The Final Goodbye

Certain rituals in our lives help to mark special occasions, rites of passage, or simply to make sense of what we cannot understand or control. Such was the case with the sudden death of my stepson, Matthew, over three years ago, which I have written about in previous posts.
Taking one’s life regardless of age or circumstances is a tragedy and devastating for those left behind to wonder why. We must celebrate life as precious and continue to remember those who were part of our lives. While they may not be here physically, our shared memories live on.
A group of us, including family and close friends, was finally able to gather to spread Matthew’s ashes up in the bush, looking towards the nearby mountains. It was his happy place. Constant lockdowns and ongoing COVID outbreaks curtailed this final goodbye for the past three years. I would often say hello to Matt as I vacuumed around the box containing his ashes.
His Dad finally said we needed to do this, so within a matter of less than a month, it was decided everyone could make it on the long weekend being the Queen’s Birthday public holiday. It also coincided with the official opening of the snow season on the nearby mountain where Matt loved to snowboard. A fitting tribute.
We arranged to meet for lunch before heading up the hills. The nine of us, all with different recollections of Matt. I took a framed photo used at his funeral, where he is grinning merrily, dressed in his snowboarding gear, to sit on the table. We bought him a pint and raised a glass to Matt’s memory.
A nice touch was when the bistro manager said she recognised his face. I said he lived in the city but spent much time on the mountain in winter. Apparently, she worked up on the ski lifts during the season.
The weather was atrocious, but we thought Matt might have the last laugh by sending snow up to the hills. Our ascent up the hills was icy, wet and foggy. It did not snow on us, but the cloud was so low it blocked the usual beautiful mountain views. It provided a surreal backdrop as we huddled on the veranda of the weekend shack. Each of us took turns spreading Matt’s ashes and saying our last goodbye.
His good mate, who owns the holiday property, had bought a mini-keg of pale ale to enjoy afterwards. I suddenly felt teary but had a real sense that Matthew’s spirit was with us and was where he belonged.
His good mate has set up a bar inside above the wood heater with a digital display of photos, and a snowboard mounted on the wall, in honour of Matt’s memory. We all need to find our own ways of keeping those we love close to us in a meaningful way.
We departed back down the hills, knowing it was a final goodbye. The landscape, in all its bleakness, seemed appropriate at that moment.

If anyone you know is struggling and needs help with anxiety, depression or suicide prevention, contact the two Australian organisations below:

https://www.lifeline.org.au/131114/

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

Farewell bitter winter; hello hopeful spring?

Our lives this year have been like the seasons; unpredictable and inescapable. There are hints we can shake off our layers gathered over winter and venture out with a sense of freedom that the warmer spring days offer, but beware spring is a fickle season and teases us. September 1 in the Southern Hemisphere is technically the start of spring but as soon as one is tempted to stow away the woollies Jack Frost and sleety snow return.

Our lives are like the seasons that change from dark and gloomy to the flourish of new growth seen in the abundance of blossoms and flowering bulbs to the inquisitive new-born calves along our fence line.

We choose to celebrate the gift of life. Earlier this year we lost my 39 year-old-stepson to suicide. His Dad and I knew that he had suffered from highs and lows throughout his life but not to the extent that he would take his own life. We have decided to be open about the circumstances of Matt’s death. This has encouraged others to share their stories with us. While there is much being done to raise awareness about depression and suicide; the numbers continue to climb and more families, friends and workmates are left numb with the loss and waste of another life.

It has been a difficult and sad time for us, but we choose to embrace life and the memory of Matt positively. Our faith and support of friends and neighbours have made the grief more bearable. But it never goes away. When I hear of another suicide, my heart goes out to their loved ones. Never be afraid to ask someone if they are OK and offer a listening ear if needed or practical help to ease their distress. Remember not everyone will accept your offer but sometimes you may be the right person at the right time.

For those left behind as my husband has found, it is sad and at times a frustrating process of dealing with the coroner’s court, police, funeral directors, solicitors and even fractured family relations. Five months later we are still trying to sort out the legalities while we grieve in our own ways.

Mental health is complex and many of us at some stage of our lives experience depression, anxiety, trauma and grief. For most of us, that dark season of our life ends and can be like a daffodil stretching towards the sunlight in spring with the promise of renewed hope. The dark clouds and icy tentacles of winter have been replaced in my heart and mind, reminding me how precious every single moment is.

For those still struggling we need to advocate for better services and more funding; combined with increased public awareness around suicide prevention. We also need to aim for a kinder and more caring world for all. If you are struggling there is help out there. 

If you or someone you know needs help, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, Mensline Australia on 1300 789 978 or the Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

You can also visit the following websites for useful resources and support.

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

https://www.ruok.org.au/

The following website addresses the issue of understanding the available data and how to apply it to the various suicide prevention approaches and programs in this country https://www.lifeinmindaustralia.com.au/about-suicide/suicide-data

And here is an American website promoting a suicide prevention campaign during September.

https://nationaltoday.com/national-suicide-prevention-month/