Hundreds of people who gathered at the Sydney Opera House yesterday for the 20th annual Wesley LifeForce Memorial Service to remember loved ones who had died by suicide were given a gentle reminder that the process of dealing with loss and grief is painful and slow.
The gathered crowd heard that not knowing ‘why’ a person took their own life could be enormously difficult and perplexing.
“Our ‘whys’ may never be answered and the puzzle never resolved,” said Wesley Mission CEO the Rev Keith Garner. “A person may take the mystery of their life and death with them.”
The service is an opportunity for people to gather together in a spirit of comfort, acceptance and hope to grieve the loss of a loved one or friend.
“Sometimes we may have clues as to why a person has chosen to end their own life,” Mr Garner said. “You will be aware of some reasons, but often there are more questions than answers.
“As we gradually move along the pathway to healing, this invariably involves letting go of the “whys” and accepting what has happened as a step on the path to continuing to live. This journey may involve exploring and accepting our feelings, however difficult that might be. It may require looking at our own inner-resources and considering our past, our present and our future.
“The level of suicide in Australia is high and, when suicide touches our lives, every resource of love and sorrow is called upon. There is no place whatsoever for judgement or condemnation. The questions may be unanswered, but there is no cause for shame or blame toward ourselves.
“For Christian people, it is particularly challenging, because there is part of us that wants to feel that we shouldn’t be going through this. Surely faith and hope give us confidence in all circumstances. But it is not easy to believe in the presence of hurt.
“In times of loss, fear may surround every step we take. We wonder how we will get through the day – but God offers light, courage and strength. We may overcome fear and sadness.”
Dianne Gaddin, who lost her daughter to suicide, is now a strong public advocate for suicide prevention. She has attended the Wesley LifeForce Service for the past 12 years.
“I cannot change the past but I can change the future,” she said to those present. “We can bring hope to our communities.
“For me it’s important to be here with you all and one of the few occasions I am not alone. I am among people who really understand. We have walked the same walk.Can anyone be prepared for such an event (suicide)?…No. But we need to listen, to be alert and be aware. We need to stop the silence surrounding suicide. We need to learn to live with unanswered questions.”
In a touching moment the Rev Keith Garner read a letter of support from Federal Member for Berowra, Julian Lesser, whose father had died by suicide 21 years ago.
Mr Lesser said that there was not a day that went by without him thinking of his father.
“Not everyone who dies by suicide has a mental illness and not everyone who has a mental illness dies by suicide but the approach to suicide prevention requires better mental health policy and the opportunity to strengthen bonds in the community,” he wrote.
“We need to let all Australians know that they matter and we need to encourage every Australian to notice the people around them, to recognise the signs that someone may be contemplating suicide and to know what to do to get help.
“As a person of Jewish faith, our tradition, which we share in common with Christians, teaches us about the sanctity of life. Therefore it is very important for people of faith to play a leading role in suicide prevention.
“God gives us life and he also gives us choice and he exhorts us to ‘choose life’, his most precious gift. For 22 years Wesley LifeForce has been providing services to people of all faiths and of none. You continue to do vital work in our community.”
MC for the event, ABC 702 Weekend radio host, Simon Marnie, encouraged people to place sunflowers in front of a special remembrance wall which carried messages and photos of loved ones lost to suicide.
Reflective songs by Edwin Luo provided a fitting ambience to the service followed by the release of a white dove – a sign of hope – by Mrs Carol Garner high above the northern forecourt.
Wesley LifeForce began in 1995 and has since trained more than 35,000 Australians in suicide prevention skills in metropolitan, regional and remote Australia. It has also helped in the development and ongoing support of 70 community-based suicide prevention networks across the nation with the number expected to reach more than 90 in the next few years.
Wesley Mission also established the national and international crisis telephone support service, Lifeline in 1963. Wesley Mission continues to operate Sydney & Sutherland Lifeline answering more than 37,000 calls last year.
Wesley LifeForce Memorial Days give the bereaved a place to remember and reflect, and a reminder that they are not alone in the journey. Wesley LifeForce hold annual memorial gatherings in Adelaide, Sydney, Newcastle, Darwin and Brisbane.
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Pictured: Dianne Gaddin, who lost her daughter to suicide, is now a strong public advocate for suicide prevention.