Adelaide Newspaper

Family Memories in a Field of Grief

Fanita Clark, a suicide victim’s mother, among the wreaths in front of Parliament House in Canberra yesterday.

2723 wreaths for suicide victims

PRIME Minister John Howard came face to face yesterday with the stark reality of Australia’s rising suicide rate.  Laid out like a carpet in front of Parliament House in Canberra were 2723 wreaths – one for each person who took his or her own life during 1997.

Other wreaths, also placed by relatives of victims, marked more deaths in the past two years.

Mr Howard was joined at the launch of the first commemorative White Wreath Day by MPs including Opposition Leader Kim Beazley and relatives of the thousands of Australians who have committed suicide.  Each wreath bore testimoney to lives needlessly cut short – such as Martin, 24, who shot himself in 1998, and Tim, 12, who hanged himself in the family backyard.

“I will never understand why went away,” a family member had written on one wreath. Organiser Fanita Clark, of Brisbane, told MPs and still-grieving parents how her 19-year-old son Jason, diagnosed with mental illness, lay in front of a train to end his life in May this year.

Mrs Clark called for the Government to change confidentiality laws that prevented parents from being consulted on problems suffered by their children and thus providing help when it was most needed.

“It seems the decision on care is taken out of the hands of the family and put in the hands of the sufferer,” she said.  The message to me was: you can’t help others to help themselves, but the fact is they often can’t help themselves.”

Mrs Clark said White Wreath Day would be a remind of the need to confront mental illness and that every life was precious. Mr Howard promised politicians would consider the unintended consequences of privacy laws. “We are endeavoring to understand the magnitude of the grief that you feel,” he said.

“As a parent, the loss of one of my children would be unimaginable, whatever the circumstances, and I can only begin to feel, to say to you that we do care about people in your situation.”

Mr Beazley said the desplay of wreaths and Mrs Clark’s story was “a truly stuning rminder to the Australian people about how this issue affects all of us”.
He said Australia had yet to come to grips with suicide because it was an issue that touched everyone’s deepest fears.

“We have a community in a massive state of denial,” he said.