World Suicide Prevention Day: A tale of hope from the heart
Mother-of-two lays bare the pain she and her family have endured since her husband ended his life more than a year ago
SA’s suicide statistics are staggering. Men’s health charity the Movember Foundation says 18 men take their own lives in SA every day and three out of four suicides are men.
“It’s a crisis when we’re losing the futures of 18 men daily in this country, and we don’t talk about it. When men struggle to cope, we see it as something shameful and a sign of weakness, not knowing that other men are facing similar challenges,” said Garron Gsell, founder of the foundation.
On Monday, World Suicide Prevention Day, Pretoria mother-of-two Kerry Gardiner lays bare the pain she and her family have had to endure after her husband, Alistair, ended his life more than a year ago:
On May 9 2017 my husband, my best friend, my children’s father, a brother, a son, an uncle, took his own life.
Typing those words still feels unreal, I feel my mind and body go into a sense of numbness just to admit those words. My husband ended his life by suicide. He did not reach out that day at all.
All I got was a WhatsApp message from him telling me he loved me and that he was very busy. Previously when he was low he had reached out to me and I was able to help ease his mind and emotional pain with a hug or chat.
That day it is clear he wanted to end his pain and did not reach out.
I was the one to find his lifeless body hanging from the rafters in our dusty garage. I had left work early after not hearing from him since receiving his “I love you” message.
My gut told me something was wrong. I was too late!
Every morning I wake up with this image and hear myself screaming: “No, baby, no!?”
The disbelief and shock rage inside of me.
I know he suffered from depression and anxiety and had been hospitalised twice in the past 11 years and was on regular medication.
In 2006 he gave up drinking but sadly only to start again in 2014. But at the time of his death we were supposed to be in a good place. He started a fantastic job 10 months earlier and had been promoted twice in those 10 months. At first he was excited but I could see the job pressure was mounting and he would tell me that he was struggling emotionally and that his work pressure was too much and that he felt like he would fail, but was adamant that he was not suicidal and I believed him.
He promised me he would never leave me, not like that anyway.
I tried my best to calm him, be understanding and guide him and, of course, show endless unconditional love. Yes, of course I did get frustrated and felt helpless that I alone could not make him “happy” or “cure” him. I began blaming myself for his unhappiness and his anxieties.
I have done a lot of reading about depression and suicide to try and find some understanding. I know I won’t ever get all the answers I need.
But as I’m told, there is normally not just one factor that makes a person decide to end their life, it is a combination of many factors ... completely out of our control.
In the first couple of weeks after Al’s death I found myself feeling numb and in shock – almost robot-like.
I could not eat or sleep and cried endlessly. I remember being involved in his funeral arrangements and wanting it the way he would have liked.
I felt like a zombie unable to get much out of my mouth. The number of people at the funeral stunned me. All these people were there to show their respect to my beautiful husband who put smiles on people’s faces with his witty sense of humour. He was loved and respected by so many. I wish he could have realised that, but instead he felt so alone and felt self-destruction was the only solution.
He told me many times he felt like he was rotting inside. The disease called depression!
I wanted to hide from the world. After all, my world had been shattered and I could not piece it back together. To survive what Al and I had to during our 17 years of marriage and for it to only end like this did not make sense.
We were a happy, connected family just trying to survive life and make as many happy memories as possible.
Yes, we had problems at times – as most marriages do – but you get through it and you stick together through thick and thin. Al was passionate about photography, so gratefully all our memories and adventures have been captured. It hurts terribly to look at photographs.
I had to keep routine in place for my children. This involved many afternoons sitting by the hockey, rugby and soccer fields. I could not eat but had to still prepare food for the children and do the normal routine tasks expected of all mothers: pay bills, help with homework, and the worst was getting the children through their exams.
In addition, I had to deal with insurance companies and the police. I craved to just hide away in my bed and sleep away this bad dream. I want my children to realise that no matter what life throws at them, they must never give up and keep trying.
Through all of the above we have been seeing a psychologist and have had the most wonderful support from family, friends, the children’s schools and strangers. This I am so grateful for.
I am aware of the normal stages of grief and that adding suicide to these stages is even more complicated. Guilt took over my every thought. It is something I am still working through. Why, why, why?
I find myself in the awful anger stage most of the time.
It comes at all stages in different doses. Anger, so they say, is fear. We are fearful when we are left alone to clean up the “mess” that we so often have to do.
Anger at the person who died, anger at ourselves for not detecting it, anger at others for various reasons.
How can I not be angry at someone who has forevermore disrupted our lives ... and I had no vote in the final decision?
But I accept that I am not angry at Alistair but more so at the decision he took and the disease that overwhelmed him.
He made a devastating choice that will impact the rest of our lives, leaving me to pick up the pieces and deal with the aftermath which now includes anxiety and panic attacks in my children and myself, separation anxiety, insecurity and trust issues, as well as financial worries.
I’m angry that my children have been robbed of their father – a wonderful, wonderful hands-on father, who was always on the sports field, helping at school events and was a board member on the school governing body, who worked hard and was so funny.
He was the happiness in the children. They had their own unique connection which I loved seeing. I am the one left to console our devastated children who have been so strong thus far.
From one day to the next I have no idea what awaits me. I just know I miss my husband and our children miss their daddy.
Seven months after my husband’s death I made a decision to leave Nelspruit and move to Pretoria to start fresh.
Anyone feeling hopeless, helpless, depressed, struggling to get over a loss, failed relationships, other illnesses or sense of failure or the pressures of life in general, please know that there are solutions and there is help out there, but you have to seek it and you have to accept it.
I wish we had been more public about Alistair’s struggles.
But Al was generally a happy person who wanted to live life. His family was everything to him. He had dreams, hopes and a bucket list. He sadly did not get to do it all.
Suicide is not the option, people need to understand this. Knowing what my family is going through, could maybe help someone else see the light at the end of the tunnel; help them realise that the suffering will end for you – but not for your loved ones.
I am no professional on depression, but what I do know is that I am a survivor of suicide trying to make sense of one of the most complicated forms of death. I lost the one and only love of my life, and my children lost their father.
Life got too heavy for my Al which only he will understand. I will love him forever and will get through this. The only comfort right now is knowing Al is at peace and no longer suffering and hopefully his death can save someone else.