It was the Horse’s birthday, August 1st 2017, I was driving on the Western Ring Road in Melbourne Australia. There were road works everywhere and we were down to two lanes and no emergency lane. In the car I had the Managing Director of the Company for which I work, Norm, my colleague John and a client whom I’d just met that day. My car phone rang and I was on speaker. It was one of my sisters, Chris. I then received the news that stabbed me in the heart. My sister Linda had committed suicide by hanging herself; she was 61. My body went numb and I had nowhere to pull over, Norm and John were yelling at me to pull over, but I couldn’t. Finally, we found a spot and I pulled in for Norm to take over the driving.
From the passenger’s seat I then had to make calls to tell the news to my immediate family and stab them in the heart. I found out that you can share the most deeply personal and intimate moment of your life with your friends present but it’s very different sharing that moment with a client, a relative stranger. I am sure he did not want to share that moment either.
Linda was a very gentle and kind soul, with a quick wit and a bawdy sense of humour. Linda would never argue with anyone, she was the life of the party – not because she was outrageous, but due to her naïve look at the world. Many a time the family would gather around the table and laugh together with her. Linda was not without her demons though; 20 years before she attempted suicide by taking tablets. She was depressed but her attempt was more a cry for help. She received that help from a then good friend of mine who was a psychiatrist. He helped to get her back on track and soon the usual Linda shone through. No one ever knew, even my Mother who was extremely close to her, why Linda was depressed at the time. I will never understand why such a gentle kind soul eventually took her own life so violently.
Linda had everything to live for, two successful and loving sons and four grandchildren who thought their Nan was the greatest person in the world. Unfortunately, due to my work I was always 1000kms away and only able to spend time with her two or three times a year. The rest of the family live around her area with my mother just around the corner. Any one of them would have given their eye teeth to help her that day. My mother had just recently lost my dad and then lost her daughter and best friend. Never a truer saying said that “A mother should not bury one of her children”. Linda would visit my mum daily and check on her welfare but she still didn’t open up to mum about what was going on or how she felt. She kept saying she was OK.
I am not going into what caused her depression for the final period as it was extremely overt and another story in itself. All I can say is that women in violent physical relationships do have redress (although weak) to pursue the offender under Law, whereas women who suffer psychological abuse have zero redress under Law.
Not a day goes by where I don’t question why my sister took her own life. I re-live the day over and over again. I forensically dissect the events and try to work out ways that I or the family could have stopped the event. “Rational me” knows that this is all futile and I can’t bring her back, but it’s funny that you cannot get the lead up of events out of your mind. Why didn’t we recognise this or that, where we could have helped and stepped in? At first, some days I hated Linda for what she did, denying me and my family of her love and our love for her. The rational me kicked in and now I don’t think this anymore. I can’t imagine the pain and torment that she went through that eventually lead to her demise. Her death shattered my family and, in particular, her direct family. Her pain and torment was transferred to each one of us. Now we live the loss, pain and torment daily while Linda is at peace.
3127 people took their own life in Australia in 2017. My sister was one of those stats. It is an appalling statistic given a population of 22 million. It is the 13th greatest cause of death in Australia. I know how each one of the other 3126 people’s families and friends feel. I know and live their pain daily. If 3127 people died in a theatre of war or on the roads there would be protesting in the streets. But this is a silent epidemic. We don’t want to talk about mental illness. It is still a taboo subject. We live in a world where it is OK for country leaders to mock, bully and harass individuals and suppress minorities; where sporting personalities and shock jocks vilify, torment and goad minority groups in the name of free speech; where children are hounded 24 hours a day on social media by trolls, bullies and creeps; where Governments expect to solve fire, disaster, famine and pestilence with thoughts, prayers and rhetoric. Yet the statistics still grow and grow. 8.6 people each day taking their own life. Shame, shame on us.
Some say that the Government should do something about suicide rates and yes, they should; but every individual also needs to do something about it. The problem is that we condone and reinforce people’s poor behaviour by not calling out bullying, harassment and the vilification of individuals and groups.
Call these people to account even if they are your partner, family member, friend, work colleague or boss. Turn off the shock jock; vote against inaction by Government; walk out of the sermon preaching hate and vilification; block the trolls and out them. Also, to the social media companies – stop thinking solely of your profits; stop spying on people; stop trying to influence the world without a mandate; and stop the trolls, bullies and creeps. This is not an argument about free speech, it’s about saving people’s lives; you have the power. Governments – stop just talking about it. Change the Law and fund some real action. Stop trying to solve issues with thoughts, prayers and rhetoric; you also have the power.
When you lose someone very close you remember them in different ways. It’s hard to forget their laugh, it’s hard to forget their face and mannerisms and it’s hard to forget the good times. My sister’s photo looks over me even while I write this article. My best memory was when I was four years old and due to go to school the next month. Linda decided I needed to be able to tie my own laces in case they came undone, she was 7 going on 8. She sat with me patiently and diligently teaching me to tie my laces. Today I can tie my own laces….. I have to.
If you need help, please call Lifeline on 131114 or Beyond Blue on 1300 651 251; your family needs and loves you.
Kim Flanagan is the Chief Operating Officer of New Age HSE Services. See Our Team for details.