A sister's tale: What happens when a family member ends it all

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Photo / Getty Images

A response to Te Ururoa Flavell. The author's name is withheld at her request.

They cross the road when they see my mother coming. The neighbours shuffle quickly back inside, as though scared it might be contagious. A hundred bunches of flowers are turning slowly brown inside the house, but the phone stays stubbornly silent.

The men talk to my father of rugby. Fishing. Boating. Work. Anything but what has happened. The children at my sister's school whisper and point: "There goes the girl whose brother killed himself."

When the priest speaks of him, he is painfully careful to avoid the subject of how he died. Friends drop out of contact with us. His very name is enough to kill conversation stone dead and make everyone look pointedly at their watches. Often, they suddenly remember they have somewhere else to be.

Mourners tell us they are sorry. That it is a waste, tragic, sad. But nobody wants to talk about why.

The less kind among them whisper that the problem must be us. He would rather die than count himself among our number, we are failed mothers, fathers, sisters and grandparents. We are assumed to be somehow part of the problem. To some, logically, we must have only ourselves to blame. Some of the readers of this piece will undoubtedly have thoughts along the same lines. Because it would never happen in their family. Just like three years ago, it would never happen in mine. We were happy, normal, functional. Middle class, all working, none involved in crime or drugs. He was a "good boy".

And where is our "good boy" through all this? Does he know of our plight, our newly-acquired contagiousness? He is dust. He knows nothing. He never will know anything again.

Would it have mattered to him, as he prepared to die, that were he to do this terrible thing he would be buried at the cemetery gates, an outsider even in death? That his funeral would be forbidden to be a celebration of his life and, instead, condemn him in death?

Would it have hurt him more than the knowledge that festered in his head: that despite all the love and support we had to give, despite medicine's best interventions, that he had nothing to look forward to in life? That the cold oblivion of the grave was better than struggling on?

The little voice he could not silence that told him there was no hope, that he was worthless, unloveable and unworthy was the only shame that mattered to him. He didn't care nor think for a second, I am almost certain, about where his body lay or what his funeral would be like. No, that duty fell to us.

Would he have wanted a white coffin or a black? Cremation or burial? My sister thought he once said he wouldn't want to be burned. My mother said she couldn't bear putting him in the ground. I suppose the one blessing [Maori Party MP] Te Ururoa Flavell would give us is removing the need to agonise over what he would have wanted. And our shame in the community would be officially sanctioned. Another kick to the guts of those already doubled over in pain.

Mr Flavell has spoken up about suicide where too many politicians are scared to. And for that, I will always applaud him. But he is lashing out blindly, carelessly, hoping to grasp an easy solution where there will never be one. He's talking about how to stop suicide without first understanding why it happens. And the "why" of suicide is complicated. It's almost always difficult for anybody free from depression or all-encompassing desperation to comprehend. It's far easier and more comfortable to blame "the romanticising of death" or another convenient scapegoat.

Nobody wants to talk about why. But until we do, more families like mine will be created.

WHERE TO GET HELP

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or www.lifeline.co.nz
Youthline: 0800 376 633 or www.youthline.co.nz
Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757
Suicide Prevention Information New Zealand: www.spinz.org.nz

- NZ Herald

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