real life

Matthew Reilly: the tragic story of his wife's death

Matthew Reilly

by CAROLINE OVERINGTON

This is an excerpt from an article in The Weekend Australian magazine. Caroline Overington interviewed bestselling author Matthew Reilly, whose wife committed suicide late last year. This is his story.

…The Reilly who opens the door of his home in Sydney’s Willoughby a few weeks ago is in almost every sense different. He is pale, and his clothes hang ever so slightly on his frame. To look into his eyes is to see a man who has suffered, and is suffering still. Reilly’s latest book, Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves, was published last October, and in November Reilly left on a tour to promote it. In early December, while he was gone, his beloved wife Natalie died, leaving him a widower at the age of 37. The cause of death was suicide.

Sorrow has engulfed him. Reilly and Natalie had been together since they were 18. He had never taken a step in his adult life without her by his side, and then she was gone and in the immediate aftermath of her death he didn’t know what or who he was without her. And so here he stands in the kitchen of the lovely old home they shared together, a gentle, ghost-like soul moving quietly around the kitchen, preparing a cup of coffee and then softly crying for a loss that is immense and raw.

Ice Station, by Matthew Reilly

… Asked what he loved about Natalie, Reilly says: “It’s simply that we were not the same. It is almost that perfect match, in that I would lean forward and she would lean back … She was gentle, and kind, and generous to a fault.”

The couple wed in 2004 and they settled into married life. Natalie started work as a psychologist in working-class communities “where she was really at the coalface, working out of demountable buildings at the hospital with people with severe mental illnesses” but she found the lack of support for mental health patients difficult to bear and, after watching her despair, Reilly told her: “The books have gone pretty well. If you want to stop work, why don’t you stop and think of doing something else?”

Natalie (photo published in the Weekend Australian Magazine)

They discussed the possibility of starting a family but at 33 Natalie said she wasn’t quite ready. They had nieces and nephews they adored, and a lovely black labradoodle called Dido that they doted on. Natalie decided to take up yoga and then marathon running, which might be considered a positive thing for somebody in the process of taking stock of their life but, as Reilly explains, “the problem was that she became obsessed with it. The running, and then the fitness… it was as if she could not stop. She started to eat less and exercise more. She went from being really trim, with a terrific physique, to being skeletal…”

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Then, about three years ago, Natalie began displaying symptoms of serious depression. “It was as if her brain had turned on herself,” Matthew says. “She stopped turning up to social outings, even simple dinners with our closest friends. She would say, ‘I feel like I’m taking up space at the table, I have nothing to contribute anyway.’” He would come home some days to find Natalie sobbing in the laundry, or in the bathroom, “telling me she was awful, and I should leave her. And I would say, ‘No. This is not you talking. This is the illness talking.’ And I do believe that depression is an illness, a chemical imbalance in the mind. If I could say anything to a depressed person right now, it would be: ‘You are loved. You have worth. And the world is absolutely better with you in it…’

Reilly says that Natalie did not threaten suicide – at least not to him – but in August 2010, and again in August 2011, she asked him not to travel as he’d planned “because she was worried what might happen if I wasn’t here. She said, ‘I don’t want you to be gone,’ and so I didn’t go…”

By October 2011, around the time Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves was due to be released, Natalie seemed to be doing better. Her psychiatrist had adjusted her medication and she attended an eating disorder clinic. She seemed able to extract some enjoyment from life, returning to work teaching yoga part-time. “Now, when I look back, I think, no, she had decided what she was going to do, and she was just waiting,” says Reilly.

… Natalie had checked into a hotel and taken an overdose. She was 36 years old. She left a note in which she apologised to her husband for what she called “the deception” – saying she would be going to work when she had planned all along to take her life while he was gone. She apologised to her young niece, Harper (Stephen Reilly’s daughter), for “having to learn about grief, when she is still so young”. She also wrote, “I’m sorry to those of you who have to find me.”

If you need immediate help, you can contact:

Lifeline – 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800
MensLine Australia – 1300 78 99 78

SANE Australia has fact sheets on mental illness as well as advice on getting treatment. Visit www.sane.org or call 1800 18 SANE (7263).

You can also visit beyondblue: the national depression initiative (1300 22 4636) or the Black Dog Institute, or talk to your local GP or health professional.

Caroline Overington is an Australian author and journalist. She has published five books – Only in New York, Kickback, Ghost ChildI Came To Say Goodbye and Matilda is Missing.

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