In late August of 2013, a beautiful human being - handsome, young, extremely popular - was winked from existence. He left in his wake a ream of misery that tore through the hearts of everyone who knew him. A mere two weeks earlier, he had turned twenty-three. He and his friends had gone drinking to celebrate. In the days following, when we were all trying to make sense of his loss, his best friend described to me, with a bittersweet smile, what an amazing night it had been. They had sat together for hours, confiding in one another in a way that weighted every word rich with meaning. Twenty three years old. And two weeks later, he was gone.
Isn't it funny how when somebody passes away, any words that we can conceive to describe them are altogether too inadequate? Words are my passion, but I can't for the life of me come up with a single one that adequately describes what a beautiful, pensive enigma he was. And that's another layer of pain atop my grief - explaining what made him special to someone who never had the chance to meet him can not be done without him. He was sharp and witty, had a semi-ironic love for things like Big Brother and Masterchef that slowly faded into sincerity over time. He would send Wikipedia articles about Russian history and political events to his friends with the note "Read this, because when we meet up tomorrow, we're discussing it - whether you like it or not." He loved photos of dogs getting hit in the face with frisbees or wearing wigs. He spoke French fluently. He loved the Hawthorn Football Club. He breathed life into bad in-jokes from when we were primary schoolers, and genuinely made them funny again. He never raised his voice, was easy to love, and outpoured all of his being into making others feel worthy. He was a gift that kept on giving, his rich and colourful personality layered with intelligence and soul.
But the dark cloud of depression that hung over his soul was part of who he was, too. It meant that when you spoke to him, you'd notice his eyes glimmer with a thousand different thoughts before he decided upon a statement that you just knew, intuitively, was not his first or most prominent thought. And now that he is gone, we are all reeling, searching for meaning in those lulls. The last time that they had caught up, my brother had asked if we'd see him again soon, given he was often elusive to get ahold of. He'd smiled a perfectly white smile, the kind that went crooked to one side, hinting mischief, and said "Maybe." The power of retrospection haunts my brother. There is a meaning assigned to that exchange that leaves him gasping, teary-eyed. He is certain that some kind of hint was there, and that he had missed it.
When my cousin committed suicide, he blinked so much light from the world. Only after he was gone did I realise how much he had been suffering, and how he had known, with absolute certainty and for a very long time, that he would not live to a ripe, old age. He had promised his own brother, and my brother too, that he would never, ever take his own life. And in those stronger moments, he might even have meant it. But by the age of twenty-three, his depression had won long ago. How much longer he had kept on seemed to hinge upon a sense of bargaining - not for himself, but for his family and friends, who he knew would be completely shattered by his death.
And the speculations are agony. You wonder what you could say to someone to pre-emptively save his life. You wonder if you already had a dozen times before, but had never known. You wonder if he had been sure, I mean really sure, and then you catch yourself, because the truth is hard to accept, but it isn't negotiable. Then you reprimand yourself, because all of your attempts to explain away his reasoning are just excuses to hope that your love, if administered correctly, could have been enough. I like to think that although his mind may have been made up, the love of his friends and family kept him here longer than he had ever planned. It's a frail, thin silver lining, but a silver lining just the same.
My grief has seen me recoil from the world, and rally to take care of others on a rolling basis that leaves me falling apart and regrouping in the few quiet moments of solitude that I allow myself. I fume at myself and the people around me, and seek company with a desperation that is only equaled by a numbing desire to be alone. Going to work is the best part of my day. It forces me to be brave for eight hours. When all I do is shuffle from room to room like a ghost at home, it's no surprise I'm not cashing in my sick leave. It's an exhausting ride, being so out of touch with my emotions, but there are quiet moments that are almost happy interspersed throughout. I can only hold on, white-knuckled, for these times.
There is solace in being absolutely certain that he knew he was loved, even if it wasn't enough to keep him from harm. I'm comforted that all of our memories of growing up together featured us laughing, causing mischief, of him and my brother ragging on me incessantly whilst I whined and giggled in equal parts, just happy - as the youngest child always is - to be included. Strutting to Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love" like catwalk models, burbling the lyrics of "Left Outside Alone" with sassy hand gestures, playing Super Smash Brothers until our whole world felt pixellated, playing with my baby sister; these are little morsels of happiness for me to cling to when the world goes grey with grief.
I had never been fortunate enough to meet Harry's friends when he was alive, but they went above and beyond to connect with us after the fact. I think we needed each other; to reconcile the reality of what we had lost. I honestly couldn't have met more magnificent people. Every single person that he had befriended was beautiful, inside and out, and they loved him. They loved him fiercely, with a loyalty that I have never witnessed - let alone experienced - before. But even in death, he lit up the room. When I looked around, mid-conversation, I could see an empty seat, ever-shifting as people moved around to talk to one another, where he should have fit.
I struggled to put together a eulogy for his funeral. I never wanted depict him by only the thin parameters of our shared history, lest my perceptions directly contradicted the knowledge of him that his close friends or family may have had, and so I did my best to emphasise his multifaceted nature. I am uncomfortable with the notion of tying up his identity with a neat little ribbon and saying definitively "This was who he is, or what he would have wanted", because he was so complex, so mysterious, I don't think anyone could truly be sure. I refuse to paint him with my own biases, but now that he's gone, my biases are all I have. I hunger to hear more stories about his antics. Now that there are no new ones to be made, I want all the old ones, and in as much detail as I can have.
I suppose this post serves a dual purpose. It allows me to explain to myself, to him, to the world at large, that we have all lost somebody truly special, even if he lacked the ability to see it in himself. This is not his obituary. Not a diary entry. This is a snapshot of a million memories of him that we will remember for the rest of our lives. This is a way of securing them so that I will never forget.
But I'd like to think that this post also serves as a means of reaching out to other men and women suffering beneath the shackles of destructive mental health. I implore those people to see this account of the aftermath of suicide, in order to strive as hard as they can to live. Because when you take your own life, the people who love you do not curse your selfishness or forget about you, like your illness leads you to believe. Instead, we suffer. We consign meaning to things that you would never think twice about: the peal of your laughter, the way you tilt your head, and everything you said and did the last time that we saw you. Those exchanges will haunt us for the rest of our lives, whilst we sift through them wondering if there was some secret SOS that you were sending us to let us know that you were in crisis, that you would lash out against yourself, that you needed saving. And we mourn you. We never stop mourning you. We wish that you had bared your soul to us so we could wrap you in blankets and soothe you through your tears and take you to counselling and give you everything that you could ever need to feel loved and safe and warm.
I have attended a lot of funerals in my life. Too many of them have been for those who have taken their lives. People stand out in the halls because every seat and standing space is full, rather than go home. They do it to capture a refrain from the other side of the door, because even the tiniest snatch of sound brings them closer to the person that has passed. Those who commit suicide are not a burden, not alone, and that is the cruelest thing. For if they could somehow bear witness to their own funerals, they would know how loved they were. And maybe it would buy them some time. Maybe it would give them a second wind to fight against the parasitic disease that feeds on their happiness. They would know the joy that they brought into the world, and then, by their own hand, extinguished.
As his mother declared with a sad smile and glassy eyes, "He was the flame that lit up everyone's lives, but it was like he decided to tell us: 'Illuminate yourselves. I'm tired.'"
Rest in peace, Harry Hawkins. You were the flame.
If you or someone you know is in crisis or just needs someone to talk to, contact any of the following:
Lifeline: 13 11 14. Access to crisis support, suicide prevention and mental health support services. 24 hours/7 days. www.lifeline.org.au
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800. Free, private and confidential telephone and online counselling service for young people aged between 5 and 25. 24 hours/7 days. www.kidshelp.com.au
Headspace: 1800 650 890. Online and telephone support and counselling to people aged 12 to 25. Telephone: 10 pm to 1 am. Online counselling: 1 pm to 1 am. www.eheadspace.org.au
Suicide call back: Crisis counselling to people at risk of suicide, carers for someone who is suicidal and those bereaved by suicide. 1300 659 467. 24 hours/7 days. www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au/
Scarlett Hawkins writes novels... But in her spare time, she writes rants.