Libby’s Story (written by Danny Lannen)
LIBBY Gatgens knows that the particular pain left by her son Ryan’s suicide will never leave her.
Questions will never be answered, what-ifs never resolved.
“You’ve joined that club where loss is always there,” she says.
“It just sits in your gut, and while you kind of move through things it still sits in your gut. It’s that ache, it’s that pang that gets you.
“It doesn’t mean that you can’t get on, but it’s just always there.”
Learning about it is her key to living with it, and Geelong’s Hope Bereavement Care is helping to light the way.
Ryan was one day shy of his 33rd birthday when he died in August 2019. His loss left Libby and husband Shane, his three siblings, his partner and the loving wider family of his community heartbroken and bereft.
He was talented, popular, always involved and active in life, and successfully operating his own building business.
He was giving back as under-19s coach at his beloved Drysdale Football Club, where his legend was enshrined as a two-time senior premiership defender.
He was both the life of the party and the sensitive soul, had rock-solid networks of lifelong mates and was loyal to a fault.
But no amount of connection or support could prevent mental illness from obscuring all that he had to live for.
Libby estimates that his trouble cascaded from sleep deprivation and insomnia during a few years shift working in Western Australia. Ryan developed high-level anxiety, depression, psychosis.
He repeatedly sought treatment but found navigating the mental health system challenging. He self-medicated with alcohol.
“He had been unwell and had mental health issues diagnosed probably in the January or February of 2019,” Libby said.
“His decline was very quick when I look at it.”
Libby says she doesn’t ask why Ryan chose the course that he did.
“Never have I got angry at him,” she says.
“But when you lose someone like that, you need to make sense of it.”
She is unsure how a Hope brochure came to capture the attention of Shane and herself, but it was early in their bereavement. They made contact, sought counselling and have remained involved since, skilfully supported by counsellor Christine Rawson.
Shane has regularly attended men’s and mixed counselling groups. Libby is in the care of her own counsellor but also joins Hope sessions and has derived strength and focus from Hope-recommended reading and a two-day course which focused on being able to share lived experiences.
“You don’t know what you don’t know until you are in those circumstances,” Libby says.
“Hope specialises in dealing with this type of grief, so you’re not going to a counsellor who you really need to build a relationship with before you talk about this type of stuff.
“They know why you’re there and they ask the right questions, and they allow you to move in the direction you need to around your grief.
“They are very skilled with their questions at moving you through to where you possibly can’t ever see that you need to be, or think that you are ever going to reach.”
Along with making progress in their own ways, Libby and Shane have found profound reward in helping to support others navigating their grief at Hope sessions.
Sharing brutal learnings and perspectives can help, both ways.
The day after Ryan died was his birthday and Libby and Shane went down to the footy club – just to be there, and because all of Ryan’s friends wanted to see them, to share with them.
“There were probably 500 people there and all the players came in to do a mental health check,” Libby said.
“I remember thinking to myself at that time that Ryan didn’t just belong to us, he actually belonged to a community. This wasn’t just our tragedy, it was greater than that – that ripple effect that you have.
“As a parent you try and look after your own family, your children and their partners and that kind of central relationship system that Ryan had, but it was actually far wider than that. The impact was quite significant.”
Processing that realisation and feeling the widespread love for her son has become part of their journey, and they have witnessed some extraordinary deeds carried out in his memory – convening of events raising tens of thousands of dollars for Hope Bereavement Care.
Ryan’s best friends just doing their thing, raising money, and also wrapping their arms around each other.
Libby believes that she and Shane will never be through their loss.
They’ve joined that club, but her precious consolations include knowing that Ryan was so loved as a part of his community, and that he experienced a radiant and extraordinary life, and lived how he wanted to live.
“I’ve had to say these things to myself. You know it’s not the quantity of the life, it’s the quality of the life,” she says.
“So I talk myself into being positive in that way, it’s how I have to think, but I think that Hope helps you to do that.”
Daniel’s Story: Remembering Ryan (written by Danny Lannen)
Daniel Driscoll figured that a charity golf day in the name of his late mate Ryan Gatgens might get 40 or 50 pals together for a hit and a good cause.
Then he started organising, and it became apparent how much the name in the game meant to people.
“The idea just kept getting bigger and bigger,” Daniel said.
“Sponsors got on board, all local guys and businesses and they all approached me, I didn’t have to approach them.
“For a while it seemed like we got a different new sponsor a day, and even as it got closer people were offering to donate for raffles and auctions.
“Ryan was so well known and liked.”
The Ryan Gatgens Memorial became a family day juggernaut, ultimately drawing 800 or so people together in his name at Clifton Springs Golf Club on a sunny Labour Day long weekend Sunday in 2021.
A field of 260 hit off in the nine-hole ambrose event. There were jumping castles and a petting zoo for the kids, food trucks for all to enjoy, and in tribute and remembrance the crowd raised $55,000 for Geelong’s Hope Bereavement Care – the charity chosen by Ryan’s parents Libby and Shane and partner Tegan.
“When I first came up with the idea, I asked Ryan’s family and partner Tegan if they would mind me doing it, and where they would like the money to go,” Daniel said.
“They all chose Hope because of how much of a help Hope was to them and still is.”
The organisation has provided immeasurable counselling support in the years since Ryan’s suicide in 2019.
“A lot of funding in mental health goes to the bigger organisations, Hope doesn’t get that kind of support,” Daniel said.
Daniel and Ryan were tight mates for many years and regularly played social golf together with a few others after knock-off on a Friday, or on a Sunday.
“It wasn’t really about the golf for him, it was about the socialising,” Daniel said.
“He was all about his mates, loved catching up and having a laugh.
“He was a really good mate, do absolutely anything for you.”
A social golf day in Ryan’s name seemed like a good fit and in the end more than 50 sponsors were on board.
Ryan’s good mate, and Daniel’s boss, Brenton Flynn of Eco Choice Solar joined AWM Electrical Moolap in donating a fully installed rooftop solar system which sold for $7000. Golfing buddy Ben Duff, of Duff’s Jewellers, donated watches worth a couple of thousand dollars.
One of Ryan’s closest mates Andrew White donated a year worth of mowing by his Jim’s Mowing franchise.
Golf club operations manager Michael Platt provided immeasurable support and advice. The list went on and on.
“I was spending a few hours every night organising things,” Daniel said.
“Then about a month before the day my boss’s wife Emma could see that it was all starting to get a bit much for me and ended up sitting down with me and my partner Kristy.
“We mapped it all out, she was a massive help. She and Kristy took a heap of work off me so I could concentrate on the golf side of things.”
Now a formal committee is in place organising next year’s memorial, all as a labour of love and with the connection to Hope ongoing.
Daniel reckons Ryan would wonder what all the fuss is about.
His said his mate’s death came as an inconsolable surprise.
“He was always so open with his battles. He wouldn’t try and hide it. He would come around and say if he was struggling, or up and down.
“I know he was getting frustrated because they couldn’t really work out what was going on, but he was always open to talk.
“No-one knew anything was going to happen, we thought because he was open and talking he would be able to get through, but I guess you never know.”
Catherine’s story (written by Jess Gabites) Losing my husband
When Catherine and John packed up their lives in Melbourne and moved to Lara more than four years ago, they didn’t know a soul in their new community.
“We moved to Lara at the beginning of 2016, from Melbourne and 12 months later John was diagnosed with cancer. We had no family here, no one. We both made a conscious decision to move here and I have no regrets about it, but it did sort of compound things a little bit,” Catherine said.
John passed away on July 5, 2018. Soon after Tuckers Funeral & Bereavement Service referred Catherine to Hope Bereavement Care.
Hope has helped Catherine with free bereavement counselling following the death of her husband. The support she has received from Hope has also helped her combat some of the isolation associated with moving to a new area.
Supported by the Geelong Community Foundation, the Hope Adult Counselling Service offers information, support and counselling for people 18 years and older, who have experienced the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one.
“John passed away on July 5 2018. It was not long after the funeral that people from that part of Tuckers go in contact with me about Hope,” she said.
“I didn’t know what to do when I first started. I tried another place, which was very good, they offered two free (counselling) sessions but then it was $50 a session and I just thought, “I can’t keep this up.”
“Then, Tuckers told me about Hope’s four-week program and I went to that and found that very confronting, but helpful. You don’t feel like you are on your own because you are surrounded by people who have been through similar experiences.”
Catherine then had one-on-one sessions with Hope’s Bereavement Counsellor Christine Rawson, as well as phone counselling provided through Cancer Council and her health fund.
“But I tried to do too much at once, taking up things like volunteering,” she said.
“I got back in contact with Christine and for over a year now, I have been seeing her once a month. It has been face-to-face, except for the past two sessions because of everything that has happened (COVID-19 restrictions).”
“I think some people may prefer that (over the phone), but I am looking forward to the day I can be back in the same room as Christine.”
“I don’t even know how to describe her,” Catherine said.
“Out of everyone she just gets you to think about things you wouldn’t normally think about. When I come out of those sessions I just want to break down and cry. But I calm down and she makes me think. She doesn’t judge, she is very supportive and very good at what she does.”
About three months after John passed away Catherine found out about Hope’s ladies’ dinners. Each month a group of Geelong women, who are bereaving the death of a loved one, meet for dinner.
Catherine said joining the group has helped her form friendships, which has been especially helpful being new to the region.
“At first, I hated going (to the dinners). Not because I didn’t like the ladies, but because I was forcing myself to go, thinking I’ve got to push myself. I’m sort of glad I did because I started looking forward to it.”
“It’s interesting how everyone’s journey is different even though we have all gone through the same thing and lost a partner. Everyone handles it differently and that’s what I find really important.”
Catherine said the fact Hope’s services were free and ongoing was incredibly important.
“They are pretty amazing people. I find it very important. I had no idea what this would feel like (losing a husband). You can lose a mother, a father but it’s not the same. I just felt really lost and I find it (the support offered by Hope) really helps me.”
Catherine said her husband died six days short of their 20th wedding anniversary.
“He was desperately wanting to reach that (milestone), but he didn’t quite make it. We were together over 20 years but he just wanted to be able to say we were married for 20 years. It is easy for people to say “you were” but that’s not the point. It was just a goal he had. He just wanted to make it.”
Catherine said John’s death was sudden.
“Even though he had been sick for so long as we weren’t expecting it.”
“His cancer was quite advanced – it was in his neck, which was a secondary cancer and I think it was Stage Four. He had it at the back of his tongue and his tonsils and in his neck. He endured some horrific surgery. He had a peg in his stomach for months and they still couldn’t identify what type of cancer it was because it was so rare.”
“He endured all of that for months and then he developed lymphedema in his neck because he couldn’t eat properly. But he got through all of that and was told in October he was in remission, but they would have to keep a close eye on him. His time was limited but we didn’t know it was going to be as short as it was.”
“He was still having scans, he had one in December and everything was alright. He had one at the end of February and everything was alright and then he had one at the end of May and that’s when they said his liver was full of cancer. They told John he might have eight weeks to live and he lasted four.”
“To this day I have no idea what type of cancer it is. John said when he was a kid you heard all of these stories of people dying of cancer but you wouldn’t think that now, (so many years later) that they still wouldn’t have found a cure.”
Janet and Bruce –
“When I found out I was pregnant I was terrified and excited at the same time,” Janet remembers.
“Then, when I was nine weeks pregnant, I found out I had a chronic kidney disease called IGA nephritis, and my kidneys were not functioning very well. This meant that the pregnancy became high risk. From about 18 to 20 weeks when it put a lot of pressure on my kidneys, it put my life and the baby’s life at risk due to the high risk of developing pre-eclampsia. I was closely monitored between the kidney specialist, obstetrician and GP to keep their eye on my blood pressure and the baby,” she says.
“The kidney specialist was working to get me to 30 weeks gestation whereas the obstetrician would be working to 34 weeks. When my kidney’s functioning did not get worse, the plan changed to 38 weeks and when I was at 37 weeks and six days on July 30 2012, I had an appointment with both the kidney specialist and obstetrician. As everything was going so well, it was decided that we would keep going with the pregnancy past 38 weeks. The kidney specialist said that it was the first time he had a 38-week pregnant woman in his office before.”
“At that time, I felt it was safe to believe the baby and I would be okay. Then, in the early hours of August 1 2012, my first baby quietly slipped away. There was no warning and no signs of distress from him.”
On August 3 2012 Liam Henry, first born child of Janet and Bruce, was stillborn.
“There was no reason found as to why Liam died, he was perfect,” says Janet.
“At the hospital, we didn’t know Hope was involved but we got a Treasured Baby Box which had clothes for a boy of full term and a range of different things organised by Hope.”
The midwives then sent off a referral for Janet and Bruce, to Hope.
“Hope calls you. You don’t have to call them – they call you,” she says.
“They offer to come to see you at your house. They see you as often as you need to. I wanted to go in and you can go in as often as you need to (for one-on-one counselling). I think I was going in every week.”
Janet and Bruce have also received ongoing support from Hope through their Empty Arms Parent Support Group.
The group meets monthly and is for families and friends who have suffered a loss from a miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death, either recently or in the past.
“I still go to that support group now. It’s the first Thursday of the month and I haven’t missed many. I think I only missed a couple after our second son was born.”
Hope also has a library of books and DVDs which has been helpful, along with the Children’s Memory Mornings, which are run during school holidays for pre-schoolers and primary aged siblings.
“Liam was our first so we didn’t go to start with but I think when our second son Lochlan was born, I started going. He was too little at the time but it was actually quite nice for me and it started him on the journey of who his big brother was.”
“It’s only not running because of the COVID restrictions where as the Empty Arms group has been running via Zoom which has been really nice. Some of the mums and dads who have moved further away have been calling in too.”
Hope also has the Christmas Remembering Service where we “get a chance to tell our story and be part of that community”.
Both Janet and Bruce have spoken at the service before and Bruce was the MC last year.
Since 2013, Janet has also regularly attended Hope’s annual Charity Sports Breakfast which is one of the charity’s major fundraisers.
Janet spoke at the event about seven months after their son was born. The couple was preparing to speak at the 2020 event before it was cancelled due to COVID-19.
Hope’s counsellors are also there for siblings, Janet says.
“We didn’t have an older child so we didn’t need it at the time. But my son has certainly formed a good bond with the main counsellor Tracey, from going in with mummy to talk with Tracey. Counselling is also open for grandparents as well and my mother-in-law was able to do that.”
Each October, Janet and Bruce and hundreds of other people come together in Geelong for the Walk of Hope, in memory of their beloved child or loved one.
This is “another opportunity to remember our son”.
Janet says the support from Hope lets them realise they aren’t alone.
“There are other people out there (who have also had a stillborn baby) and it gives us Hope. We get to see people through their journeys,” she says.
“We are going on eight years now, so we have people who have just lost babies coming into the meeting. That’s what I found at the beginning as well, I could see other people who have gone on to have other children even though they still missed their kids. It was hope to see where we could be down the track. So now we are at the point where I give hope to others.”
Janet says Hope’s Empty Arms group allowed you to “talk about all of the crappy stuff with no judgment”.
“You can talk about how upsetting it is to see pregnant women everywhere or prams and we all understand that, where as other people don’t necessarily understand that.”
“People may think, ‘get over that, move on’. But you never move on and they (other people in the group) understand that. For the rest of our lives we will miss our children. We will cry for our children. There is a lot of understanding there.”
“Being a bereaved parent is extremely lonely. Meeting other bereaved parents makes you no longer alone. You have a group of people who will be there for you. We have all made some friends out of it and we remember each other’s children’s birthdays and anniversaries. Where other people forget, they never forget.”
Janet says friends and family often think they have to say something profound to someone grieving the loss of a baby, but that was not the case.
“You don’t have to say anything, you just have to be there with them. I had a lot of messages that said let me know if you need me, but if people just showed up that would have been way better. It’s really hard to reach out.”
“Let them talk about their child, let them cry, just be there for them. Don’t be scared of the tears. Certainly, that first six to 12 months is very hard, trying to make sense of everything but you never make sense of it. You are very numb so people just need people to be there for them, cook for them, clean for them.”
Bruce says he hear a lot of men who hadn’t lost a child tell dads who are grieving that they had to be strong for the mum and the rest of the family.
“When really that is the wrong message to be giving. It’s not allowing the dad to grieve because what you are reinforcing is that male belief that it’s not ok to grieve, that it’s not ok to be emotional.
“We don’t get the same support in terms of maternity leave so if we are lucky our employer may give us two or three days off and then we have to go back into a work place that will essentially be un-supportive. In a lot of instances men will end up changing jobs because of that or reduce their hours.”
Bruce says there is a “reinforced male stereotype that you have to be tough, be strong for someone else, when all you want to do is go out and yell and scream and you aren’t being given the opportunity to do that”.
“I have also heard men say, ‘don’t raise the matter,’ when men have reached out to support a mate who has lost a child.”
“Often, the male thing is to say ‘oh don’t talk about it’, take them out, play golf, have a drink but don’t talk about their loss. That’s the wrong message to be giving because we want to talk, we want to hear our children’s name being mentioned and that’s a really important one,” Bruce said.
“It’s ok to talk about our loss. It’s ok to ask how we are and be prepared to get honest answers. If you aren’t prepared to get those honest answers you probably aren’t going to be around very long as a friend.”
Janet and Bruce say another very important and crucial Hope program was the PEP (Personal Enrichment Program) weekend, which had unfortunately ceased due to a lack of funding.
“It was for bereaved parents past the 12-month mark and gave us the opportunity to really sit with our grief and learn more about our journey and ourselves,” Janet says.
“Both my husband and I attended the program and Bruce especially found it useful as there was not as much available for him as there was for me.”
Lisa’s story (written by Jess Gabites)
“The fact Hope is always there and allows people to come back whenever they need to is such a valuable and important service for grieving families, at a time when your whole world is forever changed,” says Geelong mum Lisa.
The support of Hope’s Bereavement counsellors and their wealth of experience and knowledge in trauma, grief and loss after suicide has been instrumental for Lisa following the tragic death of her beloved, charismatic 20-year-old son Mitch in July 2018.
“Mitch was a dearly loved member of our family and extended family. An incredibly bright, smart, caring and kind young man with a great sense of humour and who wanted to be a clinical psychologist. He was studying Arts at Melbourne University, getting very good marks and had lovely friends. His death by suicide has left us completely bereft and searching for answers to do things better for the young men in our society.”
“We are incredibly grateful to Hope for helping us navigate this most painful loss,” Lisa says.
“We know that this service is lifelong and free which is necessary for so many people to gain support. We can go back at any time and I would strongly advise using the service as a first line option. They specifically understand the responses and reactions that are unique to suicide loss.”
Lisa said the support extended to the whole family, her husband and other three children Paddy, 24, Sophie 20 and Kate 18.
“We did a family session all together first up, which was really valuable as I felt this was the first time we had been able to be together as a family and talk about our feelings. Annie and Christine (Hope Bereavement counsellors) acknowledged how we’d all been coping with our grief in different ways and that it was all ok. This was important for us all to acknowledge.”
Lisa followed up with Annie for the next six months and Paddy attended four sessions.
“The great thing was they were so available to us and that was a great comfort. The service was just there and we didn’t have to think about how to navigate help.”
Following the individual counselling sessions Lisa attended an Early Bereaved Group run by Hope.
“It ended up being mostly myself and three other mothers. The group ran with facilitators for a year and enabled us to discuss many things we couldn’t share with others,” Lisa says.
“The experience of loss to suicide is painful, complex and difficult but we felt immense support from Hope and each other. We felt as though we were in a safe environment where we were really listened to, heard and understood. There were no judgments and we were able to tell our story.”
Lisa encouraged people in a similar circumstance to seek the support of Hope.
“They (Hope counsellors) just sit, listen and reflect. They are kind and compassionate and enable you to tell your story which is all you want to do…to try and make some sense of this enormous loss. They have got a wealth of experience and knowledge in the trauma and grief associated with suicide. Sometimes they kind of get what you are feeling and thinking, even before you can even articulate it. It helps to feel understood and not alone which is an important part of the path you need to travel down.”
Shirley’s Story (written by Jess Gabites)
Shirley McDonald attended Hope’s ‘Learning to Live with Loss’ program in early 2018, after her husband Allan passed away in 2017. “It was a lifesaver for me,” she said. “I don’t know what I would have done without it.”
“It was a place of confidence where you felt could speak of the death of your loved one without feeling guilty, because there is a lot of guilt sometimes. Amongst all of the tears you are able to discuss these issues and hear someone else say ‘that’s exactly how I felt’ or ‘that’s what I did’. And you felt that you weren’t alone.”
Mrs McDonald said the coping strategies she learned through Christine were also extremely important.
“I don’t know what I would have done without it (the program) because I have been the type of person who has put on a happy face. From when Allan had his first stroke it was 11 years until he died. We did everything together and all of a sudden he wasn’t there. I put on a happy face but I realised I had done the wrong thing because everyone assumes that you are ok. It wasn’t until I went to this course that I realised how much help I needed.”
“If I didn’t have someone like that I don’t know where I would be.”
Kim’s Story (written by Jess Gabites)
Ocean Grove mother Kim Edgar has co-authored a report outlining critical findings and recommendations from a national survey of Australian parents who have lost a child to suicide. Ms Edgar has been a strong advocate for youth suicide prevention and bereavement support since her son Daniel took his own life in 2018.
Bullying, the lack of intervention and support for the bereaved after a suicide, disjointedness between services and a shortfall in understanding and training among first responders, were just some of the findings.
The Parents Living With Suicide Australia (PLWSA) Lived Experience 2019 Survey Report documents findings of a lived experience survey undertaken by 42 respondents from every Australian state and territory, except ACT. The report also made recommendations on possible solutions. The respondents were parents who had lost children – both young and adults – to suicide.
Parents Living with Suicide Australia (PLWSA) is an online postvention support group consisting of parents and grandparents who have lost loved ones to suicide.
Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 years and 44, according to Lifeline, 2015.
Ms Edgar wrote the report last year with the support of New South Wales journalist Ursula Wharton, who is also a mother in the support group.
Ms Edgar is focused on the vital need for postvention support for families (intervention and support for the bereaved after a suicide) and a much-needed adolescent mental health unit in the Geelong region. Currently, young people from our region requiring support are sent to the Banksia Unit at Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne.
The Parents Living With Suicide Australia (PLWSA) Lived Experience 2019 Survey Report was sent to Australian Government organisations and politicians including Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt, Victorian Minister for Health Martin Foley, Geelong-based Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson and Libby Coker, Federal Member for Corangamite.
Senator Henderson said Ms Edgar gave a “very powerful and courageous presentation about the loss of her beautiful son Daniel and changes that needed to be made to our mental health system”.
“As Kim spoke about, Geelong is in dire need of prevention and recovery care (PARC) mental health beds for young people. Too many are falling through the gaps. Despite the enormous trauma that Kim and her two other sons have endured, I am so proud of her advocacy and her bravery in speaking out.”
Ms Edgar also sent the report to the Productivity Commission which is looking into the Australian mental health system. Minister Foley and Ms Coker didn’t respond.
Earlier this year it was announced the Morrison Government would invest $64 million into suicide prevention and mental health initiatives as an early response to initial advice from Christine Morgan, the National Suicide Prevention Adviser. Ms Morgan said the suicide prevention approach needed to be co-designed “in a way that is led by those with lived and living experience of suicide”.
“Going forward I think it is promising that both on a federal and a state level there is recognition that the mental health system is broken,” Ms Edgar said.
“Acknowledging that is the first step. I think that there is still a lot of work to be done culturally around destigmitisation of mental health issues and suicide.”
“As a group of carers we felt that we were not listened to, we were not taken seriously. This was definitely a major frustration in us seeking help for our person.”
The disjointedness between services and lack of knowledge in the industry of different support options were also of major concerns for Australian families, the survey found.
“Some people’s response was there was a real lack of plan, education or follow up for the caregiver or patient when someone presents as suicidal or following discharge after a suicide attempt.”
“When presenting to health professionals often the unwell person is expected to articulate concerns in a way that raises red flags, however it is the professional’s job to ask the right questions,” Ms Edgar said.
“Outreach services for people unable or unwilling to engage in clinical settings is needed, particularly for our young people. And streamlining the system in a way that doesn’t require the unwell person to have to retell their story to multiple clinicians, multiple times.”
The report also highlighted the seriousness of bullying within schools, work places, universities and the military.
“We also felt, generally speaking, there is a not a lot of understanding and training with first responders around recognising suicidality. These first responders are not necessarily emergency personnel they are people at Centrellink, they are the school counsellor, their teacher.”
Ms Edgar said staff turnover, more prevalent in public health service, was also a big issue with people developing a relationship with a professional only for them to move on.
Ms Edgar said it was significant that the recent funding announcements had highlighted the importance of postvention support, with $10 million going towards ensuring more Australians had support after losing a loved one to suicide
“There’s not a consistent approach to the national delivery of postvention services and there needs to be. The long term effects of suicide bereavement are far reaching and long term.”
Ms Edgar said the one-on-one counselling and group counselling she received through Geelong’s Hope Bereavement Care following the death of her child, was critical.
“It was lifesaving and life changing for me. It is so needed.”
Hope’s grief counsellor also met with the family, including Ms Edgar’s other two sons, in the week after Daniel’s death.
“It was the first time we could all talk about what this meant for all of our lives from that point on – that was a conversation we couldn’t have with anyone else.”
“These women (from the group counselling sessions) are the most amazing support now as you can talk to them about stuff that no one else can understand.”
Established in 1985, Hope is a community-driven organisation which offers free information, support and counselling when grieving the death of a child, the sudden and unexpected death of an adult and those experiencing the loss after suicide. Hope receives no direct Government funding.
Ms Edgar said funding around suicide prevention and support needed to be used well.
“You can’t just throw money at it and think it is now better. The work has to be done on doing it properly. What I think is really promising is when they talk about it being a truly co-designed system – taking the experiences of the people who have experience of the mental health system and issues – to make it better.”
To read the Report: https://www.pc.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/248652/sub609-mental-health.pdf
Caroline’s Story (written by Caroline)
My Father Kingsley died in July 2018 in England. He had battle with Alzheimer’s, Vascular Dementia and Parkinson’s Disease for 2 years. The rate of decline, in his case was quite fast. At the time of his illness I was working in a Dementia Unit here in Geelong. As a result I could see each stage of his decline. Obviously, living apart from my family was incredibly difficult. Hope Bereavement Care was such an important part of what I needed.
I went back to the UK 3 times during this period. The final visit I had arrived to find my father unable to talk and barely conscious. He was extremely agitated as his Parkinson’s meant he could not straighten his legs or sleep normally. This had lead to bedsores. The end of a persons life is a hard thing to watch, especially when you love them. No human should ever have to suffer to this extent. Luckily for me I was able to help the care team, during their visits. It enabled me to see exactly how frail he was. We called a Dr to our house on a Sunday morning. He prescribed Morphine and a nurse driver. Sadly the Chemist who received the fax was closed so we called an ambulance at 3.30 am as he needed the right medication to be able to eventually drift into a peaceful sleep. Prior to this mum had courageously cared for dad alone in the week. My brother who lives 3 hours away came to help at the weekends. Dad had been resistive to care from other people. My family were suffering. They made the brave decision to allow dad to die at home, where he wanted to be. It was a peaceful place to die.
I stayed in the Uk for about 3 weeks, we had the funeral and I helped clear up my folks house. My family all dealt with dad’s passing differently. We were hugely relieved he was no longer suffering. We were all still in shock. I was reluctant to come back to Australia, but my young family needed me.
I realised that I needed to see a professional to talk through what had happened. I contacted the Alzheimer’s office in Geelong. I had not been in touch with them before. I had called a helpline once. They had suggested I go to a carers meeting? I had felt uncomfortable about that as my family were not living close by. I felt a fraud as I wasn’t caring on a daily basis. Alzheimer’s Australia offered me a group of sessions at a fee. There was a 6 week wait. I waited, meanwhile burning myself out at work. I was extremely relieved to finally get to see somebody but the session didn’t offer me what I was looking for. Not their fault. I was very angry.
After this, a friend suggested I see an Art Therapist she knew. I didn’t gel with that either. I was resentful that I kept having to explain my story but I could not find somebody who could help me. I became very snappy and retreated from life. Not that is easy when you have school runs!
I then started chatting to friends online who had had similar experiences. They suggested I continue in my search of a local group? I liked that idea as I had responded to a Mothers Group. I thought it might help to be going through a process with other people here. So this lead me to Hope Bereavement.
Christine left a phone message, as I was working. She explained that there were only group bereavement sessions for parents who had lost children or for couples who had lost their loved ones. She then suggested we chat? I agreed with a sense of dread.
During that time a lot of people were telling me to see a Dr to go on medication. I saw no benefit in masking my symptoms. What I was going through was normal, after all. I just needed to process everything. I now realise there is no sudden awakening from grief. I just have adapted. I am proud to be Kingsley’s daughter. He was an incredible man. I am lucky to have had him in my life. We all made memories that can be cherished. Now we just are onto another chapter. I have created ways to spend time with him, but would dearly love to have a chance to chat again, thats life.
My role as a mother watching an illness take away a person I love , has meant I have not always dealt well with stress. I am unable to hide my pain. I guess in some way I felt they should witness some of the process? During dad’s decline I went to the UK 3 times. Once with the kids. They have had to do a lot of grown up things. They saw some strange behaviours and they have experienced separation anxiety. I spoke a lot about this to Christine. She offered to see one of my kids before a trip and put me in touch with a kid’s therapy space. She even gave my mum some reading material on her visit here.
Straight after meeting Christine I knew I had met the right person. She reminded me of a friend who lives in the UK. She was also English so understood what it takes to leave home and people you love.
During our first session Christine noticed I was shaking. She asked me if I was cold? I had got so run down I could no longer hide my pain. The sense of release I felt in being able to talk about what was going on in my head was immense. I walked to school to collect my children lighter that day. I was still frozen in my chest but I could breathe again. I had a coping mechanism.
The journey I am on is still bumpy somedays, I have wonderful family and friends support. I have Hope Bereavement . My family were also lucky as we could put on a fundraiser in the Uk in memory of Kingsley which helped us communicate as a family. We had a focus to put our energy towards.It forced us to look forward.
I have recommended a few others to the service.
Please give Hope Bereavement all the funding it needs to stay open. It is a vital service for Geelong. Especially to Parents who have to bury their children. Thank you all for your dedication. What a special bunch of folk you must be.
Lesley’s story (written by Jess Gabites)
Lesley and her brother Ian were like ‘two peas in a pod’.
“We were extremely close. Wherever I ended up, he ended up,” Lesley says.
“When I was living in Melbourne Ian moved to Melbourne from Tasmania. He moved down the road from me. I met my now husband and we bought a property outside of Geelong. Every second week Ian would come down from Melbourne and stay with us for three to four days.”
In November 2015, Lesley’s brother Ian, 46, died from suicide.
“It’s a crazy stigma in our society (suicide). And there’s this perception that I am embarrassed by my brother, but I’m not. His death doesn’t define him. He fought for 30 years.”
A couple of months after her brother’s death, Lesley started weekly counselling sessions with Annie Norrish, Hope’s Support After Suicide Bereavement Counsellor.
“The amazing thing is it doesn’t cost anything – and so many people just can’t afford counselling,” she says.
“I just couldn’t have been able to afford counselling at that level, even if it was through a mental health plan. If Annie wasn’t there, I don’t know how I would have got through it.”
Lesley had regular counselling sessions with Annie for a number of years.
“I only have them now if I feel like I need to. If something triggers me, I will ring her and go see her,” she says.
“One of the big things was being able to talk to Annie to work out if how I was feeling was normal or not, because I had never been through it.”
“I was able to say to her, ‘I am having these dreams or I am having these thoughts and should I be worried or is it part of the process?’ It made me feel a bit more in control just to know what was normal.”
Lesley says having access to a bereavement counsellor who specifically focuses on suicide was also extremely important.
Annie “really understands that type of grief. It was really great to have that support”.
“I don’t come from here so all my friends and family are up in Brisbane. I had only been in Geelong for about one year, and felt I had yet to establish a community of support. To be able to have Annie on tap was pretty amazing.”
“I just think it’s an amazing service and so I have recommended them numerous times.”
Hope has a Support After Suicide Support Group which meets on the third Tuesday of the month. This is an opportunity to meet and connect with other people who have lost someone to suicide.
Lesley has benefitted from the support of Hope’s group programs, although living outside of Geelong made it challenging for her to regularly attend the Support after Suicide program.
“I attended an Early Bereavement Course which went for about six weeks and that was really good. And then I recently finished the Creative Bereavement Course. I’ve tried to go to those when I could, but sometimes work got in the way. I’ve moved into the city now so I want to work out how I can get more involved.”
The Creative Bereavement Course is an informal group run by trained art therapists who have experience in grief counselling. It is an opportunity to be with other people who are bereaved and to find creative ways to express your feelings. Activities such as writing, drawing and painting are offered.
“It wasn’t just people bereaved by suicide. There was this feeling that you could share (your story) and it was balanced as well. Sometimes I think if you are in a room with all people bereaved by suicide it can be quite overwhelming and distressing, so I found this worked really well,” she says.
I am a mum if 4 beautiful children – 2 boys and a girl in my arms and one son in my heart – Finnegan. On April Fools Day, 2015, I knew something wasn’t right with my baby. At the time, I kept telling myself everything would be ok. But deep down, I knew something was wrong. I went to see my obstetrician, who wasn’t there, but the midwife did a scan. My baby had no heartbeat. At almost 29 weeks. I had to go to have another scan and it was there I found out I was having a boy. It is impossible to describe the feeling – being told my baby had died. Gut-wrenching, utterly heartbreaking, in such shock, numb. I had to meet a different obstetrician as mine was away and it was decided I would be induced on Good Friday – 2 days later. How can you prepare yourself for giving birth to a baby you so desperately wanted, but who you know has died and you won’t be able to keep him? The Thursday passed in a blur or getting things organised. Good Friday arrived and to the birthing suite we went. How could this be happening? The hours spent waiting for the induction to “work” wet so long. But finally, at 10:15pm, I delivered my son, into my own hands. Finn was so perfect. The Obstetrician we had took some lovely photos for us, which we treasure. We invited our family in to meet Finn. We then spent another 36 hours or so with him with the help of a cuddle cut. I held him, but my arms will always long to hold him one more time. We then had to let him go on Easter Sunday. Watching him be carried out of our room was one if the hardest things I have ever had to do. I did not think I would have the strength to let my precious boy go. Finnegan is part of our family and talked about most days. My rainbow babies will know he is their big brother. Having the support of Hope and families who have been though this too has helped me immensely. It has shown me that there is no right way to grieve. I truly do not know what I would have done if I did not have Hope.
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