In country New South Wales, far away from Sydney’s city life, there is a 57-year-old man, Chris Berkhout, who rides his bicycle more than 200 km every year on the anniversary of his son’s suicide.
He has done so for the past five years, travelling the long and bumpy road from Tamworth to Inverell.
Rain, hail or blistering sunshine, he will ride his bicycle across the countryside, for his son. He will do it to ease his grief. He will do it so that his boy didn’t die for nothing.
For the past four years, Chris has undertaken the trip with his faithful dog, Tezza, both sleeping on the roadside on their journey north.
When he came to the NGO I work for, he was in need of care. The man had endured much during his journey through life.
Homeless and suffering from health issues himself, Chris needed some support to get back on his feet.
The staff found affordable housing for him. They provided counselling and personal advocacy.
“I have been through a lot, but I bounce back every time. There is just something in me that won’t quit,” Chris tells me.
“The staff here have been great. They have supported me to the point where I could deal with life by myself.”
One way to help Chris on his road to recovery was to encourage him to start this bike ride. The staff saw he needed to remember his son; to create something meaningful from his tragic death.
Chris begins to weep as he remembers his son.
I find out later his name was Jarrod. He was 19 when he took his own life.
Chris had seen his son six weeks before his death. He didn’t see through Jarrod’s facade. Wasn’t able to penetrate the “false face” he wore until it was too late.
For Chris, Jarrod seemed like his usual “happy-go-lucky” self.
Chris hopes his trip north will prompt people to talk about mental health issues. He hopes they will become more aware of people who may be struggling with depression or other mental illnesses and look beyond the mask they often wear.
“That’s why I do this every year. For him.”
He doesn’t ride to raise money himself. Chris is not looking for donations. But he does encourage people who may want to help to support local mental health programs.
This year, the NGO that initially helped Chris donated a tent so that he and Tezza will be sheltered while they sleep at night on their long bike ride across country New South Wales.