A decade ago the most important thing on Married at First Sight NZ groom Raymond Wedlake's mind was planning his 21st birthday celebrations.
He was living in Melbourne, working for a call centre and enjoying the cosmopolitan city's party scene, totally carefree. But a fatal car accident that killed his younger brother quickly changed that.
"My brother Jamie passed away when he was 18, a week after I'd been back in New Zealand for my 21st," says Ray, 31.
"He'd been at the Hanmer Springs hot pools for a relaxing day with his girlfriend and drove home that night. He fell asleep at the wheel and crossed the centre line."
Jamie collided with a Landcruiser carrying three people on the Hurunui River Bridge in Christchurch. Although his girlfriend and the other car's occupants received injuries, Jamie was the only casualty.
It was after a night out in Melbourne with friends, who'd organised belated birthday celebrations for Ray, that he received the devastating news.
"The first thing I asked was whose fault it was. Fortunately, Jamie was the only one to pass away because he didn't have to live with having killed someone else," says Ray, who was coupled with Jonathan Trenberth, 31, in MAFS.
"It was a huge shock and I would've taken it even harder if I hadn't come home for that weekend, because it'd been two years since I'd seen him."
The week before the accident, Jamie and Ray spent a day together water skiing. "We used to go on lots of family holidays and weekends away water skiing," he recalls.
"I used to be the sporty one in the family, before I started smoking! But when I came back, Jamie was outdoing me in everything!"
The outspoken Three reality TV star says his late brother was gentle and a lot quieter than him.
"Everyone loved Jamie and he's probably a lot more like Jordan [Dare] on the show than me," he smiles.
"Jordan is very genuine and lovely, and I get along with him really well. Although he does try and keep me quiet at times!"
After Ray arrived back home to help plan Jamie's funeral, he realised his parents Steve, 60, and Helen, 59, needed his ongoing support. He resigned from his job and returned to their family home in the South Island.
"I moved back in with them and started a business installing blinds and curtains, and it took off. My dad started working for me later on."
Six months after Jamie's death, Ray's family were faced with another car accident.
"My nana had a serious crash on the night of Dad's birthday dinner, and broke both her legs, and was told she wouldn't walk again," explains Ray, who has an older sister, Corina Wedlake, 34.
"But she did, the stubborn old girl!"
Six years ago, shortly after his nana sadly passed away from pneumonia after being diagnosed with cancer weeks earlier, Ray's parents ended their marriage.
"I and my then-partner bought the family home off them, mainly to make things easier and because I was already looking to buy," he says.
More hardship emerged when Ray's mum attempted to take her own life.
He recalls, "One night I got a call from her asking me to come over because she wasn't doing too well. I said I'd finish dinner and be there, and rocked up about 30 to 45 minutes later."
He knocked on the door but there was no answer.
"I was banging on the windows and rang my cousin who lived on the street and we smashed the back door in, got inside and there she was on the bed unresponsive." Ray phoned the ambulance and recalls, "The only thing I cared about at that point was if she was breathing."
Another time the devoted son received a goodbye text from an emotionally-worn Helen.
"I cancelled all my work for the afternoon and managed to find Mum at a spot she normally went to and got her put in a mental health support facility."
Around that time Ray and his partner broke up.
Finally, after being the backbone for everyone else around him, Ray started experiencing his own suicidal thoughts.
"I'd just stay at home and drink and constantly break down," he shares. "But I told myself my parents couldn't lose another son.
"I ended up losing work because I was so withdrawn and depressed – and it affected my business immensely."
Ray sought the help of a counsellor his mother knew, where he learnt that seven years after Jamie's death, he still hadn't properly grieved for his beloved brother.
"Dad did his best and managed to keep the business afloatfor me, and here we are today," says Ray, who no longer needs counselling and is happy both his parents have settled in new relationships.
"My experiences shaped my outlook on life and it's the reason I am the way I am now," he shrugs.
"I don't bottle too much up these days. I say what I think and get it out, and then move on. I don't take life too seriously because I know I could be gone tomorrow."
Where to get help:
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide Crisis Helpline on 0508 TAUTOKO, text "help" to Lifeline on 4357 or call them on 0800 543 354.
For other mental health issues, call 0800 111 757, or text 4202 to talk to a trained counsellor free, call Youthline on 0800 376 633, or Outline on 0800 OUTLINE (688 5463).
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