R U OK?

7 October 2010 is R U OK?Day in Australia.

It is a “national day of action that aims to prevent suicide by encouraging Australians to connect with someone they care about and help stop little problems turning into big ones”.

I am very keen to support this day. I would like to add my story to those shared on the R U OK? website.

Twenty-seven years, ten months and twenty-six days before this year’s R U OK? Day my bother John took his own life. I have been waiting for a long-time to write about John and have in my head a book for him called About John. In my heart I am not sure how I can write it.

John was a professional footballer and at the time of his death was on the staff at Colchester United Football Club. He started his career at Wrexham Football Club and was one of those local success stories … a boy who had supported the club from a young age and had stood on the terraces there. We lived nine miles from Wrexham and so John had lots of local support.

Steve Wignall was a team mate of John’s at Colchester. In his autobiography (2009) he writes that  John “was the life and soul at a party, always having a laugh about anything. … John had everything going for him for a player in his mid-twenties: his own house; enough money; good career prospects”.

John played for Colchester just before his death. Steve tells this story of that game:

As the ball bounced into the stand close to the players’ tunnel, one of their lads ran through the little white gate between the dugouts to retrieve the ball as quickly as possible. As quick as a flash John ran over, shut the gate behind the player and locked the bolt, preventing him from getting back onto the pitch quickly. This was typical of John – a great sense of humour. The crowd thought it was fantastic and gave him one of the biggest cheers of the night. … We won the game and everyone was happy, none more so than John.

Two days later John was dead. He had celebrated his twenty-sixth birthday on 8 November. Dealing with the events that occurred on that day has been a lifetime’s business for our family.

R U OK? Day is a very important day. I hope it does raise awareness of the importance of connecting with each other.

My own life has been charted by the events of a cold winter’s night in Essex almost twenty-eight years ago. I still cannot explain the intense urge I had to speak with John in the hours before his death. I had no sense of what was about to happen. In those days there was only a landline to make calls and no answering machine. I did think about driving to see him.

It was only years later when some of the shock and guilt had started to ease that I understood that kindness and openness were vital characteristics of human relationships. I was John’s older brother and had thought of myself as his guide.

Even now when I hear a TV commentator talk about tragic defeats and worse still joke about self-harm I wonder if they do understand the scale of a problem that R U OK? Day highlights. My hope is that I can act as if R U OK? is an everyday, right now thing.

This is the R U OK? poster. RUOKDay

21 thoughts on “R U OK?”

  1. G’day Keith,
    our media director forwarded your post to me. I started R U OK?Day in memory of my dad Barry.
    I loved reading your story.
    John would be proud of you and proud that you can now associate his death with a positive outcome.
    My dad was my hero and the person I felt I was most like so his death wasn’t only devastating it also scared the shit out of me.
    If this was possible for him was it also possible for me?
    I suspect as brothers similar emotions or thoughts may have come into play for you. I hope you are ok?
    Apart from realizing I wasn’t dad the biggest step forward came for me when I forgave him for what he did.
    Just as you were lucky to have John as a brother, he was lucky to have you.
    Good luck Keith
    kind regards
    Gavin

    1. Gavin

      Thank you for finding this post and commenting on it. You have given all of us an opportunity to share stories and show concern for each other.

      I am more OK for your kindness.

      Best wishes

      Keith

  2. I was a great fan of John’s at Millwall. I was in contact with your parents too for some years after his death.
    I often think about him with a smole. Thanks for sharing this .

    1. Thank you for finding the post, Gary. I am delighted you and he met. He loved Millwall and was profoundly disappointed he had to leave. He would not have moved if he had had a choice. He thought he was starting to be part of the family there.

  3. Strangely enough Phil Coleman another Millwall player who played with john at Millwall and colchester recently put a post up on Millwall History fb page about John. Amazing respect for him at Millwall. Come and be part of the Millwall family.

    1. Thank you, Mark. John was overwhelmed by the passion of Millwall supporters. Whenever he felt tired the supporters lifted him.

  4. Hi Keith, hope you and family are all ok.
    Lovely piece and great memories. I’ve never forgotten that sad day 35 years ago, it still haunts me but I was very lucky to have known John and played with him at Millwall and Colchester, we had some fun times on and off the pitch and I know John is held in high esteem by the clubs he played for, and later I regularly visited your mum and dad when I played for Wrexham and wrote every year in November until mum passed away. Last summer I visited Buckley and said hello at their gravestone, to be honest I cried my eyes out, such lovely people. I advocate to all my students I teach to speak up if they struggling and just hope what happened to John will help others to speak up. Best wishes Keith, fond memories.

    1. Phil, I will write to you. Your contact with my family was vital in their dealing with John’s death. You were a very important connection with John for them. Your students are very fortunate to have such a wonderful life guide. Thank you for writing here. Warmest wishes, Keith

  5. Remember john well a great team player and always had time for us fans a great loss to football humanity and your family. God bless john lyons a lions legend

    1. Hello, Mark. Thank you for your kind thoughts. He would have loved to have been thought about as a legend 🙂

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