by Kaylene Donohue
I was born in a small country town in New South Wales (NSW) called Wagga Wagga. My family lived on the outskirts of the town in a village called Lake Albert. I was one of eight children and the eldest girl with two older brothers. Our family was poor, and in those days if we went anywhere it was mostly on foot. We grew up playing with our ten cousins living next door and the rest of the village children. In those days, we were allowed to run free as long as we were in by dark or dinner. We never heard of kidnappers or people being murdered just for walking around the streets, life was so different from the way we live today.
My personal journey started when I had to make my own choices. Because it was unfortunate in those early years teachers knew nothing about slow learners or kids that really needed extra help, and because I changed schools several times, my education suffered terribly and I could not wait until I was fifteen years of age when I could say goodbye to the class room forever. At the age of nineteen, I chose to go to Sydney to study to become a nurse’s aid. I was not ready for the world out there, but I loved the nursing side of my job; however, my lack of education came back to haunt me. I worked hard learning the physical side of my job and I did enjoy it, but the written exams were another story. If I had never met a cheeky (charming or amusing) young kid who was recovering from burns to his body after his tent caught on fire whilst out camping with other army cadets, I would never have met my first husband and the father of my three children.
Bryan had been sent to the Concord hospital in Sydney where all injured service men were taken and it just happened that he was sent to the hospital ward where I was working. There were other young nursing aids, yet this kid was relentless in trying to match me up with his older brother. If this had never happened my life would certainly have been much different, then again, it does come down to choices and nobody forced me to follow the path I did.
I was a pretty mixed up kid back then and I think I fell in love with the whole family. Since there were other things in my life that were going on, I chose to move out and rent a place not too far from the hospital with some other girls. That was my first huge mistake, which lead to me taking a path I was not ready for.
I was married in 1970. My beautiful daughter, Tracy, was born in 1971. I loved her so much. She became my life, since my husband was in the Australian Navy. For the first six months of her life, it was just the two of us. I did have a lot of help from my in-laws who could not do enough to help out especially through those nights of teething and colic. Then, in 1972, my eldest son, Terry, was born. There were eighteen months between Tracy and Terry, yet everybody thought they were twins as my daughter was such a tiny little girl. Those first few years of married life I was reasonably happy, however, it was not long before my life changed and certainly not for the better.
It is hard now to remember the next decade. They were not all bad, but I was a battered wife, both physically and mentally, by my first husband. I believed in marriage, and I loved my kids so much that I thought keeping the family together was the best thing for my children.
Two and a half years after Terry was born, I gave birth to my youngest son, Bradley (Brad), the last of my children. By the time Brad was born, my marriage was in big trouble. I also didn’t realize that I was suffering from depression. By the time I finally got the help from my family, and the courage to actually take my kids and leave, I realized that I truly was very sick. Mentally, I should have received a lot of help from the proper people; instead, I tried hard to focus on my kids thinking that I had finally done the right thing by starting a new life.
Tracy Skewes 31/3/1971 – 2/3/203 Terry Skewes 15/9/1972 – 30/10/1993 Brad Skewes 2/12/1974 – 31/1/2000
Only battered women can understand that being a battered wife is not how you want to live, it is not something you want to go through. You don’t want to live that life with the cheating husband, the bruised and battered body. I thank God these days that there is no need to have to live this way, there is so much more help around. I also did not realize how much my children were being put through. I now realize that by staying with their father as long as I did I was doing so much more damage to their lives, hurting them so much more. I believe I did the best I could at the time; however, the best was not good enough and now I have to live with that.
Tracy was thirteen when we started our new life. Because of my undiagnosed depression, I continued making many more mistakes that are unchangeable. My divorce was very bitter, but I was given full custody of my three children. Life started to slowly improve for us. I managed to save what I could to buy a house all on my own, but the kids often threw their pocket money in to help out. I met my present husband, John, three years after we started our new life. By the time John and I were married, I had been working full time in the catering section at our local hospital.
We all have our ups and downs, who doesn’t? For me, it was a tug of war between the kids, their father, and I, even though I had been given full custody. Once the kids reached the age of thirteen, they got to choose which parent they wanted to live with. Of course, kids all fight and with so many promises from their father for a room to themselves including all the other material things I could not give them, Terry was my first to go. He found out life was much different from what he had been promised. He stayed with his father until, I think, the last year of school, when he moved in with friends until he could come back home.
That was the back and forth way my kids lived over the following years. Honestly, because I was done with the violence and just wanted a peaceful life, there was a lot that happened in my kids’ lives when they did stay with their father that I was unaware of until they had started to live their own lives. I was always there for them, but took no part in what happened around their visits to their father because by that time they were old enough to say, “they did not want to go”. Terry came home after leaving school and worked at McDonald’s for a while before enlisting in the Navy.
I am going to jump a few years now. If I thought my life had been bad in my first marriage, it was nothing compared to what I have lived through over the last four decades. When my eldest son, Terry, took his life at the age of twenty-one, it was the most traumatic thing I have ever lived through. It is a pain that is totally indescribable. It does change your life forever because it can’t be undone; once a life is taken it is gone.
Because my son chose to end his life, there are so many other issues you have to deal with. Aside from the pain is the guilt, the “if only’s” and the list goes on. I still remember when I would eventually go to sleep I would pray that when I awoke I would find it had all been a terrible nightmare. Then daybreak would come bringing with it the reality that I had lost my eldest son. He was never going to come home again. I would never hear his voice telling me he loved me. There would be no more phone calls in the middle of the night after a party. The thought of never seeing Terry again, at that time, was far too much for me to take in so I forced myself to do what needed to be done which was to focus on my two remaining kids and their needs.
I had no idea that within the next ten years I would have lost all three of my children to suicide.
Over the years, I have been asked how I felt after the loss of each of my children. It was different with each of their deaths. When my second son died following Terry’s death, it was after years of battling to keep him alive. No one understands, unless they have a child who went down the road of illegal substances and violence that this is what happened to Brad because he had nowhere to go for help. My daughter, Tracy, and I tried everywhere to get help for my son but because of the drugs and alcohol nobody wanted to know about it or try to help us. I really believed my youngest son had hit rock bottom and was going to turn his life around so by the time I learned he had taken his life I was totally unprepared for it.
Our eldest grandson, Bradley, was staying with us at the time. He was riding his push bike around the yard and I had been watching him when I noticed a police car turning into our driveway. It continued on up our long drive, my husband and I watched as they stopped. Nothing was going through my mind other than they must be looking for someone and yes they were, it was me. When the two police officers got out of the car, my husband went out to greet them. I followed behind. I remember as they came up the steps that they were looking beyond John and without wasting time asked me if I was Brad’s mother. The first thing that popped into my head was, what has he done now. When the police told me he had committed suicide it was so far from my mind. On hearing those words, I felt like somebody had punched me so hard in the guts I doubled up not being able to straighten. I don’t remember much after that. It was a pain I never wanted to live through again.
After Brad died, my daughter who had just remarried moved to NSW taking my two eldest grandchildren with them. Just before Brad died, Tracy had stood beside her new husband and told me she was now on drugs. It was like she was hitting out at me, telling me she now had another man in her life and with another baby on the way she didn’t need me any more. So in my mind I had lost everything. It was only because my husband John and some close family living around me that kept me going. I think I would have just curled up in bed and stayed there.
Over the next couple of years the relationship between my daughter and myself continued to deteriorate. It wasn’t as easy to see her or the kids because of the distance involved. I still saw my grandchildren, but only when I could afford to fly them up to Queensland. I would hear some of what was going on in my daughter’s life; it was never good, but she had made the choice to move interstate. She gave birth to another son a few months after moving away. I was no longer able to work and John was not well either, so we sold our home and moved to the sunny coast of Queensland.
It is strange how life continues. It was only after we moved to the coast that we found out what was wrong with my husband. Although incurable, he was able to start life saving treatment. As for me, my sister, Lee, took me to her own doctor. By chance, he happened to have a patient who had lost her only son to suicide some eighteen months before. The doctor told me they were trying to start a support group for people who had lost somebody they loved to suicide. You know, I never believed this was for me, but in time joining the group was life saving for me in many ways. I realize that without these wonderful people in my life when I lost my daughter only a few short months later to suicide, I would not be here now.
Since the loss of my children, I have been through hell and back several times. I started drinking a lot and once again found I had choices to make. I started to take prescribed medication for depression and also self-published my story in a book, The Healing Beach: My Children Chose To Die. Then last year, I finally had my second book published, The Continuing Ripples Of Living Beyond Suicide.
The main reason I keep going these days is because I was helped so much after joining our group and I wanted to help support others who are also going through the loss of somebody they loved to suicide. My second book is a combination of other people’s stories as well as touching on a little of my own. I have also tried to enter some positive things in it as well. I know I am far from perfect and made many mistakes throughout my life and I guess I still will continue to make mistakes. My one ambition is to try to prevent anybody else from going through this terrible journey. If I can help save lives, I feel as if my kids have not died in vain. You know people don’t realize how much just one suicide changes the generations to come, not only in their own family but also in others. Nobody wants to take their life, with the right help they can survive.
About the Author: Kaylene Donohue is a bereaved mother with no surviving children. She is the author of two books about the deaths of her three adult children to suicide: The Healing Beach: My Children Chose To Die and The Continuing Ripples Of Living Beyond Suicide.