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