The Other End of Happiness

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Given the tragic circumstances of the death of Dan Vickerman I thought to republish this Post from 2016. Last week I spoke at my Book Launch about my passion to help Men not pick up that rope like my Father did 15 years ago………….we have much work to do here.

“He was a good bloke who made things” – A.J LeBusque (6 Years Old)

This is not a call for sympathy and is a little different to my usual Posts, however it is becoming more and more evident to me as to why I now do the work I do. On the surface I call it “Human Being” work which at its heart is all about creating a strong sense of Belonging, Self Worth and Purpose in an individual so that every Human Being feels part of something bigger than self.

I spoke recently at the ACS NSW/ACT Conference about the need to include a Happiness Strategy in Workplaces. Happiness is still viewed as a little “fluffy” and its hard to measure the impact on the bottom line etc etc etc……………

The message that really resonated with the audience was the story I told about losing my Father some 15 years ago when he had lost any relationship with the whole concept of happiness. It struck a particular chord with a few men and women who came to me and said thank you for the message ……….it is a timely reminder for me.

If you see someone today in your life today that looks like they need some support and a “happiness lift” then don’t just walk past them. It may just be what they need to keep them from the other side of happiness. 

Life was pretty good for the LeBusque clan – Mum and Dad had moved from Mildura to Romsey to be closer to my immediate Family – My wife Allison and Kids Sam, Amy and Zoe. They loved babysitting them and performing concerts at their home. Dad was doing odd jobs and had built his own house. We were in for good times.

The first I knew that something was wrong was when my wife arrived at my local Cricket Club where I played and said – “Your mum has found a note”

On the frantic dash from Wallan all I could think was where could he be?

On the way Mum rang to say Dad was in the Shed – In his Car with it rigged up with the pipe from the vacuum cleaner from the exhaust to the back window to asphyxiate him with the carbon monoxide fumes.

Given his confused state of mind at the time – he hadn’t checked the fuel gauge and ran out of fuel before his last breath. A good thing or a bad thing – time would be the ultimate judge of this.

The way he looked – so weak, scared and helpless – “I’m so sorry” he said.

The “recovery” and his guilt – “I will never do it again” – but I knew him better – and called him on this – Robert John LeBusque was a perfectionist – something he learned from building 100’s of houses that were impeccable and he would finish the job that he had started – it was just a matter of time. Everyone else chose to believe him but not me. In my eyes he had never failed at anything and it would just be a matter of time.

I said “Yes you will because you always finish the job”. I learnt about calling shit out that day and not holding anything back – I hoped it would shock him into wanting to prove me wrong.

The next period of time was all about “Don’t mention the war” – no conversations were had and the clock was ticking. Only once did my Dad break down in front of me and my brother – sobbing uncontrollably in his kitchen saying he couldn’t keep being a burden and living this way.

The only other time I had seen him cry was at his Fathers wake where he apologised to us all for being a bad father – he really lost it that day and we were absolutely shocked at the time. Nothing could have been further from the truth and he had carried this with him for years. What else was he not saying at the time? And it was never mentioned again…….

Move forward 6 months my Dad got his old builders bucket, a rope and using his great knot tying ability strung himself up in his shed at his house. Mum knew straight away when she arrived home from overnight home care of her mentally disabled clients as the curtains were still drawn. She immediately went to the shed and found him lifeless hanging from the beam.

I had started early that day at a client site visit and was driving on the Sth Eastern Freeway right next to the Kooyong Tennis Court in a leafy Melbourne suburb when my phone rang –

“He’s done it” my wife Allison said.

“I knew he would” or something to that effect was my rather callous response.

The drive to Romsey took about 90minutes but felt like an eternity. I remember being angry with him –

How could he do this to his Wife?

How could he do this to me? How could he leave his kids as well as his grandkids? Selfish bastard.

I called his brothers and his sister and told them the news, it was numbing and their grief was palpable.

How could he do it to his brothers and sister?

The formal identification process is etched in my mind. He looked like road kill, a look of surprise and absolute terror etched on his face, his body contorted and his hands clenched tight with pale white knuckles. I’m lead to believe that most people die with a surprised look on their face. Even though he knew what he was doing his face didn’t look like that of someone who went easily……….and he appeared to be shocked at what happened once he stepped off his old builders bucket that carried his tools.

How could he do this to his friends?

That wasn’t the worst of it – that came about 3 hours later after I drove with my brother to tell my Nanna that he son had passed away. Ninety-One years old and never lost a child until now. I always knew Nanna for her beautiful blue eyes – from that day on the sparkle was gone as part of her died. Never the same again – her beautiful blue eyes were now a dark colour.

How could he do it to his Mum?

This has had the most significant impact on me. Seeing a parents reaction to the loss of a child. My only wish now is that I hope that I do not outlive my children – it does happen but its not meant to be. I’ve seen first hand the impact and it is forever etched into my mind.

You see my Dad had a mild stroke some 18 months before, and in his mind he had become a burden on those he loved and those who loved him. The best place for him to be was out of our way so we could get on with our lives. The burden would be lifted and we could go back to operating the way we should – live normal lives, not worry about his central nerve pain, his withdrawal and desire to sit in his favourite chair with a blanket over his legs and little or no conversation being had.

At least that’s what his suicide note said on his first attempt and I’m sure would have still represented how he felt when he got the job done 6 months later. 

My Daughter summed him up beautifully at the age of 6 when she said:

“He was a good bloke who made things”

These words adorn his headstone where we now lay’s with my mother in the Wallan Cemetery.

My dad was a proud man

He was a clever man

He was a leader, a mentor, a confidant, a teacher and a damn hard worker. Everything that he did inspired me to be just like him.

He would sit me on his knee driving from Pooncarie to Mildura when I was 9 or 10 years old and we would be singing Diamond, Cash, Kristofferson, Jennings, Nelson and Pride. I loved those times and the memories still sit with me some 40+ years later….he wanted to learn an instrument but never got around to it……the guitar mum said.

He used to say to me some people are good with their hands and some are good with their head (I was useless with my hands and this was a nice way of telling me that).

My Dad was both – incredibly intelligent with a pair of hands that built the most perfect houses you could imagine

My Dad was 61 – he was too young to die of a broken mind and broken heart.

But he lost his will to live and didn’t know how to call out for help.

He was right in the middle of what I call Fortress Man and wearing the Man Mask – unprepared to have the conversations that may well have saved his life. Unprepared to ask for or take on the help that was being offered by those who loved him dearly. 

It’s been around 4,800 days since my Dad hung himself and there is not a day passes where I wish he was still here with us all.

Nine years ago on my 40th Birthday I bought a Guitar and have been playing it (not very well) and learning the songs of Diamond, Cash, Kristoffersen, Jennings, Nelson and Pride………If only he was still here with me sitting at home and singing along. 

What he left behind though still makes me angry…….

It broke my mothers heart……..

It turned my Nannas blue eyes black…………….

It turned friends and family members against each other………………

It showed me the reality of the other side of Happiness…………………

Everyday you will come across people that are near and dear to you who you notice have gone quiet, become withdrawn, appear overwhelmed and what I now call “vacant”.

Check in with them at this time to open them up a little when they are struggling to find their own voice. Let them know they are worthy, they belong and that you and others care about them.

Keep an eye on those who are in your immediate family, in your work family – those that possibly just appear to be a little “off their game” and reach out to them. Get them to talk to you or get them some help to talk to someone who is trained to help them.

We live in a world where doing (performance) is viewed as more important than being (self) and it is having an impact on how an individual measures their sense of worth.

Swap out a sense of isolation for a strong sense of belonging.

Prevent the Other Side of Happiness entering the Frame.

It’s the Human Way.