James Henry


Our pet budgerigar died recently. He had been unwell for several weeks. I was sitting at my computer when I heard a thump. He had literally fallen off his perch. I saw his tail flicker and then he was gone. I was reminded again of the absolute finality of death.

We called our budgie ‘James Henry’. It gave him a somewhat elevated status. Viewers of the TV Series ‘Doc Martin’ may understand how we came upon the name.

James was a survivor. When we were living in Tyabb I bred budgies for a couple of years and at one stage had nearly forty. They were housed in a large outdoor bird cage. James was there the day the pit bull terrier forced his way into their enclosure and ate thirteen of his mates.

When we relocated to Bendigo, James was the only remaining budgie. When I was attempting to catch him he escaped and fluttered onto the grass. I could see him contemplating his next move and it certainly included tasting freedom. I grabbed a towel and dived ‘rugby style’. As they say, “The rest is history.” Actually, we both came through OK.

James was a part of our household in Bendigo. We appreciated hearing him chirrup and interact with the other birds who visited our front garden. He was certainly popular with the grandchildren.

However, James was special in another way. His life spanned the death of our son, Adam. He was there. He witnessed our loss. His death has brought that loss into sharper focus.

When parents lose a son or daughter, particularly to suicide, their world is turned upside down. The grief is intense, long-lasting, and complex.

But how do you calculate loss? With the passing of time any loss becomes somewhat clearer or better understood.

When you lose a child you lose part of who you are. Your identity is changed or modified. In our case our four living, vibrant children became three with one tragically deceased. Our beloved son Adam could no longer see a future worth striving for. His absence from our life can never be repaired or replaced.

When you lose a child you lose a reminder of your past. Adam spoke to me of my father, not only in appearance but in the way he embraced his passions – the intensity and the commitment. Both men were thinkers but in Adam’s case his thoughts unraveled and he couldn’t put them back together again.

When you lose a child you lose their physical interactions – the simple exchanges, the moments of togetherness, the shared experiences, the expressions of love. There are no unexpected visits, no phone calls, no text messages or emails, no ‘selfies’, no exchange of gifts at birthdays or anniversaries, no invitations, no shared projects, no golf.

When you lose a child you lose the anticipated years. What would the future have held for Adam? Would he have remained a roofing plumber? Would he have found someone to share his life with? Would there have been children? Would he have grown strong mentally? Would he have come to know and love God more fully?  The future, in that sense, is unknowable. What we do know is that God can take our losses and as one writer expressed it “make us stronger in the broken places.”

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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