Article by Mr Wessels, College Grade 10 Grade Tutor.
As suicide has become a prevalent topic in latest news with several people deciding to take their own lives, I thought l should share my story regarding suicide and the effects it has on one’s life.
As a young boy, I grew up in a home where I had the privilege of having three wonderful male role models in my life. Father was well known around the community and he got along with so many people. I saw my father as my hero, as someone who I could talk with, play with and find comfort with during scary nights and scary situations. Being in nursery school, I wanted to do so many activities, and to be the best in every activity, just to see how proud I could make my father and my grandfathers.
When l went into Grade 1, my father was my first rugby coach and all I wanted to be like was Joost van der Westhuizen, wearing the number 9 on my back.
Every Saturday we would go to Loftus Versfeld stadium to watch the Blue Bulls play in the Currie Cup and spend quality time together as a family but also as a father and son. During 1996, we moved into a new home, and everything was being demolished and rebuilt, and I remember clearly a photo being taken of my first rugby game for my new school with the green jersey and a yellow number and my father’s face being just lit up.
Up until then, everything in my life felt better than perfect. Until the terrible year of 1998. This was the year that my father decided to take his own life. The hardest part of this was the fact that my mother and I were the first to discover the body, as he decided to shoot himself in our garage. I was 8 years and 8 months old at the time. It is an image that will be with me for the rest of my life. It is an image that no 8-year-old should ever experience in their lives. The thoughts that went through my mind as an 8-year old were: Is this real? This cannot be true? That is not him, maybe he just went for a drive? But after seeing several ambulances arrive, police patrolling our home and people coming to visit and mourn with us, I knew that this was final.
But why? That question still remains with me today. Why did father do it? Why did father leave us behind? Why did my hero specifically leave me behind? Just a couple of nights before my father and I had played a game of pool till late in the evening and father told me we were going to buy a new house with a yard as big as a cricket field.
One never actually gets an answer to any of these questions, because there is no one to answer them. My mother did not have any answers, my brother did not have answers and my family also did not have any answers to any of my questions. I still remember standing at the funeral as the hearse drove away and suddenly realising that this would be last time I would ever see my father, and running after it as quickly as I could and breaking down in tears. I knew that this would be forever – no one would ever be able to take that place in my heart again. And if it 1998 was not enough, my grandfather decided to take his life as well later in that year, with some of the reasons being that he could not live without his son. Another one of my role models deciding to take his life. Two suicides in the space of a year.
As I grew older, I often struggled without a male figure in my life. My mother became our mother and father at the same time. Often, I was really struggling inside but then I would look at my mother and realise the number of struggles she was facing, but she never complained and she never deserted us, because she had to remain strong for me and my brother’s sake. During my teenage years, I often struggled with my emotions and could not always control my anger and frustrations. Some days went by when I often felt that I should follow my father’s example, but I knew I was stronger than that. My mother fought for us and brought us up to face our fears directly, and we did face many fears together, and therefore I knew I was stronger than that.
For me, the saddest part about my father taking his own life was the fact that his memory became an empty chair in our lives. The day I became head boy, my mother was sitting there and next to her was an empty chair for my father. The days I accomplished several things in sport, again it was my mother sitting there and next to her was an empty chair. When I finished high school, again an empty chair. Every father’s day was an empty chair for us as a family. For my three graduations, again there was an empty chair. When it first really hit was at my wedding, when my grandmother had to take the seat of my father at the wedding table – again in my mind there was an empty chair.
More recently, to see the birth of my son and to see my mother holding our son, but no husband being there to see the joy, love, and excitement on her face. In my mind I thought to myself, if my father were here today, would that have given him a reason to live? But again, another question that would never be able to be answered. I know that, as years go by, a very difficult question is going to appear through the voice of my son. Why do my friends have two grandfathers, but I only have one? What happened to your dad, Dad? And I need to stand strong and tell my son the truth and promise him that I will never forsake him. That I will forever remain his role model.
Suicide might seem like a selfish thing to do and might seem like to only option one has. It might be a hasty decision to run away from the current problems you are facing. It might be because of years of depression that keep building up and suicide then seems like the only option to end your misery. It might be because of a failed relationship or marriage, or it might because of a big financial loss. It might be because you are being bullied or harassed or struggling with family issues.
There are many reasons why people decide to end their lives. However, suicide has lasting effects that do not just last for a year or two but for decades after it has taken place. Yes, it might seem like the best option to the person doing it, but it is most difficult for those who are left behind.
In our current society, children, specifically teenagers, are more prone to suicide as suicide is the third leading cause of death in young people ages 15 to 24, and it is our responsibility as ones who are left behind to make people aware of the impact suicide has, so that we can help to help break this curve. When people tell me they are suicidal, whether it be as a joke or whether they are serious, I take it as a serious warning and try to show the person that there is light, even if it is just a small candle at the end of a massive train tunnel. I am not a professional in the field, but due to my life’s experience I can share my feelings and emotions, and might be able to persuade the person to seek help.
If you are suicidal, contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), contact any psychologist, or just contact your family or friends. My advice to everyone who speaks to me about suicide is to look to God, but not everyone is religious. But please if I can ask those who are reading this, who may be feeling suicidal, whether it just be a thought or if it is serious, please consider your options. Yes, there are options… It is about the ones you are leaving behind who are affected the most and yes, your life matters. In most cases, it might feel like you have no one left, no family, no friends, that you are leaving no one behind, but there is always someone that cares. Life is too short to end it yourself. Live it!