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Anam Cara Care Centre         
Reverie Harp Heart & Soul Healing   

Soul Friend  Support - Empowering  Good Grief Care particularly for those bereaved by suicide ...but not limited to                                                 

Coroners Request - June 2001

At Michael's Inquest 3 months after his death, the Coroner asked if Gwynna would be interviewed  about her experience.   He was holding five Inquests that day.  Four of them were death by suicide. 
The Coroner  stated the national 'blanket ban' on media stories about suicide was not working. 

Gwynna was also asked to participate in a research project as well which tied in with this story. 

This came about because Gwynna  took it upon herself to write a letter to the local paper just weeks after her son died.    Realising this was the first death experience (especially by suicide) for all of the young people and adults Michael met and spent time with in the few months he lived in this very small community, Gwynna knew it was up to her to reach out to help them understand and cope with their shock and grief. 
An Earth, Wind, Fire and Water celebration of his life was held right where Michael died, with 40 people attending before Michael's body was returned to New Plymouth for his family funeral service. 

In the weeks since Michael died, people crossed the street to avoid Gwynna which she understood realising they didn't know what to say.  Writing the community letter brought amazing responses. 
People came knocking on the door sharing their stories and giving support.  This experience was repeated time and time again over the years as Gwynna has continued to speak out and never hide her sons life or death. 
was Michael's choice to end his life, not her choice at all but she has to live with it.

When Gwynna shared her story it gave permission for others to open up with their own stories often times for the first time ever or first time in many many years. 

Gwynna also raised money by doing 'open home' in her beautiful house-truck 'Owlize'  for Project Hope.
Project Hope, a registered charity was one mans mission to educate young people about depression and the terminal result, death by suicide.  

Gwynna raised over $3,000 by this means for the man behind Project Hope, Rick Stevenson (now deceased) who wrote a book called Everybody Hurts
wynna read this book before her own son died and was deeply moved by his honest account of when his son Mike died by suicide. 
She gave it to her father to read.

At the time of her own unfolding tragedy Gwynna decided to raise funds and support what Project Hope was about.

Gwynna found it was very hard, very difficult to put her self 'out there' like this in the midst of her own full on grief, and ill health,  but she had to find a 'silver lining' and make a difference in the lives of other human beings.  There had to be meaning and purpose to this terrible personal tragedy.

Gwynna also participated within the first year of her sons death, with four other people from  Bereaved By Suicide Group Support (Christchurch) speaking to graduating Counselor trainee's. 
The three hours they shared their stories with the group of 30 students  was a very worthwhile contribution to their understanding of how to support a client bereaved by suicide. 

They got the message.  Not one of the BBSGS  had a positive or helpful experience with the counselors they had seen in the immediacy of their loss, describing how they were very much 'on our own' traversing this journey like it was Mt Everest they were climbing without oxygen.  
It has to change.  But has it ?   The Suicide Research article by Annette Beautrais (which I participated in) at the bottom of my story,  is now 16 +  years old and nothing has changed. 
In fact suicide deaths have increased regardless of the $'s spent and the research done etc. etc. etc.
THIS is what Anam Cara Care Centre - Reverie Harp Heart & Soul Healing - Good Grief Support is all about.  Bringing change holistically to those bereaved by suicide.

This newspaper article (below)  uses terminology 'commit and committed' which is no longer acceptable to use.  Completed suicide or died by suicide is the terminology used today as suicide is no longer a criminal offence.

Click here if you wish to read the actual newspaper article.  It is 1.2mb and takes a little time to download. The  article is re-produced below, which is possibly easier to read.

"If depression is undiagnosed people die.  They die by suicide.  Methven mother of four, Gwynna Whiteowl has learned this fact first hand.  Gwynna's third son Michael committed suicide in March this year.  He was 21 - the decision he made "irrevocably final".  She has written a letter  to her community in the hope that her message may impact on others as well.  "Maybe someone will seek help and not become another suicide statistic.  Maybe someone will recognise their own lack of caring for those who are different to 'normal' and may better understand and offer compassionate assistance, friendship and support.   Instead of judging or being critical, people should realise the importance of their actions.  A simple smile or word can mean so much to someone with low self-esteem and depression and possibly loneliness.  The choice is ours to make a difference and maybe stem the tide of suicidal death this country is experiencing."

                                                          The main story reads as follows:

On the 18th of March my third son Michael who was 21, took his own life by putting a high powered rifle to his head.  His death was instant.  His misery in life was long and with the finding of his body we began our own journey to tread this path of grief.

Some days are better and some are worse.  Some are just awful.  For me, I know acceptance, respect and forgiveness of Michael's final choice, will eventually bring me peace and healing.

I am just so grateful he was with me the past couple of months in Methven and although I did not recognise his depression, I know the past three years had been very tough for him.

Michael was a sufferer of A.D.D. and his entry into the adult world at 15 to become a jockey has seen him badly treated by many adults and peers alike who did not accept his differences.  

He had learned to mask his deep depression with a face we all wanted to see but he was in truth, we now understand, living a misery.

What we thought were signs he was finally 'getting his act together' was, his 'putting his house in order' - hindsight is not very helpful at times.

I have learned since his death about major depression and how we conceal it with alcohol and drugs.  Threatening or attempting suicide, and even reckless driving, are attempts to find solutions other than death for overwhelming emotional pain. 

Michael had abused both drugs and alcohol this past three years as he struggled to handle his life in Australia with his father, two elder brothers and younger sister.

He came home to me in December to have Christmas with his NZ family. 

Within days of arriving here he had smashed a car.  Reckless driving.  Drunk. 

We just thought alcohol was a problem for Mike.  He took a couple of weeks to decide to address this problem and Mike had been attending Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in Ashburton since the end of January 2001.  He hadn't had a drink for a month until the night he died.  His system under autopsy was clean of any drugs. Mike drunk a couple beers in the hours before he died.

If depression is undiagnosed and untreated, people die from it.  The only way someone with depression dies, is by suicide.  The chemicals in my son's brain that affected how he thought, felt and behaved were out of balance.  I guess his view of the future and the world he lived became a place where it was just too painful to live without being numbed with alcohol or high on drugs.  Too much of a struggle.  

The 'why?' that begs the question is - why he decided now - that night - was the time for him to die when 'life' seemed to be coming together for him?  His Jockey  apprenticeship renewed.

The answer is something we will never know for sure but I have a sense my son was overwhelmed with loneliness, of not 'connecting' to life like everyone else around him, of not being 'normal'. 
Town was full of strangers that night from the A & P show all drinking and having a good time. 

But I ask the question, is getting drunk all the time normal ? Is being stoned all the time normal ?
Is that the only way we as human beings can have a good time ? Is every young person in this town (or any other) who consistently gets drunk  and stoned, concealing their own depression ? 
I think a lot of them are and I shudder to think what the acceptance of 'normal' is today. 

My son was legally able to drink alcohol since 18.  At 21 he is dead.  In my heart I know my son is now at peace.  I miss him so much my arms ache.  God bless his soul.

Suicide research (bottom article)  reads as follows:

"Mental health problems are a common factor in most New Zealand suicides.  Suicide researcher Annette Beautrais said about 90 percent of people who commit or attempt suicide have had a least one mental health problem, most commonly depression.

While a national youth suicide programme had been put in place in 1998, New Zealand was falling behind other countries in establishing a national suicide prevention programme for all age groups.  Dr Beautrais said there was a high emphasis on youth suicide, with about 25 % of national total of suicides accounted for in the 15 to 24 age group. 

This means 75 % of suicides were in adults 25 and over.  This needed to be addressed as adults provided role models to younger people.  She said Australia invested millions of dollars instituting a national campaign last year.  The United Kingdom was working on a programme at the moment.  There was a misconception use of anti-depressants would be addictive.  This was not true and if prescribed and used correctly, they could help a person with mental health problems Dr Beautrais said. 

Depression was generally under recognised and untreated.  Most depressive behaviour could be adequately treated with relatively short term therapy. The factors leading to a person wanting to end their life were complex, a resource book provided by the Ministry of Health said.  It said just as there was no one cause of suicide, there was no one answer.  Suicide prevention efforts should include a range of activities to stop the possibility of suicide. 

Mental health problems should be prevented from occurring in the first place and individuals who show signs of depression which could lead to suicide should be assisted to find help.  Warning signs were usually given before a person committed suicide. These include threatening suicide, talking about wanting to die, using drugs or alcohol recklessly, sudden changes in behaviour, appearance and mood and appearing sad or depressed.

Often there was a withdrawal from friends, family and activities and an unexpected reduction in academic performance.  These signs may be more serious if the person had previously attempted suicide, had a recent bereavement or suicide of someone close to them, been in trouble with the law recently, broken up in a relationship or had a history of depression or other mental health problem.  Help for people who are depressed or at risk of suicidal behaviour is available.  They can contact their GP or mental services sector of their local hospital.  There are also telephone services such as Youthline, Helpline and Lifeline which are set up to assist them."