EB moderator Nut shares a family tragedy in the hope it will inspire other members to live their lives to the fullest...
I always thought when I wrote my story; it would be my journey through fertility problems, recurrent miscarriage and the threat of surrogacy or adoption. This is now much closer to my heart.
It has been ten months since my brother took his own life. We didn’t see it coming, though you rarely do. At least until after when you look back and realise all the signs ... very subtle signs. It still feels like it was yesterday in some ways.
We are a very close family. My husband often jokes that it’s a bit unusual and that few families are as close as we are. I don’t know about that really, but my family are my best friends and I couldn’t be without them. My brother also had some extremely close friends whom he made at university. He was 43 years old, single, living alone and he worked in IT. He loved his job and was saving up for a house while he waited for his perfect match to come along.
Unfortunately his love for his job dwindled in the six months before his death. A new manager entered the position above him (a position he himself had turned down) and he made the work environment unpleasant. He had started looking for a new job and I wish he’d have found one. We have no doubt that his final choice of action was based on work place bullying – insults can go a long way, especially when aimed at someone suffering depression.
The day we found him was the day of my nephew’s 16th birthday party. My sister set up a mini “Amazing Race” for all his friends and I was helping out at one of the check points. I had just finished and decided to go to my sister’s house and see how the rest of the party was progressing and just after I arrived my mobile rang. It was my mother. Two of Lothar’s best friends turned up at my parent’s house in a panic. It was another of his closest friend’s birthdays that day and he did not turn up at the morning tea as he had promised. His car was in the drive way and he was not answering his phone. I was just around the corner from his house and offered to go check it out. My sister came with me and we both knew something was horribly wrong.
Everything was locked up tight. My father came, as did the two friends who alerted us and my brother in law. We had to break in through the manhole. Everyone had a strong sense of foreboding. We just knew something was wrong. We expected to find him having had a heart attack or accident, not having committed suicide.
I won’t go into details as it may be distressing, but his chosen method was one that required research, preparation and forethought. He had purchased part of his method four days before, after the first confrontation at work. He took his life sometime late Thursday or early Friday morning after the second confrontation. He had thought about it before and knew exactly what to do. It was no spur of the moment decision.
I called my mother and let her know he son was gone. I called my other sister and let her know her brother was gone. We all met up at my parent’s house soon after while my brother in law handled things and my father sat in his house waiting. My brother in law works for a funeral home and that was a big help.
The following days all rolled into one. I wrote the eulogy and both my sisters helped me fine tune it so by the end it was a bit from all of us. My sister made the memorial DVD and it was beautiful. The funeral was perfect. We read the eulogy together which, contrary to what they show on the movies, is not that common. More than 180 people attended, some flying in from Europe just for two days to be there; family and friends who loved him.
This is the nature of depression. You can think you are immune. We knew he had issues with depression in the past but we took for granted a great deal. You think that with such a close loving family and wonderful friends that are like brothers and sisters that it could never happen. How could someone with so much to give and so loved be in such a dark place.
Yes, there were signs. He stopped singing and whistling, he started forgetting the family events and things organised by friends. He forgot about my daughters christening and came late to the party after buying a present for her quickly on the way. He would often run late and leave early when in the past he was always the last to leave. He loved to sit and talk to people and we loved having him around. He was smart, witty, funny and just wonderful. He was the most kind hearted person and was so giving. If someone needed help he’d be there with money or whatever he could do to help.
But he was drowning in his own mind, sinking deeper without anyone realising until it was too late. There was no note. We waited for weeks for something to show up but all we found was one word, which I am so glad was discovered. Two weeks after we found him we were cleaning his house. My sister was there in the evening and started running some hot water in his ensuite to clean it and out of the steam on the mirror appeared just one word – Sorry. He had smeared liquid soap on the mirror to write it but it dried clear and was nearly missed.
The hardest part has been watching my parents. As children we prepare ourselves for the fact that we will one day lose our parents, but a parent never prepares to lose a child, especially like this. Their pain is something I cannot fathom and hope to never ever experience.
Dealing with the regrets and guilt is also difficult. The what if’s. We know there is nothing we could have done having been unaware of his issues but you can’t help but wonder. And all the things you cannot change. I wish I would have had him over for dinner like we had planned. All those evenings I thought “Maybe I should invite Lothar over” but didn’t because it was late or I was not organised enough for a last minute dinner guest. The coffees you spoke about, the emails you didn’t send or the phone calls you didn’t make. Suddenly you find yourself scrambling around to put together as many memories as you can. Clothes they owned, cards and gifts they gave you, personal items that remind you of them. My whole family went out and got a tattoo, the same one. It was the tattoo he designed himself and had on his back, though slightly altered - a gothic-style knot-work phoenix with his name. Even my parents got it done, their first tattoo.
It has changed my approach to life in many ways. Life is too short to put things off. One of the biggest regrets we have as a family is not enough photos. I have maybe three photos of myself with him and the rest of us are not much different. Every time a new photo featuring him with a family member appears it starts off a new bout of tears and sorrow mixed with gratitude that these photos exist.
I went from someone who never appeared in photos to someone who takes plenty. I have photos with my parents, photos with my sisters, my husband and my children. It has made me realise that at the end of the day, these photos are for them. I don’t care how much I hate myself or how bad I feel looking at myself in photos, at the end of the day they are not really for me. They are for those left behind when I die, and for everyone to look back on and remember when time passes. No one else cares how I look in these photos but me. We spoke often about getting a new family photo taken. We never did. The last family photo was at my son’s first birthday some 2.5 years ago. I have no photos of him with my little girl. I was going to take some at her first birthday, but instead I have a photo of my family and his ashes.
Don’t take your family and friends for granted and assume they will always be there. Have that coffee or dinner. Take photos like every day may be your last and you want to leave great memories for your family and friends behind. Tell people you love them and don’t just assume. They probably already know but it’s nice to hear and even better to say it. You just never know when your life could utterly change – Or end.
Lifeline 13 11 14
beyondblue 1300 22 46 36 or beyondblue.org.au
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