Best mate’s agony: ‘Why didn’t he tell me?’

 

Harrison Kirk is angry. He's angry at his best mate for leaving him. He's angry about the pain his friend's shock suicide has caused everyone who loved him. And he's angry that the "happy, funny, best person in the world" never told him he was struggling inside.

But most of all, Harrison is just sad.

He cries for Jonah Waterson, his fellow Year 9 student at Brisbane's Iona College, and he cries for lost opportunities and the milestones they'll no longer share.

The missing never stops. Neither does the wondering why.

Harrison Kirk, best friend of Jonah Waterson, who suicided at 14, is sad and angry he had been ‘left behind’ and wants other kids to speak up if they’re struggling. Pic Mark Cranitch.
Harrison Kirk, best friend of Jonah Waterson, who suicided at 14, is sad and angry he had been ‘left behind’ and wants other kids to speak up if they’re struggling. Pic Mark Cranitch.

It's a heavy load for a 14-year-old boy to carry, but Harrison is pushing past his grief to encourage other kids to do what Jonah didn't: "Speak up, there's nothing to be embarrassed about, hold on, pain will end," he says.

"Suicide is something you can't come back from, you know, so hang in there, have hope."

Within weeks of Jonah's tragic passing, another Iona student, Finn Meehan, in Year 10, suicided without warning, prompting Father Michael Twigg, rector of the state's largest independent Catholic school, to describe the deaths as a "diabolical mystery".

In Queensland and around the country, youth suicide has reached "epidemic" proportions, with experts warning of a spike of up to 30 per cent due largely to the fallout from COVID-19, as schools, mental health professionals and families scramble to stem the rising tide of children ending their lives.

Suicide is already the leading cause of death in Australia's young people.

Like Jonah's heartbroken parents Peter and Fiona Waterson, who shared their story exclusively with The Courier-Mail readers last weekend, Harrison wants to remove any stigma around suicide and hopefully save lives.

"We need to spread the word," he says.

"Things will get better if you speak out and no-one's going to judge you or anything.

"I don't know why Jonah didn't tell me. We didn't have secrets. He wasn't like that."

Harrison says Jonah's suicide had "zero" warning signs.

Jonah Waterson’s funeral booklet.
Jonah Waterson’s funeral booklet.

"We were best friends for 10 years, since prep (at St Oliver Plunkett's Catholic primary school, Cannon Hill) and never even had an argument. He was over at my house the weekend before for a sleepover, just him and me, and there was nothing, at all.

"His death was a very big shock, I was not ready for it, no-one was.

"I feel extremely angry because he's just left me, his family, his friends, everyone.

"We used to play basketball before school and during both breaks and I still expect him to be there. All our friends do.

"It makes me sad to know he won't be doing the things I will be doing in the future, like semi-formals and weddings and stuff like that."

On the morning of Sunday, May 31, this year, Harrison and Jonah talked for the last time.

They were playing an NBA basketball game on Xbox, Harrison in his Manly home, Jonah in his, a few kilometres away in Wynnum West.

In typical fashion, they were laughing and joking, and yelling at their computer screens.

"Then Jonah said he was going to get some lunch, and that was it," Harrison says. "It was just normal, and so when I found out something had happened to Jonah, I thought he'd had an accident. I could never believe he would suicide, I was like, 'you've got the wrong person, surely', and I still can't believe it."

 

Harrison Kirk and his mother Fiona Charleston, who is also struggling with the loss of Jonah. Picture: Mark Cranitch.
Harrison Kirk and his mother Fiona Charleston, who is also struggling with the loss of Jonah. Picture: Mark Cranitch.

Around 1pm Jonah told his father he was going for a bike ride. Jonah was expected home by 1.40pm when his mother was to drive him to Hawthorne to have a kick on the oval with his coach and a few mates from the under-14s team at Morningside Panthers Football Club. He never returned.

Jonah's yellow football is now in Harrison's room. So is his grey beanbag, but instead of Jonah's lanky frame sinking into it, there's a teddy bear.

Every night before Harrison goes to bed, he looks up at the sky, "at a special bright star that's always there, in the same spot", and says good night to Jonah.

"I know it's him watching over me," he says.

Harrison's mother Fiona Charleston has struggled greatly herself with Jonah's passing.

"I always say if I had another son, it would be Jonah," says Ms Charleston, 51, operations manager at an aged care company.

"He was just part of our family, always will be, what happened is inconceivable.

 

Harrison Kirk, with Peter and Fiona Waterson whose son suicided unexpectedly. The three are keeping in touch and supporting each other through their grief. Pic Mark Cranitch.
Harrison Kirk, with Peter and Fiona Waterson whose son suicided unexpectedly. The three are keeping in touch and supporting each other through their grief. Pic Mark Cranitch.

"A few days before he died I picked him and Harrison up from school and Jonah was 100 per cent normal, and my mother (Marie Charleston) drove them home every other afternoon and there were no behaviour changes whatsoever.

"For Harrison, the hardest thing to get his head around is why. That day after, that Monday, he was just walking around and could barely speak, his only word was why, and then he'd start crying and I'd just hold him for ages."

When The Courier-Mail catches up with Harrison, his mum and 16-year-old brother Angus, Peter and Fiona Waterson are there too, sitting on the deck as dusk falls and kookaburras laugh in the tall trees in the back yard.

Contact between the two families hasn't diminished. If anything, it's grown, as Harrison has been dropping over to see the Watersons - "to check up on them and Georgie (Jonah's 18-year-old sister)", he says - and Jonah's parents have been taking Harrison to watch their son's under 14s AFL team play every Sunday.

Although one very special player is absent, it's a ritual the three of them enjoy together.

When Jonah and Harrison finished school, they'd planned to start a clothing label together.

Harrison intends to pursue the idea, but with another friend.

He says he will never forget Jonah. It's impossible.

"He was the best person in the world.

"I wish he was still here so I could be angry at him … because he just left us.

"My message to other kids is please speak out, there's nothing wrong with talking about it or having problems, you'll get through it all.

"Look forward to the future because you'll be out of the situation you're in, and it will be better."

 

IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW NEEDS HELP

Headspace 1800 650 890

Kids Helpline 1800 551 800

Lifeline 13 11 14

Beyond Blue 1300 224 636

If you or someone you know need help call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au.

Originally published as Best mate's agony: 'Why didn't he tell me?'

Harrison Kirk on his 14th birthday on December 15, 2019, at Manly Pool with his bestie Jonah Waterson.
Harrison Kirk on his 14th birthday on December 15, 2019, at Manly Pool with his bestie Jonah Waterson.
Jonah Waterson, then 4, dressing up as Harry Potter, with Harrison Kirk, 5, at St Oliver Plunkett’s Catholic primary school in Cannon Hill. Pic: supplied
Jonah Waterson, then 4, dressing up as Harry Potter, with Harrison Kirk, 5, at St Oliver Plunkett’s Catholic primary school in Cannon Hill. Pic: supplied

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