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Sunflowers on grey waters: the grieving gather at Lake Macquarie to remember those lost to suicide

11 October 2018 Wesley Mission news

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Beside the tranquil shores of Lake Macquarie they came: friends and relatives of those who had been lost to suicide gathered to grieve and remember.

While the Wesley LifeForce Suicide Memorial Day was held in the The Heritage Shed at Speers Point Park under leaden skies, the hearts of those who attended were warmed by a message of hope – allowing tears to flow but strengthened by a shared experience of loss.

The service, which has now become a regular event in the Hunter, allowed people touched by suicide to come together in a spirit of comfort and hope.

"We have come together today to grieve and remember…so give yourself permission,” said host Phil Ashley-Brown from ABC Radio, Newcastle.

Charmaine du Plessis who lost her eldest daughter Chani to suicide in 2016 shared her story of grief and hope. Charmaine, who is a mental health therapist, has helped others impacted by suicide and mental health issues.

“We are a special type of community,” Charmaine said to those who gathered. “Grief and loss are a desolate place. I died with my daughter and nothing had the same meaning anymore. It was hard to grapple with something so dark and sinister that took someone so bubbly. I had to learn to accommodate my grief. There was the sheer exhaustion of trying to put on a happy face. Grief can just overwhelm us.”

Charmaine also had words of encouragement. “If we want to touch others, we must allow compassion to touch others. The footprints of love left by my daughter are way bigger than the grief we experience.”

The CEO of Wesley Mission, the Rev Keith Garner, said many people had experienced loss by suicide but had limited opportunity to fully grieve and come to terms with what had happened. 

He described dealing with grief as a journey and “not a destination”.

“Everybody’s stories are different but there is a consensus in loss,” Mr Garner said. “There are no two stories alike. We cannot find easy and slick solutions. We need to stand by people in their journey.

“God is here to give us strength. God doesn’t give us easy answers.”

Mr Garner encouraged those who are bereaved to “encircle each other in care.”

“There is no one way to grieve,” he said. “Don’t put expectations on yourself. Take time to look back in love and offer and share warmth and comfort.”    

Christy du Plessis’ performance of the song Jealous of the Angels was a moving tribute to her sister with her words of love speaking into the hearts and minds of those who had gathered.“I’m singing today because my sister gave me courage to sing,” she said.

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Josh Hewitt, who lost his brother to suicide, said it was important to help others to grieve. 

“The immediate aftermath of loss can’t be described,” he said. “It then becomes a game of trying to pick up the pieces of yourself. However it’s important to set aside your own grief to help others, like my brother’s friends.”

Dozens of sunflowers were gently tossed into Lake Macquarie as people remembered their loved ones and friends; the bright yellow carried by the breeze on grey waters.

As a sign of hope, two white doves were released by Carol Garner and Christy du Plessis. 

Wesley LifeForce began in 1995 and has since trained more than 40,000 Australians in suicide prevention skills in metropolitan, regional and remote Australia. It has also helped in the development and ongoing support of 94 community-based suicide prevention networks – many of them Indigenous - across the nation with the number expected to reach more than 120 in the next few years. 

The networks are helping to reduce the stigma associated with suicide and are encouraging people to seek help from crisis support, community and mental health services. They represent almost 900 network members who live or work in their local communities.