It was early on a pleasant European morning when the text message came through. “TW died last night. Hit a tree at high speed near home.” My still groggy, waking mind tried to comprehend the message. Another message came through, “It was deliberate.”
This was third suicide in as many months.
What brings a person to the point in life where driving into a tree at high speed is the best option? That taking a large handful of pills seems right? That hanging from a rope is the answer to all your problems? How is it that we miss the vital signs that indicate these options were even on the table? Too busy? Don’t really care? Too self-absorbed?
The shock and the distress of yet another lost life threatened to debilitate me. The first loss was distressing. The second, a bombshell. But, the third got me thinking; thinking back to the worst time in my life.
I was a new mother. My daughter was four months old and her young life had been colicky. Still adjusting to this whole motherhood thing, I was tired and she wouldn’t stop crying. One evening, scared of myself, I wrapped the screaming creature in a blanket and walked outside. Why I didn’t know, I just wanted the noise to stop. I walked out the front gate in tears; not sobbing tears but silent tears, as shame filled me at not being able to cope.
Ten metres past the front gate, a stranger appeared beside me. This 40-something woman simply said, “Hello, can I carry your baby?” The woman, who never told me her name and I never saw again, was a lifesaver. She walked the streets with me until well after dark sharing her experiences of motherhood until I was calm and my daughter had fallen asleep in her arms.
There were many times while raising the kids that life felt overwhelming. I wasn’t living, I was barely existing! But, I kept putting one foot in front of the other; kept afloat enough to see the kids into adulthood. How different life could have been, had I not met that stranger in the street. My sons may never have been born. My memories may not be as cheerful. A dark cloud may forever have hung over my head and stopped me from ever recovering and living a full life.
While I live out a fairy tale life thirty years in the making, the next generation seems to be opting out rather than finding their own fairy tale to live. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported in 2016 a ten-year high in suicide rates. 8.3 Australians die every day or, as Josh Butler, Associate Editor of HuffPost Australia, translated this figure, “One Australian takes their own life every three hours.”
Maybe I’m one of the lucky ones whose family in amongst the dysfunction still gave enough to make me a little more resilient. Maybe the existence of a small external community meant that, in amongst the crap, there always seemed to be someone there, who thought I was worth something.
An African proverb says, ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ The Hebrews have a term ‘mishpocha’ - a bond of kinship that joins people together into a tribe or clan. Where has our sense of community gone? Where has our ‘village’ gone? Thankfully for me, a villager was there to save me twenty-eight years ago.
Pete Shmigel, Lifeline CEO, responding to the ABS statistics said, “We, as a community are failing our most vulnerable.” There will always be those that suffer in silence and there’s virtually nothing to be done about it. There will always be some that fall through the crack, but surely if we had a stronger ‘village’ the numbers could be less. Maybe these three young men didn’t know there was a ‘village’ they could turn to. Maybe they felt too ashamed.
Have we lost our ‘village’? At the very least, it would seem ‘the village’ has been broken for a long time. Teenagers and young adults will talk to their mates sometimes, but perhaps we senior adults need to be more accessible and less busy, letting the next generation know there is ‘a village’ here for them, full of people who have experienced life’s disappointments and pains who can support them through anything. Maybe we senior adults need to reconnect with one another to rebuild our community, strengthen it and get rid of some of the barriers that somewhere along the line we’ve erected.
As I write about what ‘we’ need to do, I’m challenged to personalise it. How is my ‘village’ going? Do I need to do some rebuilding? I think of members of my family and how distant I am from some of them. Maybe I need to start building the ‘village’ in my own backyard; teach my children and grandchildren how to build, live in, and use the ‘village’ so they, in turn, can teach others.
In 2016, my ‘village’ lost three young men within three months. Enough is enough.