Ray Woolley had everything to live for — a loving wife, four healthy children, and a passion for cycling. But, as his wife Helen tells DI THOMAS, when someone is in a “horrible place”, it is almost impossible to convince them of their self-worth.
RAY Woolley was an award-winning cyclist and tradesman; he had represented his state as a young rider and then as a boss, he had mentored his staff, trained them for success in work skills competitions and won a Powercor business award.
He and his wife of 23 years, Helen, had dreams of travelling overseas once their children were grown, standing on the Champs d’Elysee in Paris on the final day of the Tour de France and watching the cyclists come home.
When the pressure of operating his successful engineering business at Stawell began to bite after eight years, Ray sold the business and moved with Helen and their four children to Albury in 2005.
They bought a new home and a new business that was supposed to give him the opportunity to incorporate his love of cycling.
But when the couple took a difficult decision to sell the business, it was what his wife describes as “a real kick in the guts, both financially and emotionally”.
“His dream was shattered,” Helen says.
“He was back on the tools, doing what he didn’t want to do any more and working for someone else.
“His confidence and self-worth were gone, he didn’t trust people, and his health deteriorated.”
There had been evidence of Ray’s depression at Stawell and that became part of the reason for the move to Albury; the chance for a fresh start.
“There was a massive amount of pressure and responsibility having several employees, getting jobs done and overseeing the order of materials and quotes,” Helen says.
“I started to see the cracks then.
“He was not coping well and the pressure was getting to him.
“We moved up here to start a new business but it didn’t go to plan.”
Ray’s illness became so severe he was unable to work in his last few months. He was seeing doctors and being treated for his depression but his condition was not improving.
Helen says more could have and should have been done for her husband.
But she says he was not getting the right help and watching his decline was “soul destroying”.
“He had ridden since he was 11 and travelled all over the countryside to ride,” she says.
“As his illness progressed, it became clear that he would go for the odd bike ride but he was not disciplined.”
Six months ago Ray took his life. He was 48.
Through a piece that was read at his funeral by a family friend, his wife begged mourners to understand that depression is “not something you can just snap out of”.
“Ray wanted the best for his family, although people will see that the situation appeared quite the opposite,” she wrote.
“He was so very unwell. Please don’t ever think of someone taking their own life as a ‘coward’s act’ or a ‘cop out’.
“It is an act of absolute and utter helplessness. Living with depression is a daily struggle of torment, living in a bottomless ‘black hole’ with no light, no way out.
“Depression is a destroying, complex disease and sadly so misunderstood.
“People do not know what to say or how to react or even acknowledge that it is indeed a very serious illness.
“Next time you hear someone is suffering depression think of how you would react differently if you were told they had a brain tumour or cancer.”
Helen says she took the step of speaking out at the funeral, and now to the media, hoping for recognition of the suffering that leads to more than 2000 suicides in Australia annually.
She says the public response after Ray’s funeral was empowering, as others opened up in person and via social media about their own illness or loved ones who were suffering depression.
“Every day someone’s heart breaks,” she says.
“Each one of these people was special to someone.
“I thought if one person walks out of the church with a better understanding then my job will be done.
“My first reaction at being asked to speak to The Border Mail was that it is too painful and personal to share but in the interests of increasing awareness and understanding, that is the reason for me opening up.
“I’m not asking for sympathy, I am trying to help people.
“People looked at Ray and saw he had a loving wife, four healthy, beautiful kids, a lovely house and believed there was no rhyme or reason for him to take his life.
“I felt like I knew him more than anyone. But as much as you can tell someone 100 times they are worthy, they have got to believe it themselves.
“When I could get it out of him, he was in a horrible place where he truly believed he was a burden to us, no matter how much we said ‘We love you’.”
After her husband’s death, Helen decided to remain in Albury where her two sons and two daughters, aged 21, 19, 14 and 12, had made new lives and friends in the past seven years.
On one wall of their home she has hung the beautiful coloured sashes won by her husband during his career as a cyclist; elsewhere there are photographic reminders of his ongoing influence on his family.
“I’ve got some amazing friends here and at home and I’m lucky I have a supportive and loving family,” Helen says.
“Sometimes you crave going home but it is actually quite hard because you are swamped by everyone you know in a small town where everyone knows each other.
“When it happened I remember thinking, ‘How dare the paper man come’, ‘How dare the garbage truck come’.
“When my world stopped, it felt like every-thing else should have, too.”
Helen says work has given her a productive focus but her dreams for her future are shattered.
“It doesn’t mean you are not sad, but we have got to keep doing what we do,” she says.
“It doesn’t mean it’s not easier when you come home and the weekends are worse.
“We would go for a bike ride on Sundays and have a coffee. I go by myself now but it’s heart-wrenching.
“Every significant event is hard. Our eldest son turned 21 recently.
It was a good night but his dad was missing
and that made it very hard.
“It might be 10 to 15 years away but the kids will have weddings and their dad won’t be there.
“You don’t think you’ll be picking out the headstone for your husband at 44. That’s not what life is supposed to be about.
“Those dreams you think you’ll both get to down the track will never happen now.”