real life

"At 13, my dad died by suicide. As an adult, I received a call about my brother."

This post deals with suicide and might be triggering for some readers.

This past week has been the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. 

I’ve spent hours smiling from ear to ear with family and friends feeling incredibly blessed alongside sleepless nights in tears knowing I was turning the age that my brother was when he took his own life. 

This is a little of my story.

It was this day two years ago. 

I was celebrating my birthday in London blissfully unaware of how my entire world was about to be shattered. I remember waking up on that Saturday like any other racing to the gym, my biggest worry being if I would have enough time to wash my hair before meeting my friends. 

Video via Mamamia.

As usual, it was a tight turn around and the delays in ordering an Uber in East London gave us just enough time to clean the local Tesco Express out of prosecco. It was going to be a great day. 

We arrived at Clissold Park just as the clouds cleared. My friend and I had organised a joint birthday picnic, because what other way is there to celebrate a birthday during the British summer time? I was also bursting with excitement because my younger brother had secretly flown back to London the day prior to surprise our friends by rocking up to the park unannounced. What a surprise it was! It was the best day all round, I even remember thinking to myself, life couldn’t be better.

As the cool British summer night set in, we grabbed our summer jackets and headed for the local pub to finish the celebrations. This is where it seems blurry, but not in a 'I’ve had too many Pimms and prosecco' kind of way. 

I checked my phone and saw multiple missed calls from my mum, Knowing I had spoken to her earlier that day and being the early hours of Sunday in Australia, something seemed off. I hit call. She answered in seconds but it felt like a lifetime before she could get any words out. 

I thought it was the connection breaking up, so I walked around the pub trying to hear her. My incredible, kind, caring and beautiful older brother had taken his own life days after his 31st birthday. 

I couldn’t move. This all seemed too familiar. Suddenly, I was 13 years old again coming home from school, slinging my bag in the hallway and racing to the kitchen bench to dig into an ice-cream sundae. I could see my brothers either side of me as our mum had to watch our three little ice-cream covered smiles fade away with the news our father had taken his own life.


The brisk summer evening breeze anchored me back in London. 

I remember looking over to my younger brother having the best time being reunited with his UK friends and I thought to myself: how did my mum do it? How do you find the right words to say that will shatter someone's world? My beautiful friends helped me home, and I decided to let him have one more 'normal' night – knowing the heartache to come when I would bring him McDonald’s in the morning and try to find the words. 

Turns out I couldn’t. Mum had to tell him over Facetime, as I watched the disbelief glaze over him as he fought back tears before they could drop onto his bacon and egg McMuffin. 

He would then utter "I’m fine". 

It was at this point I realised, I was not only grieving the unexpected loss of my older brother but simultaneously watching my mum slip into a black hole of despair 16,000km away. And I was watching my younger brother crumble in silence right in front of me, under layers of social conditioning and toxic masculinity to conceal emotion.

Listen to Mia Freedman's No Filter interview with Hugh van Cuylenberg. Post continues below. 

Now, the birthday week I proudly share with Scott will forever carry memories of the time he chose to leave this life. But over time, I am starting to trust that the best moments in life are not always laced by the most painful. 

I have learned that grief is not linear; it comes and goes like waves and can sweep you away at any moment. But I know each and every one of us are strong enough to find our way back to the shore. Life changes constantly, right under us, whether or not we are ready. But you can get through it. We all can. Everything will seem normal again one day, not the normal you were used to but it won’t matter much by then because you won’t remember what that normal was. 

Sadly, my experience is not unique. 

Loss is a guaranteed part of living in whatever way that may come. If you have experienced the sudden loss of a loved one or suicidal thoughts yourself, I just want you to know that you are not alone, you never were. 

I know this pandemic has catastrophically impacted our mental health as a collective and I can only continue to hold hope that mental health will, one day, be valued and cared for in the same way we tend to our physical health, free from fear, shame and judgement. 

I know this day will come. It has to.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner or in Australia, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.