Brother of former NRL player Chad Robinson opens up about losing him to suicide
Sometimes Tim Robinson forgets. A silver Subaru drives past and, suddenly, his heart sinks. The hope comes rushing back. "We found him," he can't help but think.
But the realisation that he will never see his big brother again soon kicks in.
"Still to this day when I see a silver Subaru in the corner of my eye, I get excited," he says choking back tears.
"It's hard to accept he's not coming home. I used to call him on my way home from footy training. First training session back this year, I got in the car and pressed his number. That was the moment it sunk in. He was gone."
Chad Robinson, a former Roosters and Eels NRL forward, tragically took his own life in November last year at the age of 36.
But it wasn't until almost a month later, following a state-wide search in New South Wales, Australia, involving friends and family, that his body was discovered in the wreckage of his car just 7km from home.
Stashed away in a cupboard inside Chad Robinson's home, Christmas presents he had left for his two children waited to be wrapped.
"That's Chad for you," Tim says beaming with pride.
"His kids meant everything to him. The hardest thing for them is that he won't be there for birthdays, graduations and their weddings."
Sadly, Chad never got the chance to give the presents to Kiara, 15, and Cooper, 10. Nor will he get the chance to meet the newest member of the Robinson family, due next month.
Through the pain and grief, as they held out hope for Chad's return, Tim and his wife Casey found out she was pregnant.
"Not being able to tell Chad, that hurts me," Tim, 29, says.
"We had forgotten that Casey was even pregnant because all we were focused on was trying to find him. But it's been the light through all the darkness. It's given our family something to smile about.
"I dare say it will be a tough day when I sit down and talk to my kids about him. But he will live on through them. He's never not going to be part of our family. He's living through his kids, too. They are just like him."
On Sunday afternoon, his family and friends gathered to watch Chad's two former clubs do battle at Allianz Stadium, with the under-20s playing for a trophy named in his honour.
Sport divides. But it unites like no other.
Chad's sister and mother knew all about the struggle he was going through, but he never burdened his little brother – who followed his footsteps into the NRL – with his problems.
"He was my protector," Tim says.
"He was my idol. He was my hero. He was everything I aspired to be. I idolised everything he did when I was younger. Chad was on a rollercoaster ride, but I didn't know it was to the low point we found out.
"You get a few inklings six or 12 months prior, but you don't really think he's going to go through with it. With him, you could tell when he was going through a low point, but he always told me he was OK."
The night before Chad's disappearance, his daughter called the ambulance fearing for her father's safety.
He was taken to Blacktown Hospital in Sydney looking for help. It just never came.
"He tried to get help the night before he went missing, but he got turned away," Tim says. "He sat there in emergency for four or five hours. They called my sister at 4am to say we can't help him unless he is actually going to harm himself."
Despite a request from his sister Monique Brennan to keep Chad in hospital until she arrived, her brother checked himself out.
Later that night, at about 7pm on November 26, 2016, she unknowingly spoke to her brother on the phone for the last time.
"He turned his phone off," Tim says. "That was the last time anyone heard from him."
And so the month-long search began. Tim purchased a street directory and began highlighting every route family and friends travelled in search of his missing brother. There were several reported sightings.
"They even found beer bottles of his favourite drink in Kurrajong," Tim says.
Shellharbour, Tamworth, Byron Bay: the family received numerous tips about potential sightings.
"Your stomach would churn over every time you heard there was a sighting," Tim says. "You can't help but think he's still alive.
"Mark Riddell [former team-mate] drove everywhere for about three or four days. He didn't stop. That makes me proud. Just to know how much he was respected by other people. It brings a tear to my eye knowing that he touched so many people, who took time out of their lives trying to help find him or lend their support to our family."
But the search was in vain, as they found out when electricity workers discovered Chad's body at the bottom of a gorge in Kenthurst, in Sydney's nonrthwest, next to a piece of real estate he had gone to view only a month before his death.
"You start to think, 'did he plan this?'" Tim recalls.
"'Did he know where he was going to go?'"
Chad struggled to cope with life after football, which is why his sister is working to educate retiring players and help them make the adjustment to life without the game.
Her brother battled a mental illness for some time. He saw a psychologist and even spent time in rehab, but the toll of dealing with his retirement from the NRL ate away at him.
"He missed the adrenalin rush of it all," Tim says.
"That's a big thing. He loved the game inside the game. The social life part of it, the mateship – and I think the big thing was the routine of being a rugby league player. Once it was all done, he was a bit lost."
Tim, who also played in the NRL with Manly and Cronulla, never got the chance to play alongside his brother.
The closest he got was being 18th man at the Eels for a round 26 match against the Warriors in 2008. His family still has the Big League program with both their names on the Eels team sheet as a reminder of how close they came to taking the field together.
Tim went on to make his debut with Manly against the Roosters a couple years later, ignoring the advice his brother had passed down.
"He was there that day," Tim remembers vividly.
"I can still hear his words. He said: 'when you get out there, don't try and do everything. Don't try and make a thousand tackles. Don't try and make a thousand runs or you'll blow out in five minutes'.
"So, stupid me, I went out there and made five tackles in the first set, took two hit-ups then put my hand up and said 'I'm gone'. After the game he came up to me and said: 'what did I bloody tell you?'"
Most will remember him as Chad Robinson the footballer. But there was a side to him not even his family knew until his passing last year.
His family discovered that he had reached out, through the Hills District Dads website, and saved the lives of others who had suicidal thoughts and were battling depression.
That's the sort of person he was – putting others before himself.
"I'll remember him as the family man," Tim says.
"He was the one everyone went to for advice. If anyone had an issue, he was the one that helped in any way. He did that with everyone, no matter who it was. For me, I'll remember him as a person who was always there for his family."
To donate to the Kiara and Cooper Robinson Educational Fund visit gofundme.com/hdd-robbo-family-fundraiser
WHERE TO GET HELP:
Lifeline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 354
Depression Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 111 757
Healthline (open 24/7) - 0800 611 116
Samaritans (open 24/7) - 0800 726 666
Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
Youthline (open 24/7) - 0800 376 633. You can also text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email email@example.com
0800 WHATSUP children's helpline - phone 0800 9428 787 between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at www.whatsup.co.nz.
Kidsline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who ring between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline buddy. These are specially trained teenage telephone counsellors.
Your local Rural Support Trust - 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)
Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.
For further information, contact the Mental Health Foundation's free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812).
- Sydney Morning Herald