Striking a pose, my three-year-old boy, Zach, knew exactly how to command the attention of everyone around him.
With his blond hair and cheeky grin, he could instantly light up the room.
Together with his brothers, Jake, then seven, and new addition Levi, they grew to be the best of friends.
But Zach’s boisterous personality always shone the brightest. He took part in everything from cricket to basketball, but he devoted most of his time to football.
‘You’re the best mum in the world,’ he’d say.
Taking a line from one of his favourite childhood books, I always referred to him as my Zachary Quack.
When he wasn’t on the field, he’d be off on some adventure with his mates or the life of the party.
Then, when he was just 16, one of his closest friends, Jayden, passed away after battling bone cancer.
‘It’s just not fair Mum,’ he cried. He was never afraid to let his emotions show.
The following year, tragedy struck again when two of his friends died by suicide.
It seemed like the whole community was in mourning. Zach, especially, struggled to come to terms with it.
He was angry at how little they seemed to value their lives after having watched Jayden suffer for so long.
‘How can they throw their lives away?’ he asked.
‘You know you can always talk to me if something is bothering you,’ I said, explaining that there were professionals who could help too.
But I never imagined that he would harm himself – he loved life too much.
Finishing school, Zach landed an apprenticeship as a builder and even bought himself a car. By 18, I was so proud of the young man he’d become. But it meant I was no longer able to tell him what to do.
With so much going on in his social life, he didn’t prioritise adult tasks such as paying bills on time.
As much as I tried to help, there was only so many times I could nag.
Then one day, in March 2016, Zach was home sick from work, so he decided to open his piling mail.
He soon realised he’d lost his driving licence and owed about $5000 in late payments for toll charges, phone bills and mechanic fees.
‘If I’ve got no car and am without a licence, I can’t work. And with no work, I can’t pay the bills,’ he fretted.
‘Someone will be able to give you a lift,’ I suggested.
Together we came up with a payment plan, then Zach retreated to his room.
I’m glad that’s sorted, I thought.
That afternoon, Zach came into the kitchen and said he was going to meet a friend to play basketball.
‘What’s for dinner?’ he asked casually, before he walked out the front door.
Three hours later, police arrived on my doorstep.
‘Zach has been found deceased,’ the officer said.
Immediately my mind went into overdrive wondering who could’ve hurt my sweet boy. But their next words brought my world crumbling down.
‘It appears that he’s taken his own life,’ he added.
Crushed, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
He didn’t show any signs of depression, I thought. Then I realised - it was because of the money.
My boy had taken his life over $5000.
This could have been so easily fixed, I thought.
Seeing a photo of Zach in the hallway, I held it close to my chest. I’d never see his gorgeous blue eyes again.
Jake and Levi were heartbroken.
‘Promise me you’ll never do the same thing,’ I begged.
At Zach’s funeral, I felt empty, but I wanted to share what happened to prevent anyone else doing the same.
‘No problem is ever worth taking your life over,’ I said.
‘There is nothing in this life worth more than you; no disappointment big enough, no mistake bad enough, that anyone needs to end their life.’
Following the service, several parents approached me to let me know what a profound effect my speech had on their children.
‘My kids have really opened up,’ they said.
I don’t know how I got through the first year.
Why didn’t he call instead of writing a suicide note? I tortured myself.
In it, he’d encouraged his brothers to ‘chase their dreams’, and thanked me and his dad for his ‘beautiful upbringing’ before bidding us goodbye.
Now, three years on from Zach’s death, there’s not a day goes by where I don’t think of my boy.
I light a candle next to his photo each day and keep his teddy bear on my bed.
I’ve since joined a suicide prevention charity called Chasing Change to help spread awareness.
If I can spare just one family from heartache, I know Zach would be proud
If you’re struggling and need help, please contact the following helplines
Lifeline on 13 11 14 (Aus) or 0800 543 354 (NZ)
Headspace on 1800 650 890
Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467