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Bob - Interview 17

Age at interview: 59
Brief Outline: In 1998 Bob's son, Darren, died while on holiday in France. He died by hanging and the French police were sure it was suicide. Bob and his wife were shocked. They have found support via Compassionate Friends, SOBS and the internet group Parents of Suicide.
Background: Bob is a keyboard operator. He is married and has a grown-up child. He had another child who died. Ethnic background/nationality: White English.

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Bob’s son, Darren, died in 1998 when he was 19 years old. As a teenager Darren had sometimes seemed a little “down” or depressed but he had never expressed these emotions openly. Usually he seemed happy. He had recently enjoyed bungee jumping and was planning to take a group of friends with him to do it again.
 
In August 1998 he went off to France with two friends for a holiday. One day, after an argument, he went upstairs. His friends found him hanging. The French police issued a death certificate saying that he had died by suicide due to a broken neck. However, later in England, after an inquest, the coroner delivered an “open” verdict because he said that he could not be sure that Darren had meant to kill himself. He said he could not be sure of intent because Darren had not left a note and because an autopsy could not be done to rule out that Darren had not been under the influence of alcohol at the time of his death.
 
Bob and his wife Lynda were deeply shocked by the unexpected news of their son’s death. They found it hard to believe what had happened. The local funeral director arranged for Darren’s body to be brought home. Bob and his daughter went to see Darren’s body at the funeral parlour.  He had been embalmed when he was still in France.
 
Darren’s funeral was a sad and moving occasion, attended by many of his friends and colleagues. Music from REM, including “Everybody hurts” was played at the service. Darren was buried in the local graveyard. Bob and his wife frequently visit the grave.

Bob was interviewed in September 2007.

 

Bob had no idea that his son, Darren, was depressed. Bob thinks that Darren may have found it...

Bob had no idea that his son, Darren, was depressed. Bob thinks that Darren may have found it...

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Our son Darren, he was 19, died on 31st August 1998. He died by suicide whilst on holiday in France. We didn’t know he was depressed, he’d been a full time student at college doing A’ levels, he, he started that in 1997, and by the time 1998 came he’d had finished with all of them. Because of one thing or another and he’d been; but he got himself a full time job and some time he came home, he used to come home feeling a bit, look a bit down and I spoke to him, but we just took it as the normal teenage; going from education into you know full time employment. But he had a good job, he was at minor supervisory level for a local building supply firm, and well I gave him every chance to talk, but he didn’t seem to want to. In August he’d arranged several things to do, he’d done a bungee jump in 1997 and he, he enjoyed it so much he wanted his mates at work to do it as well, and they, he had set it all up for the whole group of them to go and he’d paid for them and he was going, pay for it. And it was going be the Saturday he came back from holiday so he had plans, and he went away, and then it was the August bank holiday Monday, I was, I was at work in the evening and my wife Lynda got the call and that it one of his friends he was with, he’d died by suicide, and Lynda had to phone me up at work. Got home as best I could and, and that’s when our journey started.

 

One of the reasons we think might be behind Darren [and what happened] is the “Men don’t cry” attitude, and men, men don’t show emotions. He probably held it in, all his emotions in too much, he didn’t let it out. And all I would say is, men do cry, and men are allowed to cry, and we have emotions, we should show ‘em and I’ve cried, I’ve cried on TV as well, national TV I did some interviews with various programmes and yeah, men do cry.

 

Darren left no note. Not knowing why he took his own life has been very hard for his parents.

Darren left no note. Not knowing why he took his own life has been very hard for his parents.

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Did he leave a note or anything?


No note, nothing. And one of the hardest things we’ve had to deal with is, “Why?” And we keep asking ourselves that question. We know we’re not going to get an answer, I remember saying to Lynda soon after it happened, when she was on about, “Could it have been this, could it have been that?” I said, “Well the only person who knows is gone, he’s taken it with him.” But afterwards I started to do it myself, you do, you, well the great human mind does not, does not like mysteries, it always like to find out answers to questions that, that’s why you have so many history programmes and we like to find out what could have happened at…, so we’re the same, we, we keep asking, “Why?” And we’ll go down a particular route, come out nowhere and later on we’ll go down a different route and try something else but, we, we know, we might know, we might have well said what the truth is, but we don’t know the truth.


No of course.

 

So and that’s, that’s one of the biggest things that’s probably, well biggest thing for everybody I think is the; it’s to know why. And not everybody leaves notes.


No.


And sometimes people do leave notes but there’s still no answer. “It’s not your fault, love Mum.” Or “I love you Mum.” Or something, and it’s not your fault but it doesn’t say what the reason is, and, and that’s one of the biggest things.


Which is difficult?


It’s one of, yes, the biggest difficult thing to get over is not knowing why.

 

Bob's granddaughter was four when his son died. She was told that he had died and she went to the...

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You have a granddaughter who was only four at the time, could you say what you did about telling her, and does she ask about it and how would you recommend to other people that they handle telling young children?

 

Well, at the time we took the advice of two people, the local vicar and the funeral director, or lady from the funeral director. She used to come round here to help us, and she told us, “Do not let, do not leave our granddaughter out, include her in it.” So we, we took her to a service, she was there with us to say goodbye to her Uncle Darren. We had plans if she started being a problem, or if it started being a problem, some, one of her friends would take her out, so we had things in line but she was as, as good as, as good as anything on the day. We felt it was, it was right we should include her in that because I mean it was her uncle, and in years to come she can’t, she can’t turn round and say, “Well, why didn’t you let me go?” That’s what had happened to this lady, when her father died she didn’t take her daughter to the funeral and afterwards she, the daughter said, “Well why can’t I go and say goodbye?”


Mm.


And the other person, the other person was as I say the vicar, his wife worked at a local school and he said to us, “Do not lie to your children. You don’t have to tell them the complete truth but do not lie.” ‘Cos one time he was round, round at the school where his wife was working and a little boy came up and said, “I’m angry with God,” and he said, “Why?” He said, “Well, he took my Granddad away.” And the way it’d been explained to the boy he was blaming God.


Mm.


And so when we talk to [our grand-daughter]; we didn’t tell her how her uncle died. Obviously we told her he had died, but then people, other people were telling her afterwards that he was on a cloud, he was in hospital, and he was at the doctors and it became a problem for us to try and get her to go to a hospital because she thought that she’d be kept in, so please do not lie to children. Some time afterwards she did ask her Mum what had happened, she was playing with her friends at the time and so her Mum wasn’t really ready for it, but she answered herself in some way, and she said like, “Was, was he murdered?” And our daughter said, “Well in a way he was.” And fairly recently we have actually included her in a conversation where we mentioned that Darren died by suicide, so you should tell them but, when they’re ready for it.

 

After their son died Bob and Lynda decided to support each other in their grief. They were...

After their son died Bob and Lynda decided to support each other in their grief. They were...

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It [Darren’s suicide], it was an absolute shock and totally unexpected. You never expected to hear the word suicide you know in our house, it was some, nothing ever talked about and we had to make arrangements. His friends parents went out to fetch them back and, because they’d gone in Darren’s car and they couldn’t drive it back so they went and fetched his friends, friends back and all his luggage, and then we had to start the process of getting him home. We used a local funeral firm and they sorted it all out for us. But then you’ve got to start the, coping with this traumatic experience and I mean, like most married couples, Lynda and I had been married 30 odd years at the time, no 20 odd years at the time, and we were just going along comfortable together, but when this happened, this was something that could’ve either torn us apart or brought us together. We made the conscious decision at the time we, we both brought Darren into the world, we both see him out of it and we worked together and one of the biggest things we realised is that even though you’re grieving for the same loss, you grieve differently, you are individuals. But it’s so important to, if you can, to work together and when’s one down the other one’s up and you can help each other through it.


Mm. 


And I’m fortunate Lynda has helped me through it, and I’ve helped Lynda through it so, I don’t know what we’d have done without each other.

 

A local reporter who attended Darren's inquest wrote a compassionate article.

A local reporter who attended Darren's inquest wrote a compassionate article.

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Is there anything else about the inquest, I was asking you what it, what it felt like to be there? And you said it was alright.


Yes, in our case, in our circumstances it was fine, the coroner was very Good, and because we had friends there, as people from Compassionate Friends had gone as well and we had Darren, a couple of Darren’s friends there and their parents, so we, we had a lot of support. The press was there but it was only the local reporter, and it, again they covered it very compassionately in the paper, just a local bit in the, in the, well piece in the local paper. So we didn’t find it intrusive, or hurtful like some people can, some people have a lot more to go through if there’s a lot more doubt or as is sometimes the press don’t always help people because they like to dig up all the dirt at times but in this case it was the headline just said “depressed teenager hung himself on holiday” or something, in France or something, and that was about, that’s all it said you know.

 

After Bob's son died the insurance company refused to pay to bring him home or to bring his car...

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To go back to insurance you said that on your son’s AA insurance when he took his car to France, it excluded suicide.


Yeah, that excluded suicide.  It was the first clause, death by suicide.


They wouldn’t bring the car back.


Wouldn’t bring the car back wouldn’t pay out any hospital, any fees we might’ve had to pay. Well we have, so yeah we had to pay for, we had to pay to bring him home, if  the insurance cover had been there, they would’ve, that insurance would’ve paid for him to come home. Now we had to pay that out, we were fortunate that Darren, Darren’s firm had in-service insurance, and they did pay up, and so.


Otherwise it would’ve been very difficult.


Otherwise it would’ve been very financially difficult yes.

 

Bob and Lynda put up a headstone which 'summed up Darren's life'. They visit their son's grave...

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Bob and Lynda put up a headstone which 'summed up Darren's life'. They visit their son's grave...

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Mm. Did you have a special stone made for him later?


We had, we had yes, we got a stone from one of the local firms. It was actually a new design that had just come out because I didn’t want anything with crosses on or things like that, and nothing too fancy. This one was; summed up we felt Darren’s life probably it was smooth face with rough round the edges, the smooth with the rough like the life he must’ve led I mean, and it’s a new, fairly new design that just come out.

 

And do you go there sometimes?

 

We go there every, all the time, we go at least once a week. While we’re over here, I mean if we go away we go before we leave and go when we come back. We look after the grass up there, we cut the grass, that’s all I can do now for Darren is to just look after him, after his plot, his his garden, if you like, it’s is his garden. You allowed so much to have your own bits and pieces out up there and the rest of it has to be lawn, or what they call lawn garden, lawn cemetery. So I cut the grass ‘cos I don’t like them doing it, ‘cos they make a mess whenever they do it, but they’ve got a job to do and it’s a big site so they do it the best they can but I as I say I take a little extra care.

 

Do you find it a comforting place to be?

 

Yes.

 

Or a painful place to be?

 

Well again it’s mixed, mixed emotions, comforting at least it’s a sign that he’s there, his name’s up there, but painful that he’s there and not with us in life.

 

It was an 'open' verdict. Bob thinks a verdict of suicide would have been better because he...

It was an 'open' verdict. Bob thinks a verdict of suicide would have been better because he...

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You felt it was important to go [to the inquest]?


It was important to go and we had some friends go along with us as well, and the coroner read out the various bits and came to the open verdict because he could not prove intent, he could not prove that Darren intended to die by suicide, because he hadn’t tried before, because he hadn’t left a note, and because he might’ve had alcohol in his system he could not faithfully reach a verdict of intent.


Mm.


Now, he, he was good, he was very compassionate and we have met him since, and we just sometimes feel that perhaps an open verdict was not the right verdict, because is it, is it, is Darren now not a statistic, because if he’s not a figure on a suicide list, does it, is it an inaccurate balance of the figures shown? ‘Cos these figures need to be accurate to show what’s actually happening to our youngsters. But he, as I say, the coroner he did what he had to do and he was very compassionate with it, and, I’ve got no qualms about it.


Is that the main reason why you would’ve preferred a verdict of suicide for the accuracy of the figures?


Yes.


Were there any other reasons why you didn’t…?


No other reason at all. It, it’s accuracy of figures, I mean in the actual death certificate issued in France, does say, suicide, so he is somewhere on records somewhere, but in this county it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Does he show up as a suicide or not? Because sometimes it, to get funding for various things you need to have lots happening.


I feel it is important for figures to be accurate, because of funding for people trying to fund research into, into these reasons why so many people die by suicide. But I can see the other side as well where people have doubts about whether their loved one did actually die by suicide or whether it was a cry for help that went wrong, and it’s also still a certain amount of stigma involved with suicide.

 

Bob finds POS very comforting. Support is there 24/7 and if he is feeling ‘down’ he knows that he...

Bob finds POS very comforting. Support is there 24/7 and if he is feeling ‘down’ he knows that he...

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Parents of Suicide are, basically it’s an internet e-mail support group, but we have a website as well which gives all the different support things, there’s a page or pages which have loved ones' names, photos, and a message about them. Then we’ve got one called “Suicide Memorial Wall” where they have all the photos up on this website and every month they have a list of their names, a list of the names of the people who died in that month scrolling across the website so, they, so you can read people’s names from that month, and we have information pages on there, different things that can help you.


How often would you look at it for example?


I go on it every night.


Oh do you?

 

And most people do it one, they go on it once a day. If, but again it’s, it’s like anything, it’s, it’s, if you feel you, it’s too much for you, you don’t, you come off it for a while. And you use it when you want to, it’s, I, I do it every night ‘cos it’s something I, I, I find helpful and I send out messages to, on anniversaries of birthdates and, I’ve been on there now since 1999 I think, I joined that website, so I’m now one of the older members and I can offer help to others if, if I can find the words to put down. We share poems, and inspirational quotes; people find, they send us, so it’s all different sorts of things, and we just release our feelings on this website, on the e-mail support group site.

 

Bob describes what happens when he and his wife Lynda go to a Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide retreat in America. They go every year.

Bob describes what happens when he and his wife Lynda go to a Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide retreat in America. They go every year.

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So the “Parents of Suicide” website is developing and changing all the time.


Yes, yes it’s updated all the time, it’s an active site, and it’s also linked with another site called “Family and Friends of Suicide.” It’s run by the same couple, for people who’ve lost members of family and friends.


Do you look at that one as well sometimes?


I don’t go on that one myself.


One’s enough I guess.


One’s enough to keep me busy, and she’s, there’s some of these e-mail support groups who; “Grieving Parents” and other links, link, other ones that are linked in various forms so it’s all different types there for different people, and once a year, no, once a year we, Lynda and I go over to America to join up with a gathering of “Parents of Suicide.” They hold four retreats a year now in this lady’s house, in Tennessee, near Nashville, and we go over once a year and meet up, sometimes there’s been about 70 people staying at this person’s house, but she’s decided it’s too much, she’s reducing it down to about 30 a gathering now. But we go and we share with other people there. We share, we live with them and we go and visit other people and stay with other families that have lost children to suicide and Darren’s name gets mentioned in other places and he, he’s on this, he’s in this, where we go in Tennessee she’s got a butterfly pavilion where she, where we get together to have meals and that sort of thing, and she’s got a memorial wall up in the, in the back section of that and Darren’s photo, pictures on that.


Oh that’s nice.


His name is on a brick in Evansville in Indiana for another couple we met, he’s on a wall in British Columbia in Canada, it’s to keep Darren’s name going. We, what we do we do in memory of Darren. Because Darren, we weren’t ashamed of Darren when he was alive, and we’re not ashamed of him now and we want to talk about him, we want to share him and…


It’s very comforting all that?


Yes, and, and that’s what we do.

 

Bob and Lynda always stamp a butterfly and write Darren’s name onto every card they send out....

Bob and Lynda always stamp a butterfly and write Darren’s name onto every card they send out....

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…when it came to the first Christmas without Darren, up to that point Lynda had always sent the cards out you know, she couldn’t face doing it because Darren’s birthday was the 15th December, or it is the 15th December, so it’s only 10 days later you’ve got Christmas, and we always had this thing, not starting Christmas things until after Darren’s birthday, so come the first one and it was so hard, and so much going on, that I took over sending the cards because I felt it would be a way to send the messages thanking people for all their support at the time, and well we don’t want to leave Darren’s name off, so I’ve got, I’ve got a stamp, a rubber stamp with a butterfly because one of the symbols of Compassionate Friends is a butterfly, so I just stamped the butterfly onto a card and put Darren’s name on, with those gel pens, so it stood out enough for me to see it and if people, it wasn’t in their face so, and since then that’s all I, so that’s what I’ve done to every card I’ve sent out, I’ve, I’ll do that. And if I send it to somebody else who’s lost sort of a loved one recently or to somebody who’s lost their child, I put their name on it as well. But every so often I send that to new groups so the new members can read it and they are so grateful too, because they don’t want to leave their child’s names off of cards, but…

 

That’s really nice.


Yes, that’s it so it is, his name appears without being put there, it’s a sign, and it’s just something that helps you. ‘Cos that’s one thing we’ve learnt over the time is you’ve got to do what’s best for you. Don’t worry what, what other people think you should be doing or not doing, this is not something you get over, it’s not an illness, it’s an experience you’re having to face and you learn to cope with it. And you have to do things that are right for yourselves.


Mm.


And everybody’s different, everybody’s an individual. So you do what’s good for you and if we can help others by giving them ideas that’s, and they adapt it to suit themselves, so that’s, that’s what a lot of our journey has been about is…

 

On the anniversary of Darren’s death Bob and Lynda sometimes release balloons with a message...

On the anniversary of Darren’s death Bob and Lynda sometimes release balloons with a message...

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I mean we always have a candlelight for him, I light a candle every evening anyway but we, when we go up to the cemetery every week we light a tea light up there, and on his birthday and anniversary more candles are lit, we release balloons on these special occasions, we attach a message to them, and send them off and we’ve had quite a few back from various places, that helps us, you know just sending a message up to him.


Do people pick up the message and then write back to you?


Yes, we’ve had, the very first time we did it was his, well his first anniversary. He, he died on a August bank holiday Monday, which was on August 31st, so the following year we had August bank holiday Monday, and the 31st as two separate days, so we did something special, we had a we had a family and friends picnic day up at the local scout camp site where he spent a lot of time, and we released balloons there. And the very first message we got back was from, was by e-mail, the power of the internet again, because as I’d included my e-mail address, it was from some youngsters who’d just been to the Notting Hill Carnival, and they’d been celebrating the night before and they was staggering down to get some breakfast and they saw this thing float down from above them and they thought, “Oh message.” And they were saddened with, tinged with sadness when they read our message but they sent a very nice e-mail to me.

 

That’s a really nice idea.


So they send the cards back so that I’ve got some of the cards home now and it’s nice when they do, when they do reply to it. But the last two anniversaries, one of Darren’s favourite meals or takeaways was Kebab and chips from his local, from our local fish and chip shop, so the last couple of, well we’ve been out for meals at various places or takeaways, but the last three years we’ve taken, we’ve got the Kebab and chips and taken them up to the cemetery and sat by Darren’s grave on a couple of chairs and sit there sharing with him, if he can’t come to us, we’ll go to him and, we, and that was one of the reasons why we want, I wanted him buried ‘cos we have a stone, ‘cos when you have them cremated there’s no stone, there might be a little plaque but there’s no memorial stone.

 

Bob says that others should never expect him and his wife to be the same as before, and that...

Bob says that others should never expect him and his wife to be the same as before, and that...

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Let them talk about the bereavement. Don’t, don’t try and stop them talking. And let them, …it’s not something you get over, it’s something they’ve got to learn to cope with and don’t expect people to be as they were before, we’re not the same people we were, we never will be the old Bob, the old Lynda. And you can’t have those back. Part of you has died, you know and your life becomes different. And let other people do the same. And the other important thing I would say to survivors is do not do anything drastic for the first 12 months. Do not move house, wait for 12 months and see what you feel like then. When this first happened Lynda wanted to get out of this house, but after a while she realised this was the place that had the most memories of him.

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