The 21st December, 2004 started out like any other. Back in my home country Australia, I was renting my own little 1 bedroom flat and had been living by myself for about a year and loved my independence and dream of not having any housemates.
These were my non commuting days, I was able to drive from my place in Dulwich Hill, Sydney to Double Bay a good 30 – 40 minute drive depending on traffic. Looking back it was ideal also for heading home to visit the family, about 40 mins the opposite direction.
I was working as a sales and marketing coordinator for a Hotel group in their Sales office, I’d been there over 2 years and really enjoyed the job and the people I worked with.
My social life was filled with good friends and the usual nights out that I couldn’t remember, but without the facebook photos the next day to worry about
I was 26 years old. I had little to complain about, life was good.
Christmas was just around the corner, as always I would head down to Mum and Dads as soon as I got away from work on the 23rd and stay till I had to go back to work the following week. I love tradition and I loved that our Christmas was always very much the same, good company, good food, lots of drink and a chance to reconnect with my brothers who I didn’t see as often.
However by the end of that day, life wasn’t good. At the end of this day, my perfect little life changed
The 21st December 2004 was the day I lost my Dad.
He was just 49
I will never ever forget the call I took from Mum that morning. I recognised the number and I smiled, I thought at the same time that’s strange mum should be in work but it was the home number.
I’ve never been hit in the head unexpectantly but I imagine this is what it feels like. I hung up the phone and tried to process what I’d been told. Everyone carried on working around me, they no idea, I’d not raised my voice or hinted that I was distressed. I grabbed my phone and I said I was going to get a coffee. I got outside and called Mum back. I sat on a bench and learnt that Mum was now a widow, I only had one parent and life was never going to be the same.
I went back into the office and took my manager aside and I think I said, “something is wrong at home, I need to go, I need to go now”.
The drive home in the middle of the day was horrible, It was mid summer so it was boiling, the traffic was a nightmare but I couldn’t think of anything else but getting to mum and my brothers. There was still a part of me that hoped this was all a bad dream and I’d arrive and Dad would be there but it wasn’t a dream, it was the harsh reality I faced.
I arrived home and learnt the horrible truth not only was dad no longer with us but he died by Suicide. What, No, Huh, Say that again. Yes suicide.
Even writing that it’s weird, I barely even knew what suicide was let alone knew how to deal with it and it’s taken me many, many years to accept this as the cause of death.
I hope you are no longer reading waiting to hear how he died because that’s just not important and I’ll share something I have learnt in the last 12 years since he died.
If you tell someone you lost a parent, partner, sibling or child and the person’s next question is “how did they die” that person doesn’t care about you enough, well that’s what I have found. Because the method behind suicide isn’t important, it’s the person lost and the people left behind that do.
The rest of the 21st December 2004 consisted of each of my brothers arriving home to be told by my poor mother that dad was gone. Friends came over expressed their concern (for the judgements had already begun) and/or sympathies towards our little family.
As the oldest I knew I had to be strong for the family, together with my brothers we did what we could for Mum as at the time we knew she would be suffering the most. That may sound odd but the four of us knew even at the ages of 16 – 26 that we would be ok but Mum was going to need us to be strong for her, she had lost for best friend, partner and husband of 27 years in an instant. Call it Aussie Bravado, she’ll be right mentality.
I took on helping mum sort the Finances, going into the bank to talk through the mortgage and cancelling credit cards. We then organised Dad’s funeral, just a small word of warning here, think about how sad the songs are…we sat in the funeral bawling our eyes out wondering why we had chosen these songs.
I wanted to speak at the funeral but I wondered if I could, it’s something I’d never imagined I would ever have to think about let alone go ahead with.
You see my Dad and I weren’t always close, we were never not on good terms but we just didn’t really get along as well when I was growing up. I guess in the 80’s and 90’s it was a dads and mums thing or maybe just me. I wasn’t into sport where as my brothers were into rugby and dad happened to coach the team for a number of years.
But it was he I would turn to when buying my 1st car, applying for my first real job or talking me out of quitting my 1st real job and it was in my twenties when we both reached a point that we got along really well.
The last few years of Dad’s life I really enjoyed my Dad’s company, we had something in common………LIFE
I was interested in what was happening with him and he was interested in what was happening with me, we didn’t ask for anymore from one another.
So on New Years Eve 2004 as I stood in front of the 200 and more people at his funeral I spoke about all the great memories and in my usual style took the piss out of him as I did.
Afterwards many of his work colleagues came up to me to say how much they enjoyed my words, they then told us how Dad had spoken about how proud he was of each of us he was. He didn’t always say it but it was so good to hear.
After you lose someone it’s the few months later when life really smacks you in the face and with suicide it can feel like it happens several times a year.
There was no social media back then so once the phone stops ringing you just get going as best you can.
For me after the initial grief and shock came the Anger, I was so angry not just because my brothers and I no longer had a father it was mostly because Dad’s death had completely devastated my Mum and that to me was the cruellest thing of all. She didn’t do anything wrong, Mum had been with dad since they were just teenagers, Mum thought she would live to be much, much older and they would retire together like we all imagine when we are 90!
I think I was angry for a good 5 years or so, I would mention my dad had died if I had to but mostly just carried on. I ended up running away to the UK ( but more because of my own battle) and started a new life and rarely spoke about my Dad.
I’m not sure when I allowed myself to grieve my dad’s death, maybe I haven’t but I know I accepted it and found a way to remember him privately. I was ashamed of how he had died and I didn’t want people to judge me. I know only too well how horrible it is keeping something to myself.
Suicide was certainly not spoken of as a topic of conversation, Mental Health was not given the time or day and I had no real awareness or understanding. Of all the different ways you expect to lose a parent, this one was the last I thought that would affect me.
This is the reason I decided to write and share this post.
I was attending a Mental Health Training for Managers course in Swindon 2 weeks ago. My company is very passionate in making Mental Health a topic that is not only discussed but also helps in taking away the myths and stigma associated with Suicide.
At one point during the course the room was asked “Who here has been affected by suicide” 18 of 21 hands went into the air, including mine. Only 3 people hadn’t.
I guess it was that moment I realised I have lived in the shadow of suicide for 12 years now.
I am not embarrassed now to tell the world that I lost my dad to suicide, but mostly I want to tell the world that I miss my Dad and I miss talking about him, nothing should overshadow what a fantastic man he was and how I am better for having 26 years with him.
My dad was born on the 5.5.1955, on the 5.5.2010 he would have been 55, so I had the tattoo below done. Whenever anyone asks me what it means, it’s always a fantastic memory to share.
From now on I will be sharing more of his memories with anyone who asks but mostly with myself.
I miss you Dad xx