Canadian philanthropist opens up about losing both sons to suicide — Part 1 of 3

Part 1 of 3: Canadian Philanthropist Tom Budd opens up finding purpose after tragedy
WARNING: Some viewers may find the discussion of suicide disturbing. Viewer discretion advised. WATCH: Tom Budd, who lost both his sons to suicide, talks candidly about his journey and mission of helping others.

A few years ago, successful investment banker Tom Budd was on top of the world.

Known as a generous philanthropist around the Okanagan, Budd donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to various charities through his foundation.

“That would have been the happiest period of my life. I’d been through a divorce for five or six years, had retired, done a lot of work on myself, been to parenting courses, communication courses, relationship courses,” Budd said. “I spent a lot of time with my kids when it was my time with them, and we had a lot of fun.”

Budd had two sons, who were living with their mother in Calgary after the separation.

Dillion, the youngest son, came to live with Budd in November 2014.

“I only really had him for seven months. And it was incredible. We were inseparable. He was happy,” Budd said. “He was in counselling for some emotional issues he had from being separated from his mom, but they said he was fine. They said he wasn’t suicidal. And he showed no signs of that.”

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And then a parent’s worst nightmare: Dillion took his life at the young age of 13.

“The night that I discovered that Dillon had killed himself, it was like a lightning bolt going through my body,” Budd said.

It was then that I realized that he had broken up with a girlfriend that he had only for two weeks.”

Budd added that it was clear to him that there were other mental health issues and emotional challenges at play with Dillon and that his son’s personality was quite impulsive.

“It’s clear that when there’s a suicide in the family, the risk goes up for other members, including me, including my ex-wife. And so I knew Payton would be a risk,” Budd said. “And I tried to get Payton into counselling, but he was living with his mom. He didn’t get counselling.”

Payton was 16 when his brother died by suicide.

Budd says Payton didn’t talk about the incident. In fact, according to Budd, Payton didn’t even tell people that he had a brother when he moved away to attend university.

“I had concerns and I had people watching him. I checked in with him, but he seemed OK, except that then he started losing weight and he started not going out as much,” Budd said.

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“I talked to him about it, and he said he was fine and, unfortunately, in hindsight, I was right. I found his diary. He had been depressed.”

Budd shares that Payton’s diary, which was discovered after Payton took his own life at the age of 18, was filled with thoughts of suicide.

“He had called the suicide hotline at the University of Victoria. He wrote in papers about his brother that no one told me about, that his teachers didn’t tell me about. Those are all clear signs that someone is challenged, confused,” Budd said, full of emotion.

And then he took his own life.

Surviving the death of not just one child but two seems unimaginable. For Budd, it sent him into a pit of darkness.

“To be as happy as can be and think you’re going to watch a TV show with your son, and you can’t find him in the house and you go looking for him and find him lying dead is unbelievable,” Budd said tearfully.

“To then worry about your second son and know he’s at risk and to have him call you up and say: ‘Dad, how long are you going to be?’ — which is what your first son said to you at one point, also when I was out of the house. I knew I had a problem right then.”

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Budd remembers racing home that night in a panic over his oldest son’s mental state.

“I spent 30 minutes looking for him,” Budd said. “When I found him with my brother-in-law, I just sank. I thought I was in a nightmare, a bad dream.”

The period that followed Payton’s death was a blur for Budd.

“I was probably numb for three or four months. I don’t even remember it,” Budd remembered. “I just remember knowing I didn’t care if I lived and I didn’t care if I died. I really didn’t.

“I wasn’t suicidal. I just looked up and said, ‘God, what are you going to give me next to overcome?’ I was scraping to hang onto my life.”

That was about a year and a half ago — the darkest period of Budd’s life.

But sometimes there is no stopping a person’s will to overcome tragedy and find the light again.

And that journey of survival is the focus of our next segment in the story of Tom Budd.

Where to get help

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

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The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.