I lost my boy 18 months ago to suicide. Matt was no different to any other young adult. He was a very handsome young man, very clever (breezed through school), an amazing footballer in the Marlborough Senior Men’s Division 1 & 2015 Player of the Year, and a good friend to so many people.
He would do anything for anyone and always put others before himself. He had a smile that was so infectious and always had a way of perking up your day if you were feeling down. How did an amazing young man with so much going for him get to the stage where he felt the only option was to take his own life? That is the question I think we would all love to know the answer to.
I have never dealt with mental health agencies before and was under the assumption that Matt was not in need of their services either. That’s the problem - people are so good at hiding their problems and are either too ashamed or too embarrassed to let others know what is actually going on inside them and asking for help.
My main goal and hope by sharing my story is that people will realise that one bad period in your life does not warrant putting an end to it and that hard times never last forever. After struggling through hard times the rainbow will reappear and the sun will shine again. They need to know that it is OK to ask for help and to open up to others about what is eating away inside them. Get others involved. Opening up and asking for help is the start of getting your life back on track.
Two months after losing my boy, I was sitting at home one day, feeling really down and then it hit me. In some way, I needed to step outside my comfort zone and try to help others who are going through what my boy went through and be a small voice in both helping to put a stop to the stigma and to also encourage others to open up and ask for help.
I came out of retirement from my race-walking and did the King of the Withers race with a specially made singlet with Matt’s picture on the front alongside the phrase "storms will pass, the sun will reappear, never give up." Despite having two new hips and suffering three lots of cramp during the race, the thought of Matt spurred me on to victory. Despite having previously won 51 races, winning this one felt the best!!. It wasn’t about me, it was about raising suicide awareness and encouraging others to open up and ask for help, and it was working. Anyone can win a race but helping even just one person out of a dark patch or to save a life, that’s better than winning 1000 races.
The following month I was given the opportunity to organise and run ‘Hopewalk Blenheim’, a suicide awareness and prevention campaign that is run throughout New Zealand and is now branching out overseas, including Australia. With help from local media and local businesses, we organised a walk around Blenheim, carrying our Hopewalk banner alongside a local group who performed songs and skits. Marion Rowe and I also spoke about the stigma of suicide, and hope for those currently struggling. We finished the day by letting go of 120 yellow balloons in memory of loved ones we have lost too soon.
The community really got behind the event with over 900 people walking - a staggering number considering the size of Blenheim. It showed me beyond all doubt, that firstly there are a lot of people in our community who care for people who need help and secondly that suicide is a very much on many people’s minds and they all want to see the staggering suicide statistics change.
Eighteen months have now passed since I lost my boy and it still feels like it was a week ago. I miss him so, so much. I miss watching his amazing football skills, I miss his amazing smile and I miss the days that he would turn up at my house and chat for ages. I miss his kind and caring personality and I miss the cheeky grin he would give me. I still shed tears nearly every day for him and that won’t stop but I have learnt to find positives in every situation. I know that Matt is looking down on me, wanting me to be happy and so I shall be.
While organising Hopewalk, a lovely lady who lost her husband to suicide a year before I lost Matt, asked if she could help organise it with me. She taught me that despite missing loved ones we have lost, we still have a long life to live here on earth and that we deserve to enjoy it to the fullest. This has changed my whole outlook on life, helps me see the positives when they are hard to find and we both make each other so happy. This incredible lady is now my wife - thank you Wendy Neal, you are amazing.
I was just labouring my way through life before meeting Wendy and I didn’t really see a way out of the hole I was in. I am not only out of the hole but now climbing the mountain. It just goes to show that you never know how or when your dark times will turn around but they will.
Never be afraid to open up or to ask for help. If you are currently in a dark place, talk to someone you trust and find someone who can help you. Always check up on family and friends and see how they are and offer to help whenever you can. People that may seem fine may be hiding what’s really hurting them so check up on people even if you think they are doing well. Never judge others as you don’t know what they may be going through or suffering from and always look for positives. Remember that storms never last forever, and the sun will rise again soon.