This is the hardest thing I’ve ever written in my life. And I’ve been a writer since I was a teenager. Of all the hundreds of thousands of words, these are the most heart-rending to type. I have decided to create this Facebook page to offer support and sympathy to Jean-François Toussignant, who is on trial as I write for the first-degree murder of his parents. You have probably seen the news coverage of this trial, but in case you haven’t: His parents lived in a nursing home in Laval, they were both in their 70s. Last fall they died within a week of each other. At first, nobody suspected anything; his mother died, as people do when they’re that age, and a week later her husband followed her to the grave, most likely of a broken heart. Or so everyone thought. But an investigation into other deaths in Laval nursing homes that were more suspicious than those two led police to uncover what they say was an illegal service offering assisted suicide and euthanasia to families of people who were asking to die. A lot of people in this country are in favour of relaxing the laws regarding assisted suicide. I’m not, but that’s not really the point. The investigation into those nursing-home deaths discovered that in some cases, it was someone in the family who wanted the old person to die, and if that’s the case then we are not talking about assisted suicide but rather the cold-blooded killing of a defenceless relative. Some people will call it euthanasia, especially in cases where the person in question was in terrible pain, for instance; we call those mercy killings. But some cases, like the Toussignants, weren’t mercy killings. They were plain old murders. Or so the accusations say.
Jean-François Toussignant is entitled to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. He is not denying that he ordered his parents killed. But he is defending himself saying what he did was not murder in the sense that we normally use that word, that it was self-defence in the sense that he was finally reacting to decades of suffering at the hands of unloving parents.
My purpose here is not to say anything that could influence the jury in his case, not that I have that power anyway. Rather, my purpose in creating this page and writing this post is to express sympathy for what Toussignant has gone through.
I, too, have suffered for decades at the hands of unloving parents. No, I have not killed them – my father died of lung cancer 10 years ago but my mother is still alive, and kicking. Mostly she kicks me – not physically, of course; she can’t do that anymore. She used to; she’d kick and punch me and throw my head against the wall. She probably still thinks I deserved it. Nowadays she kicks me in the head emotionally every single chance she gets.
Have I ever been tempted to kill my parents, like Toussignant is accused of having done?
Yes. And not just once.
Why didn’t I do it, then? Honestly I don’t know. I guess I never worked up the nerve to do it. I suppose that makes sense; if writing about my suffering and resulting anger is the most difficult thing I’ve done, that probably means I am not strong enough to go ahead and actually kill someone. But whatever the case, here we are, me pouring my heart out on Facebook in partial defence of an accused murderer, against a mother who never loved me.
Now let me make something very clear: I do not condone violence. I am not saying it is OK to kill people who have wronged us, even when the wrong in question amounts to a criminal betrayal of a child’s innocence by dint of emotional violence. It is against the law to kill people, it is also against the rules of most religions, and there are reasons for that. Forgiveness is stronger than revenge, or so they say.
I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been tempted to forgive anything. Which probably has something to do with the fact that my parents never apologized for what they did to me. Judging by my mother’s behaviour to this day, they most likely never even realized they were doing anything wrong. For all I know they were mistreated and unloved by their own parents and simply mimicked that behaviour when I came along. Certainly my grandparents were no picnic. They were so old-fashioned they believed children ought to sit quietly in a corner and never be heard. Visiting them was no fun.
Could I forgive my parents? I don’t think so.
I am not really in touch very much with my mother anymore, but she’s in touch with me. She has no other children and her husband is dead so that means mine is the number she dials when she feels like dumping something on someone. Which is roughly twice a week.
Our conversations always work the same: I say hello, she says, “you’ll never guess…” followed by some complaint about something or someone or somewhere she’s been that wasn’t up to her standards. For my mother complains about everything. Seriously; I have sat here for an hour before starting to write, trying to remember a single instance of my mother being happy about something, or someone, anything, and I cannot recall a single case. Isn’t that amazing? To go through life being this unhappy about everything?
Not even my birth made her happy. How do I know? She told me, right to my face. Every year on my birthday, in fact, from as long ago as I can remember. “Oh, I remember this day,” she would say, “I was so excited to give birth to a son! I so knew he’d be handsome! He would be named Eric and he would be perfect. Everyone had said my belly looked like I was carrying a boy. Your father wanted a boy, too. They didn’t do ultrasounds much in those days so I never had it checked during my pregnancy, I just took it for granted that you were going to be a boy. I didn’t even have a just-in-case girl name ready. It wasn’t going to be necessary. You came out and they said, ‘It’s a girl!’ and I said, ‘No, wait, that’s a mistake! I’m having a boy!’, but no, there you were, a girl. The nurse asked what your name would be and I didn’t know. I looked around the room and saw the morning paper and on the front page there was a story about Martina Navratilova winning some big tennis tournament so I said, ‘Martina’. The nurse thought it was a beautiful name that suited you just fine. And of course your birth was very difficult. You got stuck sideways, you silly thing. I mean, not completely sideways, just your head was the wrong way. They have a name for this but I forget what it is. All I know is that I pushed and I pushed and I pushed and nothing worked. They finally had to rush me in the operating room and cut me open to free you, leaving me with a massively ugly scar. Was never able to wear a bikini again, thank you very much. And then I went into shock because you’d made me lose so much blood, and the doctors warned your father that I might have difficulty delivering other babies and it might be safer to tie up my tubes so he agreed to have the doctor do that while I was on the operating table with my guts open. Best decision he ever made. Anyway, that’s how I remember your birthday.”
Yeah, exactly. Happy birthday anyway, right?
I don’t want to go through too many details here. At some point I expect there will be a day of reckoning between my mother and I. Maybe this post will be what she needs to come to grips with her behaviour and how much wrong she has done me. But maybe not. It’s entirely possible this post, assuming she sees it (she’s not on Facebook), will only infuriate her. Because you see, nothing ever infuriated my mother more, when I was growing up, than the thought that her daughter was embarrassing her. And, well, I guess she might consider this post embarrassing.
Well, so be it.
I wrote this post and created this page to give a space to people who, like me, understand where Jean-François Toussignant is coming from. I want a space where the people who, like me, feel his pain can talk about their own experiences if they want to, and express sympathy for what Toussignant has gone through.
Please remember that nobody on this page will be allowed to condone murder. But I believe it is possible to express sympathy for the accused without doing that.
If you’ve read my post this far, thank you. It was difficult for me to write, but now that it’s done it feels like a giant weight that was oppressing me and making my chest heavy is gone. I hope there is a way to fix our broken hearts that is positive and healthy, and creating this page is my first step towards that goal.
She read and re-read her post a dozen times, fixing a typo here, fussing over punctuation there, making lots of little fidgety changes. Then she clicked publish and opened a bottle of wine.