The untimely death of footballer and Wales football manager Gary Speed has made me reflect over the last few days. How much do we really know about those around us? What is it like to face such a tragedy in a family?
I didn’t know Gary Speed, though I knew of him. I’m not a huge football fan and I’ve absolutely no idea why he took his own life. I suspect we’ll find out in the fullness of time as there will be an inquest. But we may never truly know.
However I do know a bit about depression (if that even had anything to do with his passing) and I also know, all too well about the impact of losing someone so unexpectedly and far too young.
So for me, this whole situation is about his family – his wife and children, his parents, brothers, sisters etc – my heart goes out to them. The journey they’ve been forced to take is long, it’s painful and it eats at the very soul.
Earlier this year, my brother in law, aged 49, went to the gym, collapsed and died. I’ve written about this before on this site and on FB. Even now, I cannot believe that it’s true. Seeing it in black and white doesn’t make it easier to bear. I also know that the impact it has had on my family will never diminish. We are all deeply wounded.
For my sister, his widow, he went to do an activity that he’d always done and enjoyed and which, it turns out, he should not have taken part in. She didn’t make it to the hospital in time to say goodbye. The next time she saw him, he was dead.
For his three children, their daddy went out and never came home. It’s a reality that they cannot understand, although they can speak the words, they cannot make sense of it.
How much worse must that be if someone has chosen to die?
On the face of it, this man seemed to have everything – talent, success, money, happy family.
But life has taught me that such things may hide many cracks. Being successful in life, or talented, does not give a monopoly on happiness. Depression or suicidal impulses can overtake anyone whatever their personal situation. They might know that they’ve got things good – but their mental health might be dreadful. Death might be an escape from turmoil in their own minds. Something they just can’t rid themselves of, no matter how hard they try.
I’ve made films about mental health issues and you soon come to realise that the state of someone’s mental health can be separate from their seeming success in life. Equally being successful, having confidence, being respected can help someone’s mental health if they come from a low place. But there are no guarantees when your mental health is fragile.
So for me – it’s not so much about the why? It’s about reaching out to his family and saying ‘I don’t know you, you don’t know me but I do know something of what you are enduring and it matters…’