Sam Ellis’s best friend Jai Reed was in the waiting room when Sam was born, and for the next 16 years they were inseparable.
Their mothers were childhood best friends and the two boys — born six months apart — looked set to extend that bond for another generation.
“Jai was this really outgoing kid, there wasn’t a single person that met him that didn’t love him,” Sam said.
“He was just one of those people you’d meet at a party and speak to him for 10 seconds and become best mates with him.
The friends couldn’t have been more different — while Sam was quiet and more impressionable, Jai knew who he was from a young age.
“He was one of those kids where if he didn’t want to do something, he wasn’t scared to say no,” Sam said.
“You couldn’t be pressuring him, he had that much confidence in himself and self-esteem.”
When the boys entered adolescence, Sam’s choices deviated. He started treating his worsening anxiety and depression by abusing progressively harder forms of drugs.
“I’ve suffered a lot of mental health issues, I’ve seen psychiatrists and psychologists since I was about nine,” Sam said.
“I ended up using marijuana therapeutically because I thought it was helping, but eventually it stopped working.
“I started moving on to heavier and heavier drugs and going down a really dark path towards criminal activity, and my mental health was suffering more and more.”
Before he turned 16, Sam had suffered multiple drug overdoses, undergone treatment in rehab and hospital, and was running into trouble with the police.
“I ended up having an overdose at one point, and I was pronounced medically dead,” he said.
“And then got revived after 47 seconds. I was 15 at the time of that, almost 16.”
Whatever Sam went through, Jai was beside him to offer support without judgement.
“My mum would come in, and then he’d be following straight behind.”
In 2018, Jai — who was epileptic — had a seizure, hit his head, went into cardiac arrest, and died. He was 16 years old.
Sam was devastated. It felt like he’d lost a limb.
“I thought: ‘You have [Jai], this amazing kid, 16 years old, who’s going to achieve everything, had all these plans in place, he had so much potential for his future, and it all got taken away’,” Sam said.
“And you’ve got me who does have potential, but he’s throwing that potential away.”
Jai’s death shifted something within Sam, and he hasn’t touched drugs since.
“It’s almost like my body’s rejected that side of my life, where I just am no longer interested at all,” he said.
Jackie Taraway, a specialist bereavement counsellor at the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement, works with people of all ages who are processing grief over a recent death.
She says grief among teenagers mourning the loss of a friend can manifest differently than grief over other losses.
“The death of a friend can really violate their basic assumptions,” Ms Taraway said.
“It’s interesting the closeness teenagers have with their friends because their sense of belonging is with their friends.
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