The Passing Years

purple flowersOver seven years have passed since that tragic day when I heard the words, “Barry is dead.”

How the years have flown by, yet at the same time dragged its weary feet. At times, I believed we wouldn’t make it through the turbulence. That was when the evil face of suicide tempted my elder son to join his brother; and later, it tried to seduce me. Yet, although the fight was sometimes hard, we stayed to live our lives.

Then there were the times when life almost felt normal — or as close as it was going to get to it, anyway. Smiles were easy to find, laughter was a second away. For those looking on, they would never guess our hearts were not quite as full as the smiles on our faces. But that’s okay. We have learned to carry on regardless. Only sharing our pain with each other.

And the pain is still there — buried beneath the surface.

As is the guilt!

For me, the only person who can relieve me of this burden is Barry. And Barry is not here to give me the answers I require.

Having said this, I do not dwell on it as often or as long as I once did. I have accepted that Barry is gone and no amount of wishing will bring him back. I also accept that we will never know, for sure, why he chose this path when other options did exist for him. To dwell on these things will only torture me further and will turn me into a bitter, old woman. I don’t want that.

Instead, I look at the photos I have of Barry and feel thankful that I knew him and loved him. Although I yearn to see him, to hear him, to hug him; I am grateful that our last words were “I love you”. And I cherish the memories we created together.

On bad days I will wonder what Barry would be doing right now, if he were still alive? Would he have a wife or children? Would he have joined the Army and made a career of it while seeing the world? But it is best not to dwell on these things for too long either. It only upsets me more. So I turn my thoughts to my older son who is a man in his own right now. He has a one-year-old daughter. She is a (good) reason why we must move onwards.

Time heals all wounds. And it does. There may be a scar, which will be a permanent reminder, but eventually the pain softens and the heart and mind allows us to live a life that is somewhat normal. And when the scar throbs more than usual, I find myself going back to the one thing that has always helped me through the grief — nature. I take long walks in parks, botanical gardens, animal parks, by the sea, in the mountains, beside rivers. Anywhere where I can see the sky, hear the birds, smell the flowers and feel relaxed.

I believe the worst is behind us. We cannot know what the future holds, but we intend to make it as good as we can … for us and for the new addition to the family.

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Are you having thoughts of suicide?

Recently, I attended a seminar through my work place. I work for a Government organisation and they are always wanting us to ‘brush up’ on one procedure or another so imagine my shock when I discovered the seminar was about suicide awareness.

It is a shock to be sitting with a couple of dozen other people, several who you know well, and are confronted with a subject that is close to your heart. As soon as I realised what would be discussed, I welled up. The presenter, used to watching people’s actions and looking for ‘signs’, did not miss my instant reaction to her words. We were presented with video recreations of potential warnings … and all of them slapped me across the face and made my heart pound quicker. I watched as the mother on-screen missed her son’s call for help. Just like I did in real life. Is it any wonder I couldn’t speak, could hardly hold the tears back, was unable to stop the trembling?

The presenter announced a break and everyone left the room, except me. I was not able to speak aloud, so I whispered the fact that I had lost a son to suicide. Of course, she had already guessed that by my reaction. She thanked me for letting her know and told me I was free to leave the seminar, if I wanted to. I didn’t need to think about it.

I wanted to stay!

But I needed her to know why I would not be able to participate in active feedback within the seminar. She understood that I was struggling and asking me to speak would be my undoing. So, the seminar continued and I sat frozen faced and trembling in the middle of lots of people, but I felt as if I were struggling through a major upset … totally alone.

By the time the seminar was finished I was considered to be a qualified Care Assistant for the workplace. In truth, I spent most of the time focused inwards dealing with my own demons. Yes, I would be able to recognise (now) if someone was suicidal. And, yes, I would be able to ask the all important question, “Are you having thoughts of suicide?”. And, yes, I would be able to look after that person until help was at hand. I never needed the seminar for any of that. I’ve spent over five years learning the facts about suicide myself. But now I have a certificate to confirm it.

The reason I’m writing this post is because I thought I was doing OK. I thought I had moved passed the tears, but those few hours proved I am not doing as great as I thought and have not moved on from losing my son. I guess there will always be moments in my life that will bring the past slamming back into full focus. I suppose I’m better equipped for those moments now but it doesn’t mean they will be any easier to deal with.

“Hope” is Here!

“Hope” is a project that is close to my heart. I have wanted to do something since I lost my son to suicide in 2006. In many ways, it gave me purpose, which in turn gave me hope. So the anthology is aptly named.

In late 2010 I decided to put my plans into action and I approached writers from around Australia, telling them my story, asking for their help. I was astounded by the response!

Yesterday, Hope was launched online. The book launch is still going and I invite you to head over to the book launch and say hello. You might even win a copy of the ebook. And there’s a real possibility that you’ll win a paperback book too.

My story “Boundaries” is included in the anthology, but for me the story is not important. To me, the message of the book in its entirety is the important thing. Hope gives the reader thirteen speculative fiction stories, but it also raises suicide awareness with short ‘snippets’ of information on suicide. I urge teenagers to read the book so they are able to ‘see’ when a friend may need their help. And I urge parents to read the book so they will ‘know’ when their child may be showing signs of being suicidal. Being suicide aware may save a life. That’s what this book means to me.

I will be forever grateful to the contributors to this anthology. Together, we can make a difference.

And I think it’s important to mention at this point that none of the contributions received payment for their time or their stories. They gave these things willingly because they want to help raise suicide awareness. All profits from the sale of the book will be donated to Beyondblue and The Anika Foundation.

Here is the Table of Contents:

Preface by Karen Henderson
Introduction by Simon Haynes
High Tide at Hot Water Beach by Paul Haines
Suicide: An Introduction by Warren Bartik and Myfanwy Maple
Burned in the Black by Janette Dalgliesh
Australian Suicide Statistics
The Haunted Earth by Sean Williams
The Causes of Suicide
Eliot by Benjamin Solah
Warning Signs
Boundaries by Karen Lee Field
Indigenous Suicides
The Encounter by Sasha Beattie
Drugs and Alcohol
The God on the Mountain by Graham Storrs
Suicide Around the World
Deployment by Craig Hull
Suicide: The Impact by Myfanwy Maple and Warren Bartik
Flowers in the Shadow of the Garden by Joanne Anderton
Helping a Friend Through Loss
Blinded by Jodi Cleghorn
Myths and Facts
The Choosing by Rowena Cory Daniells
How to Help Someone at Risk of Suicide by beyondblue
Duty and Sacrifice by Alan Baxter
What You Can Do to Keep Yourself Safe by beyondblue
A Moment, A Day, A Year… by Pamela Freeman
Where to Get Help
About the Authors

And this is a summary of the stories included by some of Australia’s best speculative fiction writers:

High Tide at Hot Water Beach by Paul Haines
A man dying of a terminal disease bets his life on one last chance at survival, a chance that looks like certain death from the perspective of his family.

Burned in the Black by Janette Dalgliesh
A jaded starbeast herder, with more secrets than she cares for and a difficult task ahead, is swept into an uneasy alliance with a troubled technobard whose unique gifts could mean her salvation … or her downfall.

The Haunted Earth by Sean Williams
Not all aliens are evil, but every first contact comes at a cost.

Eliot by Benjamin Solah
Eliot hides his dark memories in the pages of journals. But there is one memory he needs to uncover once the face paint washes away.

Boundaries by Karen Lee Field
With cursed blood running through his veins and boundaries touched by magic, an escaped slave battles for life as a Freeman.

The Encounter by Sasha Beattie
A woman’s desperation finds her in a small town where she learns of a dark secret that threatens to take away her only hope of happiness.

The God on the Mountain by Graham Storrs
An ambitious scientist’s career may be over if she dare not seek the god on the mountain and confront it.

Deployment by Craig Hull
After choosing the loneliness of deep space, a woman must confront her painful past to save the life of a child.

Flowers in the Shadow of the Garden by Joanne Anderton
In the ruins of a dying magical Garden, two people from opposite sides of a dangerous clash of cultures must learn to trust each other to survive.

Blinded by Jodi Cleghorn
The past and present collide for exo-biologist Dr Thaleia Halligan when the most recent addition to her exploration team is revealed as something other than a field medic for hire.

The Choosing by Rowena Cory Daniells
In a harsh, tropical paradise, a world of scattered islands where the poor live on boats and whole tribes live the canopies of sea- growing trees, two boys set off to prove they are worthy of being called men.

Duty and Sacrifice by Alan Baxter
In endless grasslands an assassin works her way towards the biggest job of her life, and maybe the last.

A Moment, A Day, A Year… by Pamela Freeman
The Oracle ordains everyone’s role in the Yearly Round, but there are more choices to be made than anyone knows, and some of them are deadly.

It’s a brilliant book, so please help us help those in need and you can become suicide aware at the same time. It can be purchased from the publisher’s website.

Raising Suicide Awareness with “Hope”

In the years that followed the death of my son, I have constantly been looking for ways to help other families. This website came from the need to reach out … and, at the same time, it provided me with a method to unscramble the thoughts and feelings whirling around my brain. It gave me purpose and — this might sound strange — but it kept my son alive, in a sense, by marking his existence in this world. For a long time, I fretted over that last point. What if Barry was forgotten? Would that mean he never existed? Or that he only existed to his immediate family? This website proves that Barry was born, he lived … and he, unfortunately, died.

As a writer, I attempted to write his story, but it was too difficult. Memories were chased away by grief. Darkness wrapped itself around me during the day and nightmares came back to haunt me at night. For my own sanity, I gave that notion away.

Yet, I still wanted to do something. It was important to me. And as stupid as it sounds, I needed something good to come out of the worst thing ever. If I could do something that might save another mother going through what I’ve been through, then I would feel happier. But what could one person do?

The idea for Hope was born out of that passionate need. I live in Australia so I decided to contact Australian authors and ask for their help in raising suicide awareness. The response was heart warming. The idea became more than that when an editor stepped forward and offered her services and authors from around the country gladly donated short stories. Then organisations such as Beyondblue and Lifeline wanted to get involved. And finally employees of the University of New England offered to contribute too.

What started out as an idea is now a full blown publication. Hope will be released on 7 October 2011 by Kayelle Press. It will include thirteen short stories, four short essays and half a dozen ‘snippets’ of information on suicide. Everyone who contributed donated their time and their work. No one will receive any payment from the sale of the book, except Beyondblue and the Anika Foundation as all profits will be donated to these two organisations.

The book is dedicated to Barry.

One person can make a difference. This publication is tribute to that. I am extremely proud of the book and thank everyone involved with its creation from the bottom of my heart.

Fives Years On

At this moment five years ago, I had two living sons. In two hours from now I will not be able to type the same statement because my youngest son took his own life within that time. This decision by my son brought my family to its knees, left us shattered, confused, consumed with fear, swimming in guilt and filled with unanswered questions. We were hurtled to the brink but managed to drag ourselves back into the light, into life and continue living. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

Five years! It seems like a lifetime in many ways. Yet in others it was only yesterday. I clearly remember my meltdown at the news, I will forever hear the screams of my mother when I had to break the news to her, I will never forget my best friend throwing up when she was told, not to forget the sobs of anguish when I told his father. How could I forget the images of the viewing? I wanted to, yet I didn’t. I needed to see him for myself, but I never ever imagined viewing his dead body. Never! And the loss of memories left me feeling defeated. My body’s attempt to help me, only made everything so much worse. It was over a year before the memories started filtering back into my mind. Then there was the fear I carried for my surviving son. Every time I heard a car pull up or the phone ring, I was certain it was the police about to give me bad news. I couldn’t sleep and when I did manage to get a few hours, I was assaulted by nightmares.

The first two years were the worst. After that things started to improve, we learned to cope and managed to continue living our lives.

Now, we miss him just as much as we did then. We will never forget his laughter, his smile, his joking about. I will always feel proud that everyone told me Barry was friendly, polite and helpful. I will always wonder what he’d be doing now if he were still with us. And I will always carry a hole in my heart that can never be filled because Barry’s death took part of me too.

Today, I feel the need to make sure other people know the signs of suicide. The information is already on this site but here it is again:

  • Loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Problem behaviour and substance misuse
  • Apathy in dress and appearance, or a sudden change in weight
  • Sudden and striking personality changes
  • Withdrawal from friends and social activities
  • Increased ‘accident proneness’ and self harming behaviours

Did you know that 80% of youth tell someone of their intentions prior to taking their own life? It’s true, what should you do if you are told?

  • Listen and encourage them to talk, show that you are taking their concern seriously
  • Tell the person you care
  • Acknowledge their fears, despair or sadness
  • Provide reassurance, but do not dismiss the problem
  • Ask if they are thinking of hurting or killing themselves, and if they have a plan
  • Point out the consequences of suicide for the person and those they leave behind
  • Ensure they do not have access to lethal weapons or medications
  • Stay with the person if they are at high risk
  • Immediately tell someone else, preferably an adult
  • Get help from professionals, offer to go with them to provide support
  • Let them know where they can get other help
  • Provide contact numbers and assist them to ring if necessary

Be suicide aware and maybe you’ll save a life.

Note: The two lists in this posts are courtesy of Better Health, Victoria.

Mother’s Day…Again!

Five years ago, on Mother’s Day, was the last time I saw my son alive although I spoke with him on the phone two more times. Mother’s Day to me is a time for pretense. I smile and laugh for the sake of the rest of my family, yet the images rolling through my head are a constant repeat of that last time I saw my youngest son.

Now I know he knew he’d never see me again. Now I can plainly hear it in his voice when I spoke with him on those two occasions. How I wish I’d known these things then. How I wish…

His name was spoken several times during the course of the day, and not only by me. His brother thinks of him often and told me he had gone to the cemetery to visit Barry only a few days ago. His grandmother spoke Barry’s name, remembering a particular occasion when he had spent a week with them many years ago. I spoke his name just to make him part of the family gathering, just to ensure no one else had forgotten his name. I saw his face in my mind many times, but mostly I saw him walking up a driveway, his backpack slung over one shoulder. He never looked back. He never hesitated. He walked away from us, out of our lives, without glancing back. The scene will never leave me!

Thank God I had told him that I love him and had given him a kiss on the cheek, just moments before he started that walk.

I miss him.

It’s Just a Dream

What exactly is a dream? According to Wikipedia

Dreams are a succession of images, ideas, emotions and sensations occurring involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep. The content and purpose of dreams are not yet understood, though they have been a topic of speculation and interest throughout recorded history.

I haven’t had a nightmare in a while, which is a good sign I suppose. Yet last night, the demons took hold and I dreamt of Barry, of murder, of evilness and of abandonment. The bad things were all done by me and Barry (even though he was only a child of about three) was angry at me.

In the dream it was a hot, humid night. The house was filled with people I didn’t know, except for Barry. He was a child wearing winter PJs and was soaking wet from sweat. I offered to find him a pair of cooler, summer pyjamas but he declined the offer…curtly, he was angry with me. Feeling uncomfortable myself, I left Barry to fix himself supper, I went off to find something cooler to wear and whilst changing discovered explosives fixed to the windows. I raced to other rooms and found those windows laced with explosives too. Several men in dark clothing were working on the front door and windows (fixing explosives to them too). They spotted me and in a burst of confusion I found myself armed with a long, sharp knife which I deftly punched into the stomach of one of the men, aiming upward at the heart. He died. I was quick to do the same to the second man and then I ran out the door and attacked the third man. However, the third man was holding a hand grenade between his teeth and the pin had been pulled. I watched it roll slowly down his body and along the ground towards me. I pushed it away and turned to run, knowing that when it went off it would set the explosives off and the entire house would explode. Suddenly, I’m no longer running, I’m crawling away (apparently injured) and my last thought was Barry’s inside the house.

I woke up.

I felt confused, upset and depressed. However, that wasn’t the worst of it. I woke up feeling as if I had let Barry down…again!

That feeling made me cry.

I sat on the edge of the bed and apologised to my son. “How could I be such a terrible mother to let you down so often?”

I know it’s just a dream. I also know that the dream isn’t even about Barry, it’s about me. The anger he felt is my own guilty conscience. That is something I’ll have to learn to live with. However, what about the other stuff? What does that mean? Perhaps it means nothing, but where did it all come from? I certainly don’t go around murdering people on a regular basis (in fact, never!) so why have I dreamed these disturbing scenes.

The Dream Moods Dictionary informs me of the following:

Dreaming of murder means:

To dream that you have committed a murder, indicates that you are putting an end to an old habit and a former way of thinking. This could also refer to an end to an addiction. Alternatively, the dream indicates that you have some repressed aggression or rage at yourself or at someone. Note also that dreams of murder occur frequently during periods of depression.

Well, I know I’m not “putting an end to an old habit” or way of thinking. And there’s definitely no addiction to end. So I have to concede that I have “repressed aggression or rage” and depression is something to consider also.

Dreaming of explosions mean:

To see explosions in your dream, symbolize your repressed anger. The rage that you have been holding in has come to the surface in a forceful and violent manner. Your unconscious is trying to get your attention.

I didn’t dream of an explosion, I dreamed of an upcoming explosion. The meaning is exactly the same as murder reiterating the fact that I could be filled with repressed anger. Doesn’t sound good!

Dreaming of sweating means:

To dream that you are sweating, suggests that you are experiencing some overwhelming anxiety, stress, fear, or nervousness in your life. This dream may serve to remind you that in order to achieve success, you need to endure the struggle and efforts that go along with success. Alternatively, sweating signifies a kind of cleansing or ridding of bad karma. You may be going through an emotional cool-off period.

Actually, I do feel highly anxious and stressed at the moment as I started a new job three months ago.

Dreaming of injury means:

To dream that you are injured, suggests that you need to work on healing old wounds and hurts. You need to stop and slow down. Consider where or how you were injured for further significance.

To dream of abandonment means:

To abandon others in your dream, suggests that you are overwhelmed by the problems and decisions in your life.

The fact that I abandoned Barry in the dream is what is causing me the most pain. There’s no excuse. He’s my child and I should have gone into the house to get him, even if it meant certain death for both of us. I feel quite strongly about this and that’s why I feel I’ve let him down again. Yes, it was only a dream, but still…

And lastly, to dream of anger in a dream means:

If you dream that someone is angry at you, then this means that you either suspect that the person in real life is angry at you, or you have that particular paranoia.

The dream was clear. I was not angry at Barry, he was angry at me. Now the question is: Is he really? It brings tears to my eyes just typing the question. Is Barry angry with me? Is the guilt I carry justified? I suppose I’ll never know.

Dreams are meant to be about us, about how we feel and what we’re going through in our life. It’s not about the person/people we are dreaming about. If we dream about another person it’s because we are worried about them, we carry guilt about them, maybe even hatred towards them. It’s complicated. But dreaming is about us, not them.

Strangely, after several hours of pondering the dream I believe it mainly stems from my new job. The job is mentally exhausting, some of the “policies” go against what I believe in, and I’ve had a particularly difficult time grasping every aspect of the job because it is complex. As a result I feel confused, anxious, stressed and, yes, even angry to a certain extent.

But why did I dream of Barry? Why did I abandon him? In truth, Barry’s role in the dream felt misplaced, contradictory. If he hadn’t been in the dream it would be easier to ignore…

And maybe that’s the key. Maybe that’s exactly why he was in the dream. I could easily ignore the dream as being “just a dream” if it wasn’t for his role. Is it possible that my subconscious is telling me to take better care of myself? Is my body telling me I’m heading for a period of depression and anxiety unless I find a way to deal with the situation? And did Barry force himself into my dreams to reiterate the warning?

I don’t know what it all means. I do know I sound like a raving idiot, but the truth is my life is stressful at the moment and I believe I need to listen to the warning and be careful in the immediate future that I don’t “crack”.

A Warm Fire and an Open Book

Many years ago we lived on the south coast of New South Wales, in a cottage which was only a stone’s throw from the ocean. The summers were beautiful, hot and humid during the day, but as the sun went down so did the temperature, which meant the nights were nearly always comfortable. We spent those days at the beach, eating cold meats and salad, taking bush walks. Our hair was bleached from the sun; our skin was golden, even though we lathered sunscreen over ourselves.

But this memory relates to a cold winter’s night, when the wind was howling outside, shaking the windows with anger, and rain pelted against the glass trying to force its way inside.

Oblivious to the horrid conditions outside, three people lived inside the cottage. Those people were Barry, Gary and myself. While the storm threatened endlessly outside, we were snug, warm and content inside. The combustion heater roared and a huge pile of cut wood stood piled neatly on the hearth.

Gary and I sat near the fire, in silence, each absorbed in a book. We had been quiet for some time, reading. The silence between us was a comfortable one. I remember looking up as Barry wandered into the room. He paused for a moment, and then disappeared into his bedroom. Moments later he reappeared, book in one hand, dragging a chair with the other. The chair was usually used in his bedroom so that he was comfortable when he sat playing games on the Playstation. This night he had other plans, he had decided to join me and Gary in front of the fire.

He positioned the chair, sat down and opened his book. None of us spoke. We all smiled at each other before lowering our eyes to our books. Barry read a Goosebumps book. I read Tomorrow When the War Began. Gary read a book written by Jeffrey Archer.

That was the beginning of a new routine. Every night, we came together around the fire and read quietly. It was a peaceful time that I’ll never forget.

Of course, new routines come and go and this one was pushed aside with the coming of spring, when a warm fire was no longer needed. Then we all started a new routine. But that’s another story, for another time.

Did He Truly Know What He Was Doing?

As the years roll away from that fatal moment that changed the lives of so many and as I witness the maturing of his friends, I often find myself wondering what a twenty-three year old Barry would think today.

Barry was not religious, yet he “believed” in life after death. He believed that he would be sitting in heaven watching over the people he loved, especially the girl he chose death for. He believed that he would be able to protect her forever. He said that.

I don’t know what happens after we die. People believe all sorts of things. My own belief is somewhat different to Barry’s, but how do we know for sure? I don’t think we can. Not until the time comes, and even then there’s no guarantee, because death could be everything and it could be the absolute end. Nothing. Zilch. The End. Our belief systems help us cope with the unknown. They help us face the inevitable. And Barry believed he was going to heaven.

So maybe he is sitting on a fluffy cloud watching us and if that is the case…what would he be thinking now?

He would have witnessed the grief he left behind and realised he had caused a pain and hurt that he had never imagined. Because it is not possible to imagine the grief of suicide survivors (meaning the people left behind). Not if you’ve never experienced it first hand. Also, he had never experienced the death of a close relative, so how was he to know what grief is, let alone how losing someone to suicide would make it so much worse? Watching his family and closest friends fall apart – mentally, physically and emotionally – would not have been part of his vision. I know that if he sat and witnessed all that, regret and sorrow would fill him and he would be sorry he caused that anguish.

But the thing I think of the most is, did he really think through his plan to protect the girl forever? Did he envision life moving on? Would he have realised that she would met someone else and fall in love? She was young. It is only natural and normal that this would happen. But, at the time he made the decision, did he realise that?

In all honesty, I don’t think he did. I don’t think he thought things through properly. If life after death is what Barry believed it to be, then he is sitting up there watching the girl he loved move forward in life. Watching her smile and laugh and be happy. Watching her planning a future. Watching her in the arms of another man. Was that in his plan? Of course it wasn’t! Did he think she would be immobilised by his actions? Did he think she would love no other because of his final pledge to her? I have no idea what was really going through his mind, but I think he must have thought something along those lines. Because why would anyone take their own life just to sit in heaven and watch their loved one move on…with someone else? It would be pure torture!

So, yes, I find myself wondering what Barry would think of his actions now. I wonder if he would regret the biggest decision he made in his life. I wonder if it was worth it (to him) because suicide is final, there’s no going back or changing your mind once it’s done. I wonder if he truly knew these things.