapple with their heartbreaking loss, Laura and David said they hope that by sharing Felicity’s story – knowing that suicide is a much-stigmatized topic – that deeper lessons may reach others, including friends and family members of other young people who may be silently battling a similar, dark struggle.

“I think it’s just something that people should discuss,” said David.

“It was 10 minutes from when she was happy and excited, that’s sort of part of why we wanted to discuss suicide and discuss what happened, because for us, we had been… constantly checking on her, checking her room, making sure she’s OK.

“We just felt like we were getting over the hump with depression, like we were on a good path. It changed so quickly.”

‘People can feel so alone’

The incidence of suicide is not often highlighted by media. Exceptions tend to include when the deceased is a public figure or celebrity – for example, the 2014 death of actor Robin Williams – or when the incident itself is witnessed by many.

READ ALSO: Doctors aims to scale up youth suicide prevention program across Canada

Even less-discussed is the incidence of youth suicide. While other Semiahmoo Peninsula teens have made the decision before her, Felicity’s story is perhaps the first shared by Peace Arch News.

In gathering information, PAN was asked by one source to consider approaching the issue “more broadly,” as the subject could be potentially harmful to other teens.

However, George Passmore, executive director of Sources Community Resource Centres and former head of Sources’ family counselling and support services, said while he can understand a concern that students may read it and romanticize suicide and the attention their fellow student may receive in its aftermath, he disagrees that talking about it is bad.

In fact, the positive ripples from doing so can be profound, he said.

“I think when students are struggling and they’re going through their own private agony, and thoughts of ending their lives are entering their head, it’s important that students know that this is something that can be talked about, and you will be responded to with care and understanding and love, and not… a scolding,” Passmore said.

There’s also a significant message for parents, one Passmore hopes makes them pause to consider just how tuned-in they are to their own child’s inner life, and question if their child feels safe enough with them to share their darkest thoughts without fear of repercussion or judgment.

It’s an opportunity to spark conversations that don’t have an agenda, “coming from a place of curiosity and love,” he said.

“It’s amazing. Once kids experience that, they just keep talking.”

The Donovans said being open about what happened with Felicity is a priority for them. They’ve shared details and photos about it on social media, expressed gratitude for response to a gofundme campaign launched in Felicity’s name, and welcomed the opportunity to spread the news further through PAN.

“One of the things we want to be open about is, even with the most supportive parents, even with all the tools, you never know,” said David.

“Being able to be open online about it and talk about it was important to us. It can be just such a stigmatized thing and people can feel so alone. People should not feel like it’s something you have to feel shame about.”

Internal struggle

The middle child of three, Felicity moved with her family to the Semiahmoo Peninsula from Manitoba in 2014.

Settling in an Ocean Park co-op community, she spent many hours in her mom’s Crescent Beach tattoo studio – Body Art by Laura D – copying sketches, flipping through tattoo books and magazines, interacting with customers and even practising the art on her younger sister Laura Jane.

“Her first words were Dad, Mom and Tattoo,” her mom wrote in a Christmas Day Facebook post that also shared a few cherished photos.

“Good times were had.”

David and Laura said they raised all their girls to treat others as they would like to be treated, and it was difficult when they experienced others who did not do the same.

Felicity struggled to make sense of it, and often internalized the cruelty, believing – when it was directed specifically at her – that there must be something wrong with her, they said.

“What she said in the past week or so before she did take her life was she felt loved but she didn’t feel liked,” said David.

And while Felicity had expressed some suicidal thoughts and even made what her parents feel was a trial suicide attempt in the weeks and months before Christmas, they don’t believe she had intended to die when she went up to her room that December afternoon. Rather, it appeared she may have been creating a message of sorts for herself, through capturing the act on video.

“I don’t think she meant for this to go all the way,” Laura said. “I think she probably thought that somebody was going to come in and find her,” as was the case previously.

“I think she just lost control, like a child not understanding the full consequences.”

Building compassion

As students returned to the halls of Elgin Park Secondary on Jan. 8, supports were in place for those grieving Felicity’s death or needing help making sense of what happened.

“Additional counselling support is available onsite, and staff will be checking in regularly with students and staff,” Surrey Schools communications manager Ritinder Matthew said by email.

“Moving forward, we’ll continually assess and adapt our support mechanisms to meet evolving needs, with a goal of fostering resilience, healing, and unity during this challenging time. It’s important that students know they’re not alone, and there are available supports and a caring community here for them.”

By sheer coincidence, student-led efforts to cultivate a compassionate culture throughout the high school will be ramping up this month.

The Compassion Café, for students in Grades 10-12, is an initiative of the Tides of Change Community Action Team, which every year identifies projects that could help reduce the possibility of overdoses in the community.

At Elgin, the café will provide a weekly space “where students can talk about anything,” Passmore said. As well, students may be hosting events or stigma-reduction campaigns.

The effort was not prompted by Felicity’s death, he noted. Meetings at Elgin had already begun earlier in December.

“But maybe it’ll be timely now to bring this to Elgin, just to allow students an opportunity to participate in a culture of caring for one another, so that if people are struggling with mental health, they know that that’s something that can be talked about.”

Honouring Felicity

Hospital staff lined the halls of Surrey Memorial Hospital’s ICU ward on Christmas Day, paying tribute to Felicity with an ‘honour walk’ as she was taken to surgery, where many of her organs were to be readied for transplant.

While her family had prayed for a miracle in the days prior, they said they took solace in the final gifts their daughter gave others.

The “smart and adventurous” teen had told her parents of her desire to be an organ donor while studying for her learner driver’s licence.

“It was… something we’re proud of our daughter for wanting to do,” said David.

“For us to be able to fulfil her wishes that way felt like another way for her to be giving and kind.”

A fundraising effort to help Felicity’s family with the costs of cremation and a celebration of life that “truly befits Felicity’s beautiful soul” is underway at

As of Friday morning (Jan. 12), nearly $17,300 had been collected.

Campaign co-organizer Alaina Leighton Hall said the funds are to also help cover the family’s day-to-day living expenses, as well as transform Felicity’s bedroom into a space where friends and family can remember and reflect.

The family anticipates holding a celebration of life in March, the details for which will be shared on social media once confirmed.


National Suicide Crisis Helpline: call or text 988

Anywhere in B.C.: 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)

Online chat service for youth: (noon till 1 a.m.)

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868

Options Community Services’ Suicide Prevention, Education, Assessment and Counselling (SPEAC) – for ages 3-18 years old in Surrey, White Rock and Langley who have made a suicide attempt, or may be at risk of doing so: 604-584-5811 x. 11366

Fraser Health Crisis Line: 604-951-8855; 1-877-820-7444

FamilySmart: offers free peer support to parents in BC and Alberta

DiscoverY: a free, short-term counselling program for youth and young adults

Vine Youth Clinic: 15455 Vine Ave. 604-542-3926; open Wednesday afternoons; provides free, confidential care for youth ages 12 to 21 years old.

Tracy Holmes

About the Author: Tracy Holmes

Tracy Holmes has been a reporter with Peace Arch News since 1997.
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