The date 11 November has added poignancy in my family.
In addition to our family history in the First World War, it is the day thirty-six years ago that my brother, John, died.
John was a professional footballer at the time of his death. He was 26 years old.
His decision to take his own life has affected my actions ever since that day. It has connected me with the loss others feel on this day … and every day.
Since John’s death there have been many cases of professional sport people taking their own lives. These are just a very small part of the enormity of suicide deaths in society.
In recent years, I have been struck by the growing research into players’ well being and I have been following research in Germany. I thought Ronald Reng’s biography of Robert Enke (2011), A Life Too Short, was a very important contribution to this conversation. Robert died on 10 November 2009.
Ronald’s book was awarded the sports book of the year. Rob Bagchi said of this award:
Two of the previous three winners of sports publishing’s oldest and richest prize, Marcus Trescothick’s Coming Back to Me and Brian Moore’s Beware of the Dog, were fearless accounts of the ravages that self-doubt and depression can wreak on elite sportsmen. Reng’s acutely observed book completes a trilogy of required reading not only for those who have been flippant and unsympathetic to the issue of mental health among well‑rewarded professionals in the past.
Ronald made a very significant point about Robert … “the friendships he struck had clear boundaries and no one, apart from his family, knew of the turmoil he suffered”.
In my brother’s case we had no indication whatsoever of any depression issues. Thirty-six years is a long time for retrospection, dealing with a sense of guilt and the bereftness of loss.
So 11 November is one of those days when those left reflect. John was 26 when he died. In my small town of Braidwood, New South Wales, we will be remembering 88 loved ones who left for the Great War from a rural community and did not return. They lie in foreign fields. Most of them were considerably younger than, John and Robert. All 90 were profoundly loved.