‘Hitting their hearts in the right way’: Addressing the question of suicide

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After suicide, the questions burn.

“It’s a tough topic, but it’s a needed topic to discuss,” said Paula Watters of Tillsonburg, who recalled listening to her husband Frank Kempf, an Oxford OPP officer, who had a brother die by suicide in 2019.

“I heard Frank talk a lot, about what he was going through and his emotions, which is good to be able to speak to someone and get it out when you’re going through a tough time,” said Watters. “I was left with these emotions in my mind, so I thought I’d write a song for Frank, so that maybe it might help heal him a little bit more.”

Watters and singer/musician Brett Kingswell, now living in London, share the writing credits for The Questions Burn, a recently released song on Spotify with a video on YouTube.

Now that it’s released (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZK0h7rFGmcY), Watters said maybe the song can help heal other people in that situation.

“The pain of suicide, it’s just… it’s different,” said Watters. “You’re left confused, a lot of times there’s a level of blame. So we just wanted other people who have lost a loved one to not feel alone in their emotions… because it is hard to understand.”

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Suicide is something that is not dealt with too much in music, she said.

“Music does heal. Frank is one who looks for songs to help him get over things. He’s been involved in music, he loves music, so it worked out.”

Watters and Kempf have been getting messages from people who cried when they heard the song, saying they are more at peace after listening.

“That’s all we wanted,” said Watters. “Frank’s big thing was, if it helps one person, by releasing the song, then it’s done its job. That is what it’s all about, helping people who are sharing that pain.”

There’s another angle to the song. It was written not just for those who are bereaving, said Watters. She hopes if someone is in a ‘bad space’ and they listen to the song, maybe the music will speak to them and make them want to reach out.

“Sometimes when you’re in that bad space, you really don’t want to have a conversation right away. Sometimes music will open up their minds and their hearts a little more to the point where they might want to reach out.”

‘Unspoken words still aching to be heard, please stay…’ Kingswell sings near the end of the song.

“I wanted to put the words ‘please stay’ in because I want them, despite what they may think, to know that someone does care. Someone cares that they ‘are.’ That’s what I wanted them to maybe think about when they’re in a really bad place.”

In the song’s YouTube description, Kingswell wrote, “Suicide – for most of us, it’s a word that’s difficult to even utter. But for too many, especially in these difficult times, it’s a word that hits far too close to home.”

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“Especially before Christmas, that was our big thing getting it out before Christmas because Frank knew that there was a chance of an increased rate… with what was happening in isolation,” said Watters.

“He doesn’t want to go to any more calls, I don’t want to see him have to go to any more of those calls. It’s very hard for officers to attend all these suicide calls.

“Officers, they’re human. They’re not just a uniform. And with everything that’s going on in society right now, and so much hate that they’re getting… they put themselves on the line for your families, your community, and you don’t realize that when they put on that uniform they have to block what’s happening in their lives so they can deal with your tragedies, your troubles, and be there for you. So it just gives them that little bit of human touch, especially when it’s written from his perspective.

“That’s what I love about music, it’s the storytelling. This is a really sad story, but one that I personally felt needed to be out there, and so did Frank once I wrote it. We thought, ‘let’s do this.’ Frank’s a pretty quiet person, but he was all for this. If anybody could not have to go what I saw Frank go through, that’s worth all the time, everything. I saw a big change in Frank and how much it helped him, talking about it. Even this song, thinking about the words and seeing him sit back and listen to the final copy of the song… it just let him deal. Because it’s music – and it’s different than a conversation.”

Produced by Brian Hewson, The Questions Burn has contributions from Wendell Ferguson (lead guitar and bass), Jim Boudreau (percussion), Ed Ringwald (steel guitar) and Shane Guse (cello).

“It was a perfect mix to hit the emotion in people to get them to want to talk,” said Watters. “Hit their hearts in the right way.”

cabbott@postmedia.com

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