WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are warned that the following story contains images of a deceased person. We tell this story with permission from the family of the deceased.
Benn’s mum had been battling cancer since before he was born, but she’d always assured him that it wasn’t anything to worry about. Whenever the cancer would return, she’d just go to hospital. The doctors would treat it, she’d come home and she’d be alright. Benn never thought he’d actually lose his mum. But then, when Benn was 12 years old, he received a phone call from his sister that would change his life.
“Mum’s not coming home.”
Benn’s mum had gone into palliative care and the doctors asked her family to say their goodbyes. Benn was devastated. He thought the world was against him. He couldn’t understand why he had to go through life without his mum by his side. His dad, Scott tried to comfort him, but now, as a single parent to Benn and his two sisters, he was battling his own challenges too. Soon after, Benn began lashing out. He was getting in trouble at school and started hanging out with the wrong crowd. Anger was his way of dealing with his grief. While his sister had started seeing a counsellor, Benn, like a lot of boys his age, didn’t accept the help. 'Seeking help is for girls. Talking about your problems is for girls. Men don’t need to do that.'
Like most boys, Benn’s ideas of being a man were heavily influenced by media, movies and society’s expectations. He saw that stoicism and not showing emotion is manly. Throughout his life, Benn was told by those around him that, “You have to be brave for mum.” He was shown exactly what to do to be brave – 'smile, don’t cry, don’t let her see your pain.' But Benn was never shown how to experience grief. Or how to be vulnerable. He was never told that he was allowed to feel scared.
Scott didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know of any other kid in his community who’d experienced loss like Benn had. Scott realised that his son had no one to guide him through the most traumatic experience of his life. Desperate for help, Scott signed Benn up to the Top Blokes Mentoring Program. The Program would give Benn access to qualified Youth Workers who could mentor him through topics like mental health, healthy relationships, anger management, and more. It was the support that Benn needed. Almost immediately, Benn felt different. He found Mentors who’d gone through their own losses and tragedies as teenagers. He heard them share their stories and saw how they expressed their grief. He quickly connected with them. Soon after, he started to open up himself. His dad was noticing changes too. When Benn would get angry, he was able to calm himself down and reflect. His Top Blokes Mentors had shown him healthier ways of expressing his emotions, and he was implementing them. Scott realised how important the Top Blokes Program was.
“The beauty of the Program is most of his Mentors had faced adversity like he was going through. They showed their vulnerability. They gave him the message that it’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to experience emotion. His Mentors didn’t act like his teachers or parents. They were a bit older than him and could relate to him. They were his peers and showed him it’s okay to be a man and be vulnerable.”
Top Blokes is unique because it’s delivered on a weekly basis over several months. Showing up every week meant boys like Benn could build trust with their Mentors, and gain knowledge and skills about the topics that impacted them most.
With the continued support of his Mentors, Benn learned to talk about his emotions, to recognise his triggers, and to find healthier ways of coping. He doesn’t get in trouble at school anymore. Benn’s empathy had grown too. When he learned that there was a boy from his neighbourhood who’d lost his mum, Benn reached out and texted him,
‘If you ever want to talk to someone who understands, please reach out. I’m here.’
They weren’t best mates, but Benn understood how tough it was to live without your mother, and he quickly became a source of support for his grieving friend.
Recently, Benn started thinking about what he wanted to become after leaving school.
"A teacher - so I can help other boys like me."
You can support Top Blokes to reach more boys like Benn, helping them improve their mental health and build healthy relationships with the people around them. Please consider donating today.
All donations of $2 or more are tax-deductible. Once your donation has been processed, a tax receipt will be emailed to you.
If you'd like to talk to someone about the issues described above, please call:
Lifeline 13 11 14 Kids Helpline 1800 551 800 Beyond Blue 1300 224 636
If you believe someone is in immediate danger, call Police on 000.