As a horde of supporters gathered yesterday at the Samoa Tourism Fale for the Fa’ataua Le Ola, Walk for Life march, there was one couple that stood out.
With a portrait of a young lady in hand, the couple walked alongside everyone with a noticeable cloud of grief. So what is the story behind that framed picture?
Neville Gates, 70, and his wife Faye Gates, 64, came from New Zealand.
The girl in the picture is their daughter, Alethea Gates, who took her own life back in January 2008 at the age of 27.
She is described by her father as a qualified teacher, a much loved person with so many friends; she was also very sporty and she loved surfing. The loss of their daughter still haunts the couple but they want to use their grief to send a message out.
“My wife Faye and I are living here for the New Zealand winter and then we heard about this march,” Mr. Gates told the Sunday Samoan.
“We lost our daughter Alethea on the 16 of January 2008 so we always support events like this where we work to prevent suicides or offer thoughts towards those who have lost loved ones in this way.”
Mr. Gates wishes to tell the people of Samoa who are contemplating suicide to remember the impact they leave behind.
“We would support anything and help any efforts to prevent suicides,” he said.
“The one message I have for people who are thinking of taking their own lives is to think about the grief and loss that they leave behind; there is always help available; we know that they are usually depressed and need help.
“Events like these can only be effective if the message goes out and saves lives; If today’s march saves one life then it is a big success.
“One thing that we have learnt is that there is not just one single factor that leads to suicide, it’s a combination of factors. It is not as simple as deciding to do it because of one thing; it’s a whole combination of factors.
“We are not so much involved in suicide support for other people who have lost loved ones, but in Auckland there is a group formed from solace. This is a group of people who have lost loved ones and we meet once a month a support each other; we always have new people coming in and they do so at different stages of their grief.
“There is a core of us who have been in the group for some years and have helped lead it.”
According to Mr. Gates, there are absolutely no words that can describe how a parent feels when their child takes their own life.
“You cannot describe the grief one feels when a loved one takes their own life; not in a way that it is personal and can’t talk about it, it’s just hard to describe,” he said.
“If you lose a loved one to a car accident then you can say that ‘well it was a car accident’ and you couldn’t have stopped it.
“But with suicide you are always asking yourself what you could have done to prevent it, that’s part of the grief that is so unique to losing someone to suicide.”
Mrs. Gates continued her husband’s message through tears.
“Suicide is very hard on the parents… it’s very hard,” she said. “Programmes like these are very useful to bring together parents in remembrance of their children who took their lives.
“There should be a group in Samoa where parents who have lost their children to suicide can meet and talk about what they are going through.
“It will help us all get over the grief and the pain that the family is going through because dealing with this is very hard.
“Samoa has many suicide cases, people don’t understand how hard this is on the parents soul, our soul is in pain. “I want to thank the lord that we have family that helps us deal with the pain, and I am also happy that Samoa has a great programme like this and all the support it gets.”