When I first met Maria Anthony around six years ago, I was still at university and an aspiring young journalist. A few months later, I was the emcee for a genocide commemoration event organised by Maria as President of Pontoxeniteas NSW. That same night, her brother-in-law Terry ‘Tezza’ Anthony died by suicide after a long battle with mental health issues.
Flash forward to Saturday night, May 27, at The Grand Roxy in Brighton-Le-Sands, Sydney and The Greek Herald was a proud media partner as Maria and her husband, Glenn Anthony, held their first-ever fundraiser to raise awareness of mental health issues and suicide prevention in honour of Terry’s memory.
Being behind the lens on the night – in what both Maria and I call ‘a full circle moment’ – it was clear the couple were surrounded by the love and support of their family and friends as they raised money for the Black Dog Institute.
Whilst there was an educational aspect to the fundraiser in the form of a speaker from the Black Dog Institute, there was also a number of intimate touches as Glenn and guest speaker Katrina Tsaftaropoulos shared their personal stories of losing a loved one to suicide.
Emcee Christine Gazepis Stavropoulos introduced Katrina to the stage to speak first. She openly shared how losing her son George to suicide in 2012 saw her develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression.
“I lost my son. I didn’t just lose him in the past. I lost his future. He would have been married, he would have had children, there would have been christenings and birthdays – all those events have been lost. It’s not just one thing. It’s a whole lifetime,” Katrina said.
“I’m always going to suffer his loss and carry that grief with every breath I take and every beat of my heart. There’s just not getting through it or over it. A mother should never have to bury their child.”
Katrina said she had to get treatment and support from mental health services, and now uses this knowledge to raise awareness and help others.
“This gave me a reason to get up every single day. It gave me a legacy to honour my son and it helped me by helping others. I didn’t want any other mother to go through what I went through,” Katrina explained.
“Mental health is not a choice. It’s not a result of sin. It’s not a weakness. It’s not a personal fault. It’s not attention seeking or anything to be ashamed of. It’s an illness just like any other illness and it can be treated. We have to remove the stigma to allow people to access that treatment.”
Glenn also gave a small speech and thanked everyone – from friends to family and people who donated prizes and money – for attending the fundraising event in honour of his brother.
He also shared how Terry’s struggle with mental illness had an inter-generational impact on his family, and that his death was “still raw” for him.
“I was haunted by two questions: ‘Why did my brother do this to himself?’ and ‘could I have done anything more to prevent it?’ These are impossible questions to answer and in time I’ve had to learn to accept it,” Glenn said.
“What I’ve come to realise is no matter who you speak to, everyone is dealing with some sort of a battle, whether it be mental, physical, emotional or even financial – everyone is fighting a war. So be kind and help when you can.”
Glenn then welcomed his wife to the stage and thanked her for her continuous support, before Maria took the microphone to explain how Terry’s death impacted her.
“I know many of you in this room know me as a leader of our Pontian community but I do want to share that I struggle with it because I always have to be strong for my community and for my family and it’s hard,” Maria said as she became emotional.
“So that’s why I love being busy because I think if I was to stop, I’d probably crumble. Everyone copes differently and I think it’s important to understand each other… and being honest about your feelings is so important.”
At the conclusion of these speeches, people continued to enjoy their three-course meal, before there was an auction.
In a small act of kindness during the live auction, Terry’s godparents, his cousins, friends and family, joined forces to bid on a hand-painted photo in memory of Terry and offered it to Glenn.
The night ended with dancing to music by deejay’s Dino Haritos and Con Andrews.
When I reached out to Maria the next day to find out how much was raised on the night, her response was overwhelmingly positive.
“We raised $37,665! Can you believe it?” she said over the phone. “We are shocked and overwhelmed. This would not have been possible without the generosity of everyone who supported us. Thank you.”
*All photos copyright The Greek Herald / Andriana Simos.