President of Beechworth to Bridge Inc
I was first touched by suicide when I lost my Uncle (Dad’s brother) back in the 70’s. I was very young and really only remember that my Uncle had died - there was no explanation as to how or why.
In 1986 I lost my Dad to suicide. This time I was older, I was 6 weeks shy of my 18th birthday, I was very aware of the stigma surrounding my Dad’s death and I quickly realised that this thing called ‘suicide’ was not to be discussed or talked about.
From the age of 18, I allowed society to convince me that we didn’t talk about suicide - it became the elephant in the room. To a degree, it was as if I should be ashamed or embarrassed that my father had died by suicide.
I’ve spent 30 years feeling anxious about being asked “How did your Dad die?” because I just know that as soon as I say “He committed suicide”, or, “He took his own life”, – there it is; the deafening awkwardness, the loss of eye contact - people don’t know what to say.
It shouldn’t be like that.
I know that if I said my Dad died of cancer, heart-attack, or was eaten by a crocodile, the response would be very different.
In 2014, suicide hit me again when my husband Sean took his life. We’d been married 25 years, and this time it hit my children too. That’s when I made a decision that the stigma surrounding suicide needs to stop.
I refuse to let society suggest that my children should be ashamed or embarrassed by their father's death. I will not allow for them to be drawn into the elephant in the room the way that I was. My children will be allowed to remember their father for the wonderful Dad, role model, and husband that he was.
We should all be able to say his name, remember his quirky ways, or refer to him in any way without having to deal with others being uncomfortable with his death; with suicide.
All these years later it feels like nothing has changed, suicide is not a cowardly act, it is not someone taking the easy way out, it is not a choice. I know now that Sean did not wake up on the 25th March 2014 with a happy, healthy, rational mind and think, “Hey guys, I’m done, I’m outta here!”
He suffered (although we didn’t know at the time) from mental illness. Sean didn’t choose to die, his mind was sick – in his mind, it was the only thing to do.
So, what do I hope to achieve?
I would like for my children, your children, siblings and anyone else who has lost loved ones to suicide, to be able to talk about suicide and mental health without that deafening awkwardness and discomfort.
Going forward, I want to be able to reminisce with my kids, my grandkids; I want to be out to dinner and say “Oh, I remember when Sean said-, or Sean did-” without feeling the weight of the elephant in the room; trust me, it’s there.
Yes, I’ve been hurt and broken by losing my husband Sean to suicide, and through this pain I have also realised that I am strong. I’ve had to pick myself up, dust myself off, and move forward.
I feel an overwhelming need to build awareness and raise funds for suicide & mental health research, understanding, and prevention - an overwhelming need to let the elephant out of the room!