Last Christmas Gift To Mom Was Loving Song: His Suicide Prompted Her To Help Other Musicians With Mental Illnesses

My son, David, in happier times. Photo courtesy of Margaret Konopacki.

(12-24-21) Thank you Margaret Konopacki for sending me this email about your son and his enduring Christmas gift.

Dear Pete,

On New Year’s Eve December 24, 2016, my only child, David Martin, stood before our family Christmas tree with his guitar and announced that he had a very special gift for me, his mom.

He had a familiar twinkle in his eyes when he began singing “Maggie’s Song,” which he’d written about me. (Watch video below.)

Little did I know at that moment, this would be the last Christmas gift I would ever receive from my son. He ended his life on September 24, 2017 after just turning 30.

I believe he took his life due to the hopelessness that he felt. David was intelligent, kind, and gifted. But his mental illness convinced him that he was a failure who had let everybody down. I believe it was our mental health system that was a failure and let him down.

His death changed me. I refused to give up. To help others and keep my son’s memory alive, I created a non-profit called the Birdsong Foundation. It offers grants to Canadian musicians with mental illnesses and showcases their work. Our first album includes work by eleven Canadians and will be released in May 2022 along with a Canadian tour.

This Christmas I will think of of my son and listen to him sing “ Maggie’s Song.” I believe it is a tribute to all mothers and to motherhood. It shows the devotion and love of an adult child and his mother – perhaps the last person who still believed in him and who did not give up on him.

Along with my therapy dog named River – to remind me to “go with the flow” – I will ask myself what can I do to prevent other sons and daughters from dying, and I will tell David’s story.

Family Of Musicians: Hopelessness leads to suicide, often by the most gifted and sensitive people. 

David was raised with music as an everyday activity. Music was always part of my family; my father played classical violin and so did I as early as age seven. David’s dad, John Martin, was credited with “almost single-handily creating music television in Canada” before he died from cancer in 2006.  There was always a piano in our living room and David picked up the guitar at age five and never let it go.

He would travel with it and play music almost every day of his life. Playing music was always a cornerstone in our lives. Popular Canadian recording artist, Murray McLauchlan, was David’s godfather and many of our friends at the time were musicians and artists. Internationally renown singer, Gordon Lightfoot, gave David his own hand-made guitar which he was so proud of. That was our life– surrounded by Canadian music greats and participating in all things cultural and musical – until his illness surfaced.

The first signs were that David could not tolerate a regimented school schedule due to his ADHD and later, I discovered, his bipolar illness. He’d been expelled from four schools in Canada by age 14. In addition to his emerging mental illness, David began using drugs to help quiet his mind.

David would recover only to relapse.  

I became desperate watching my young son becoming sicker and sicker, and more addicted. I heard about a place in Ensenada, Mexico called “House of Hope” run by Don Lewis, a decorated military soldier who had a reputation for helping teens recover from substance abuse. I arranged for my son to be taken against his will from San Diego to Mexico. I believed with all of my heart if I didn’t force my son into recovery he would die.

I followed David, moving from Canada to Arizona so I could cross the border into Mexico and visit David every six weeks.  Under Lewis’s regiment my son stopped using drugs and got into incredible physical shape. David returned home and we moved to Wickenburg, where I home schooled David while he entered the Gatehouse Academy. I didn’t dare return with him to Toronto because David owed money to drug dealers.

My son was a new person. He preached the 12-step program and was a mentor and role model for others in recovery. David was 15 years old and the next four years were incredible. They would be the best years of my life. I taught yoga, meditation and art in recovery programs and establish a yoga studio called Evolve where I specialized in teaching activities to young people with dual diagnosis.

David decided to return to Canada when he turned 19, so we moved to Ottawa. Within a year, his mental illness took charge. None of the psychiatrists could tell us what was wrong. He was diagnosed as having schizo-affective disorder and then bipolar. He began cycling through emergency rooms – more times than I can remember. Arrests soon followed – for staring at passengers on a bus and running naked in public. He was pulled out of the Ottawa River after nearly drowning and cut up badly after dancing on broken glass.

I made friends with the local Ottawa police department to make certain he was safe as he moved from shelter-to-shelter through a winter. I flew to Vancouver to rescue him from dying on the streets and watched him detox from street drugs before taking him to the United States and enrolling him in yet another treatment center.

Along the way, I was urged to practice “tough love” to deal with his behavior. I no longer believe in “tough love” as a form of controlling other people. It simply created boundaries between us. The last decade of my life with David was no longer antagonistic, or a cat and mouse game to chase or force him to follow all rules and suggestions.

I had learned to let go by then. He was not a teen anymore but an adult and I respected him and his choices even if I did not understand them. I learned to — live and let live – and to allow my son’s creator to determine how his life-story would unfold. I know in my heart I did what I could and I could not do more.

Call From The Police – Music Lives On

I’ve never recovered from the shock of that phone call from the police department, telling me that my son‘s last breath was alone on the railroad tracks. In so many ways the healthcare system in Canada and the lack of available facilities — the long wait times, and callous frontline workers, even ignorance shown by his friends and family members, combined with self-medication and an unsupervised monthly injection for his psychotic behavior – eventually convinced him that staying alive was unbearable. He came to believe that having no prospects for a better future was too much. In his note that he left, he wrote that he was so disappointed in disappointing people. He ended it writing: “See you on the flipside.”

What David loved to do more than anything in life was to compose and perform music but his efforts to be published and to perform were limited due to his low self-esteem and the fact that music grant funding in Canada for new music was not easy to obtain even though his parents were both involved in the music industry. After David died, I took his unrecorded music to a friend and spent many months creating the only album that David left behind. Today when I feel sad, I listen to David singing and he lifts my spirits. His songs comfort me and keep me going.



Rock me, rock me to sleep,

The sound of your voice makes my heart skip a beat,!

To the depths I will go with the warmth of your touch,!

Maggie you loved me that much,

Softly, I drift away,

Your voice in my head at the end of the day,

And I’m not alone with three words that you say,!

Cause’ Maggie you loved me that way,

Cause’ Maggie you loved me that way,

You showed me the world,

Taught me to speak, always listening first,

Your strength made me see,

And taught me what a man really means,

Rock me, rock me to sleep,

Your faith didn’t end with me turning eighteen

It travelled with me when I left the house,

Cause’ Maggie that’s what love’s all about,

Maggie that’s what love’s all about.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Margaret Konopacki worked in the Canadian music, TV & film industry before switching her career into the health & wellness field.  She  opened yoga studios in the Sonoran Desert in Wickenburg AZ, and in Ottawa Canada. Her Evolve Yoga Studio in Wickenburg operated for 10 years  as part of a mandatory curriculum for “youth at risk” in the local private recovery centers. She is a graduate from Carleton University (journalism/political science) and a film & TV college graduate from Loyalist College in Belleville ON. She has worked with the Chum Group, CTV Television Network, CBC, Alliance Entertainment. In 2002 Margaret produced and directed her own series  “Adolescence: The Stormy Decade” inspired by her personal experience of dealing with “substance use disorder” in her family.(For Canadian Learning Television Network /Vision TV in 2003.) Margaret has turned her bereavement- into-action by establishing BIRDSONG New Music Foundation – a new registered Canadian Charity — dedicated to improving the lives of unpublished musicians struggling with mental illness in Canada. She hopes to bring the charity to the United States and is looking for partnerships.




About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.