Jackson's dad Mac was a brilliant man and a loving and devoted husband and father. He killed himself in the psychiatric ward of Calvary Hospital on 2nd June 2009. This page describes Mac and his Illness, Mac and Jackson and Mac's life story.
Mac and his illness
Mac had bipolar 2 disorder. He struggled with the illness for 30 years just as he had struggled with having a son with a profound disability for 23 years.
Mac was first hospitalised in 1979 and treated successfully for depression. In the years after, depression and hypo-mania came in irregular but predictable cycles; one always followed the other. Mac was hospitalised several times during the next 30 years. But there were many months and years of remission where Mac was well and life was good.
Mac was courageous, remarkable and resourceful in the way he lived with bi-polar for 30 years. He did not always accept his diagnosis and did not always take his medication (mostly lithium and prozac) as prescribed. Even when depression brought him down, he continued to work firstly in his own business, Finedesign and then as a project manager at Designcraft.
Bi-polar disorder is a debilitating and relentless illness and it is clear to his family that the psychiatric profession has not worked out how to best treat and manage this illness. Mac had everything to live for and he loved his family enormously and was proud of all his sons and of Sally.
However on June 2nd 2009, he couldn’t fight his demons any longer and committed suicide in the psychiatric ward of Calvary Hospital. He was 57 years old. He was buried on June 9th at Gungahlin Cemetery. Over 400 people came to his funeral service.
His family have no doubt that he would have recovered from his latest depression as he had done countless times before. The system let him down – the place where he was supposed to be safe failed him.
In attempting to understand Mac's death, we have been greatly helped by Kay Redfield Jamison's excellent book, "Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide".
Mac and Jackson
Mac gave Jackson a thrilling and exciting life.
Mac took Jackson motorcycling.
They drank beer together!
|They spent days working in the shed together.
|Mac made Jackson's life happier and richer.
Mac's eldest brother Richard West presented Mac's life eloquently at Mac's funeral service. His eulogy for Mac is below, in full.
The first thing I want to tell you about Mac is that he did not kill himself. His mental illness killed him. In so doing it took away a husband, father, brother, and friend, who was variously happy, sad, irritating, funny, musical, judgemental, artistic, and so many other things. These should not be lost or forgotten in the manner of his dying.
He was born in 1952 to Alan and Edith, and as one of what became 4 boys grew up doing lots of typically boyish things. We had cycling holidays in Scotland where over the years he graduated from a sidecar attached to Edith’s bike, through tandems and a tripledem (that’s West family speak for a tandem with three seats, Alan on the front doing most of the work) then eventually onto a bike of his own.
Later family holidays included camper trips round France, sometimes taking a folding canoe that Mac and I had saved for for years. Once in the Mediterranean when he was about 10 years old both he and the canoe had to be rescued from the nearby nudist beach where he claimed to have “accidentally” capsized only to be rescued by the natives. Both Mac and Alan looked a little wide eyed on their return.
When Mac was 12 the family moved to Barford in leafy Warwickshire. A large lawn backed down to the river where Mac never tired of Tarzan swings on a long rope hung from a huge beech tree or messing about in the small rowing dinghy.
Like the rest of us he went to Warwick School, and here his individuality started to show through. A love of, and great ability in, gymnastics was nurtured. He joined the airforce section of the combined cadet force where a gliding certificate was followed amazingly at 17 by the award of a flying scholarship, leading to a full private pilot’s license. He passed the final solo flight test despite trying to land not at his home airstrip, but at a nearby one where drag racing was underway. A faulty compass later took the blame. In a demonstration of his flying prowess he persuaded Gill, my wife to be, to accompany him on a flight over the family home. All of his friends and brothers conspired to lie out on the grass in the shape of a gigantic “V” sign as he flew by.
His social life flowered. To help with transport he bought a 3 wheeled car – a Messerschmidt – just like the World War 2 fighter plane but with no wings, tail or propeller and any passenger had to sit behind Mac. He joined the Anglo-French Society. His humourous and cheerful personality made him many friends several of whom are still close. He did claim to have suffered severe emotional damage through being my younger brother and referred to as 'little Dick'; Dick is how I was known at the time.
He passed his A level exams and went to study geography at Nottingham University. In the summer holidays that followed. Mac, another friend and I hitch-hiked around Morocco. One night on a train from Casablanca to Fez, sleeping on the floor in cattle class, we had our rucksacks snatched by thieves who then jumped from the moving train in what seemed to be the middle of the desert. The friend and I did the sensible stuff – pulled the emergency cord and called the guard. Mac jumped off after them. Eventually the train stopped but wouldn’t wait. We got off and went looking for him. When we found him 12 hours later, walking down a track, it turned out that the robbers were so surprised to be chased that they dropped the bags and took off. A normal person might have thought “great, I’ll take the bags and head off the other way”. Mac however carried on chasing them. In the end he never found them, or indeed our rucksacks. Thankfully we found him.
This adventure seemed to fuel Mac’s wanderlust and soon was setting off to hitch hike to Australia on his own. Alan and Edith had faith in his capability and hid their fears well. He crossed Europe stopping in Istanbul for 3 months with friends he made while there demonstrating a befriending talent that would show up time and again. Then moving on through what is now Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. Around this time Alan and Edith determined to meet him along the way, so they met up, travelling with him into Nepal. He then continued into India, tolerating hotter and hotter curries, until at last achieving landfall in Australia. 3 months working at the mines in the North West replenished his finances, and honed his guitar skills but job applications were less successful so he returned to the UK in 1975 in time to be best man at my wedding to Gill. Possibly the only time he ever wore a top hat. He had seemingly been back for 10 minutes or so, when the Australian Government tracked him down and offered him paid employment. He took it.
The delights of a steady income lasted for a while, but only until overtaken by his long submerged ambition to learn woodworking. A course at the Canberra School of Art was enough for him to launch a successful career specialising in designer cabinet making. Important commissions included major pieces for the new Houses of Parliament. There were better things to come.
He married Sal and together they produced 4 very special sons. These fine young men, possibly more than anything else demonstrate what sort of person he really was. Despite, not because of his illness, and with immense strength and support from Sal, he contributed significantly to making them the people they are now.
To finish, just 3 lines from “Death is nothing at all” by Canon Scott Holland:
“I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other,
That we are still”.