Hayleigh Hocking, 28, Somerville, Vic
Remember how you used to call me nearly every day. We would talk for ages.
Our family was close-knit, but you and I had an extra-special bond. I didn’t just feel like your big sister, I felt like your best friend.
I still remember the day you told me that your girlfriend Abbey was pregnant. You were only 19 at the time – just a baby yourself really.
‘I’m scared to tell the rest of the family,’ you said, so I held your hand while you broke the news.
You looked so relieved when everyone hugged and congratulated you. After that, you were determined to prove yourself and be a good dad.
In the months leading up to your daughter’s birth, you worked three different jobs so you could provide for her. I sometimes wondered if you could handle the stress, but I knew you’d talk to me if you needed to.
You’d never been shy with your feelings –you were open and sensitive. Your other sisters, Maddi, 20, and Georgia, 25, and I used to tease you because you cried in soppy films, but I loved your softer side.
When your daughter Annabella was born in September 2014, I visited you in hospital. Holding that precious bundle, it was obvious you were completely in love.
‘Isn’t she beautiful?’ you gushed in awe.
‘She’s perfect,’ I agreed.
You were an amazing dad Ben, and we were all so proud of you.
Not long after the joy of the birth though, tragedy struck our family.
Mum passed away, and although it hit all of us hard, I knew you felt the loss even more deeply. Your sweet and sensitive nature meant you struggled to cope with grief.
But you didn’t slow down. You kept working hard and put all your time and effort into your little girl.
When you and Abbey started having problems, you came to stay with me. I truly believed you were okay, I thought you would have told me if you weren’t.
In May this year, we were watching a movie. I did my best to keep you cheery but you were engrossed in your phone.
Around 10pm you said you were going to visit a friend.
‘Is there anything I can do to help?’ I asked.
‘No. I love you,’ you replied.
‘I love you,’ I called back as you headed out the door.
Abbey called me 20 minutes later. ‘Ben phoned me to say goodbye,’ she said, worried.
"A semicolon represents a point where a sentence could end, but instead it continues."
I was concerned too, but I thought you were probably just having a good cry in your car somewhere. I sent out a message to our sisters and dad Paul, 56, asking them to help find you.
You weren’t at your mate’s place, so we used a phone app to track your location. It showed you were at the old farm we’d grown up on, just 15 minutes away.
Dad and I rushed to get there, and the girls agreed to meet us. We were all ready to comfort you and bring you home where we could support you.
But when we arrived, we knew that something was wrong. Blue and red lights flashed all around.
Despite all the police and paramedics, there was nothing they could do, Ben.
You were already gone. You’d taken your own life while listening to the same song we played at Mum’s funeral.
You were 22, Annabella just 16 months. I fell to the ground, screaming until my throat was hoarse.
I never knew you were suffering so much. Over the next few weeks I learnt a little bit more about men and depression.
Women get so many opportunities to open up every day. We talk to our friends, our sisters – we’ll even spill our secrets to our hairdressers!
Men don’t operate in the same way. They often struggle with admitting that they aren’t coping.
I know that you must have felt that way, Ben. You were determined to handle it all yourself and not burden anyone else.
After your death, I had a semicolon tattooed onto my wrist. People all over the world are getting them.
A semicolon represents a point where a sentence could end, but instead it continues. To me, it represents survival.
I’ve lost you, but I’ll keep going. I’m not going to give up until I do all I can to save the lives of other young people like you.
I wrote a Facebook post about your story which spread all over the world.
Our family has now started a page called ‘It’s okay not to be okay’, where we share people’s experiences overcoming depression and encourage men to speak out for help.
I still get to spend a lot of time with your beautiful daughter. She’s cheeky and funny, just like you were. When she’s older, I’ll tell her all about you and how much you loved her.
I couldn’t save you, but I’ll never let you be forgotten.
All my love,
If you or a loved one find yourself in need of help, for any reason, crisis support
is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14.