Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Dying to say no.

This true story has no funny twist or punch line. It is a tragedy, the telling of whch was prompted by Gabrielle Brydon's posts on mental illness.

Going back a bit and omitting names to spare some good people pain, I recall the many suicides, all men, tragedies that happened during the twenty-five years I spent in the small and to me, supportive community of the Dooralong Valley.

This one triggered a long period of reflection and I pass on my thoughts for your consideration.

My story concerns a young man who seemed to have it all. He was famous, commanded huge fees for his daredevil motor cycle show and seemed to be the master of his destiny. I met him when he called in to see his father, who was working on my property at the time.

When he stepped out of his Corvette, I was surprised to see how petite he was. Almost feminine looking with features, had they been on a girl would have been pretty. His persona was in stark contrast to his father’s big bluff English Midland. I was surprised by his gentle manner. It did not fit the daredevil image but it was the stress in his sad young face that came back to haunt me a week later.

His dad had just signed him up for a very lucrative tour of England to follow his current commitments. Then the headlines shocked Australia. I read that he booked into a hotel in Melbourne, bought a gun and shot himself dead. His father was devastated. He had lost his child, always tragic for a parent, and was totally at a loss to understand why his son, with so much to live for, had become so depressed he blew his brains out.

So, why did he do it? Nobody knows for sure because he said nothing and I think that is the clue. Here is where my ponderings took me.

Imagining myself jumping a motor cycle over twenty one buses night after night for years, I realised there would come a time after yet another close shave, when the bike did not quite hit full power and with the target ramp coming up a bit short, fear would replace exhilaration. Doubt is death to a daredevil. At that point I think I would have been over it and retired.

But wait a minute. I remember as a child doing dangerous things for my dad. I trusted him to keep me safe and in retrospect much of that trust was misplaced, so I do understand how it could have been, that this young man with the soft face and shy personality and with the stakes so high, could not say no to his dad.

Years had been invested, as his backyard jumps grew from fantasy fate-tempting tests of his worth into a marketable asset. It was fun to begin with and for a kid who craved approval, his fear of danger was probably less than fear of paternal disappointment. Then, as expectations grew into millions of dollars, the little power he had over his own life was abandoned. Calling a halt was no longer an option. He feared death less than her feared disappointing his father.

I am not blaming his dad here. Had he suspected his son’s mental state, he would have cancelled everything immediately. But like everyone in the team, he was carried along by euphoria and saw no reason to question his own motives at the time. The kid had always been a daredevil and apparently loved it. To see past that into his son’s psyche was beyond his ability or experience, so he never pondered why this inexplicably brave boy did what he did, apparently welcoming each escalation of danger. He could not have realised his son could have been risking all for fear of losing his dad’s approval.

So what is the message here? I guess you are ahead of me and maybe always were wiser. Although he is still alive, I lost a son too, not to suicide as we define it, but to the long drawn out suicide of heroin addiction. I can’t say which is worse; losing a child to sudden violence, or watching his slow destruction over days, weeks, years and decades. It is a sadness I carry always, along with the suspicion, that had I listened more then, things might have been different and now it is too late. Hindsight may be a wonderful thing but it can be exceeding cruel.


  1. Oh my. How terribly sad. And I am REALLY sorry to hear about your own son. I can't even imagine what that must be like to live through and watch with your own eyes.

  2. I can't imagine this sorrow for you
    your photo..which is all I really know of you and of course your magpies,suggest a man
    happy in his skin and gentle as a breeze with a bit of wicked in him to pass the day with a laugh
    and then this post...heroin is takes prisoners....
    But what is certain is your love for this boy
    for he is your boy....he knows this..but heroin takes prisoners...
    thank you for sharing this with us...who have come to know you ...and care

  3. Thanks meleah rebeccah. it is pauinful but so frustrating becasue tbere seems little one can DO!
    Suz, you got me about right.

    I am getting in early here, because I don't want to reply to every comment on this one. But please leave them for others to read, as I will, so we can share our experiences. Also, please take the link to Gabrielle's blog. Well worth the effort.

  4. Thanks for posting this Stafford and for the link. I'm terribly sorry about your son but I know what you mean. The drawn out suicide of an addiction is a truly horrible thing and this is what it is like with my brain damaged brother (also alcoholic) who regularly gets arrested or passes out on the streets of the Valley in Brisbane and ends up in emergency wards. I've been waiting for that phone call for over 20 years now (the whole family has). But there is always a slim hope, though forlorn as you said before. It would have to be a miracle I think. Keep writing Stafford - you put a smile on my dial as a general rule ;)

  5. Thank you for leading me to Gabrielle's post and thank you for being so brave to write this.

    My heart aches for you and others who witness the slow death that addiction brings. Just aches.

  6. I thank you too, Stafford. I share your sadness and admire your courage. Chances are each and every Power That Be is either directly or indirectly involved with someone who suffers mental ill health. Are they waiting for someone else to take the initiative? We need to keep pushing and stay on top of GetUp too before they get caught up in other issues.
    Lee K Curtis (A newbie to blogs who can't figure out how to sign a Comment.)

  7. Both stories are sad, but especially yours. Addiction is a sad and powerful thing. I know how helpless you feel, but don't place the blame on yourself, Stafford. It's obvious how much you love your son.

  8. Our warmest vibes are blowing your way.

  9. This is such a sad story, for the young dare devil, his dad and for you.

    In the case of the young man you describe, the first thing that came to mind was how hard, how terrible, to live your entire life trying to "measure up" to his dad. Your physical description slammed that home. So sad.

    For your son, don't give up hope. As you said, he's alive. Something may come along to pull him out of the quagmire he's in. For both of you, I pray it does.

  10. Flutterby Whisper2 July 2010 at 6:10 pm

    My Heart Goes Out To This Darling Boy..
    1000 Kisses Are On A Wing and A Prayer ..
    May There Be Some Kind of " Warm " in My Wishes ..

    Gentle is The Memory Whispering On The Wind ..

  11. I am sorry for both the young man who committed suicide and for your son. I lost my dearest cousin, Patrick, to heroin. I hope your son beats it, I really do. It is one of the most horrible things in the world to witness. My heart goes out to you. Thank you for such an honest and courageous post.

  12. Thank you for sharing this post; my husband died a few weeks ago, from liver failure caused by his alcoholism. Watching his self-destruction became too painful and for the sake of my sanity and that of my kids I had to bail out towards the end. I note you posted this on 30th June - his birthday.

  13. To anyone who wanders back here, thanks for the wishes, they are really appreciated. To madambutterfly, my son's mother was an alcoholic too and I also eventually 'bailed out' when I decided I could do no more. From this far away and with emotions calmer, I think there was probably more I could have done but we will never know. A delightfully witty and intelligent woman, she died about twelve years ago after two more marriages that failed, never finding a way out of her alcoholism and depression.

  14. Stafford,
    I pray everyday that our son has found peace in a better place. We lost him two years ago to an 18 year struggle with alcoholism, which started in college. He was 37. I'll pray that your son will meet that miracle,which will wrest him from the clutches of the demon of drugs.


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