There are seminal moments in life, and when one occurs life is defined by them. What life was before that moment, what life was after that moment.
My son’s suicide on 20/3/2012 was my defining, seminal moment.
That fateful day forever changed my world, my life, the lives of all those around me. Everything was irrevocably changed and there was a clear line drawn in the sands of time.
My journey of survival had begun. I had become a different person on this road of grief and mourning – I became a bereaved parent. And I will never be the same person again. I am broken, as is my heart. But in the midst of my brokenness, I have found help, comfort and new purpose.
The first few months after my son’s passing went by in a blur, as I was numbed and shocked by the unrelenting tides of grief. Sinking into depression and post-traumatic stress brought on by the horror reel of images from the coroner’s office, morgue, funeral and visiting his place of death. It all took a terrible toll.
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I felt like I was losing everything. My son, my family, my sanity, my sense of security – the ground beneath my feet was shifting. My family could not deal with the loss, they put their grief into the ‘too hard box’ on the shelf. They could not deal with me, my grief and mental health. They withdrew from me. I felt there was no-one to support and care for me.
The world around me was different too. People acted and treated me differently. They judged his death, not forgiving or understanding of his suicide. The taboos and stigma in society were alienating me. I saw the world and people differently too. I lost my joy. Seeing happiness around me, music and laughter, made me cringe away. How could the world go on turning normally as if nothing had happened? I was lost.
A month after the funeral my oldest son suggested I find a purpose, something to go on with. And that resonated with me. I had to do something for my son. I had to find something positive to come out of his tragedy. I couldn’t leave it at that, his death should not define him. He was more than that, a very caring soul who helped others always. And that was something I could do too – I could help and save others.
There is a poem I read that carried this thought to me.
“I will be your legacy, I will be your voice, you will live on in me, so I have made the choice, to honour your life by living again, I love you, I miss you, I will see you again.”
From here, I began my volunteering and fundraising with Beyondblue, Black Dog Institute and Lifeline, speaking out to raise awareness in society and organising mental health presentations at high schools. This was a very important step along my journey. By helping others, I was making a difference, I was helping to save lives. I was working to fulfill my son’s legacy and helping in my own recovery. It was all positive and it gave me a purpose. A goal in life, a reason to get up in the morning.
I would call up schools in my local area and offer free mental health presentations. It was hard work. There were failures and disappointments, but successes too. Students would come up to me and ask for help, realising their need after my talk. The schools were grateful too and eventually the word spread. Suddenly I was very busy and stressed. I was doing everything I could to help others, but I was ignoring my own needs.
I would come home physically and mentally exhausted. And that too took a toll. My emotional state was fragile. I was sick and run down and my personal life was spiraling out of control. I was suicidal. I needed help. But, I put up my hand and asked for it. Another important step on my journey.
I spoke to my GP and she drew up a mental health plan and arranged for 13 free visits to a local psychologist who I stayed with for a year. I also joined the compassionate friends support group for bereaved parents, started counselling at Calvary clinic and started taking medication too. This all offered hope and guidance and ended up saving my life.
“I am a work in progress, but I know I am progressing. I have found joy in my life again, and beauty in the world around me.”
My family is coming back to me too and my relationships with them have improved. I am still actively involved in events that raise awareness of suicide and mental health. I go on marches, do interviews with papers, on-line forums, petitions, presentations. Anything to break the taboos and remove the stigma.
I am still on my journey, and I will be to the end. I will never lose that pain and grief, I will carry it with me always. But I don’t let it define or consume me anymore. I will learn to live with it and not let it overshadow my happier times.
What have I learned? Have compassion for yourself. Mental illness is hard on you emotionally, and physically too. Reach out when you need to. Seek help when you need it. You are not alone. There is so much help out there. Surround yourself with people who give you love and understanding and wrap yourself up in their care. It’s okay not to be okay.