“Going Jack:” An Australian Veteran’s Reflection on a Mate’s Suicide
By James Mulder
In February of this year, I along with a few hundred friends and family attended the funeral of a Soldier, a mate, at the All Saints Chapel, Holsworthy Barracks, Sydney, Australia. I first met this Soldier when I was first posted to 3 RAR (Para) in the early 90’s. 3 RAR was then a Parachute Infantry Battalion. He was original poster boy for the battalion, literally. And we were mates.
This Soldier’s career spanned almost thirty years with an aggregate time of twenty-five of service in the Australian Army. First serving with 3 RAR (Para), then leaving the Army, and later rejoining with 4 RAR (Cdo.). Then there was another time out from the Army, on the private security contracting circuit before returning to the Special Forces in the now-renamed 2nd Commando Regiment. This Soldier was a veteran of deployments to Cambodia, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. He was much admired and respected operator and mate. But also this Soldier was a strong family man with a loving wife and four children, and a passionate sportsman who enjoyed rugby, golf and the outdoors.
When I first learnt of the news that he died “On Service,” I was suspicious, as I believed that term, when combined with few specific details, was usually a euphemism for suicide. A mutual friend confirmed my suspicions, saying ‘’it’s complete bullshit, he necked himself.’’ “Fucking hell, another one,” I said. That is the fourth veteran I knew that had ended his life by his own hand.
A funeral is normally a sombre affair, and this was was too, with many still coming to terms with what had happened. One mourner commented “I’m still trying to wrap my head around all of this,” which I felt accurately summed up the thoughts of many.
And yet there were many warm smiles, firm handshakes and a few bear hugs, from old mates, with the banter, exchanging of stories, and the renewing of friendship from years past. The wake, which was held in an RSL Club, had became a reunion of sorts, with many just catching up on the years in between their service and the now.
Many had moved from military service onto another chapter in their life, and a few were suffering from the effects of their service. These effects I believe were the huge difficulties some found with fitting into a society that did not have the ethos of service life, or as the American journalist Sebastian Junger opined of that sense of lost connection to your Tribe.
The evening rolled on and each mourner departed to return to their now normal life, with many a Farewell ended with the promise of “See on you ANZAC Day,” “meet you at the Fortune” or ‘’I’ll be at the reunion” etc, with the exchanging numbers, emails and Facebook adds. This time, it was done with an added bit of determination to keep in touch with old mates.
I too bid my farewell walked out of the club towards my SUV, to drive home and return my normal life. As I was walking out, I took extra notice of the flags flying at half-mast to honour our mate, friend, mentor, husband and father. And I began to wonder WHY?
While driving home I kept asking that question WHY? Why the fuck did you do that, mate? You had achieved so much professionally and personally. And mate, your wife, your beautiful wife and family! What was going through your mind? I could not think of a reason to end one’s own life.
I concluded there is absolutely no reason or excuse to end your life.
I guess due to my Christian faith, (and yes! I hardly consider myself a role model Christian, in fact I really suck at it) as in many religious faiths, taking one’s own life is unforgivable sin. I believe, as it is hard to understand at times even for a person of faith. God has a plan for EVERYTHING and when your time is up. your time is up. I was debating this with myself, and I began to think of the other mates who had taken their lives. I recall I was swearing and cursing him (and them) out loud, along with the whys and possible reasons till I turned into my driveway.
I turned I off the ignition and thought to myself, “Time to pray” I gripped the steering wheel, took in a deep breath and prayed a simple prayer. A prayer asking that his family and friends will find some peace and meaning from this whole tragic event. I sat there for a while, and then my mind became still. Then I got out my SUV, and returned to my normal life.
Or so I thought…………
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