This past week my father passed away. I received a phone call from an old family friend to inform me that he had not only passed away, but had taken his own life. It took a couple of very sad phone calls, with some heartbroken people to be told "He was bitten by the black dog."
I have to say that it was unexpected. I had not heard from him in about 18 months, and in the last decade, we had only seen each other and spoken a handful of times. It is no secret that there were some traumatic and disappointing experiences that my family suffered as a result of my father’s actions. In many ways, the negative aspects of my own childhood had a significant impact on my development into the person I am today. He himself had suffered at the hands of his father, and his father at the hands of his grandfather. Ultimately, those experiences also shaped the man that he was to come to be.
I was once told that to move past the negative experiences, and ensure you don’t repeat the sins of your father, you need to forgive them. Some of us are able to forgive to some extent (although forget is still beyond me at this stage). Some people are not. It is a heavy weight to carry if you cannot forgive though.
A couple of things had to happen almost immediately after the phone calls. First was my own refection. I’m the eldest of three, and so I had the most time with him when he was still a functioning father. It would be a lie to say that we had no positive experiences together. My life started with two wonderful, engaged parents, and I was lucky in that regard. As a boy, like many boys, I looked up to the big, strong, clever man that my father was in the early years.
Sometimes I wonder if the good times make the tough times worse, or if it is better to have had some good times rather than none. Given my temperament, and the way I look at the world, I tend to side with the ‘some good times are better than none’ argument. We are all the sum of our experiences, both good and bad. While I was lucky to see what a good man looks like in practice, I also experienced the heartbreak of that same good man becoming an agent of disappointment and eventually leaving us all behind.
The second thing that had to happen was to go and tell the family. My Mum, my brother and my sister. The death of an estranged relative is a difficult one to process immediately. It is certainly far too fresh for any of us to really understand how we will feel about it in the long term. We are lucky that even though our family is small, we are very close and open to candid discussions, so with a few tears and some reflection and shock, we all set about beginning the process of dealing with it in our own ways, together. It is a blessing to have an understanding and caring family and friends, and already I owe a debt of gratitude to the kind words and support we have received.
Over the last decade, I had talked about not even knowing whether I would find out if he ever passed away, I was never sure if anyone would get in touch with me to let me know. I had never expected that the black dog would get him like that, but I guess the nature of mental health troubles is that they often manifest in unexpected ways. Honestly, I had said that I wouldn’t be fussed when he passed away, but then, having received the call, maybe I am fussed. I certainly never expected the call to go the way that it did. Maybe I care that my father got a to a place where he believed this to be his best option. I feel deeply for anyone that feels so alone that they can walk through a door and never return.
I have been open in discussing some of the trials and tribulations of my life to date. I don’t have any answers now, and I am at the beginning of a process of dealing with what has happened. I know that ultimately, I will be ok. If I do hit a roadblock, I think that it is worth speaking about it on behalf of those who maybe don’t have the words to express their feelings themselves.
Once again, it’s time to practice what we preach. It is ok to not be ok, its ok to not know how to feel. It is ok to not be sure how to deal with the curve balls that life throws at you, and certainly reconciling the complex emotions surrounding this particular circumstance will take some time no doubt. It’s ok to be ok as well, there is a feeling that some of the responsibility of the expectation to be really upset is offset by the fact that many years ago this man decided not to be a part of my life. In that regard, I am not entirely sure how I am supposed to feel, or indeed how I do feel.
It has made work a bit difficult this week, I’m a thinker, so when my mind is occupied, it can be harder to just focus. I have written this to deal with that, maybe to get it off my chest and begin the process of moving forward. Our family is fortunate to have a wonderful network of beautiful humans around us to help, unfortunately that isn’t the case for everyone, so should you need to speak to someone about any issues you, or a loved one might be facing, the numbers are below.
At the end of the day, now is a good time to go give someone a hug, a smile, tell your loved ones that you love them and as always Just Be Nice.
Lots of love – Josh Reid Jones.
Should you or anyone you know need someone to speak to call:
Lifeline for 24/7 crisis support on: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service for people at risk of suicide, carers and bereavement: 1300 659 467
Kids Help Line – Conselling for people 5-25 years old: 1800 55 1800
Griefline – Counselling service for people suffering grief: 1300 845 745
Josh Reid Jones - Founder of The Just Be Nice Project and Odin Sports