WATCH: Cori Gonzalez opens up about the pain of losing his father to suicide

mental health 09/10/2018

WARNING: THIS STORY DISCUSSES SUICIDE 

Cori Gonzalez tragically lost his dad back in 2013 to suicide. Over the last five year the Kiwi comedian has wrestled with feelings of blame, guilt, and pain. 

With mental health awareness this week, we applaud Cori for opening up and sharing his story with us all. 

Our mate Fiona Connor from Newshub reports more on this story. 

Locked in a heated war of words with his father Enrique, comedian Cori Gonzalez-Macuer decided it was time for some space from his family's Lower Hutt home.

Enrique reassured his son that he would be okay by himself.

By the time Cori returned to the house, Enrique was dead.

"I shouldn't have left him," Cori told Newshub.

The night replays in the 7 Days star's mind many times a day, linked to the horror of what he saw on August 2, 2013 when his Dad, Enrique Gonzalez, took his own life.

In the five years since, Cori has faced a battle every day blaming himself for his father's suicide.

To launch Mental Health Awareness week Cori has opened up about that night, living every day with an overwhelming sense of guilt and is now hoping to encourage others to speak up while facing adversities. 

He can't help but wonder if he had known what he learned in hindsight and had not left that night, would his Dad still be alive?

The What We Do in the Shadows actor spent the early part of his childhood being surrounded by family, playing around and being happy in Santiago, Chile.

There was a war going on, and a military coup in the capital city forced his father to decide it wasn't the best place to raise his family.

Enrique left for a new life New Zealand in 1987 before six-year-old Cori, his mum and younger brother followed about 18 months later in October 1988.

"We had no other family here. My parents couldn't really speak English, and neither could we. It was just us on our own, so we became even closer than we were in Chile," Cori said.

By the time Cori arrived in his new homeland, his Dad had found work as a painter and making sausages in a Deli.

Enrique cleaned houses with Cori's mum while also studying economics at Victoria University.

Enrique Gonzalez

Enrique got his degree in time, but found it difficult getting work so still kept cleaning or painting houses.

Enrique was proud when his son went to university, and their relationship held steady as Cori never went out and would hang out with his parents.

"Things changed when I was 21 or 22 when I moved out of home," Cori said.

"He just he couldn't understand why I'd want to leave home.

"In Chile, people - like my Uncle was in his 60s when he left home - never leave the house, so he didn't understand why I'd want to go flatting, and that's when I kind of like started being a bit more independent."

Despite any hard feelings, Cori explained that through his adulthood, his dad was caring, hard-working and loved helping out his three children.

"When we would go back and live with them between flats, he never asked us to pay rent, if anything he'd help us out with rent."

His two siblings moved to Australia and Cori came back to stay with his parents in Lower Hutt to shoot pick-ups for What We Do In The Shadows.

Something at home seemed different and tensions were running high.

"At the time, it was like 'maybe he is having a bad day' - but yeah, now I can definitely see that the relationship between me and him wasn't the best," Cori said.

"We were getting into silly arguments and I just didn't think much of it at the time.'

The night before he died, Cori and Enrique were at their family house. They got into a dispute, and Cori said he couldn't take it anymore and said he needed to leave.

After packing his bags, he told his dad he was going to stay at a friend's house for as long as he could, or until he found another place.

"At that time, my mum had already left so he was just on his own.

"As I was leaving we had an argument and then he just he broke down started crying and he's like 'Why does everyone leave me?' and then I said to him, 'Look I'll stay with you, you're the one who's making this difficult, I'm here to help but you're just pushing me away'.

"I dropped my bag and said 'I will stay here with you'.

"He got angry again and told me to leave so I just left.   

"I went and stayed at my friend's house and then the next day I messaged him in the morning to see how he was, and he messaged back and everything seemed fine.

"During the day I caught up with some friends. I remember my brother and my sister, who were living in Australia at the time, kept messaging me asking me if I heard from Dad and saying that he's not messaging them back.

"I tried calling him, he wasn't at work, he wasn't replying but I was just thinking he's probably just in a bad mood and doesn't want to talk to anyone.

"As the day got longer and longer I thought OK, this is a bit worrying' and I was at the mall up the road from our place. I went back home, and the spare key wasn't outside, so I thought something must be up.

"I broke through one of the windows in the house and I went in and I saw that one of the lights was on in his room and for some reason I thought that that was a good thing.        

"I thought he must be in there and then I went in and he wasn't in there I was like 'OK he hasn't done anything bad because he's not in his room' but then I turned around and saw that the living room door was shut."

In that same moment it became obvious he had lost his Dad.

For what could have been ten seconds but felt like ten minutes, Cori contemplated his next move. His thought process included questioning whether he should take his own life, so he didn't have to deal with the pain he knew was to follow.

"My brother and my sister were coming from Australia I was just dreading seeing them because I thought that they'd blame me for it and I was like fair enough because I just thought it was my fault.

"I was angry, I was sad. But when it kicked in I just remembered the days before that and how I could have stayed with him. So more than anything, I just felt guilty."

Over the last year-and-a-half the mental health advocate has chosen to talk openly about the trauma that followed, after suppressing the extent of his suffering.

But it's only in the last month that he has started to make any real progress with removing himself from believing it's his fault.

Often confronted with varying emotions ranging from anger to despair, Cori proactively working through the pain that losing his father has brought on.

"I'm into my third week of PTSD treatment and I can definitely see how it's going to help."

Cori has found that through talking to family, friends, health professionals and even strangers, that he can develop a deeper understanding of his dad's actions and find reassurance that they had no direct impact on the choice Enrique made.

He learned after his dad's death that Enrique was on antidepressants and anxiety medication – something he had no idea about. His dad had sought treatment for a breakdown, but his children had no idea.  

They couldn't adjust their behaviour because they didn't know to.

Scrutinizing the events that played out in the lead up to Enrique's decision to end his life, Cori often analyses their relationship and how it changed over a prolonged period of time.

Through hindsight and therapy, he has identified hints of how his dad might have lost his way and has recently learned to interpret that behaviour to know now, things may have been different had he never left - but it's not likely.

"I know deep down that he had planned on doing it and he would have done it the day, if I had stayed with him that night, he would have done it the day after, or he would have waited until I left Wellington and he would've done it.

"There's definitely part of me that knows it's not a hundred percent my fault but it's just going to be a while until I completely believe it."

Cori Gonzalez-Macuer is a writer, comedian and actor known for his role on 7 Days and What We Do in The Shadows.

He is shining a light on his own experience to bring attention to the vital importance of turning to others for help when it all seems to be too much.

Cori places a strong emphasis on speaking to others, even a stranger.

"You'd be surprised how many people are keen to listen."