TURNING UNIMAGINABLE GRIEF INTO SOMETHING POSITIVE AND POWERFUL

October 11, 2016 is a date etched in the mind of Blenheim (New Zealand) dad Bary Neal. 

It’s the day Police arrived at his work place and his world suddenly caved in when they told him his son Matt had taken his own life at the age of just 22.

SO MUCH TALENT Matt Neal all smiles after a soccer club match

Overwhelmed with shock initially, Bary pleaded with the Police, “Are you sure you have the right person”.

Sadly they did have the right person and after the news began to sink in Bary was overwhelmed by shock initially then unimaginable grief as he realised what had happened.

Matt seemingly had the world at his feet, an extremely talented sportsman who excelled in whatever sport he tried, although soccer was his main passion and the sport he had already represented Marlborough in.

The death of a child is every parents worst nightmare and that’s certainly what it was for Bary, he was utterly devastated and the situation made worse because he did not see any obvious signs in Matt that he was struggling with his mental health.

“It was a kick in the guts, the last thing I expected. He kept his troubles to himself, didn’t ask for help and now here we are today. It’s taken forever to get over it, well you never get over it really.”

For several months, the grieving dad virtually cut himself off from society, avoiding going out in public because he knew people would ask about his son.  

He put on a brave face at work and tried to keep smiling and he even left his food shopping until late at night when the supermarkets were near closing to avoid the public . He just felt utterly helpless and overwhelmed with grief.

Rachel and Isaac were close to their brother and both were also struggling to cope in different ways.

SURVIVORS Rachel and Isaac Neal, Matt’s siblings join Hopewalk to help others and themselves cope with grief

Bary also had two other children to look after and help them through their grief which was every bit as bad as their dads. Rachel, now 26 and 20 year-old Isaac were close to their brother and both were also struggling to cope in different ways.

However through all the tragedy and adversity, Bary, after three months cutting himself off from most of society, decided to reach out and looked for some way he could turn Matt’s death into something that would help others from going down the same path. 

SOCCER STAR Matt Neal , left in action during a match in Blenheim

It was a kick in the guts, the last thing I expected. He kept his troubles to himself, didn’t ask for help and now here we are today. It’s taken forever to get over it, well you never get over it really.”

Bary got on the internet did some research and came up with the idea of a Hope walk, a suicide prevention campaign started by a pastor in Auckland.

He contacted pastor Joseph, told him his story and he said there was no one in Blenheim doing one would he like to start one.

Bary jumped at the opportunity despite not being comfortable in the limelight and it proved an instant success in 2017 with 900 people turning out to walk, share their stories and help each other.

While organising Hope Walk Blenheim, Bary met his wife Wendy who wanted to help because she had lost her husband to suicide.

HELPING OTHERS Wendy and Bary doing wonderful work helping others cope with grief

After that stunningly successful first walk, people came up to Bary afterwards, some in tears thanking him for doing it and saying how much it had helped them cope and telling their stories.

Bary and Wendy then contacted people who they knew were grieving or struggling with their mental health, opening up their home with the offer of a cup of tea or coffee and a sympathetic ear, just providing somewhere for people to go for help in a relaxed safe atmosphere. They’ve had a big response to that and it helps them as well.

“Don’t sit there and bottle it up inside until it’s too late. Open up and ask for help.”

Bary very kindly and bravely made himself available for this interview which was pretty emotional. He implored anyone struggling to cope with life to seek help, just ask a friend, someone you trust and share your struggles.

Men in particular are so good at hiding their struggles, he said, and that frustrates him and why through Hope Walk he’s getting people to open up more.

“Don’t sit there and bottle it up inside until it’s too late. Open up and ask for help.”

Listen to my frank, honest and emotional interview with Bary as he bravely opens up and tells his story of surviving tragedy and helping others go through similar battles. He gives advice on how people can reach out and get help.

Suicide is a major cause of death in both New Zealand and Australia as the mental health systems struggle and are virtually overwhelmed.

Footnote: Bary was an accomplished sportsman himself, representing Marlborough at hockey and winning a host or race walking titles around the South Island and now he and Wendy enjoy their mutual passion of tramping and the outdoors.

WALKING STAR Bary Neal nears the finish line and victory in one of the many events he won

If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health and thoughts of suicide there is help available. As Bary said, please open up and tell someone you trust and feel safe with. Tell them you are struggling.

In New Zealand there is SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE free phone 0508828865 or google mental health help and there are various organisations there to help

In Australia contact LIFELINE AUSTRALIA 131114 and like New Zealand there are several organisations there to help just google Mental Health assistance

Story by John Alexander | Supporting Images sourced by Absolutely Famous.

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