Gerry (pictured on the far left hand side) with Clare’s children

Living with suicide

I have been bereaved by suicide three times, each one very different and devastating, leaving an overwhelming sense of brokenness. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of my mum’s suicide. Even though she talked about suicide throughout my childhood, it still came as a shock when she took her own life in 2001. She had struggled with her mental health as long as I can remember although as a child, I didn’t understand what was going on and as a family we were unable to get the help she so desperately needed. She would frequently get annoyed and upset and threaten to take her own life. As a family we would rally round and try and look after her, whilst at the same time we were not allowed to tell anyone what was happening at home. In between these episodes there would be periods of calm until the next time and this cycle continued throughout the years. As hard as we tried, she carried with her an enormous sense of pain which we couldn’t heal. Her death came at the same time as I had my first child and whilst struggling to be a new mum, her suicide knocked me sideways. I felt such a sense of sadness, failure, shame and isolation. I felt the stigma of suicide hit me hard, people ‘wanted to give me space’ was the frequent phrase used at the time. I experienced how uncomfortable people were around death, grief and especially suicide. This made me feel silenced in my grief. But gradually as a family we got through those following difficult months and years.

And then in January 2011, another violent storm hit us when my nephew Gerry, aged 26 years old took his own life. I didn’t see this coming and although I knew he struggled at times, I had no idea he was feeling so bad. I had encouraged him to talk about his worries, which he did on a regular basis, but he never mentioned suicide to me, and I never thought to ask that important question, ‘are you thinking about ending your life?’ Gerry was a loving and funny guy, making jokes and funny voices all the time. I just didn’t see any similarities between my mum and Gerry and didn’t appreciate the depth of his pain. If I had asked that important question, then maybe Gerry would still be alive. This is a regret I live with every day. Sadly, not long after Gerry’s death, in 2014 his dad, who had struggled for years with alcohol and mental health problems, also took his own life. Each time I fell back into that dark black pit, but suicide never leaves you, it stays with you for life. As the years roll on, I’ve had to accept what’s happened and learn to live with it and move on. In December 2020, my son’s close friend Callum took his life at age 18, my heart ached knowing what Callum’s family and friends were going through. There are far too many lives lost by suicide.

If you feel your loved ones would be better off without you, this is so not true, we would rather listen to your worries and hug you instead of attending your funeral, please please talk to someone. If you have been bereaved by suicide, reach out to connect with friends or family, you are not alone. For anyone who knows someone affected by bereavement, loss or suicide, no words can change what’s happened but being there with them and hugs go a long way to helping their recovery. We all need more kindness in our lives.

Take care

Clare

The following services offer confidential support from trained staff and volunteers. You can talk about anything that is troubling you, no matter how difficult:

  • Call 116 123 to talk to Samaritans, or email jo@samaritans.org. Samaritans are there to listen 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and it’s always free to call from any landline or mobile phone.
  • Call 111 to talk to NHS 24’s mental health hub.
  • Call 0800 83 85 87 to talk to Breathing Space. The service is open 24 hours at weekends (6pm Friday — 6am Monday) and 6pm to 2am on weekdays (Monday — Thursday).
  • Text “SHOUT” to 85258 to contact the Shout Crisis Text Line, text “YM” if you are under 19.