There are days in journalism when the news hits too close to home.
A short time later, police thanked the public for their help. Shane Magee, a 42-year-old man with a strong Irish accent and a limp, had been located.
What they didn’t say was that he had been found dead, a victim of suicide.
“I have spent time pouring through old journals trying to piece it together,” Julia says during a run on Harbour Passage in Saint John one brisk, cool morning before we both set off to cover city council.
“But I finally came to the conclusion – and I probably came to it while running – that trying to fathom the thought process of someone who’s that mentally ill is an impossible task. You’re never going to be able to put the dots together. It’s not rational.”
What is rational, though, is talking about it – something us journalists are not so good at doing, especially when it comes to suicide, a topic that traditional media outlets do not cover for fear of copy-cats.
Julia, though, is different. She wants people to know it’s OK to ask her about Shane’s death. Discussion and awareness is the only way we might prevent mental illness from taking someone else, she says.
“If his mental health could deteriorate to that level, it could happen to anyone,” she says. “So I think it’s really important to talk about it, as hard and awkward as it is. It’s awkward for me too.”
Julia strikes me a woman who has the emotional strength of an iron horse. And it’s true that with the support of friends and family, she continues to manage her grief and loss.
But she has another way to lift her spirits: running.
Julia, who is 27 and grew up in Saint John, has always tried to stay active, but from the time she was 15 or 16, she smoked. She knew Shane’s death presented a time to change – a time to quit smoking and get healthy.
Smoking taps into your pleasure receptors, giving your brain a sense of “faux reward,” she says. “And running is actually a great way to take the place of that because it’s the same positive rush of endorphins, without the lung cancer.”
So when she’s sad, Julia runs. She breaks out of her uptown apartment, away from her cat named David Goss after the local historian, and she breathes the sea air. She doesn’t listen to music. She listens to her breath and gets to that zen place.
She thinks about Shane. She gets angry with him. And she grieves.
And less than a month after his death, Julia ran her first race – the five-miler at the Marathon by the Sea, in 50:16
She blew away her goal of getting in under an hour, and it might be safe to say she was hooked. She ran another 5-miler in Hampton a few weeks later. Now she has her sights set on a half-marathon.
“I just want to be able to live my life as healthily and happily for as long as possible,” she says, before we jog up the Reversing Falls hill, across Douglas Avenue and back Main Street to the uptown.
For Julia, who also publishes a zine, Hard Times in the Maritimes, part of that health comes from acknowledging what happened.
“We should be able to remember him like we remember anyone who died rather than let his memory fade,” she says.
“I feel it would be a disservice to him and to others who have gone through this to pretend it didn’t happen.”
To a girl whose legs, lungs and heart are so strong, I salute you.