“Reido” was due to turn 22 late this month.
The local mechanic and infamously cheeky “life of the party” would have no doubt celebrated with whānau and friends with a Double Brown and a few Pink Floyd numbers his dad introduced him to as a lad.
But inexplicably, a month before Christmas last year, Reid O’Leary “rocked a community” when he died in a suspected suicide.
“Reid and I were only 16 months apart,” younger sister Eden O’Leary says.
“So growing up I always looked up to him and copied everything he did. That flowed through to our teenage years. He was the sweetest, most gorgeous, beautiful-souled person.
“He was my best friend and my big brother. I’ve never experienced life without him.”
Four days later a death notice penned by family appeared in the newspaper with the candidly honest first line: “Tragically taking his own life and stolen from ours”.
A resolution to front-foot the reality of the much-loved mechanic’s passing was something Eden, parents Keady and Karen and older sister Tyla decided on early; no euphemisms, no hiding a conversation Eden says too often remains in the shadows.
“Too many people put it behind closed doors — there’s no trying to change the stigma surrounding mental health. The day we found out Mum, Dad, me and Ty all agreed that we’re going to be open, honest and in a sense own it.
“Reid was our boy. His last actions don’t define him — but they shouldn’t be kept silent.”
His family say his death was a “silent suicide” due to the absence of any obvious mental health symptoms and his lust for life.
He died just four months after finishing his mechanical apprenticeship, aspired to own a 70 Series Land Cruiser and planned to work the Australian mines.
“No one knew he was in such a bad place and that comes from the stigma surrounding men thinking it’s weak to speak. He suffered without any friends and family knowing, and when we did, it was too late.”
A massive muster of 1200 people filled the Ellwood Function Centre and spilled out into the sun on the centre’s green field for his farewell service.
Spurred by grief and purpose, 20-year-old Eden came up with the idea to run a 5km fundraiser on Reid’s birthday, March 29, with proceeds going to the Mental Health Foundation.
“Seeing the funding total grow and the messages come through with the donations is overwhelming. It shows people have also gone through what my family have and it’s an indication they’re interested in making a change.”
The foundation’s chief executive, Shaun Robinson, said Eden “epitomises the values” of the organisation’s fundraisers.
“She’s committed to the cause by setting a personal goal and driven to make positive change as part of her response to a tragic life experience. We really admire the work she is doing in educating the community about the experience of loss in such a positive way.”
Eden’s initial goal of raising $1000 vanished when a groundswell saw the total leap past $10,000.
As she laced her running shoes and pounded the pavement in the ensuing weeks’ training, the total kept rising. On Tuesday it stood at $17,600.
“I think about Reid shaking his head again not wanting this big fuss about him. But he is, and always will be, a big fuss.”
* The Chief Coroner granted Hawke’s Bay Today an exemption to refer to the death as suicide, despite the fact the formal Coroner’s finding is yet to be released.
• To donate, see https://events.mentalhealth.org.nz/fundraiser/edenwillowoleary?fbclid=IwAR0VPCwqqitsozr2dY4q1g1I-CR6yi0ZrMzI3CadB9s8KoNVMy_v-D5iXBQ or www.instagram.com/earthly_edenwillow/
Where to get help
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7) lifeline.org.nz/services/suicide-crisis-helpline.
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757 or TEXT 4202
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