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"She just allowed me to be a human." How a friend's compassion helped Kim Gargiulo heal after her brother's suicide.

Image: Kim Gargiulo and Rowan were inseparable as kids (supplied). In honour of RUOK Day, Kim shared her story with The Glow:

My brother was just 17 when he took his own life.

Rowan was doing an apprenticeship in Melbourne, he was charming, and he’d get away with absolutely anything; he’d bat his eyelids and Mum would just let anything slide. He had his whole life ahead of him.

Growing up, we’d been inseparable. I was always the ‘protector’, but he ended up leaving home at the same time I did — I was 18, he was 16. Unfortunately, he got involved with the wrong crowd and from there it all happened very quickly. For six months he was taking drugs, then he spiralled into a depression and just couldn’t see a way out. It was devastating. It’s going to take me my whole life to try and figure out why.

I found out about Rowan’s suicide from the police very, very early the morning after it happened. I was 19 at the time. I didn’t believe it for a long time, but I guess when you go through the funeral and everything that comes afterwards, it starts to sink in.

"Rowan would bat his eyelids and Mum would just let anything slide." (Image supplied)

For those first weeks and months I was still in denial, but the main feeling was guilt; because I took on that role as his protector throughout our childhood, I felt like I could’ve done more and I should’ve seen more of the signs.

At the same time, I struggled to be emotional. There is such a stigma around suicide that people are scared to ask how you’re going and what the story is. If Rowan died from cancer or a car accident, I think people would have been more willing to ask, and so I just didn’t know how to show emotion or even what I was meant to be feeling.

Caroline wasn't scared to ask the question.

When I found out about my brother a lot of my friends came over and sat with me, and Caroline was one of them. She was one of my mum's friends, and she must have just felt like she needed to be there.

Throughout the whole grieving process, Caroline basically took on a second motherly role for me. My mum, who I love endlessly, was also struggling with her grief; the two of us had conflicting ideas about why and how it could've been stopped, and we needed different supports.

What made Caroline's support stand out was that she just allowed me to be a human, and to not be afraid of what I was feeling.

Kim when she was younger (image supplied)

Having never gone through something like that before, I didn't know how to compartmentalise it or analyse it or process it at all. She didn’t try to rush me, she didn’t try to finish my sentences and she just had this wisdom about her. When she said something, I believed it.

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She was also incredibly compassionate; Caroline has suffered great loss in her life as well and she just got me. She had lost her dad quite suddenly so she was on the same grieving journey as me, but six years ahead. Seeing her being able to laugh and smile about memories of her dad helped me realise I would never get over my brother's death, but learn to deal with the loss and make it a part of me and move on.

I’m in a really good place now; I turn 24 next month, and I'm in my dream job and just bought a house. But Rowan's death has definitely left a hole, and we all still feel the effects.  I wish that in his moment of despair Rowan could have looked back and seen how many people he was going to affect before he made that decision. I used to be very angry at him for the pain he caused myself and my family, but I’m not any more.

Kim has shared for story for RUOK Day

Having all of my friends and family around me was what got me through and it still gets me through today.

You don’t have to experience something bad in your life to be able to help to someone, but I think you have to be willing to sit there, let them process, and not make them feel like you’re looking at the clock. Don’t try and fix their problems or try and be a hero, but just have some part in their healing process. We all have different people for different things; I have friends who I just want to chat with and I have friends who I have those deep and meaningful conversations with.

Even sending someone a text message to see how they're going, and to let them know you're thinking of them, can be exactly what they need. If you have those inklings, feed off it because you never know how you’re going to change someone’s day. I only wish I could’ve messaged my brother more that day; I only asked him if he was coming around for dinner and he said no. If I'd replied and asked, 'Are you okay?' we might not be in this situation now.

I don’t think we know the full effects of the power of conversation and reaching out and helping people. I think you just have be proactive and take a risk by asking if someone is okay. What’s the worst that can happen? If they say, 'Yeah, I’m great,' then at least you put it out there and at least they know you’re a person they can rely on.

Has there been someone in your life whose support was invaluable in a time of need? Visit the RUOK website here to say thank you, and share your story.

Today is also World Suicide Prevention Day. If you believe someone you love is experiencing suicidal thoughts, read our report on what to do to let them know you're there.

 

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