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"I was 19 when I got the call. It took two days to get the answers to your disappearance."

Content warning: This story deals with the subject of suicide, and will not be appropriate for all readers. 

At seventeen, I was forcing myself to make eye contact with you when we awkwardly met that winter in your cosy living room. I was braced defensively, waiting for you to size me up and deem me unsuitable for your son. Instead, you sat us down and were genuinely interested in the girl who had spent the long days of summer passed with your eldest child. You had a gentle and loving soul and it was impossible for me to keep my guard up as you asked about my university course, my career plans and my family. Your son grew bored and went off to his Xbox while we chatted for the remainder of the evening.

My relationship with your son grew as we spent more and more time together, declaring ourselves soul mates, in that way young, smitten couples do. I know you were wise enough to see things differently, but you didn’t deny us our feelings, despite you knowing we were headed on wildly different paths. When I considered taking a chance to work overseas the next summer, you told me to embrace the opportunity and that you were jealous you’d never had the chance to do such things when you were our age. You said if we were really soul mates then it would all work out and that if we weren’t then I would kick myself for missing the chance to embrace my spirit of adventure. I went, he broke up with me, like you surely knew he would, but ultimately you knew I would get over it. I have such fond memories of that summer and understand how it was the catalyst that propelled me into the person I am today. I regret nothing.

Upon my return we reconnected, we were soul mates after all, or so we thought at the time. At eighteen, you awkwardly approached my mother at her work, introduced yourself and explained what you were there for. You were a shy introvert and to this day I cannot imagine how long it took you to build up the courage to approach a total stranger and start discussing if we were you know, doing it, and doing it safely. You also wanted to make sure your son was respectful when he visited and that I wasn’t being put in any uncomfortable situations, with him being that little bit older. I always felt safe with your son, you raised him well. That’s who you were – a woman who looked out for others, no matter how uncomfortable it was for you.

I was nineteen when I got the call. At first, your husband hadn’t been too concerned, a little later back from the bingo than you’d said, a little out of character, but not yet cause for alarm. As the night went on, the police got involved and by the time I knew of your disappearance your friends and family were at red alert. All possible avenues had been exhausted, no one had heard from you, you weren’t at any hospitals and your bank account was untouched. As night turned into day and back into night, being the lesser of two evils, we hoped you had run off with another man. Even at that young age, I knew that wasn’t a possibility, your love for your family was too strong. We went back to waiting.

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Two days later we had the answers to your disappearance, you had chosen to disappear by your own hand. My relationship with your son felt the strain and we separated soon after. Unable to grasp the gravity of the situation I did not yet understand, I compartmentalised. You were in too much turmoil to go on. You ended it. Your pain had gone.

Two years later, I ran into your younger daughter. Turns out the pain hadn’t gone, it had just been transferred. She had found herself struggling with why you had left them and what she could have done to help you. I didn’t know what to say, but I knew I hated you for what you had done to them. I just didn’t get it. When I had my own child a few years later, this feeling of hatred turned into bewilderment, how can a mother possibly want to leave her child? I wanted to freeze time so my daughter wouldn’t ever grow up and we could stay in our blissful little family bubble forever. And you? You chose to leave their lives forever.

Then depression hit me. For the bulk of my life, I had cruised along blissfully, bad things happened to other people. I was so safe in my middle class, three by two suburban home with my husband and our expanding family, that when it all came crumbling down, I didn’t have the skills to cope. Each night I’d go to bed thinking the next day would be better, but the next day was worse. I had no job, no husband, no money, a newborn baby and a toddler holed up with me in my childhood bedroom and I was broken. My children deserved a happy parent, I knew a friend who could take over my role and do it well. What use was I to them anyway? They deserved the best and I was so full of loser talk and negative energy that I felt they would be better off without me. All of a sudden, I understood what you did. When you can’t see a way out, your desperate mind starts to blacken and all of a sudden the unthinkable seems like the only solution. When I found myself feeling jealous that you had the guts to do what I wanted to do but couldn’t, it was time to find professional help.

Which brings us to today, fifteen years later. I still see your son around occasionally and he is doing well. He is due to marry an amazing woman with four feisty daughters from a previous marriage, so you can see that even at 37, he could still benefit from your advice. Your daughter is pregnant with her second and she still misses you every day. You’d have made a fantastic grandmother, your husband’s new wife does a great job in your absence. I’m sorry I judged you for your choice, having been in your position I have greater empathy and compassion for your struggle. I’m lucky to have found my way to the other side with increased awareness and a growing tool box of coping mechanisms to see me through the tough times. I am only sorry you couldn’t find your way to being here today.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness, please seek professional help and contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. If someone is in immediate danger, call 000 immediately.

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