When is a celebration not a celebration?

It is difficult to have a celebration when the guest of honour is absent. This Tuesday we remembered the anniversary of Adam’s birthday. He would be 36 if he were alive.

Adam was born at the Royal Women’ Hospital in Melbourne on the 14th March 1981. I can remember holding him in my arms, looking out the window at the lights of Melbourne.

His 30th birthday was to be a low-key affair. Adam didn’t want a party. We had suggested a round of golf but he didn’t show up. It was Nathan, his older brother, who suggested that all was not well. We hastily arranged a visit that evening.

My recollections of that exchange are disquieting. I felt alienated from my son. We talked but I felt he wasn’t listening. His thinking had become fixed, not open to revision. Our presence was tolerated but he had other priorities. He wanted to ‘pray.’ He needed to ‘pray.’ He could see no other way.

 To our delight, Adam met with us the following day. We have a short video of him blowing out the candles on his cake. Although we weren’t aware of it at the time, it became a metaphor for his end. He took his life the following month. ‘The light had been extinguished.’

I recently watched a documentary on “Diana, Princess of Wales.” She was 36 when she tragically died in a car crash. At her funeral service, Elton John sang the song, “Candle in the Wind.” At the heart of the song is this defining statement

                                  And it seems to me you lived your life
                                          Like a candle in the wind

The documentary was sympathetic in its portrayal of Princess Diana. Her character came under close scrutiny. She was described as a complex person. The three words that caught my attention were courage, shyness and vulnerability. While appearing contradictory, they provide insight into her nature.  

Adam also embodied these character traits.

His courage was evident in his resolve to complete his plumbing apprenticeship, his commitment to publicly sharing his faith, his struggle to understand his mental health issues.

His shyness was marked by his aversion to the limelight, his unwillingness to engage in ‘small talk,’ his reluctance to overstay his welcome at social gatherings.

His vulnerability was a constant.  It was evident when he felt rejected or misunderstood, when his message was confusing, when his responses were inappropriate, when he had failed to meet other people’s expectations, and when he believed he didn’t measure up.

‘Vulnerability’ is universal. We all encounter situations that expose our vulnerabilities. They often occur without warning, catching us unprepared. It has been said that ‘to be vulnerable is to be susceptible to being wounded or hurt.’ Knowing how to manage our hurts and disappointments is essential to living a healthy, meaningful and productive life.

 Adam internalised his hurt and it became a pain too great to bear.

“I have learned now that while those who speak about one’s miseries usually hurt, those who keep silence hurt more.”  C. S. Lewis

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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