Family remembers man who died at AFN

Anthony Choquette’s brother-in-law said the family did everything they could to help him before he died by suicide last month at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage.

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Anthony Choquette. (Courtesy of Roger Holmberg)
Anthony Choquette. (Courtesy of Roger Holmberg)

Roger Holmberg said he and his wife first learned about last month’s suicide at the Dena’ina Center while watching TV. He said no one called him or the family to tell them it was Anthony Choquette.

“When we heard the news that someone had committed suicide at the AFN, immediately you think, ‘That’s tragic in a meeting like that.’” Holmberg said later that evening they learned through the news who it was. “It was like a spear went through me and I was numb.”

Other family members — many still live in Sand Point where Choquette is from — spoke highly of him on Facebook posts of news stories and in private messages, but wouldn’t say anything on the record. Holmberg was asked to speak on behalf of the family.

He wouldn’t say what kind of problems Choquette was facing, just that he and the family had done everything they could to help but he “walked away from it.” They’d gotten him into housing, but he left it and eventually ended up at the Brother Francis Shelter in downtown Anchorage.

“We still continued to try to work with him,” Holmberg said. “The response was not good.”

Friends who were near Choquette before he jumped said he wasn’t acting normal that day. Everything happened so fast, Holmberg said, that no one was able to stop him, though they tried.

“He was facing some major things in his life. When people reach the bottom, they’re desperate. There’s signals people send that we’re not sensitive enough to see sometimes,” he said.

The family came together and grieved. Holmberg got to thinking. There had to be something he could do.

“It’s the most traumatic because it’s so sudden, and it’s not normal,” he said. “You’re left with ‘What happened? Why did it happen? What was going through the person’s mind?’ We can’t answer those questions.”

As an Evangelist pastor, singer and songwriter, Holmberg travels frequently to places such as Guatemala and Haiti. He’d just returned from Honduras the morning of his brother-in-law’s death.

A few years ago, Holmberg said he had an idea to bring together members of the faith community to offer support to either those thinking about suicide or the family and friends who are ultimately left behind. He saw that while suicide prevention organizations were doing as much as they could, the spiritual aspect of suicide wasn’t addressed very much, and he wanted to change that.

But the idea fell by the wayside as his travels claimed more and more of his time.

After Choquette’s death, he decided to finally act and about a week later he met with a group of pastors and suicide prevention workers in Anchorage. He’s still looking to connect with people interested in the effort.

careline“It’s comforting to know that people care, but it can’t be a one-time thing,” Holmberg said.

Life is short, he said, and often our priorities are not what they should be. His priority today is to find a way to help families cope with the sudden loss of a loved one to suicide, and to offer spiritual guidance to those who may be considering it.

“You’ve got to have a priority list. People are important. You can go broke, but people are still important. Friends and relatives, you can’t replace them,” he said.

If Holmberg could turn back the clock and say anything to his brother, it would be this:

“I’d say, ‘Life is valuable, and when you lose that in life you’re walking on dangerous ground. We are connected together and anything like that would impact those who are left behind in a very, very, very bad way.’ I would say, ‘We need you to seek professional help.’”

Contact Roger Holmberg at rhea@gci.net.

There are people to talk to if you or someone you know is thinking about suicide. The Alaska Careline can be reached at 877-266-HELP; you can also text 907-2LISTEN.

SEARHC also has a help line for residents of Southeast Alaska at 877-294-0074.