NOTHING could be more unexpected than meeting Makaila Ogden.
In January, 2016, she was attending the funeral of the man of her dreams.
Just five days after the service she found out she was pregnant with his child.
Her brittle fragility, her struggle to understand why 24-year-old Daniel Louis Ferrier would choose to die by his own hand and how she had never seen it coming was on the brink of consuming her in a world of pain and grief from which she felt she might never recover.
For those who have been left with the unanswered, death by suicide raises more questions than answers; even worse, so often leaves those who loved the most with a growing sense of guilt and failure.
One day Mak could see a lifetime together unfolding before them; the next she was left juggling the stygian depths of Daniel’s death with her business as a florist, a pregnancy and a future as a single mother.
Yet as abruptly as her loss began, it would be the discovery that growing within her she carried part of her lover that has come to define the real Mak.
The Mak with an easy and immediate smile, genuine and natural and wrapped in an air of beauty and grace — and Mak, the adoring mother of Louie Jean Ferrier, named for the father she will only ever hear about.
There is no artifice; she only applies makeup in the morning, not a mask to camouflage who she is, what she has been through and where she is going.
Of course there are still the bad moments, and days. There has to be. Probably always will be.
But whatever she feels takes a distant second place behind her defiance to get it all right for their daughter.
With the help of family and friends Mak has pulled herself through and has created a colourful life filled with love and happiness.
She has managed to maintain her business and navigate through motherhood all while holding on to, and nurturing, the legacy of her Dan and her new role as a campaigner for mental health awareness.
You hear it over and over, and Mak can tell it’s true. Suicide isn’t painless and it does not discriminate.
It doesn’t just affect one person, it affects the entire world orbiting that one person.
In regional Australia — particularly in young men — suicide is the silent killer of far too many.
Males are three times more likely to commit suicide, with rural/regional suicide rates more than 50 per cent higher than in metropolitan areas.
Incredibly, insidiously, suicide has become the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44.
An alarming 200 Australians attempt suicide every day.
Eight of them will succeed.
Seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, without letup and mostly without rhyme or reason.
For Mak, these appalling statistics became her reality. Could have easily become a life sentence.
“I met Dan through my cousin, who was best mates with him,” Mak smiled.
“I had just moved back to Echuca and opened my florist business.
“Dan came into the shop one day to buy flowers for his mum and that was it.
“The chemistry was undeniable — he was 200 cm (six feet seven inches) of total babe; with curls to die for,” she said.
“His manners were impeccable, such a true gentleman.
“He didn’t waste words and he wouldn’t say anything at all unless he felt it necessary.
“But when we were together he wouldn’t shut up and I always felt very special for this.
“We were together for nine months — which is not that long, but long enough to know.”
Born and raised in Echuca and a mechanic by trade, Dan was a quiet, kind and fun-loving guy who did not know the full reality of what he was leaving behind. No-one will ever know if that might have been enough for him to stop; and seek help.
“It’s hard to even know what I was feeling,” Mak said.
“It still all feels like a blur.
“Obviously there was just a huge amount of shock and just feeling very devastated.
“It was so complete; and completely out of the blue
“Dan hadn’t been diagnosed with depression or mental illness of any kind, it wasn’t known to those around him that he was struggling.
“Looking back now, there were things that I tell myself ‘how did I not see that’?”
But at the time, it left everyone within Dan’s circle shell shocked.
“After the funeral had taken place and everyone started to leave, the people who had gathered around me; and go back home to their normal lives, I had a bit of a breakdown.
“Then two days later I found out I was pregnant and the shift was instant.
“When something like that happens you can either choose to let it destroy you — and I could have let it destroy me if I hadn’t found out I was having Louie — or you can try and see the best out of a bad situation.”
Makaila Ogden, September 2018, is someone who finds the joy in every aspect of life.
With a stunning bouquet of her flowers always within reach and a smiling (almost) toddler glued to her leg, it’s hard to believe someone who has so much positivity has endured so much heartbreak.
“I was a completely different person then compared with who I am now.
“And I think it just comes with time.
“I had another friend who attempted suicide before Dan died, but he survived.
“My friend was the most outgoing, life of the party, beautiful guy.
“I think if I hadn’t experienced that, I wouldn’t have been as able to go on after what happened with Dan.
“There’s no way you would’ve thought he was struggling and that’s a real reminder — sometimes it’s the people who appear to be the strongest, that are actually hiding a lot of hurting on the inside, and I feel that these are the people who are probably least likely to reach out for help.”
In finding her own coping mechanism, Mak started an Instagram page as somewhere, from the safety of her room, she could pour out her feelings and deepest thoughts.
People could read her thoughts but she did not have to explain or justify any of them, or have people telling her how she felt.
She did not spare herself; there are countless raw accounts of the rollercoaster of emotions that have swept her through the past two and a half years.
Mak has discerned the hard way that life is mostly froth and bubble but the one thing that does stand like stone is kindness in another’s troubles and courage in your own.
In Mak’s case, courage anchored to her unwavering love for Dan.
“I found an outpouring of support from people far and wide who shared with me personal or similar stories or their own struggles with depression.
“I received lots of messages, even from people outside Australia, just to say that they think it’s really important what I’m doing.
“It has really helped me.
“I think I’m giving people the opportunity to talk about it if they want to, without any judgement.
“Through my own research I’ve realised the prevalence of suicide within our community and the profound impact of mental illness that effects so many.
“I think the people who are struggling can often feel very isolated, so I think the more the community talks about it, the more they’re likely to reach out for help.
“Whether that’s through their friends or family or going to someone such as beyondblue or Lifeline, where they can receive the help they need anonymously before they get to the point where they are thinking about taking their own life or before they do take their own life.
“It was once such a taboo thing and people didn’t really talk about it.
“I think these days people really appreciate being able to just speak about it.
“It’s such an important issue and I can only hope that starting this conversation brings more light and awareness to the subject.”
This decision of Mak’s to ‘try and see the best out of a bad situation’ as she said, has led her to where she is today – a strong, resilient woman, who despite the most devasating of circumstances, constantly chooses to wear a smile and speak up about mental illness.
“Instagram has helped me so much,” she said.
“When you’re grieving you can really go into yourself.
“But by speaking about it openly and having that support from people I knew and strangers has really helped me.
“And I think in some way, sometimes, writing something down can be easier than saying it out loud and it’s still getting your feelings out there – it’s like writing in a journal.
“You can write all these things you wouldn’t necessarily say to someone but you’re getting it out of your mind and putting it out there to the world rather than holding it inside.
“I think Dan was holding a lot inside, unsure of how to truly express his feelings.
“I became very mindful and I started to realise the need to actually feel your emotions rather than bottling them up – I think that’s very important.”
Throughout the past two and a half years, there has been one person encouraging Mak to keep on going.
Louie Ferrier would arrive on October 12; just two days shy of what would have been her dad’s 25th birthday. Named after her father, Louie has been the beaming light in Mak’s life, and in many ways saved her.
“Obviously I was still really sad and it was really hard.” Mak said.
“The fact was, he was gone, but then to know that I was going to have his little baby – it was amazing but it was also extremely overwhelming.
“It was overwhelming to think I was going to have to be a single mum and have to do it all on my own.
“We all just cried when we found out.
“She gave me a sense of purpose again, she’s been my little saviour.
“I don’t know how I’d be if I didn’t have her.
“I think a really good point for people who may be struggling, is just to hold on because you never know what might be around the corner for you.
“The timing of these two events in my life – it’s just the most devastating thing and then the greatest thing in my life all happening within two weeks of each other.
“I think it falls into that weird thing of, you know, everything happens for a reason.
“So now I try and take joy in the little things and not sweat the small stuff and I just enjoy life and enjoy Louie as much as I can.”
Since the death of Dan, Mak has preserved the legacy of her partner through raising awareness of the realities of suicide.
Throughout her house are constant reminders of Dan, which Mak consciously has so Louie knows who her dad is. From his Akubra hanging on the wall to the many photos around, Dan isn’t far from the hearts and thoughts of the ones he left behind.
“Louie points to the hat and says ‘Daddy’.
“All I wanted when I was pregnant was for the baby to be like him.
“At the time I didn’t know what would’ve been harder, if she was like her dad or not like her dad.
“And she’s so like him; her temperament – Dan was very reserved and one to sit back before he’d say anything and Louie is very like that too.
“I think it’s beautiful how much like her dad she is.
“I think it’s important for her to hear all these stories and once she’s old enough she can understand how special she is.
“It won’t ever leave us.
“But I think it gets a little easier with time even though it’s still always there.
“I just hope now he’s at peace.
“Some days are harder than others, but it was his decision and I can’t change that, you’ve just got to move forward as best as you can.
“I think for the rest of my life it’s going to be an ongoing endeavour to be a bit of an ambassador for mental health and continue to raise awareness and more money for the important organisations and work towards a better future for mental illness.
“You just do what you can, don’t you.”
And she did.
Without anything to help her navigate her grief, and with a baby on the way, Mak lit her own light and defined her own path out of the darkness.
With World Suicide Prevention Day tomorrow and RUOK? Day on Friday, Mak’s business Clementine Florals will donate $15 from every order this week to beyondblue.
This fundraiser will run from Tuesday till Friday.
Mak’s cousin Rachel, of Papercake, has also donated 50 yellow cookies to accompany Mak’s stunning bouquets.
To order some flowers head to Mak’s website clementineflorals.bigcartel.com or to simply make a donation go to beyondblueinmemoriam.everydayhero.com/au/ForFezzy
Café 3564 are donating $1 from every coffee sold on R U OK Day to Makaila’s beyondblue fund.
There are few words which seem right to say to a person experiencing the confusion and crisis of unaddressed mental health issues.
Yet those three simple words ‘are you ok?’ could make a lifetime of difference.