After her sister, then her father died by suicide six years apart, Jessie Cole encountered more than her own devastating grief.
“I could never talk about it because no one wanted to hear about it, ever,” she said.
“What that means is there’s this huge part of your life that’s just not appropriate to ever discuss in any kind of context.
“I just learned not to speak, because every time I tried to speak it would involve someone disconnecting from me or shutting a conversation down.
“That’s in a sense why I ended up being a writer because I felt I had no capacity to speak – not that I couldn’t share it, but no one could hear it.”
An author who lives in northern NSW, Cole will make a return visit to next month’s Write Around The Murray having recently released her memoir Staying.
With nearly 15 years between first draft and publication, Staying outlines the tragedies that engulfed a family.
Only 12 when her sister died in 1990, Cole said everyone had been completely shocked by the event.
“She was six years older and a powerful, vibrant character,” the author said.
“None of us knew how to communicate about what had happened, so we just all became kind of quiet, the house was enveloped in silence in a way.”
Searching for answers then took a toll on her father.
“He spent years trying to make sense of that,” Cole said.
“It just couldn’t be made sense of, so he just got lost in that quest, really.”
After her father’s death Cole, aged 18 and at university, returned to the family home and “basically stayed there a decade”.
“I just felt like I couldn’t make my way in the world at all,” she said.
“What had happened was so big, I couldn’t find any language to communicate about it to anyone around me.
“I just stayed in this forested little pocket, I do think it was a withdrawal from the world, because that was sort of the only way that I could function.”
Publishing her first novel Darkness on the Edge of Town and the resulting publicity commitments helped the author emerge.
“Finding all these people who care about and love books as much as I do,” she said.
Cole felt society had improved the way it supports people bereaved by suicide but still uncertainty and fear remained.
Personally though, discussing her memoir had proven cathartic.
“It’s been really healing to speak about it and have people stay in the room,” she said.
“It’s called Staying because I stayed so long in the forest, but it’s also evoking that idea, like, stay with me, stay in this conversation, stay with this story.”
- If you or somebody you know needs support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14
- The Write Around The Murray literary festival will be held September 5-9. More details at writearoundthemurray.org.au
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