After the pain of my brother’s suicide, I fell in love with the silence that came with freediving –

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Canada·First Person

Noah Deszca discovered freediving shortly after his brother died by suicide in 2012 and fell in love with the silence it brought to his mind.

On the surface, I feel the void left behind by my brother. In the depths below, it’s just me and my breath

Noah Deszca · for CBC First Person


A person in a wetsuit freediving below large chunks of ice.

Noah Deszca discovered freediving shortly after his brother died in 2012 and fell in love with the silence it brought to his mind. (Noah Deszca)

This First Person column is by Noah Deszca, who lives in Whitby, Ont. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

The dawn light shimmered across the snow-covered fields of the Bruce Peninsula in southern Ontario. The drive was quiet except for my inner dialogue: a routine rumbling of future uncertainties and second guesses. “Did I pay enough off that credit card? Have I booked that dental appointment? Why did I say that awkward thing at the grocery store? What was the last conversation I had with my brother about? Am I terrible for not remembering?”

I fought my way out of the noise long enough to take a deep, slow breath through my nose. I let the air rest in my lungs for a moment. With each kilometre, I knew I was getting closer to a frigid Georgian Bay and closer to the silence I needed.

I was en route to Dunks Bay to meet my friend Andrew Ryzebol. Andrew, who is a fellow freediver, called me frantically the night before, urging me to drop everything and make the four-hour drive from my home in Whitby as soon as possible. A rare phenomenon was blowing into Tobermory across the expansive Georgian Bay: Great Lakes icebergs. 

A man in a wetsuit walks on an icy shore of a blue lake.

Andrew Ryzebol prepares to freedive in Georgian Bay. (Noah Deszca)

The incoming ice fragments presented a unique freediving opportunity. At its essence, freediving is the act of holding your breath and descending beneath the water’s surface. Imagine scuba diving but without the scuba stuff. 

I discovered it in 2013 after my brother’s suicide the previous year. 

He was three years my junior and we were exceptionally close. Together, we chartered our way through our parents’ divorce and a mutual inability to remain trouble-free within our small-town Ontario upbringing. When he moved to Montreal to attend university, rarely a week passed without a call about some new band he had discovered or an untitled email with cute cat images. We were skilled at silently saying “I love you.” He left behind no ripples of clues or explanations about why he ended his life; no letters, nothing. I was devastated. 

I was out of the country when he died. At the time, I had just started my career as a teacher in Togo. His void and my guilt and fear for not being there when he needed me drowned out all my other feelings.

Two smiling men stand next to each other. They’re wearing snowshoes and in a wintry forest.

Noah Deszca, right, with his brother, Josh Deszca, snowshoeing in Westmeath, Ont., two months before Josh’s death in 2012. (Submitted by Noah Deszca)

Following a year of intense internal struggle, I took a teaching job at the community high school on Saba, a small Caribbean island near St. Maarten. I was seeking calmness and the ocean became my sanctuary. I spent countless hours snorkelling over tropical reefs teeming with life and colour. 

I completed my scuba certification but found myself quickly leaving the heavy gear behind. Under the guidance of some experienced local divers, I was soon holding my breath for up to a minute at a time and descending deeper into the calmness of the water, lost within the stillness.

There’s a meditative quality in the commitment to diving on a breath-hold. The water demands everything, all my energy and focus. I have to be present. I take a final deep breath at the surface and, for an instant, I let go of everything.

Some days, I long to fill the emptiness my brother left behind with words that were left unspoken, with the faces of my children he never met, with the joyful resonance of every family milestone that he’s missed in the last 12 years. 

Some days, I want to desperately scream into his ear how much I love him and how hurt I still am. But those sounds never escape. They remain just at the surface.        

Upon returning to Ontario, I discovered a small, dedicated group of freedivers who swim in the Georgian Bay year-round. I quickly fell in love with the Georgian’s crystal visibility, massive rock formations and historic shipwrecks resting quietly below the surface. 

Bound by the cold water, we shared a connection as freedivers. In an unspoken acknowledgement, I felt we were seeking silence together.      

A diver stands on top of a round iceberg.

On the surface, Deszca finds it hard to live with the guilt he feels over his brother’s death. In the depths below, he can quiet his mind. (Noah Deszca)

When I met Andrew at Dunks Bay on that icy morning in March 2023, he expertly navigated an icy path towards the open water. 

Following him, I felt an awkward bobbing with each step. Below my feet were individual chunks of ice fused together. They were not technically icebergs, but formations of broken shelf ice, sometimes the size of cars.

The conditions required to create these Great Lakes icebergs are extremely precise and years can pass without them blowing into the Tobermory shoreline. At its edge, we donned our wetsuits, fins and masks and quietly slipped into the open water.    

There’s a deceptive simplicity to freediving. It’s just you, your breath and the water. In the depth, however, is absolute mental focus. To dive under the ice, you have to let go of everything. There is zero margin for error and no space for anything else. With the brief few minutes of each dive, you learn to silence yourself in an incredibly stressful environment. 

Five metres under the surface, I watched Andrew effortlessly glide beneath the massive ice bodies. Touching them, I felt the coarse edges of the ice through my gloves. My exposed face was fully numb as the winter water slowly seeped through my wetsuit and into every pore of my body. 

WATCH | Experience what Noah Deszca saw ice diving under Georgian Bay:  

Ice freediving in the Georgian Bay

After his brother’s suicide, Noah Deszca took up freediving and fell in love with the silence it brought to his mind.

In this seemingly inhospitable space, there were no reminders of credit cards, dental appointments, awkward social moments or final conversations. In the depth, I sank into my mind and found a reverberating silence.         

The ice began a quick retreat as a shifting afternoon wind began dislodging the icebergs, pushing them back out towards the expansive Georgian Bay. Three hours in the water passed in a seeming instant. As I watched the vast ice formations floating back out towards the horizon, I heard my breath — nothing more and nothing less. 

With the final ice disappearing and my body constricted from the cold, it was time for my final dive. I took several deep, deliberate breaths and focused on slowly letting go. On the surface, I left everything for safekeeping. Some of it blew away across the open water. 

But down below, with lungs full of cold winter air, I descended one final time to glimpse inward. 

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Noah Deszca is a freediver and high school teacher based in Whitby, Ont.

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