Mum’s guilt over second son’s death
Kathy Kelly has opened up about her deepest regret after suffering the worst pain imaginable for a parent twice over, with her son Thomas fatally punched on a night out before his brother Stuart killed himself four years later.
In a devastating appearance on Andrew Denton's Interview on Channel 7, Mrs Kelly and husband Ralph shared the heartbreaking story of what happened after their younger son called them in distress within just hours of starting university.
"We drove in, he was sitting in the gutter with his head in his hands," said Mr Kelly. "When he got into the back seat of the car, he started to sob uncontrollably, which was completely out of character for him.
"That was really alarming because he was this young boy, starting the next stage of his life after school and suddenly it had just all completely disappeared."
Stuart spent the next two months sitting in his room at the family's northern beaches home, refusing to return to university or talk about what had gone so wrong. He took his own life in July 2016, also aged 18.
"I would go in and try and talk to him about things and he was very clear ... you are not going to know, leave me alone, we're not discussing it," his mother told Denton.
"He also did a complete turnabout about what he wanted to do with his life. He had made a beautiful rocking chair for the HSC and he said, 'oh, maybe I'll just go do some woodwork'.
"I said all the wrong things like, 'oh, we didn't struggle to send you through this school to have you turning timber.' And I could kick myself now, because I would - I wouldn't care what state he was in, if he was in that bedroom I'd be happier than anything, I wouldn't care what he wanted to do with his life ... I just wanted him to be here.
NATIONAL 24/7 CRISIS SERVICES
"I just feel that I said all the wrong things, and we weren't really listening to him.
"There was never a moment in our - at any point in time, before he left the house and took his life that we ever thought that could happen."
The grieving mum added: "As a parent, that's devastating. You think, 'what could I have done?'"
The Kellys' heartbreaking interview had viewers in pieces, with social media filled with tributes to the brave couple, who have just published a book, Too Soon, Too Late.
"Ralph and Kathy, I'm so emotional but equally inspired and respectful of you two incredible, resilient human beings - turning inconceivable grief into positive change," wrote Mel Madigan on Twitter.
"Losing two sons would be devastating & finding the strength to go on&spread kindness to others as a mission,is selfless beyond comprehension," added Joy Hopwood.
Jeanette Findlay called the interview "horrible, sad and emotional", adding: "I wish I could just give them all a big hug which will not bring their sons back, but let them know there are people who care."
Ian Luke said the couple were "showing pain, anguish, love, devastation and resilience in the face of humanity's scumbaggery ... if you've ever 'indulged' in internet trolling, watch this, and lift yourself."
Stuart was just 14 when his 18-year-old brother and "best friend" Thomas was killed in an unprovoked one-punch attack by Kieran Loveridge in Sydney's Kings Cross in 2012.
The family formed a foundation and advocated for tightened lockout laws in New South Wales and the introduction of mandatory sentencing for violent alcohol-induced offenders. But they began receiving hate mail, and Stuart was targeted by online trolls and bullies over the campaign.
After spending just one night at St Paul's College at Sydney University, he called his parents in distress, asking them to pick him up from outside a nearby hospital.
(Content warning: suicide).— Andrew Denton's "Interview" (@InterviewAU) May 21, 2019
TONIGHT: Ralph and Kathy Kelly reflect on the night that forever changed their youngest son Stuart and the regrets any parent would have after he took his own life. #InterviewAU tonight 9pm on @Channel7. pic.twitter.com/CPuHrvaRDb
"He was one of the really popular kids, and he went off to university at Sydney, for one night at a college, and he came home a different person the following day," Ms Kelly told 60 Minutes in 2017. "You know, it just changed him, he was broken.
"We hadn't seen him cry since Thomas died ... so you can only assume that something catastrophic happened to him that made him feel the way he did."
The family said the prestigious college failed to tell them anything about what had happened to Stuart, but they believed he was targeted by hazers, and possibly even a victim of sexual assault.
"Parents don't know these things," Mr Kelly told news.com.au last year. "If I had known some of the history (of alleged hazing at Sydney University) I would not have wanted Stuart going there."
In 2015, Stuart became the subject of attacks after he gave a moving speech at a Thomas Kelly Foundation gala dinner about how alcohol-fuelled violence had torn apart his family.
"Thomas never deserved to die that night, it was not meant to be his time," he told the crowd, which included then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and former NSW Premier Mike Baird.
"In fact, I believe now that it could and should have been avoided. Our family lost a son and a brother.
"I ask all of you to look at me, I am but one person who has been affected by violence. It is a sentence that I have to carry for the rest of my life. My mother, father and sister now carry this sentence. Our relatives and friends, Tom's friends, carry this sentence."
After Stuart's death, Mr Kelly posted online of the heartbreak he and his wife were experiencing. "The most painful goodbyes are the ones that are never said and never explained," he wrote in the Facebook post.
A funeral notice placed by Mr and Mrs Kelly and the boys' sister Madeleine said Stuart lived "a very special life and brought us all so much joy and happiness".
They wrote: "You showed extraordinary strength, courage and hope. We will miss you forever our darling Stuart, together in peace with your beautiful brother Thomas."
Their sister, then 21, said at Stuart's funeral: "You brought a nation to its knees with your words, you made a positive change to a damaged culture that had been embedded in Australian society for so long, but more importantly, you brought so much light to all our lives.
"To both of my brothers, my best friends, Thomas and Stuart: I will always love you and always remember the beautiful souls this world has lost. I refuse to believe that this is goodbye for us, but rather a, 'see you later'; so please wait for me and take care of each other."
The family has been through more tragedy than anyone should suffer in a lifetime, but have shown extraordinary resilience as they continue to advocate for love and kindness.
As Mr Kelly said on Denton's show: "You lose one son to suicide and one son to homicide. You couldn't get two worse cards."
If you or someone you know is struggling, contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.