Geraldton woman Demi Rowe shares her painful journey and advice to others after losing brother to suicide

Derek GoforthGeraldton Guardian
Demi Rowe with her brother Iszac.
Camera IconDemi Rowe with her brother Iszac. Credit: Supplied

R U OK? Day has been and gone for another year, but the message it promotes should be a daily reminder, according to Demi Rowe, who knows all too painfully the reality of suicide.

The awareness campaign means a lot of things to a lot of people, but for Ms Rowe, the meaning and significance runs deep.

She lost her brother Iszac to suicide on June 10 this year, just two weeks before his 24th birthday — a birthday he shares with their mum.

Spreading awareness of suicide and its impact is something Ms Rowe’s family speak about frequently since Iszac’s death.

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She believes there are many misconceptions and much stigma surrounding mental health and suicide.

“A lot of these only became apparent to myself and my family after we experienced the loss of my brother,” Ms Rowe said.

“For someone to choose to take their own life is not a weak or selfish decision for them. It’s hard for people who have never had mental health struggles to relate or understand how people can choose to end their life.

“It also does not make sense to people who are thinking logically, and we cannot apply logic to such a decision.

“At the time when people choose to take their life, I have come to discover through talking to professionals and my own research, they feel a sense of calm: calmness that their pain and suffering will end, and a calmness that they think they will not be a burden to their friends or family any longer.

“Does this mean it is the best decision to make? Of course not! But when you look at suicide from a compassionate point of view, you can see that an individual who is experiencing all-consuming sadness, pain, or fear just wants their pain to end.”

Ms Rowe said her brother was seeking professional help and “doing all the right things”.

“He had plans for his house, a shed build had been organised and paid for, he had his animals and lots of love and support. He just needed more time. More time that he unfortunately did not give himself,” she said.

Earlier this month, Ms Rowe turned to her CrossFit family with a workout in Iszac’s honour.

She wanted to work with her coach Dirranie Kirby at CrossFit Geraldton, but coming back to the club after a layoff for such an important event was not an easy decision to make.

“Coming back to CrossFit for the R U OK? day workout was a mixed bag of emotions after a long stint of absence for me,” she said. “They welcomed me back with open arms and open hearts. The work out “Iszac” was so thoughtfully put together by the CrossFit crew and included 23 in memory of my brother’s age and 8 to signify the number of people in Australia who lose their life to suicide.

“Dirranie gave such a touching introduction to the workout that had many in tears including myself and her. I cannot thank them enough for their efforts, their love and their support.

“Exercise has been such an integral part of my own mental health journey and there is significant research into the positive effects it can have on mental health. So if you’re stuck in a difficult head space, try a walk or any form of exercise you can tolerate; even five minutes.”

Ms Rowe had this message for those struggling in the community. “Just keep going. Give yourself credit for the little things. Got out of bed today? Great! Did one load of washing? Even better! You are not a burden no matter what your mind tells you. The world is not better off without you. The world needs you. Your family needs you.

“I needed my brother and I always will. I miss him every single day. Sometimes I have to take each day minute by minute. But I know I need to keep going and making his dreams and plans he had come true and this is what my family and I will continue to do.”

Ms Rowe also wanted to draw attention to the importance of language use around suicide. “The word ‘committed’ suicide connotes that the person has committed a crime,” she said. “These people have not committed a crime; they have made an extremely difficult decision for themselves and their family. Instead, when talking about suicide we can say things such as ‘lost their life to suicide’ or ‘died by suicide’.”

Ms Rowe and her family do not feel alone in this struggle having received huge support from not only their family and friends but from professionals including StandBy who have helped her to understand the situation her brother was in, process emotions, and how to have tough conversations with people about stigmatisation, language use and mental health.

“If you are struggling, or you sense a mate is having a hard time, the best thing you can do is talk. Listen without judgement. Listen without trying to give someone a solution to all of their problems or telling them ‘she’ll be right’. She may not. Keep talking. Keep listening. Keep seeking help . . . one day, one hour, one minute, one second at a time. The sun cannot always stay hidden and eventually it will rise again,” she said.

“I miss my brother and love him and I always will. He is out of pain now. The pain may be passed on to myself, my family and his mates, but if anything, his passing should make people aware that a lot can hide behind someone’s smile and larrikin ways. Ask you mates if they are OK and be prepared to listen.”

CrossFit head coach Dirranie Kirby said they had done R U OK? fundraising workouts previously and she asked Ms Rowe if this year they could organise a workout honouring her brother. She said the awareness day and issue of suicide resonated with her personally and professionally.

“As a person who provides a service like I do which is not only about physical health but also about mental health, R U OK? means to not only ask the question and open the conversation but to listen for the answer, to give people your time and somewhere to feel safe,” she said. “I’ve lost friends to suicide; I have close friends that suffer from depression and know how important it is to have someone to lean on.”

Lifeline 13 11 14

Beyond Blue 1300 224 636

StandBy 1300 727 247

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