Hewan Wondiyfraw describes her late uncle, Henok Belete, as a kind, quiet man who was very close to God.
When the police came to her door around midnight on Dec. 1 to notify her family of his death, she says her mother was so shocked she couldn’t even cry.
Belete, 37, had a history of depression and schizophrenia, Wondiyfraw said, and he died after being hit by a GO train at Guildwood Station.
The family says it was a suicide — one that has taken them by surprise.
“I had just seen him for Thanksgiving,” said Wondiyfraw, “he seemed totally fine.”
As per Ethiopian tradition, the family would like to bury him in his home country, close to his immediate family. Since the death was so sudden, they are having trouble raising enough money for the funeral, and have started a GoFundMe campaign.
In Ethiopian culture, it’s important that the deceased’s community and distant relatives be involved in the bereavement rituals. Unfortunately, this makes funerals extremely expensive for families abroad because of the cost of flying the body there and flights for relatives.
The family wants to bring Belete to Ethiopia in early January, and hopes to raise $15,000 before then.
Belete moved to Canada from Ethiopia in 2005. Back home, he was a happy bank teller, said Wondiyfraw, but began to show symptoms of mental illness after he immigrated.
“When he moved to Canada, he encountered a new world,” says Wondiyfraw.
Belete found work in a factory, but it is unknown whether he was still employed at the time of his death. He was unmarried and had no children, and Wondiyfraw’s family were his closest relations in Canada.
He had been to therapy a few times, and had been prescribed medication, but didn’t like to take it, Wondiyfraw said.
Despite the family tragedy, Wondiyfraw is glad that the TTC and Metrolinx have recently started acknowledging that suicides occur on their tracks.
She says that while people regularly hear about an injury at track level, or that someone has been struck by a train, they aren’t as affected because the technical language dehumanizes the situation.
“You can tell they’re (the commuters) are annoyed. They’re worried about their commute. They don’t understand that a life is gone.”
Wondiyfraw thinks that being honest about death on the tracks will make people more sympathetic toward the victims and help destigmatize mental illness and suicide.
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