Content warning: suicide
Maxine Aitken lost her son Adam to suicide at the start of 2022. Driven by a need to ease the tragedy of Adam’s death, Maxine has taken an unorthodox approach, channelling her grief into a constructive conversation starter to hopefully prevent others walking the same path.
Maxine says, “This is not easy to talk about and might not be easy to read — so please pass by if you need to. The last thing I wish to do is upset anyone. I am telling my story in an effort to bring something positive out of a mental health issue which devastated my family.”
On 10 January this year Maxine was passing time in a shopping centre waiting to meet a friend for coffee.
“I saw I had a missed call from my eldest son and I called him back. He yelled down the phone that his brother was dead…that he had killed himself. For one crazy, split second, I thought it was a joke.
“My youngest son, Adam, had taken his own life, two weeks short of his 40th birthday.”
Adam was many things to many people — friend, partner, father, brother, son…grandson, uncle, nephew, cousin and best mate. He was loving, kind and funny; the life and soul of the party.
“Suicide is shocking. It is ugly. It is brutal,” said Maxine, “You never expect it to visit your family. Our family wanted — needed — something positive to come out of this tragedy.”
Maxine was familiar with the blue trees that dot the landscape in Western Australia, including the one on Great Northern Highway in Bullsbrook. She said, “I looked up the Blue Tree Project and we decided to put its logo and website on Adam’s funeral program. We also arranged for the celebrant to bring it to peoples’ attention at the end of the service, and urge them to talk to one another and seek help if they ever needed it. As Adam was a member of the Kingsley Football Club there were many young men at his funeral.”
Maxine took the blue tree concept to the next level, having a tattoo of the symbolic shrub placed on her arm and becoming a determined, one-woman walking awareness campaign.
“On my right lower arm there now sits a beautiful little blue tree. My one and only tattoo. This has people asking its significance, so I gently start a conversation. I don’t know what else I can do.
“I wish we could start the solution before we even think there is a problem – before it gets to such a place of no return. We need to chat with our children from an early age about our feelings, and their feelings, in a normal manner – round the dinner table, at the footy, on the beach. We need to bring mental health conversation into everyday places and do so often, until it becomes the norm — so that it is not ‘The Conversation’
“A person in such distress is in a dark place and can see no way out. They just want the pain to stop. Perhaps when a friend tries to shut us out, we refuse to be shut out. I know there are times when we just did not have a clue.
“I am learning to let go of the guilt — it is hard — and hope that my tattoo and this article encourages someone to reach out for help because I do not want anyone else to go through what I am going through.”
If you or someone you know is in need of help, you can contact the following organisations:
Lifeline: 131114 www.lifeline.org.au
Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636 www.beyondblue.org.au
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 www.kidshelpline.com.au
The Blue Tree Project: www.bluetreeproject.com.au