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"I had a sudden urge to text him ‘I love you, dad.’ The next day, he took his own life."

Trigger warning: This post discusses suicide and may be distressing for some readers.

I have to talk about this. I have to re-live it here and now to try and find some peace. I have to tell you because this isn’t some sad story you see on the news. This happens every day, in every day homes and real life families lose their loved ones to suicide.

Bloody, broken, disfigured, deliberate, deadly, petrifying, dark, soul shattering suicide. The stuff nightmares are made of. It happens, and it happened to my family.

My father was a dedicated Christian who believed suicide was an act of ‘sin’ that sent you straight to hell. We were the kids who were always in Sunday school, taking holy communion, sleeping under the seats at the Sunday night church service and being subjected to Hillsong’s CD on repeat on family road trips. That was us, we were that family.

My father was a motivational speaker. He wrote a book called The Key To Life which spoke about how we are put on this earth for a greater purpose.

His catch cry was ‘never, ever, ever give up’. Over his lifetime he sat and prayed with perhaps hundreds of people, most of them strangers and dedicated his life to saving the world, one lost soul at a time.

Bridget and her dad. Image: Supplied.

But he had another side, he lived a double life. He was dodgy in business and often conned people of their money and he had a temper. A temper so bad the boom of his voice would vibrate the walls of the house. As a child I remember being smack bang in the middle of fights and having to literally stand between my father and mother in fear his temper would get out of control and end badly.

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Our family projected two very different lives. In the public eye we looked perfect, but there was a deep darkness that lingered beyond our front door that only my mother, father and us three kids will ever know. We were a beautifully broken contradiction.

My father got diagnosed with a rare lung disease later in his life and received a double lung transplant. He was on heavy medication, broke, and fell into severe deep depression.

The toll weighed on us all, there was nothing we could do or say to pull him out of it. He was eventually discharged from hospital even though he had told the physiologist that he was suicidal. How this even happened I will never know. All his life he was the boy who cried wolf, intensely dramatic with little or no action to back up his threats or promises in both the good and bad times.

He was two people.

One moment a loving husband and father. The next unpredictable, irrational and almost living in a dream-like state, often staring into space with his eyes glazed over while trying to hold a conversation with him. He got frustrated and furious at us all, that we didn't understand the pain he was in. This became a normal occurrence and we just eventually  painfully accepted that this was who he was now.

After his transplant he got worse, heavily medicated, in and out of hospital with infections and complications and he, over time lost the will to live.

On December 11th 2014, my father took his own life.

My mother and sister were both home at the time. That day was the darkest day of my life.

I lived a few streets away from their place, and while nonchalantly going about my morning, getting my daughter breakfast I heard sirens in the distance. Simply just another sound in the busyness of our neighbourhood. The series of events that occurred after felt like time was going so fast and yet it had suddenly stopped all at the same time.

After brief phone calls from my sister, I had very little information.

Bridget are you sitting down?

As she kept talking, her voice shaking in fear, it began to sound as though she was talking underwater. My brain couldn't catch up with the information she was telling me and everything went blurry in my head, and the desperate questions started forming.

Bridget be rational. You can fix this.

Where is he?

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Where are you?

What do you mean?

He's OK though, right?

I'm coming.

My sister at that stage couldn't answer the questions I needed to be answered. All I knew was that she was in the bedroom next door.

My poor baby sister. She froze. With her bedroom front door shut next door to where she was, she couldn’t move.

My mother was in the kitchen getting him a glass of water as moments before he had a panic attack. She went back in to give him his water and he wasn't in the bedroom, he was no where in the house.

I found out my father had passed away via a text message, my sister couldn't pick up her phone while speaking to the police.

Racing mind. Shaking. Telling myself he was going to be ok. Dialing my sister... No answer... 5, 10 times. Hot flashes and sweat dripping off me.

**Message alert**

It read, ''I'm so sorry Bridget."

My knees collapsed, I was trembling from head to toe. My then three-year-old daughter sitting inside happily watching Play School while I was struggling to catch my breath outside.

Panic. Disbelief. Sick, feeling so sick to my stomach I dry retched.

I dialled my husband's number and spoke in short breathless words.

Come home now.

Dad is dead.

Come.

Help.

Hurry.

I can't breath.

I wanted to run there, run and see him. This couldn't be true. I didn't even get to say goodbye. My dad cant be dead. This isn't happening.

But we weren't allowed there until his body had been taken away to the morgue.

I had to call and tell my baby brother. He was at work. I had to call and tell my uncle, who had also lost his wife to cancer merely a few years earlier.

I called my mum. Stuck like a prisoner in her apartment of hell as her husband lay lifeless.

I couldn't fathom any of it. It was like a nightmare I couldn't wake up from.

I remember the very moment our eyes met; me, my mother, brother and my sister. There was nothing but deep howling, the sounds crying only makes in your worst nightmares.

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My knees collapsed, I was trembling from head to toe. My then three-year-old daughter sitting inside happily watching Play School while I was struggling to catch my breath outside.

The knot in your stomach when something terrible has happened, the adrenaline that kicks in and makes you shiver from head to toe. The grabbing, clutching the breathing, sobbing lives left in the room. Desperate to just feel anything alive and to feel but the fear and shock you're feeling.

The next 24 hours were the darkest hours of my life.

Words flew at me that were so foreign like coffin, funeral, suicide, autopsy, morgue, coroner, sustained injuries, viewing, disfigured.

It was all too much.

While just down the road my daughter was being cared for, I sat with my family in shock and literally drank and drank around the clock until I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore. I sat there on the very balcony he had jumped from and replayed what it must have looked like over and over in my mind.

The pain was too much to bear.

Friends and family surrounded us, meals and kindness flooded that apartment. Cards, flowers, condolences, sympathy.

I couldn't bear to look in his bedroom, I felt chills every time I stepped into their home. This wasn't just death. This was death on purpose, this was a person wanting to die and choosing how they went. It felt so sickly, so horrible, so revoltingly upsetting, so consuming. How is it that my father chose this? I couldn't comprehend it.

Then came the day of going to the morgue to 'view' his body... As if he were some sort of object on display. We were warned about the injuries he had sustained and visually what we were to expect should we decide to see him.

The description alone broke my heart into a billion pieces. My poor daddy was broken. He was physically broken after death and only now had I truly realised how mentally broken he was before.

Bridget's daughter with her father. Image: Supplied.
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This man who tried so desperately to mend the brokenhearted people of the world, was in fact just as broken himself. What a life, what a mask to wear every day. How long had he felt this way? How long had he wanted to escape? Did he think of us? Did he know he was loved?

I will never be able to truly know what went through his mind that fateful day... In those last moments, did he regret his decision? Did he suddenly remember he had a family who loved him, did he want to rewind and try again to face another day tomorrow?

Why weren't we enough to live for? Why wasn't my daughter, his granddaughter, a little bit of hope and happiness for him to want to fight harder?

There will always be questions that will never be answered.

If I am completely honest, looking back we did see the signs. He was depressed for years, having felt like failure as a husband and father after he could no longer provide for his family. He was a man full of big dreams, and when he realised they would most likely never be achieved in his life, he lost the will to go on.

He was difficult, he was rude, he was confusing and incredibly aggressive. I felt like I was constantly walking on egg shells being around him. I began to feel ripped off and resentful for the way our father had become.

There were times all of us felt the burden. Especially when he was unwell and always talked so negatively no matter how much we would try and show him even a glimmer of positivity in his day. Even if I was to mention the beautiful sunshine outside his hospital window, he would turn away and sigh.

It was hard.

In the later stages, in arguments he would often threaten with suicide, he would scream that he didn't want to be here anymore and that he was in so much pain. He would get extremely angry and agitated at even the smallest things. He became reclusive, often spending days in bed refusing to eat, shower or take his medication. He was put in a psychiatric ward at one point after yet another bout of darkness.

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How was it that all of this was happening and yet I truly believe not one of us thought he would actually ever go through with ending his own life? Perhaps it was that he was always ‘the boy who cried wolf’, often seeking attention, over-dramatising everything and living with his head in the clouds dreaming - but rarely ever putting those goals and desires into action.

Perhaps we all felt pushed away, hurt and resentful at the way he had become and that we were now on the receiving end of his horrible temper.

Perhaps we felt incredibly helpless as we all tried to sit, listen, talk and be understanding to him yet we never felt as though we got anywhere by encouraging him to try and help himself get better.

Perhaps we felt angry at him that he had been so fortunate to receive a double lung transplant and get a second chance to life, and yet we had to painfully watch him refuse to help himself in the road to recovery. He wouldn't do his breathing exercises, he refused to go to rehabilitation to get his body and lungs strong again. He would constantly give in to the darkness inside his head and no one could get in.

This man, once so full of life and passion, this father who once woke us up with a giant smile and a some cheery motivational quote, was now someone we didn't recognise.

Bridget's father in hospital. Image: Supplied.

I remember the week before he passed away, he was in hospital with yet another infection. I remember texting him to ask how he was progressing. I had spoken to the nurses  and was told that the medication he had been put on was working and that the infection was clearing.

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Yet, dad refused to believe it. It's almost like he wanted to be in there to escape the world and wallow. I got angry. I got irritated. I said something along the lines of ‘Dad, I'm asking about this infection and you're just telling me how much pain you're in and that you're so sick, yet I know the treatment is working? I wont ask again if you're going to be so defensive.’

We didn't speak for a week.

The night before he died, I had a sudden urge to text him, ‘I love you dad, hope you're okay.’

He responded with ‘I love you too, thank you for caring.’

The next morning he took his life.

There is not a day that goes by where his death doesn't haunt me. There are days now myself where I can feel the darkness begin to consume me. Some days the guilt for not seeing that for what it was is excruciating. How did I see all these signs and yet refuse to believe my dad would ever take his own life.

Two years on, I am still in utter shock. I don't know if that shock will ever leave me.

Honestly I can say now, had I have known just how close to the edge he was I would have forced professional help on him. I would have checked him back into the psychiatric ward myself and demanded he stay in there. I would have begged the nurses at the hospital to not release him until he wads put on some form of anti-depressant medication and to be helped and constantly monitored by professionals.

I would have literally sat by his side as long as I could to make sure he didn't hurt himself. I would have done anything to save my father, and yet when it was actually happening I suppose in my own way I gave up on trying to help him. I was tired of him not listening and not helping himself. I now realise, some people lose the will to help themselves through severe depression.

As a ripple effect, this has now touched the lives of so many who knew him but mostly his family. Some days I don't want to get out of bed, I don't want to re-live this in my head. I so desperately want to be able to call him and tell him how sorry I am for not truly believing or understanding how dark he must have felt in those days. I now, myself, suffer from anxiety and severe panic attacks. I have had to find help with a psychologist and medication to help me fight this demon that now lingers since my father passed away.

Depression is a killer. It comes and chokes you, it makes you feel as if you cant breathe. It is a killer and it is killing thousands of Australians every year.

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There is the saying that goes ‘You can't help someone who doesn't want to help themselves’. I now truly believe there must have been something I could have done to stop him from taking his life. He gave up on himself, but I have to take responsibly for dropping the ball and being consumed in my own life that I mistook his cries for help as attention-seeking and being the ever over-dramatic father I always knew.

As loved ones, we can not become immune to this disease and we can never ever take threats of suicide or talk of wanting to die lightly. No matter how burdened we feel, there is never a time where we can take our eye off the ball with these desperately sad people.

I can't pussyfoot around this subject and allow the focus of this to be all about lighting candles, looking at old photographs remembering the good times, prayers, condolences and lines like ‘He’s in a better place now’.

It should not take a suicide to help these people be in a ‘better place’. I dropped the ball, I should have done more to save him. I should have put my feelings and emotions aside for the way he was treating his family, and seen this for what it really was. I will forever regret not being more active in helping him fight his demons.

I will have to live with that regret forever.

I wouldn't wish this grief, pain and never-ending regret on anyone.

Do not drop the ball, do not allow your own feelings to get in the way of what is really happening to this person you love. Do not allow yourself to hold onto resent and anger for the way they may have become as a result of their depression. Do not allow yourself to dwell on the words and actions of this person and forget what is really happening inside them. Remember that this behaviour is a true reflection of the way they're feeling inside.

Depression it is a killer and it will kill when you're not looking. Even if it's for a split second that you allow yourself to think, ‘They will be ok’… the truth is, unless you're actively there with them, arm stretched out trying to help pull them out of the darkness in any way you can, they can slip away forever.

Don't wait until it's too late.

This is my heartfelt warning to you.

In loving memory of my daddy.

Love always,

Bridget

If you or anyone you know is suffering, don't suffer in silence. Mamamia urges you to contact Beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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