I was recently invited to be part of the New Farm Neighbourhood’s event “Politics in the Pub” where they tackle “tough issues” every quarter through presentations and then open discussion and Q&A time. This month they wished to talk about suicide, and so last night, alongside my friends and colleagues, Jacinta Hawgood of AISRAP, Jorgen Gullenstrup of Mates in Construction, and Justin Geange of the Suicide Prevention Lived Experience Speakers Bureau, we shared our insights, lived experience and views. A fabulous initiative of this very passionate and caring community group.
A number of people approached me afterwards and ask that I publish my speech, so here it is . . .
Today I attended the funeral of a young man of just 30years, who took his own life last week. Another young life lost, another family thrown into a world of pain. His death brought to surface for me the intense feelings of loss and, helplessness and, as illogical as it is, failure.
Suicide is like a tsunami – often appearing supposedly out of nowhere, other times with some warning – either way it leaves a devastating path of destruction in its wake that continues to be felt for years and indeed through generations.
Just days after my brother’s suicide a friend phoned. I don‘t recall saying much, and yet I remember what she said to me. “I can hear your soul crying” . . . in 6 little words my friend acknowledged the depth of my pain without trying to convince me I would be okay. She simply allowed me to sit in that place, knowing that there were no words, and for that I will always be thankful. To this day, those words still bring tears to my eyes, because they still ring true.
On the odd occasion that I visited my grandparents graves over the years, I would always find myself looking at the plaques nearby and wondering what the people were like. I would notice how old they were. Often there was nothing more than a name and some dates, and so we were left to wonder.
My brother’s grave is not like this. I’d like to share with you a very personal part of our story and give you a glimpse into what the effects of suicide look like – for my family.
He came into our lives as a speeding comet in the sky
Radiating waves of brilliant light
Every moment we had with him was made special by his
Intensity and illluminance washing over us
He has taken his brilliant light out of our vision to find
His peace, more friends and adventures in another place
We who are left behind with just sun light will forever miss
his very special illumination
These are the words of a father. Penned with such painstaking focus – the words had to be perfect. Penned at a time when breathing itself was an effort. Penned at a time when he grieved the loss of his son, who ended his own life.
These words adorn the plaque at my brothers grave, and among other things, it tells a story, some of which can be gleaned when reading it, others are known only to us . . .
There are three generations represented on his plaque.
It speaks of my brother, my parents, my family and it speaks of me
It speaks of my brother through the robustness and pride of its design,through the nickname “Fish” given to him at school and fondly carried on throughout life by his extensive circle of friends, peers and indeed his superiors.. The RAAF insignia tell of a man who lived his dream, his passion for flying – the youngest post war fighter pilot in Australia and later international commercial pilot. He was intelligent, generous, respected, fun, loving and very loved. It speaks of a magnificent man – and his name is Mark.
It speaks of my parents –
My fathers beautiful words, his internalisation of his loss, and yet at the same time his capacity to reach out with comfort and wise words of acceptance and love. His early onset of dementia I believe the result of the acute stress we lived with for a number of years prior to my brothers death and throughout the years following.
My mothers unfaltering loyalty and traditional sense of duty that she alone has the strength to visit his grave weekly. Something I am eternally grateful for.
It speaks of my family –
Of the day we took our two young children, just 3 and 5, and placed Roses in the Ocean, for them to say goodbye and for us to find a way where we could explain that when you felt upset and turbulent like the waves crashing on the rocks you had to reach out for help, and reach out to others when they felt that way.
It speaks of my children, one of whom has seen his grave, one who doesn’t wish to. They grew up with a mum living on the edge trying to keep her brother alive and then watched and held me as I grieved, and watch me now as I try to save other lives. They are ever watchful and I worry about the impact suicide has had on them.
It speaks of my husband who does not visit this plaque preferring to honour his brother in law with his memories and by supporting the family he left behind, and his wife who is not the same person he married.
It speaks of me –
I am represented on this plaque by the date of my brothers death. It is a date shared with my birthday. A date forever changed. A date where guilt lingers despite all logical and rational thought. Linked in life with an impenetrable bond, linked in death by a date and a heart that holds him just one beat away.
It also speaks of hope –
Roses in the Ocean – a silver lining deliberately and passionately created from a situation that did not provide one. We strive to change the way suicide is spoken about, understood and prevented by reaching out into communities, and giving voice to the lived experience of suicide.
We lose 7 people a day in Australia to suicide. The numbers are staggering and a tragedy. Seven (7) families every day whose lives are shattered just as ours was.
To this day, I still can’t believe that Mark is gone. It’s been 7 years and it seems like yesterday and forever at the same time. I still get blindsided by moments of intense grief at times. I do what I do now because we know that suicide is mostly preventable, and we need to speak openly about it
I want to leave you with 3 insights to take away and 3 things I want you to do:
1. Suicide is an option, but it is never the only option, nor the best option.
2. Suicide grief is not the same – it is intermingled and tainted and fuelled by unanswerable questions, guilt, and the mourning of lives lost well before their time and taken in often traumatic circumstances.
3. Suicide is not something you get over, but you can learn to live with it
By being here tonight you are already putting your hand up to take action against suicide:
As community there are simple things you can do to protect yourselves and those around you:
Take your personal well-being seriously – suicide does not discriminate and you never know when life is going to throw you a curve ball. Take the time to find your purpose, and develop your sense of identity – build your resilience before you need it.
Take notice of the people around you and have the courage to ask them directly “Are you thinking of suicide”. Be prepared for them to answer “yes” and be ready to listen without judgement.
Take the time to know where you can access help in your local area, and if you find yourself needing help, put your hand up and ask for it.
The tsunami of suicide is far reaching and whilst it is often not initially visible on the surface, it is a strong, devastating undercurrent that has life long compounding effects on our families, our communities and future generations.
Be vigilant, be resourceful and be accepting.