A high-profile Penticton man whose life tragically ended on the weekend is a stark reminder of the need for dialogue on mental illness, according to organizers of an upcoming memorial event.
Amanda Lysohirka and her husband, Chad, are organizing the Mental Health Burger and Ball for Jeremy, Mare and Thomas, after Jeremy McGoran, a former radio personality and mental health awareness advocate, was found dead on Friday after going missing earlier that day.
“As most people know Jeremy and Mare, they’ve always been very supportive and pushing the mental health awareness,” Amanda said, noting that McGoran played on her and Chad’s slopitch baseball team.
“We talked with him a bit about mental health, and how it affected me and how we’ve kind of had a common ground.”
Over the years McGoran had been an advocate to bring awareness to mental health issues through the local Ride Don’t Hide event, which is scheduled for June 25 in Penticton. In April, McGoran told the Penticton Western News the more he learned about mental illness the more he wanted to share his own story to show others you don’t have to suffer in silence and to help reduce the stigma associated with it.
While Amanda had that common ground with McGoran, he and Chad had their own shared interests: sports.
“He understood a lot of references, especially from 1990s baseball, that I was probably the only person possibly in Penticton, even British Columbia that would understand what he was saying,” Chad said.
“Every chance we had to talk or hang out or laugh in the dug out, we would. But he was full of obscure references, I think I might have been the only one in the league, for sure, that knew what he was talking about.”
At a Monday evening slopitch game, the team’s first since McGoran passed, those two interests intersected, with Amanda suggesting the team wear green ribbons, the symbol for mental health awareness. That idea, Amanda said, took off with the team, who all wore the green ribbons through the game.
From there, the team wanted to do more to commemorate McGoran and the issue of mental health awareness.
“I thought, well, maybe it’s a good time to bring up doing some sort of fundraiser. And, so, I brought it up, and sure enough, again, it just hit off,” she said.
“Everyone started throwing ideas, you know, let’s do burgers, and let’s see what we can do for donations, and we’ll play our game, and everyone can watch. Everyone is willing to help in every way possible.”
Since conception, Amanda says the idea has blown up, and continued to expand, with more and more people looking to get involved.
“We started last night at about 9 p.m., and it has just taken off. The one thing that we’re still working on is making sure we have food for everyone,” she said. “My husband has come up with this wicked idea for doing a hockey card game, and Jeremy was just a huge fan of hockey cards.”
This year was McGoran’s first playing with the team, and Amanda said he had been a strong player, who helped keep the team feeling positive.
“He was just an all-star out in the field, he was able to catch everything, he’d rip his pants every chance he’d get sliding into bases,” she said. “He was always a smiling, happy guy. Always kept the team spirit up.”
Chad developed a friendship with McGoran through the slopitch team, and the two bonded over obscure sports trivia from decades ago.
Chad said he’d been at McGoran’s house only two days prior to his death, noting that McGoran had been telling him stories — something he was particularly good at.
“It was very hard to see how fast 48 hours can go. It was terrible. It was horrible, it was not fun. He was quite easy to get a hold of on Facebook, and then suddenly he just kind of stopped going online, and that’s when you kind of got the vibe that something wasn’t right,” he said.
“We had plans to watch the hockey game together the following day, and it was a little bit unsettling watching the game at home versus at his house, or with his family. It was certainly a different feeling.”
South Okanagan Similkameen Mental Wellness Society president Sharon Evans said some key questions often come up after a suicide.
“What did I miss, what could I have done differently, why didn’t we understand that this person was at that point?” Evans said. “Sometimes they reach the point where they don’t even have the words left to tell you. Or they’ve made up their mind, and they’re just waiting for you not to be there.”
For Evans, the key point, now, is to remind people who suffer from mental illness, and those with family members with mental illness, is that help is available.
“What people need, family members need to have education and support so that they can help the person, and more importantly help themselves to understand what the person is experiencing,” Evans said, noting that the Mental Wellness Society has programming for that.
Evans also points to programming in place for peer support, which includes one-on-one work and peer groups, for those with experience dealing with mental illness to help others.
But foremost, Evans says those who suffer from mental illness need to go to their family doctor.
“And don’t believe that it’s going to go away,” Evans said. “We’re in the process of reminding all the doctors of our existence and that we’re available to the best of our collective abilities to reach out to people. And nobody gets turned down.”
A memorial service will take place for the public at the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre before the fundraiser on June 19. The memorial service starts at 2 p.m. The Mental Health Burger and Ball game will start at 8 p.m., also on June 19, at Lion’s Park, with barbecued burgers and refreshments to be served by donation starting at 6 p.m.
Proceeds from the event will be going toward McGoran’s wife, Mare, and their six-year-old son, Thomas.