Welcome to our next ‘campfire’ story.
The Campfire for the Heart project is a collection of true, international stories of human resilience. Although every story is unique, they all highlight our ability to adapt positively to bad experiences and showcase our indomitable human spirit.
If you have a resilience story to share, or know someone who does, please contact Natalie Stockdale through www.stockdalewellbeing.com.
“I hold no blame, nor do I have a vendetta.
My only wish is for people to learn from this.”
We had 3 children. Stuart began work as an apprentice chef aged 16. Stacey was 14 and Angela was 12.
Angela and Stuart were very much alike. They were both popular and loved sport and music. Stuart played the piano with passion and sensitivity. They both shared a strong sense of justice and had a wicked sense of humour.
My husband worked full time and I worked 5 night shifts a fortnight nursing. Life was good.
But then, Stuart was physically, verbally and sexually bullied in his workplace. At first he tried to ignore it, then he tried to tough it out, but eventually it wore him down.
No longer the easy going happy young man with a quick wit, he would lie on his bed in a foetal position, or rage with anger at the unfairness of it. The bullying was reported and he was placed on Workcover.
The downward spiral that swiftly followed into the black pit of depression was frightening, confusing and very confronting. Diagnosed with Anxiety, Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, his doctor prescribed a cocktail of medications. About this time, Stuart began taking cannabis to mask his feelings.
He also isolated himself and began self-harming. His downward spiral continued with suicide attempts and treatments in psychiatric clinics.
Meanwhile, he attended meetings with the bully and HR department, each time coming away a little more damaged than the time before. Eventually the perpetrator was offered a package to leave the workplace, which devastated Stuart. In his mind, the bully was rewarded. Workcover then began an investigation with a view of prosecution.
Stuart, unbeknown to us, had confided in his sister Angela, the extent of the bullying. Angela was fiercely loyal. At 14, she became his self-appointed confidant and protector.
We were a family in crisis, barely functioning, definitely not coping.
At times, Stuart showed real improvement and other times, he was back in the black pit. He gained employment and enjoyed interacting with workmates. He began a relationship with a young woman and the birth of their daughter gave us hope.
Then, three and a half years after Stuart reported the bullying, Workcover completed their investigation and were considering whether to take the matter to court. Again Stuart spiralled downward. Again we were all drawn into the nightmare cycle of fear and constant vigilance.
Three weeks later, Angela came home from school and took her life. Stuart blamed himself. One month later, he too ended his life.
After Angela and Stuart died, I went through all the devastating aspects of grief- denial, disbelief, pain, yearning, loss, tears, guilt, questions and fears, and finally learning to live with my grief.
Some things made the journey easier. Among these were:
I need to be honest and tell you that there were things that made my grief journey more difficult. The worst of these were judgement and blame. All the questions and guilt associated with suicide deaths had me believe that I had not been a good mother, had not done enough to help, had done too much, had not taught them resilience, had not cared enough, and had not loved them enough.
Eventually I learned to accept and forgive myself for my failures both real and imagined. I learned that I had done the best that I could with the abilities and knowledge I had at the time.
I believe a person with a ‘lived experience’ can utilise that experience to instigate changes in the community in a way no professional can.
I hold no blame, nor do I have a vendetta. My only wish is for people to learn from this. I often talk with families after the death of their loved one by suicide. I feel blessed to be able to do this and hope it helps them find a way through the heartbreak and confusion.
I co-founded the Central Victorian Suicide Prevention Awareness Network to help remove the stigma and break the taboo of suicide. The Network brings together people bereaved by suicide in a safe, stigma-free environment where they can openly talk about their deceased loved ones. I continue to volunteer my time in the pursuit of suicide awareness and prevention.
Life is not so hard these days, though there are still times that the pain returns. I am now able to acknowledge that pain and accept that even though I will always miss Angela and Stuart, I know they are always with me in my thoughts and in my heart.