2 April 2024

How one tragedy can help save other lives: A mother's mission

| Sally Hopman
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Three people in front of water tank mural

Artist Sion Gruffydd of Kraken Kreative, Deanne Griffin and Braidwood artist Bohie in front of the completed murals at Hanging Rock, Batemans Bay. Photo: Bohie.

No-one can know how a mother feels when she loses a child to suicide. Regardless of whether there’s been a warning, even just an inkling all was far from well, it can’t hurt any less.

While some mothers shut themselves away, distance themselves from the family that’s left or just feel overwhelmed by grief, others see the tragedy as an epiphany.

For Deanne Griffin of Batemans Bay, there was a message in such sadness as there was for her husband Pat, their daughters Hayley and Emily, their larger family and friends and everyone else who knew and loved their son and brother Sean.

Sean was 17 in December 2019 and had just started an electrical apprenticeship.

Bushfires were ravaging the South Coast, everyone was on edge. Mrs Griffin and her husband were overseas when they received the call no parent wants to hear. Their son was dead.

“All I remember is doing all the practical things in a blur,” she said. “It was like you were the third person and all this was happening around you.”

Sean, his mother said, was her “cruisy kid”. “He was the youngest, a practical joker, always made us laugh and always took everything in his stride.”

They had no hint anything was wrong. There was no history of mental illness, bullying -“he was the sort of kid who got upset if something bad happened to someone else”.

Mrs Griffin does recall a conversation she had with him after someone he knew took their own life. “He said to me, ‘I would never do that Mum.'”

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After Sean died in 2019, Mrs Griffin said many of his friends came to see her and her family. “It was hard to know how to handle that emotionlly, so you didn’t further damage his friends, but you tend to just respond instinctively. You cry with them because they lost a friend and we lost a son.

“I was grateful they put themselves in a position to come and see us and talk. It was comforting for us but it was hard because when you see them you know they’ll be celebrating parties and birthdays he will never have.”

Mrs Griffin wanted to do something to keep Sean’s memory alive – for everyone else and, hopefully, help save other young lives in the process.

In a community-led initiative with the Bega Valley Eurobodalla Suicide Prevention Collaborative, huge, bright murals have been painted on the water tanks at Hanging Rock sports complex, at Batemans Bay. It was a place where Sean would play cricket with his father and remains a place where many young people gather today.

Braidwood artist Bohie was commissioned to do the artwork with Sion Gruffydd of Kraken Kreative, the premise being to make it bright and positive and for it to feature the message: You’re Somebody’s Someone.

The painting was completed last week and will be officially launched later this month.

“We have chosen mural artworks that recognise loss, and life’s struggles while celebrating diversity, teamwork, togetherness and real-world support from family, community, school and the sporting world,” Mrs Griffin said. “The artworks emphasise each person’s value and remind us that even if you have a bad day, tomorrow is a new day and things will improve. We’re reminding people to reach out or talk with somebody when they’re not OK.

“I’m hopeful this project will also remind people of the families left behind as their loss is ongoing.

Mural on water tank saying You're Somebody's Someone.

The message on the water tank at Batemans Bay’s Hanging Rock – You’re Somebody’s Someone. Photo: Supplied.

“I also want to raise awareness that suicide is not only a mental health issue that follows a lengthy battle. It is now recognised that it can largely be attributed to situational distress, as it was for Sean. And it can happen in any family, regardless of how loving and supportive.”

Suicide prevention program manager at COORDINARE, South Eastern NSW Primary Health Network, Jo Riley, said the South Coast lost around 15 people every year to suicide.

“Every life lost is one too many and each suicide affects a large number of people, such as the person’s family, friends, children, partners and work colleagues,” she said.

The Batemans Bay water tank mural project will be launched during Youth Week at 3 pm on Friday 19 April at the Hanging Rock Sports Complex, Batemans Bay. To register, go to the website.

If this story has raised issues of concern, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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