With every step that Lisa Cartledge takes on a 700-kilometre walk to Sydney she hopes to stamp out the stigma of suicide.
For more than 30 years the mother of three has felt suffocated by the elephant looming large and silent in a room of grief.
Suicide has staked a crippling claim in Lisa’s life – not once but three times.
Her first glimpse into its whispered shame came in the 1970s with the loss of an uncle (her dad’s brother).
“I was very young and really only remember that he died – we weren’t told how or why,” Lisa says.
Then in 1986 her father took his life.
Just six weeks shy of her 18th birthday, Lisa still recalls with devastating clarity the awful awkwardness that surrounded his death.
She was to become acutely aware of the loss of eye contact that came with any mention of his name, of the silence and the shame.
And she realised this thing called “suicide” – the elephant in the room – was not something to be talked about.
But when suicide struck a third time, when it took her beloved husband Sean, stealing the father of their three precious children, Lisa knew it was time to start talking … and walking.
On March 31, 2018 she will embark on a walk from Beechworth to the place where Sean proposed, under the north side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Along the way, the Beechworth to Bridge mission will be to encourage open conversations about suicide, and raise funds for research and prevention.
Looking back, Lisa says “never in a million years” could she have imagined Sean taking his life.
In the two weeks before his death, she was aware pressures with a contract were getting to the builder who owned his own business.
“Sean had the kind of personality that was always up; he was busy and he was confident,” Lisa says.
But on March 24, 2014 Sean didn’t return home at his usual time.
“It was really unusual; I rang his phone a million times and drove around to job sites,” Lisa recalls.
“At 8pm that night I was so worried I rang the police. I thought he may have had a car accident or something.”
Lisa waited up all night while a search began.
“At 5am I started to feel sick,” she recalls.
“I phoned a girlfriend in Melbourne and told her she needed to be with (our daughter) Olivia when I told her to come home.
“Then I contacted the boys who were travelling in London and said, ‘Dad’s missing’, and they organised to fly back.
“I knew by then it wasn’t going to end well.”
At lunch time the next day, Lisa was called to the police station to issue a missing person’s report.
“A girlfriend drove me and I was physically sick on the way,” she says.
“About mid-afternoon on March 25, a police officer appeared at the door and in all honesty I don’t remember the next moments.
“I know I collapsed with our daughter in my arms.
“… and then telling the boys was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.”
After that Lisa went into automatic mode for the sake of her children.
Sean had left a note for her and the kids, saying he loved them, that he was sorry and to look after each other.
“If he had just been able to say to me what he was thinking I would have had him straight to our family doctor,” Lisa laments.
“My doctor explained it as a chemical imbalance in the brain where the negative hormones outweigh everything …
“We didn’t know it at the time but Sean was suffering with a mental illness.
“He didn’t choose to die, he was sick – in his mind, it was the only thing to do.”
Since Sean’s death, Lisa has been determined to keep his memory alive – and not to allow other people’s discomfort to silence their recollections of a wonderful dad and husband.
“I want this to be different for my children,” she says adamantly.
“We should all be able to say his name, to say he was honest, that he’d cry easily about his kids or that he could be arrogant at times.
“We were best friends, we shared a birthday on August 16 (Sean was a year older) and ours was a happy story.”
So Lisa will walk and talk.
Together with a support crew and fellow walkers, she’ll trek 20 to 30 kilometres a day and stop at a pub each night to have casual conversations about this cause so close to her heart.
“I need to talk about the elephant in the room and set that bastard free,” she says.
- To support the walk go to: www.b2b.org.au
- If you need help, call Lifeline: 13 11 44