In 1997, I was 8 years old and living in southern Tasmania.
I was an active child, playing in the streets, climbing over friends fences to get up to mischief, playing sports and being a typical little daddy’s girl. I was a tomboy with a tight pony tail, wearing shorts, getting dirty and following my dad’s every move. My father taught me taekwondo, how to fly a kite and hammer a nail. He also introduced me to his love of photography and motorbikes. He taught me how to eat my carrots and radishes with loads of salt, how to get the meat out of crayfish legs and shared his huge love for seafood.
These are just some of the wonderful memories I have of my father before our world was turned upside down the Christmas of 1997. On the 18th of December, my father took his own life. We knew straight away and we were rushed to my nan’s house. It felt like a movie in slow motion. On the 19th, he was pronounced braindead and on the 20th my mother had to make the hardest decision of her life – to turn his life support off.
Since then, I’ve searched for answers – why he left, what I did wrong, or wanting to know everything about him and follow his passions to make him proud.
Those three days changed my life and have vividly stayed with me, especially the sit down to tell us Daddy wouldn’t be coming home. We had people trying help, but all I wanted was my dad. I didn’t want to talk and I stopped letting people in. I locked my emotions away for many years, as I was afraid I would lose someone else I loved. I stopped telling my family and friends I loved them and distanced myself from them emotionally.
It’s been a very long process for me. For as long as I can remember I’ve tried to suffer privately. I tried to be strong and to show that I was coping, but that led to anxiety as an adult. I suppose I learnt to be strong from my amazing mother and Nan. My mum thought I never saw her suffer from her heartache, but kids see so much you don’t realise. Later I started realising my self-taught emotion to be strong isn’t always the best when kept inside. As an adult I slowly started to let people back into my heart and worked on understanding my emotions and learning what my triggers are so I can manage them in a healthy way.
I want to share a snapshot of my story and raise awareness for a few reasons. First, my father and step father have both struggled with depression, along with many others I know and love. Second, because this happened to our family so close to Christmas, I want people to remember that in all the joy and happiness of holiday time, others may be suffering. Depression and suicide don’t choose a good time of year to creep up. And lastly, there are a lot of people who don’t realise that I lost my father to suicide. It is something that even some of my closest friends have only recently learnt and raising awareness of this subject is something I feel very strongly about.
It’s been hard growing up without my father. But I’ve had a wonderful mother and nan there for support, along with lots of friends and family and an amazing stepfather who stepped in to support and watch us grow when my father couldn’t.
Last year we had to say goodbye to that wonderful nan who supported us through so much. It has been hard as I felt I was saying goodbye to another part of my father. The support I have received from family and friends past and present has been the greatest help and I don’t know what I would do without them.
Amongst the sadness my father was able to donate his organs to help other families and keep their loved ones close. A part of my father is helping so many, one day I hope to share their joy and greet them with a big hug.
As an adult looking back, I now see there may have been some warning signs. Back then men were made to feel they had to bottle their emotions and stay strong for those around them. Some still think this is the way. Please remember to speak up and stay chatty.