A letter to Josh from mum

It’s been 3 years today since you died. I hold your spirit in my heart constantly, and your ‘wish’ is everpresent in my mind.

It feels weird telling you these things because I believe that you know it all already. In a sense, I can acknowledge that I’m writing it for me, yet this is absolutely intended as a definitive communication across to the spirit realm.

I too now live in an alternate dimension to where we were before. It’s as though in the moment of your death I passed through a portal into an alternate reality; so too, l think, did quite a few others who you meant so much to. The world goes on around us as before, but our place in it has become a surreal experience.

Life is never the same ‘post suicide’. For one thing, our brains are all still trying to make new meaning of what life means. While I can’t speak for the others I can say that our lives have been irrevocably changed and that the intense pain you were in seems to have splintered and transferred to all of us. Yes, some have been through their own suicidal crisis/crises in the aftermath. But in the main, I think we bear the load with compassion for you.

I have never returned to my career that had seemed so important to me before. And I regret having allowed that, and less important issues to take precedence over your needs in all those little momentary decisions; in taking a work call during family time for instance.

Worst, that choice to leave you for an hour of so in the morning after that final visit to the emergency department. I am ashamed that I didn’t see past your mood of courage and calm and realise that regardless, the moment was an opportunity to show that you were more important to me than the vege markets; than anything else in that moment.

Honestly, I don’t indulge in the ‘what ifs’ and guilt much, although I can tell you they are one of the big torments of everyone who’s bereaved by suicide, as far as I can tell. Blame and shame are the other two big ones.

Yes, I blamed the system. I blamed Australia’s public mental health system vehemently. I still do, but the anger quickly lost its sting and has been frustration ever since.

The urgency I feel for change hasn’t abated though. Just yesterday I was doing an advocacy workshop and found that I still get a surge of fight/flight response at the thought of people feeling that there’s time for systems change to happen slowly. People are dying, people are in torture like you were every day, in every place and we know ways to ease that right now; why isn’t it happening?!

After you died I switched immediately from being your advocate to advocating for others like you who can still be helped. I’ve had impassioned meetings with big bosses, interviews in the media, been a lived experience consultant on projects, and recently joined a steering committee for The Way Back service (the kind of aftercare that was missing for you).

And things are changing. Slowly. But for the better. And I hope I’ve played my role, and will continue to play my role, to my full capacity and the best of my ability in your honour.

For a long while I concentrated all my efforts on changing the mental health system, and it really felt a lot of the time like I was hitting a brick wall. Gains were small and took a massive amount of my energy. Phil knew it was unsustainable and potentially unhealthy. From the beginning he encouraged me to take change to a grassroots level instead.

Eventually I listened and for the past year I’ve been working on founding Deep Listeners. So many beautiful people have joined me in co-creating and bringing this idea to life of compassionate conversations between people out in the community, and last week we had our soft launch online and at the local markets (we live in Murwillumbah now, you’d love it here).

Your words – love (1), peace (2), help the world (3) – have guided me and given my grief a positive outlet, thank you ever so much. Your good heart is preserved there in your legacy and it has really helped most of your friends, younger cousins and the rest of us anchor to something after your death called into question our entire world views and sense of purpose.

It was through following your ‘wish’ that I searched for ways to bring compassion to suicide care. It was always there when I advocated for you in life, but your message brought it to the fore as the primary goal.

Through this journey into compassion, I’ve learned a lot. Most importantly I’ve learned that what we do in love can be misplaced, particularly I think as parents of teenagers.

I remember your face one difficult time in the emergency department when you were being treated like a criminal instead of a person needing care and you really needed me to be on your side, but I thought I needed to let the ‘professionals’ do their job. I know that only served to make you feel more ostracised and I’m sorry I did that.

And I remember that one particular car trip up Maleny range when my shock and distress at the story you shared only served to shut down the communication lines, and keep them closed from difficult conversations forever more. (Shit, that was a tough thing to hear though. It’s still bringing tears to my eyes now.)

Now I know that if I could have sat with the discomfort, put my own ego and distress aside and sat in non-judgement I could have validated your experience, shown that my love is not conditional and had a much different outcome. I know now that empathy is the key to compassion. I know now what it takes to create a safe space to talk and be heard and still feel loved and accepted.

I always loved you unconditionally and still do. But I see now that I didn’t show it the right way. I know now that unconditional love does not look like disappointment or frustration. And I accept now that it is all too human to fail sometimes, and to make mistakes sometimes, and to not live up to your full potential all the time.

I know now that mistakes and imperfections are best met without judgment. And that my disappointment and frustration didn’t translate as me wanting you to be your best self, it translated to you as rejection; not good enough. And I have to tell you that really hurts to think that was the message often I gave you.

But I also know that we loved each other and that you didn’t hold my parenting mistakes against me. I’m grateful for this. I’m grateful that we had that moment where I got down on my knees and apologised for my worst parenting mistake. I still remember how you said so compassionately ‘it’s okay mum.’.

Contrary to what some ignorant people perceived of you, you were so compassionate. I heard from quite a few people, young and old, how you counselled them and lifted their spirits when they were in a dark place. I only wish enough people had given you that same level of compassion in your difficult times. Truly you were misunderstood, and mistreated for it.

I can’t change the past but I can do my bit to save others from the pain you endured. And I think with so many people coming into Deep Listeners with a beautiful spirit of non-judgment and willingness to give a kind ear, your legacy might be coming to fruition.

Big love, beautiful boy.



Such a poor quality picture of us. I’m pretty sure this was on your 17th birthday, yes? It’s the last photo of us together.