“’Christielee, do you know where Junade is?!!’
It was midnight and my ex-partner, Jay’s (Junade) mother Fatima had just called me. She was hysterical, asking me if I knew where her son was. We have a daughter together and although we had been separated for a year and it ended on a bad note, we still co-parented and he made a conscious effort to FaceTime our daughter Amarlie Briallen every day.
It was one week before Christmas 2017. I had only spoken to him 4 days earlier. He told me he was going back to South Africa to see his family and friends since it was a surprise. I should have known that wasn’t the truth. Maybe in my heart I knew it wasn’t, but I desperately wanted to believe him.
I thought his mom was crying from happiness. She had not seen her boy in many years and he had only been home to visit her once since arriving in Australia 7 years prior. I was so excited for her to see him.
She kept crying and finally managed to tell me she had just been called by the police in Australia. She was told that Junade had died by suicide at his home, and begged me to drive there to check this wasn’t some sort of sick joke.
Only 18 months earlier, I had lost my best friend Adam to suicide. Burying him was the hardest thing I had ever done. He was the funniest, most loving, caring and genuine man I had ever known and I was still grieving. I couldn’t go through this again. I was hoping it had to be a sick joke.
I remember telling his mom it couldn’t be true, that he was coming home and they have it wrong – but she was insistent.
I was struggling to find my keys before I got into my car. I was staying at my mom’s after losing the family home after the break-up. Jay lived only a few streets away – I couldn’t get the keys in the car door my hands were trembling so much. My mom was on night shift and arrived home to find me, trying desperately to get into the car. She asked what I was doing leaving the kids at midnight. I just stared at her and said, ‘Junade’s dead mom. He killed himself.’
I don’t remember too much after that. I remember the police arriving only minutes later to tell me what had happened. His roommates and best friend had found him. They knew we were still close and I was still his next of kin so I had to be formally notified. They talked for what felt like hours. I listened to them but I heard nothing, not a word.
The officer finally looked at me and said, ‘I am so sorry,’ and I had to ask him again if Junade was actually dead. The officer confirmed he had died many hours earlier.
Everything after that was a blur, I cried myself to sleep and woke up hoping it was a dream – how do you tell a 3-year-old little daddy’s girl she is never going to see her hero again?
I didn’t know what to say to her in the morning. I had told my three older girls who were sad, but they had not seen him in a year and handled it so maturely. I was so proud of them. They were so supportive of me – but telling Amarlie was going to be so much harder.
I can honestly say I do not remember the words I used, or even how or where I told her. She was 3 and didn’t understand that death meant daddy was never coming back. I had been given some pamphlets from the officers on how to talk to her to help her understand the night he died, but it wasn’t until the funeral where she watched him get buried that she realized daddy wasn’t going to wake up.
I took her to see his grave a few days later. She started digging up the dirt, crying her little heart out, begging me to ‘help her dig daddy out’ because he ‘wouldn’t like being dirty.’ I sat on the ground with her and we rocked back and forth as I tried to soothe her. We sat there and sobbed together for a long time until we were both exhausted and had no more tears to cry.
That was the last time I took her to his grave. She told me her heart hurt too much and she didn’t want to go back. I went every day for months. Some days I spoke to him, some days I sat in silence and cried, and some days I screamed at him. I was so angry that he hurt our baby like this and so mad I was the one left behind to pick up the millions of pieces. I understood as well that I have bipolar disorder and have been suicidal before, and even attempted it at one point. It was having the girls that saved me.
Jay has two sons from two of his previous partners, as well as Amarlie and his ex-wife here in Australia. We became the best of friends, who bonded and promised each other that we would keep our kids together and have supported each other throughout this horrific time. His oldest boy lives in South Africa. We all tell our kids that daddy is a star. They even bought a star and named it ‘Daddy Junade.’
It has been just over 15 months and we have had many ups and down over that time. Amarlie cries often begging me to wake her daddy up. She is nearly 5, but death is still something she doesn’t quite grasp the concept of. She asks me nearly every morning to look at photos of her daddy together, and to watch the very few videos I have of them.
She often forgets and asks me to call him, and then gets very upset. I remind her that daddy was very sick and now he is a star. Some days the photos bring her comfort and she will smile and talk happily about the little she remembers, other days she will cry and ask me to tell her good stories about him.
She watches movies and sees characters get hurt or die and then they are alive again and she asks if her daddy can be alive again now, and not be a star in the sky. I have to explain it to her again and watch her little heartbreak again.
Some days she will meet people and will just start telling them how her daddy died, and now he is a star. I have to answer for them because people don’t know how to react. They are taken aback with how forward she is, but I refuse to silence her. She needs to talk and I encourage her to do just that.
Some days Amarlie will see me crying and will ask me if she makes me sad. She also will ask if I will get sick and leave her forever to be a star. She often asks if our whole family can die and be a star with her daddy because she so desperately wants her family to be together. These moments I go straight into Mummy mode and reassure her that she makes me the happiest mummy in the world but that we can’t be stars, it’s not our time. Some nights she dreams of him and will cry in her sleep or wake herself calling out to him. I often rock her back to sleep and then cry myself back to sleep. It’s heartbreaking watching your little girl’s heartbreak over and over again.
Life as a single mom has taken some getting used to, especially when I am grieving myself. I am my girls’ sole carer, the sole income earner, and their only real emotional support. But we are a strong family unit that has learned to lean on one another for support.
We are open and honest with each other and talk about our feelings and about suicide and mental health issues. I believe that is what has gotten us through both of these tragedies.
Having bipolar disorder means I sometimes struggle with my own mental health. Since being diagnosed and having lost both Adam and Jay to suicide, I am making it my life’s mission to raise awareness and challenge the stigma attached to both issues by writing and talking about them publicly.
I have come to learn there is no shame in asking for help. I encourage everyone to talk openly and honestly about their mental health, to seek professional help or reach out to a friend or family member. We are losing so many men and women to suicide, and mental health is a huge contributing factor.
I don’t want mine and my baby girl’s story to be anyone else’s. My baby is going to grow up with so many unanswered questions and maybe she will suffer from abandonment issues. I feel this heartbreak forever and I don’t want that for anyone else. Talking about it, normalizing the conversation and how we respond to people who are suffering from mental health issues is the key to educating others and destroying the common misconceptions surrounding both suicide and mental health.
For now, I am putting all of my focus into being the best mum I can be to my 4 girls by supporting them, allowing them to grieve in their own way and in their own time and making sure we all continue getting the help that we need.”
[If you’re thinking about hurting yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionhotline.org to live chat with someone. Help is out there. You are not alone.]
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Christielee Plumridge of Sydney, Australia. Follow her journey on Instagram here and Facebook here. A version of this story can be found on her website here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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