Lisa, left, and Judy O?Keeffe battle each day with the loss of their brother and son, Adam.
Lisa, left, and Judy O?Keeffe battle each day with the loss of their brother and son, Adam.

Never-ending torment

By David Bancroft

Every waking hour of every day, John, Judy, Lisa and Daniel O'Keeffe think about their late son and brother, Adam.

It is three months ago today that Adam took his life in his downstairs bedroom of the family's South Grafton home.

It ended years of anguish and battles with schizophrenia.

For the O'Keeffe family there is some consolation that he is no longer tormented, that he is finally at peace, but the sense of pain and loss is still intense.

The torment will be with them for the rest of their lives.

His mother, Judy, and sister, Lisa, agreed to speak with The Daily Examiner in the hope that a community support network could be formed to help families and friends of those who have committed suicide.

For Adam's father John, the wounds were still too raw. His brother Daniel is in Melbourne.

Mrs O'Keeffe described her son as fun-loving, caring, and popular; a keen sportsman who captained his State side in junior soccer.

He attended Gillwinga Public and South Grafton High schools.

He was a joker who, as a casual employee of KFC, answered a radio competition that asked what was the funniest thing they had stolen from their employer.

He said he had stolen the 11 secret herbs and spices. He won.

When he hit his teens he developed an absolute passion for surfing and later cooking and mechanics. Mrs O'Keeffe said Adam showed no signs of mental illness until he reached the age of about 17 when he 'got into the dope (cannabis) and developed schizophrenia'.

He had three relapses after going off his medication.

"At one stage he did not eat or drink for six days because he thought there were slivers of glass in them," Mrs O'Keeffe said.

Earlier this year he was held in the Coffs Harbour Health Campus for three months after being 'sectioned'. He was receiving compulsory treatment of tablets and injections ? ordered through a bedside court sitting ? but escaped from the hospital and ran in front of a car.

He was thrown over the top of the vehicle but, surprisingly, was not seriously hurt.

That was the first time the O'Keeffes became aware he could cause self harm.

Adam was released from hospital at the end of Easter and returned to the family home. He had an injection on the morning of his suicide on June 21.

Family members now put themselves through a series of daily 'what ifs'. What if they had taken him to hospital that day? What if they had acceded to his request to buy alcohol on the day of the suicide? What if they had not argued a couple of days beforehand? What if they didn't work that day? What if Daniel was still living at home?

They know they could have done nothing, but it doesn't stop the questions.

Mrs O'Keeffe said few people realised how many people in the Clarence Valley experienced the suicide of a family member.

"It gets swept under the carpet," she said.

She has met a number of them through an international group, Compassionate Friends, which meets from 10am-noon on the last Tuesday of each month at the Pullen Centre in Grafton, but wants a dedicated suicide support group formed so people can come together to discuss how they are dealing with the issues that surround suicide.

"It would help families learn how to cope afterwards," she said.

A meeting aiming to set up such a group is to be held at the South Grafton Ex-Servicemen's Club on Wednesday, September 28, from 7pm. It is being organised by the Grafton Midday Rotary Club and will be facilitated by Alan Staines, OAM, the National Secretary of Suicide Prevention Australia, who has helped establish similar groups in Sydney.

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