Main picture: Jeffrey Merryweather, above left.
Why do good people do the worst thing?
“As a mother to receive a phone call at 3am to tell you that your beloved son has committed suicide is the most horrendous thing that can happen. I am the mother of Jeffrey Merryweather and he was very special.”
Before we revisit the story we ran late in 2013, some recent news. While very unclear as to HOW two leading Lighting Designers died within a month in 2014, it is clear that this is a profession that carries a dark risk.
•Concert touring lighting and production designer John LaBriola died April 24; he was 40. CX May (last month) featured a story on Bruno Mars in Australia with John. He returned to the states and suddenly is deceased. He leaves behind a family.
•At almost the same time, designer and programmer Demfis Fyssicopulos, 41, died while surfing near his home in Los Angeles. Demfis had a chequered history, notably he was the designer and production manager for the last Prince tour of Australia. CX reported on various aspects of that tour, which resulted in Demfis attempting to bring some pressure on us. He is survived by a daughter.
Now to the earlier story, and we invite your comments at the end.
Veteran Australian lighting guy Scotty Duhig (below), otherwise known as Scotty Dot from when he toured with Paul Kelly and the Dots, took his life late in 2013.
The statistical suicide rate for men aged between 55 and 64 in Australia is 19 deaths per 100,000 men. As a percentage this is a number almost too low to measure.
But the suicide rate for men who have worked as professional road crew in the golden era of Australian rock (mid 70’s to end of the 1980’s) is a staggering 5%, according to Ian ‘piggy’ Peel from the Australian Road Crew Association.
Of the 22 known deaths by suicide, out of 80 deaths across 420 crew, most were lighting guys. So why are they predisposed to suicide?
When news of Scotty’s untimely death broke, an outpouring on the Australian Road Crew Association Facebook led to dozens of former crew posting their private mobile numbers online. ‘Call any hour’, was a common message to anyone feeling what some describe as ‘the darkness’.
The question of why this is happening is possibly as simple as what Ian ‘piggy’ Peel from the Australian Road Crew Association describes as adjustment disorder. “He lived the dream, struggled through and he got back and nothing much happened”
Piggy has spoken up on the issue many times, and characterizes the career of a roadie from the 1970’s or 1980’s as a circus that ends suddenly by the roadside. “The crew sit on the curb, looking for a ride home, while the band move on”.
With Scotty Dot there were stories of depression, working in the mines, a girlfriend in West Australia and then Scotty ‘went to the shed’, and came out in a body bag.
A counselor close to this topic told CX that most people telegraph their intentions in some way in the earlier stages.
But most people don’t know how to interpret the signals, which can include depression, negativity and more ominously people start to give their things away.
A sudden sense of calm and happiness after being extremely depressed can mean that the person has made a decision to commit suicide.
“People also don’t know how to react if they suspect someone is suicidal”, the counselor (who prefers not to be identified) said.
“If someone is overt about the idea of suicide, it should be talked through at the time. Most people who commit suicide don’t want to die – they just want to stop hurting.”
Yet not every suicide comes with warning signs, although most do.
Thirty years ago promising young lighting guy Jeffrey Merryweather was working with Misex. He killed himself in a fit of drug induced despair over a girlfriend who had just appeared with a staple through her stomach as a naked Penthouse Pet.
Jeffrey’s little sister Lisa (below) was 14 years old when he hung himself. Today she is divorced with three sons and works as an office manager. She lives in Tewantin in Queensland.
They were obviously close. “He did the lights for my 10th birthday party, with a smoke machine too. I felt very special. He doted on me, he used to call me Periwinkle. Then he left home at 16 to work with Phil Cullen.”
“Not a day goes by where I do not think of Jeff – ever. I’m f**ked”, she told CX. “Every man I have known has betrayed me in some way and it started with Jeffrey”.
“It’s so bad. It’s such a waste. It destroys everybody that’s left behind. I’m destroyed from it. My parents never talk about it. It broke my family apart, my mum and dad split a few months after. They lied to me about how Jeffrey died. They said he had a heart attack. But found the death certificate.”
“Mum and dad were trying to get him away from (the girl). They pleaded with him to come overseas with us. He refused. Then we tried to get him to come to Fingal Bay for a while but he refused that too.”
“I’ve never had counseling. I’m too scared”.
Kate was a singer who worked the rock biz and knows its dark corners. These days she works for the Government in Sydney. Four years ago she moved in with Derek, knowing he suffered Bipolar disorder and thinking her positive influence in his life would make things work.
“I cannot imagine living the two hemispheres of Bi polar disorder from periods of mania to the darkness of depression”, Kate told CX. “In mania I saw the untouchable confidence, the fantastic highs, irrational behavior, anger, violence, hyperactivity and in Derek’s case it was all rolled up with alcohol abuse. Then came the depression – the crash was like hitting concrete. A spiral down to a dark hole and into a pit of putrid darkness that I could not even imagine.”
Over the period of a year, the alcohol took a greater hold and the medications prescribed to Derek were cut in half, taken every other day or not at all.
“The person you adore changes in front of your eyes”, says Kate. “He was drinking at least a six pack of beer, bottle of red wine and straight scotch whiskey to complete the self medication. Every night. With this came a fear in the pit of my stomach that I could not articulate. I think you have to live it to understand.”
“There were nights where I would say something completely innocent in the middle of a conversation and he was gone. Literally. Something I did or did not say triggered the response that would take him back down that hole. His eyes would glaze over, he would physically push me away, sometimes shove me to the ground and become completely unreachable. He would then put the ear pieces of his iPod in, pour another scotch and shut me out completely.”
“It was on one of these nights that I left him downstairs and went to bed. Hoping as I did every night that he would drink one last scotch and pass out. I didn’t sleep much these days.”
“I got up the next morning and looked at him sleeping on the couch in the living room and found to my relief that he had indeed passed out. Upon nearing the couch my relief turned to disbelief and horror. Sitting on the coffee table was a thick piece of rope about 10ft long and a plastic bag. I could only draw one conclusion and it was unimaginable.”
“I shook him awake in tears, my anger starting to overtake the fear. “What is this”? I asked fumbling through my tears. The answer was cutting. “I felt like I had no other option last night”.
Kate did not call the police, the doctor or a psychiatrist.
“I did not know that I could. Over the next few days I tried to get him to go back to the doctor. I suggested a mental health plan where we would surround him with the right people, like psychologist, psychiatrist, try yoga, Pilates, meditation, get him back on medication. But nothing changed.”
“I became hyper vigilant. I slept with one eye open for two years. I was exhausted. Helplessness is watching someone you love suffer right in front of you and there is f**k all you can do about it. All the love in the world will only go so far. Watching them disintegrate into a monster takes its toll on you too. You live your life in unpredictability and fear. This does not happen overnight. You wake up one morning and discover that the person you were is now a pathetic excuse for the strong, happy, resilient and balanced person you used to be. It eats at you slowly, insidiously, and the pain and heartbreak become normal.”
“Eventually I found the strength to run. It was in the middle of the night and it took every ounce of courage I had to go. The guilt was immeasurable but the instinct to survive was stronger. I was leaving behind a potential suicide but I could do no more. I made the decision that I will go no further into that putrid dark hole.”
AT THE STREET
This is about my former wife, and what happened in 2013.
I was at my new home a year after splitting with her. We had sorted everything except our co-owned house, where she stayed on. She had a failed relationship after me; and he dicked her around financially and emotionally. It was in the end of winter and it was cold in that house.”
“She was in an impossible place – financially rorted by him; and then strung out by his exit and his protracted lazy departure where we would come and take a few things, and leave open the next appointment. So his stuff was lingering while she was hitting the bottle and crying all night.”
Work became hard, she wasn’t eating and lost weight. The kids (aged 12 and 16) were worried. I got a text message at 2am one weekday saying she needed me to drive across town and take the kids to school that morning. I dashed over and roused her, she’d taken six Valium and a raft of pain killers on top of a lot of booze.
I spoke to a counselor who had experience with suicide. I followed his advice – I confronted her and asked whether she intended to take her life. She said no. I asked her to promise me she would not do it again. She promised.”
Three nights later she texted and seemed irrational. It was school holidays and she was home alone with the kids. I suggested we all go boating in a few days and unusually she agreed. He was delighted he’d found some hope for her and that she had something to look forward to.
But several hours later she sent the goodbye text to me and her ex husband who had the kids with him. It was clearly a suicide note. We all raced to the house after calling emergency services, to find six coppers and an ambulance in attendance with gawping neighbors. The Police had kicked in the door, the dogs were going off, but they held the family at the street for an agonising twenty minutes before wheeling a semi conscious victim out to the ambulance.
Her frantic parents followed the ambulance to the hospital leaving me, her other ex husband and his kids – my step kids – to collect their sanity while inspecting the house for clues about what she had done. I fell to the kitchen floor in tears. I’d been the strong guy right through everything with her, and the kids had never seen me cry, let alone wailing on the floor.
At the hospital they admitted her, and next day she was ringing us, demanding someone come and check her out. She hadn’t yet been assessed by a psychiatrist and when he did the rounds, he scheduled her. Later they let her call me and it was a very unhappy sedated woman on the line.
“You’ve caused me to be locked up. This is like a jail”, she said of the mental unit at the public hospital. “They won’t talk to me. The bed is hard. No one will tell me anything. You have to get me out. If you don’t I’ll never talk to you again.”
Two days later she was released into the care of her parents and promptly moved back home alone, against all advice. The kids spent two weeks away with their Nanna and cousins, but were not referred to a child psychologist. The damage to them is unknown. I had to withdraw totally from the situation, and her first ex bore the weight of her calls and despair.
She sailed close to the edge for weeks, drinking and sending hundreds of text messages through the night.
It took many worrying weeks until the darkness had passed, yet those close will now always worry. Suicide and its attempts gravely hurts the living.
*Derek’s name changed, no one knows what happened to him.
Lifeline 13 11 14
*Derek’s name changed, no one knows what happened to him.
Lifeline 13 11 14