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Tracy Thomas has lost her father, brother and now husband, Des Thomas, to suicide. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
AUSTRALIA: "... the state’s most dangerous and violent female prisoners."
"Of the 3027 Australians who killed themselves in 2015, 75 per cent of them were male."
Can We Talk: Woman whose father, brother and husband died from suicide urges men to open up
November 25, 2016 5:50pm
LOSING a loved one to suicide is a nightmare but Tracy Thomas has lost not just one but her father, a brother and her husband.
As she sits with her children, Jackson, 1, and Isabella, 3, in the family home in Cranebrook Mrs Thomas blames the “tough it out and suck it up” male culture for her own heartbreak and the heartbreak that will inevitably impact her son and daughter.
It is only weeks since her husband, correctional officer Des James Thomas, committed suicide.
The 40-year-old died on October 11 following a battle with depression, the breakdown of their marriage and a high-stress job.
Worse, it took her back to earlier tragedy.
As a five-year-old she had the shock of finding her father’s body after he killed himself in 1988. Nine years later her brother Kurt, who she described as her “best friend”, also took his own life. He was only 18.
Now 34, Mrs Thomas dreads the day she has to explain it to Jackson and Isabella.
“I was in shock at first because I had everyone crying around me.”
“When Des died I thought: ‘Oh no, it has happened again’,” she said. “No matter how hard I try to run I can’t get away from it. I wanted the depression and everything to shut with my generation, so that my kids would never experience it.
“It is so unbelievably heartbreaking, not just for me but for his little girl and boy.”
Des’ absence in the house is obvious. Pictures of the couple are still scattered around the family home, despite the pair going through what she calls a “trial separation” eight weeks before his death.
Jackson, who has a deformed limb condition known as arthrogryposis, picks up his father’s Quiksilver cap and looks around expectantly.
Isabella, who has a body dysmorphia condition called hemihypertrophy, keeps asking her mum: “When is daddy coming home?”
As her daughter struggles to understand the finality of death, Mrs Thomas can’t help but remember her own struggles growing up on a farm in North Richmond.
She was one of three kids to builder Peter Lee, who Mrs Thomas describes as a fit and hardworking family man.
Mrs Thomas admits that she was a tomboy who spent a lot of time doing “boy stuff” with her brother Kurt and her old man.
The three of them all had matching pocket knives. She still has two of those knives in a box on her dressing table. She still wears Kurt’s jumper in winter.
“I was in shock at first because I had everyone crying around me,” she said of her dad’s death at age 36.
“At five years old I remember the funeral. I saw the after-effects of people not coming over to our house, being mean to my mother and not supportive when she still had to raise us. A lot of blame gets put on the people who are left behind.”
Mrs Thomas said she is still seeing a ripple effect today.
“Having lost my dad — the fact of him not being here — my constant worry was that he would never walk me down the aisle,” she said.
“That’s what I lived with my whole life to this day. That’s what gets me inside because now that I see that my daughter will go through the same thing. Des will never walk Isabella up the aisle.”
Mrs Thomas believes that much like her father’s suicide, her brother Kurt’s death nine years later was also the product of an undiagnosed depression, and he was crippled by the loss of his father.
“Kurt was more of an introverted person, similar to my husband, and only confided in close people,” she said.
Kurt had moved out of home and was living in a share house garage in nearby Kingswood at the time he committed suicide in 1999.
Mrs Thomas said she is devastated for her son Jackson, who, like her brother, will also not have his father in his life.
“Every young boy needs a father growing up,” she said.
“It doesn’t matter whether there are two adults in the house, or if the parents are living separately, there needs to be a father figure. A man can’t be that in tune with females and women can’t be that in tune with men. We need our own kind.”
Mrs Thomas believes her late brother, father and husband all suffered from depression, paranoia and an inability to seek help because of a “suck it up” attitude.
Des’ sister Mel Rivera said, on the weekend before his death, Des denied he was having suicidal thoughts and had told his brother Ian: “I’m getting over the worst of it.”
“We thought that maybe he was at peace and had decided to do it (kill himself) long before,” Mrs Rivera said.
“But, then again, he had booked in to renew the car registration on the Thursday. He died on the Tuesday.”
Des took his own life at his family home in Orchard Hills, where he was living with his parents, two siblings and their kids.
The ex-Jamison High School student left a list of the songs he wanted played at his funeral, including Crowded House songs Don’t Dream It’s Over and Better Be Home Soon.
“No matter what job they do, mental health for men is not discussed.”
He did not leave a suicide note and Mrs Rivera said her family are tortured by the fact they will never truly know why he died. Des was employed at the Silverwater Women’s Correctional Centre, a maximum security remand centre that houses the state’s most dangerous and violent female prisoners.
In his 14-year career he dealt with more than 100 incidents where inmates tried to kill themselves, or each other.
Senior correctional officer Nicole Jess said, while the job had an effect on Des, his work was not the ultimate factor in his death. Ms Jess, who is also the senior vice-president of the Public Service Association, said his workplace had been supportive.
“Of the three men I’ve known who have taken their own lives while working as corrections officers, two of them were going through marriage breakups at the time,” Ms Jess, who worked with Des his whole career, said, adding there needs to be more avenues for men to speak about their feelings.
“No matter what job they do, mental health for men is not discussed,” she said. “We are missing something in our community when men cannot sit down and discuss how they feel.”
A Corrective Services NSW spokeswoman said: “The health and wellbeing of CCSNSW staff is a priority and we offer a number of free programs, support and counselling services to employees who are facing challenges or hardships in life.
“There are trained peer-support officers at Silverwater Womens’ Correctional Centre and most other correctional centres.
“Every correctional centre also has on-site psychologists and chaplains who work primarily with inmates but who are available to provide an immediate staff-support role.”
Of the 3027 Australians who killed themselves in 2015, 75 per cent of them were male.
“It is bred into us that men have to suck it up and be tough,” Mrs Thomas said.
“Men don’t cry because they are the strong one for the family. Women are allowed to be emotional because we have the babies and we are supposed to be the nurturers.
“But that is not the case these days. Men nowadays stay home with their children and the women can go to work. Nothing has really changed from then until now.”
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Tracy’s friends have set up a gofundme page to help support her with raising the kids: https://www.gofund me.com/in-loving-memory-2uczn3u4
Thirty one of Des’s mates are raising money for November in honour of their mate:
Originally published as I lost the three men I love to suicide