Death Visits

I went away last week to paint and re-vamp an old holiday cottage. As I arrived up at the Bay I received a phone call to inform me that a young woman who comes into where I work had suicided. I didn’t actually know her but it took me to a very sad place.  She was only 18 (the age of one of my daughters). How does this happen? How does a young person find themself without any reason to live? Teen suicide is rising and we must ask why? She may have suffered with depression but even this is not the full answer, as most people who have depression do not suicide.

Further to this sad news, our neighbour at the old holiday cottage came out to say hello…… and sadly, goodbye, because she has been diagnosed with cancer. She is riddled with it and because they have given her 4 months to live she said she may not be alive the next time we returned. She stood and told me how she wants to fight for every extra day she can get. She has begged for chemo when doctors were closing the door on her. The tragedy here is that the health system failed her. She kept begging the doctor to investigate her pain levels but they kept ignoring her. Why? I think she probably suffers from addictions and the doctor clearly read her pain and need for pain medication, as an increased drive in her addictive needs but tragically, it was because she was genuinely in agony from a cancer riddled body and now, with three young adult children and at only 47, she is facing death. She wants desperately to live. Her children are everything to her…she can’t bear to face the fact that she won’t be around for their 21st, weddings, grandchildren. She has been a vigorous smoker and the cancer is esophageal, a cancer caused by smoking, she tells me in a monotone voice. How does she deal with this knowledge? I watch her gaunt, ravaged form and feel a complete helplessness as I can do nothing to change this for her.

Then,  as always happens, we hear of a third tragedy, that a distant cousin died suddenly from cancer caused by her smoking. And I think of my son who at 21 is fighting to give up smoking. Why haven’t we banned smoking? Why with all the information do young people still commence smoking? Will my son beat his addiction to smoking before it beats him?

Suicide seems to be seated in mental health conditions, such as depression. But many people suffer from depression and do not suicide. People have even worse mental health conditions and do not choose to suicide. What makes the difference? Why do people with the worse set of life’s circumstances, suffering beyond belief, choose to embrace life?  What goes on in someone’s heart and soul and mind that tell them that things are so totally hopeless that nothing but death at one’s own hand will relieve the suffering….to annihilate self seems the only resolution. Are we selling our children false kingdoms, which actually have little allure and when they can’t attain them, they can find no reason to live. By this I mean, as a society are we telling our kids they need to be successful, look a certain way, dress a certain way, be a certain size etc or they have no value. Why do they not know how extraordinarily precious they are?

There are indicators of suicide…planning, signs of depression, talking about suicide, but they can be missed? And then there are the people around this young girl and other young people who suicide…their families, friends, neighbours, those left behind, lonely and questioning. What a terribly sad inheritance for them….to live wondering about a choice which was out of their hands. They probably did all they could and more but maybe they couldn’t overcome the external messages their child vicariously received and the depression coming from the thoughts around self value.

At the end of the day, we are born and we die, some die early, some are blessed with longevity.  I just feel we have to continue to ask why and delve into how we can prevent this happening. Was it that we told her she had to be a  certain way, different to how she was? Was she rejected in some way and couldn’t recover because her self-esteem was so damaged? Depression is fed by negative, destructive thinking, such as “I’m no good” “No-one will love me” “I’ll never find work”We need to let them know they are God’s gifts to the world. We are here because God wanted it, wanted us on this planet and we need to see ourselves as God’s sons and daughters and by no other measure should we be judged.

We cannot turn our backs on these victims and not ask these vital questions. How might we have kept this young girl alive? We all know depression is a real illness, as is anxiety, bi-polar, personality disorder, addictions and more. These illnesses are real and very debilitating. They also carry a shame about them as society judges mental illness harshly, compared to diabetes or cancer or heart disorders. Why do we do this? Why do we favour one illness over another, feel sad for and supportive of the person with bodily pain but not so the person in psychic pain. People with mental illness don’t need the added burden of judgement and being made to feel like they are to blame. It’s time society accepts that mental illness is real, that it is no-one’s fault, that sufferers don’t bring it on themselves, that there are so often genetic predispositions to these illnesses, that they can start with abuse or stress or other illness or trauma, also not the victim’s fault. One in five suffer from mental illness of some sort and with varying severity and impact, so odds are we all know someone with a level of mental illness. I only have to look in the mirror to see one, as I have suffered with panic attacks for years following a very serious car accident which had followed a period of physical health problems. I have mostly recovered. There is always hope.

I know this blog is all over the place and that’s kind of deliberate because I’m all over the place with grief and frustration.  We do need to be open to discussing their problems and loving and accepting them so they don’t feel the only choice is to suicide. The parents and family need to be loved and supported as they probably tried everything to overcome the sadness in their child’s life.

I carry these people in  my heart and prayers and those family members affected by the suicide and other death and illness. It’s all I can do. I carry a need to be more supportive and loving of every young person I come across. I need to hear and be present and full of love and praise for their efforts. I need to spend whatever time I can with my own. I need to be present and mindful around every human being. I need to listen closely and be very attentive to anyone who mentions feeling down and especially when they speak of having plans for suicide. That MUST set an ALARM bell off. Suicide prevention training teaches us to ask  questions if concerned. The next thing is to assertain whether they have made a plan for suicide and then aim to get them help after you have them  agree not to act on their plan until you can seek help. If you are someone contemplating suicide PLEASE seek help, talk to someone, your doctor at the very least. We need you in this world…you have a very real role to play

I want to finish with the story of the Death of the Angel of The Gap: the man who saved the  suicidal from themselves (from the Sydney Morning Herald)

May 14,  2012


Glenda Kwek

Don Ritchie, the man credited with preventing hundreds of suicides through  his vigil at The Gap over more than four decades passes away.

For almost half a century, Don  Ritchie would approach people contemplating suicide at the edge of The  Gap, just 50 metres from his home in Watsons Bay, his palms facing  up.

Mr Ritchie told his daughter Sue Ritchie Bereny he would smile and say: “Is  there something I could do to help you?”

Don’s story touched the hearts of all Australians and challenged each of us  to rethink what it means to be a good  neighbour

Don RitchieDon Ritchie Photo: Steve Baccon

“And that was all that was often needed to turn people around, and he would  say not to underestimate the power of a kind word and a smile,” said Ms Ritchie  Bereny.

Mr Ritchie, sometimes known as the angel  or watchman of The Gap, is acknowledged to have stopped about 160  people from jumping to their deaths.

He died at St Vincent’s Hospital on Sunday, surrounded by his wife Moya, 85,  daughters Jan, Donna and Sue, and four grandchildren, who travelled from across  Australia and from Indonesia to Sydney to see him. He was 85.

Flashback ... Don and Moya.Flashback … Don and Moya.

Mr Ritchie was born on June 9, 1926 in Vaucluse, and studied at Vaucluse  Public School and Scots College.

When World War II broke out, he served in the Royal Australian Navy on HMAS Hobart,  and was on the ship in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered in 1945.

From his 30s to his 60s, Mr Ritchie worked for a multinational firm and built  up a significant career in the corporate world, Ms Ritchie Bereny said.

Don Ritchie in navy  uniform ... "a smile that could light up the room."Don Ritchie in navy  uniform … “a smile that could light up the room.”

In 1964, the former life insurance salesman moved into a house on Old South  Head Road across the road from Jacobs Ladder at the southern end of the Gap  Park. It was his home till the end.

From that time, Mr Ritchie started to rescue suicidal strangers.

“Things were different way back then. It was before there were police rescue  vans, before there were more sophisticated mechanisms like hotlines. In those  days, he got a bravery medal for saving somebody at the cliff – he actually  tackled somebody on the edge of the cliff,” Ms Ritchie Bereny said.

“He is famous for bringing people back to the house for tea or  breakfast.”

In 2006 Mr Ritchie was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his  rescues.

His actions touched so many hearts that, in 2010, he and his wife were named  Woollahra Council’s citizens of the year.

Last year, he was given the Local  Hero Award for Australia by the National Australia Day Council.

“In a situation where most would turn a blind eye, Don has taken action …  With such simple actions Don has saved an extraordinary number of lives,” the National  Australia Day Council said.

Today, Woollahra Council and the National Australia Day Council praised Mr  Ritchie for his dedication.

“Don’s story touched the hearts of all Australians and challenged each of us  to rethink what it means to be a good neighbour,” the acting chief executive  of  the National Australia Day Council, Tam Johnston, said in a statement.

“Don was a true gentleman with a smile that could light up the room.”

The mayor of Woollahra, Susan Wynne, called Mr Ritchie a great man whose  “courage delivered small miracles”.

Mr Ritchie had joined mental health advisers and  the federal Liberal member for Wentworth Malcolm  Turnbull in supporting the funding of suicide prevention measures  at The Gap.

Mr Turnbull also praised Mr Ritchie.

“His work lives on forever not just in the lives of those he saved but in his  heroism and example of public service,” he said in a statement…….

Last year, when he was involved in the launch to promote the Australian of  the Year awards for 2012, he was asked to take one letter of the word Australia  and pin to it a story that inspired him, Ms Ritchie Bereny said.

Mr Ritchie chose the story of Simpson and his donkey.

“I think that epitomises him. It’s about an everyday person who did an  extraordinary thing for many people that saved lives, without any want of  recognition.”………

 ❏ Support is available for anyone who may be  distressed by  phoning Lifeline 13 11 14; Mensline 1300 789 978;


About mindfulness4now

Hello and welcome. I am mother, step mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend. My passions are my spirituality, life and people, reading, meditation and mindfulness, writing/journalling. I also love food, coffee, photography, and travel(near,far and off-road). I also have an interest in health(especially mental health). Welcome to my musings on life's journey.
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17 Responses to Death Visits

  1. Alastair says:

    Thank you for posting this. loss is a very hard thing to deal with. Suicide is extremely hard to cope with as it has the family wondering what they could possibly have done differently. I know when I wanted to, all I was going to do was take all the tablets I had, but the thought of my kids stopped me.

    Depression can be handled. It is not always permanent. Suicide is.

    • Hi Alastair, it’s great to hear from you…I’m cannot thank you enough for your sharing and I hope someone reads it who may need to hear about how time can change perspective, how we can heal. I’m soooo glad you had the courage not to suicide and the love to consider your children, because when you are that low it must be so hard to think of others. I’m so glad you’re here with us all. Thanks Alistair. 🙂 xxxxxx

      • Alastair says:

        You’re welcome

        It is very hard. The thing is, I am in a much better place now. I am actually very happy. Had I gone through with it, my kids may not be the happy sprogs they are now.

      • I’m so glad to hear that you are in a better place and I can tell that from your blog. You are so right to say your kids would not be happy if you were not around. Bravo to you and thank God. I have never been suicidal Alistair but I have been in despair and in a place where I could not imagine a happy tomorrow, so I can understand how that level of pain can cause one to contemplate death. However, all things pass and all will be well. Thanks again my friend for your valuable contribution to this post and to life.

      • Alastair says:

        It was not long after my marriage fell apart, so my world had collapsed around me. I was grateful that I got custody of the kids and that my ex-wife didn’t. I think if I had lost the kids as well, it would have been a completely different story.

        Thank you

    • Hello and wow, thank you. I’m very grateful because you have further added to the hope that one life may be saved by reading this; it’s so important to keep people informed and thinking. Kindest regards Leanne

  2. I’m pretty blown away by the article of Don Ritchie as well as all you’ve been through lately…I, too, am disturbed by the rate of teen suicide and its touched our lives on way too many occasions…thanks for putting this out there and sharing…

    • Hi there. Thanks for your comment and wasn’t Don an extraordinary man… mistake he ended up living where he did….that’s God’s plan for sure. It just shows how even at that final moment people can be saved and their lives turned around. I feel it’s so important to raise awareness on this topic and it’s my hope this then saves lives. Kindest regards Leanne

  3. A very sombre and moving piece Linda, but ending with the beautiful story of Don Ritchie. which lifted the heart to know that there are people like that living on earth.
    Yes, suicide is a tough one. There were times after my divorce when I used to long to walk into the sea, and keep on walking, and only my children held me to life. And I had an almost successful attempt as a fifteen year old, in the days when no-one understood, and when I found I was still alive I had to pretend it had been an accident.
    At least today, there are people like you who can, and do help. Your loving concern and compassion must make a difference to all you come in contact with – love Valerie

    • Hello Valerie and thanks for sharing of your vulnerable time, which for anyone who’s been divorced, will come as no surprise. It is an overwhelmingly painful time, both terrifying and full of despair with the loss of hopes and dreams and the burden of aloneness as a parent. Having been through that myself I can recall it all too well. Thank God your attempt at 15 failed, where would the world be without our Valerie? You know, I suspect, if people hear how others have struggled with suicide and not given in and then have lived wonderful lives and have experienced improved mental health and enjoyment of a full life, that is, that hope springs eternal, then maybe they’ll take a second, they’ll hold off doing something and in that pause, they’ll survive. Kindest Regards Leanne XXXX

      • Thanks Leanne – the thing is, when you’re in the box, you don’t realise that there’s anything outside the box! The only thing that helps, I suspect, is that loving non-judgmental availability which the Angel of the Gap offered – Being there for you….

        Knowing how I staggered along for years in my un-integrated state – apparently being successful and happy – it amazes me how people just keep going, carrying their burdens of grief and fear and anger. It’s only in the last twenty five years that I’ve been able to move on, since doing personal growth stuff, and I’m still a work in progress like everyone else!

        And how magic and mysterious the whole process is!

      • Isn’t that the truth…we are all works in progress…it goes on till we die….and from my own experience it’s true you are not always aware of your state but loved ones usually are and can help guide you to get help and/or keep loving you through it. Looking back you can see how dysfunctional you were but that’s all part of the journey and we all go through it at some level….personal growth is just part of the journey for those open to this. Or else one can stay stuck and in pain!!!

  4. Marianne says:

    Leanne, thank you for sharing your grief and worry with us. And your great compassion. Your post might give someone who is considering suicide a new hope, a hope of a better tomorrow. If you’re feeling alone and depressed, please call the number Leanne has provided. Or go to the nearest church and talk to someone there. You’re not alone. //Marianne

  5. Such a moving and sad, but also inspiring, post. Thanks for sharing your difficult experiences of late so that others may benefit. You have left me with a powerful reminder to be present in every moment with all I meet, and to treasure those interactions and those people. Thank you

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