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Bereavement due to suicide

Coping with grief and keeping memories alive

 
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During the time her friend was missing Ann wrote a diary every day. It helped Ann to keep a hold...

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Age at interview: 60
Sex: Female
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And you know, you do keep yourself together at that early time.   Because, well I had to, there was no-one else.  I could only deal with a lot of the things and I just, I just made up my mind that I was going to keep a hold on reality and I kept a diary  [um]  just so that I knew what day and date it was so that every morning I wrote down what day it was, what date it was and anything significant, you know, that happened, that I felt I needed to remember or whatever ...


Hmm.


… and that helped me to keep sane, I think.

 
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After Dominique died Lucreta found it therapeutic to write down her feelings and express her...

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Age at interview: 57
Sex: Female
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Yes, as I was saying earlier on, I wrote this book and it’s called, “The Valleys of the Shadow.” But the initial name was “Life after suicide, a mother’s inner cry.” And this document was really good because it enabled me to write everything as I felt; angry, whatever I felt I wrote it as it was, and like a year later someone helped me go through the document and now it’s polished, so that therapy was to just, you know when you’re angry at someone, you just write, you do, and even today columns negative and positive, it speaks to me, and it’s support from my church you know, so it’s been really really good, but I never knew there was so many emotional pains in this world.


Barbara sometimes wrote notes to her son, even though he was dead. In her notes she talked about her daily life. For example, she described her walks and the leaves and flowers and told him about a new baby in the family. She also had other ways of coping with her grief. Barbara and her husband, Colin, planted a tree in memory of their son.
 

Barbara felt she could communicate with Matt by writing notes to him, and she says a prayer at...

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Age at interview: 68
Sex: Female
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Have you used any other way of sort of coping with all this? Did you keep a memory box or have you done anything else at all?


Yes, I have got a memory box and I’ve kept some of the things Matt had. I don’t know if it’s a good thing but his, he had a red filing box and I’ve kept that. And I have got a little book and after [he died] we planted a tree.


Mm.

 

I write notes from time to time, I used to do it more often. And I don’t do it as often now, and that’s not, and I asked myself recently actually why I did it less often, it would be nice to think that it was because I didn’t need to, I don’t think it is that, when I really, when I feel low, I think I, I say to myself it’s because “What’s the point?” But I don’t often feel like that, and it’s just, in a strange way it’s I feel I’m communicating with him.


So you write notes to him?


They’re, they’re a mixture. Sometimes they’re just a note about, came today, sometimes I say, came with Henry the dog and, I describe you know, if it’s spring time and whether there are leaves are coming out and what the flowers are around, and I saw a particular bird. Sometimes it’s just like that. Sometimes it has been, I actually do say, “Matt,” you know.


Do you keep the notes?

 

Yes I’ve got it in a little book, yes, yes. And sometimes, earlier on I told him when you know new grandchildren had come, because he, he was alive when my daughter had, her first two were born and our sons first daughter was born, but the others have come since, so.


Do you have a spiritual faith that helps you or not?


No, I wish, I want to have. I was brought up as a strict Methodist and I, but it’s a long, a long time ago that I even, I even when I was in the 6th form, I began to question things. I think perhaps I had too much of a, going to church three times a, and I began to question things and it was mostly seeing children, suffering with cancer and things which made me think that you know I can’t reconcile this, I can’t find any answers, so I [sigh], I suppose it, well I, yes I have lost faith and yet there is a small part of me which just occasionally, particularly when I’m out walking and there’s a lovely, lovely day and, and some small part of me, just for fleeting seconds, I think there has to be something more than this, and, then I think perhaps it’s arrogant of man to think that just because we can’t understand it, there isn’t something else, so there is still, there is still some part of me that, well there’s a spiritual dimension to me and there is some part of me which wants it to be a Christian belief. So, I, I go on hoping that, that I might you know, find some faith but...


Mm.


...I don’t know. But I haven’t entirely, I haven’t entirely dismissed it. That’s sounds very silly doesn’t it but …


No, does that, does that help you with your…


It would help me.


With your loss of Matt, does it help?


Yes it, yes it would help me, it does help me, and I do, I do, I, I, I say a prayer every night, and I, I think why? Why do I? I think of Soames in the Forsyte Saga who, who said, he said his prayers as a sort of insurance policy, just in case there was anyone there. I don’t do that. I don’t think I, that’s not my conscious motivation so I think there has to be still some, there’s still some part of me that, and I sometimes talk to, well, yes I do, I sort of talk to Matt, when I’m in a bit of a quandary about things I sometimes say, “Oh I, help me to”, you know, “go on the right lines.” So there, there must be, there is a spiritual dimension.

After Helen’s daughter died, her partner brought her tea in the morning and ran her a bath. This helped her start the day in a “slightly better way”. Months later Helen found great comfort by helping others. She helped people who attended the local Homeless Centre.

 

Helen read in a Buddhist book that even when someone is dead you can still do things for their...

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Age at interview: 53
Sex: Female
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…sometimes I actually feel happy now, and I feel about 95% normal, but I think it’s because I’ve found different ways to feel that way. At the beginning I went to Cruse, and I went for about seven weeks, and I went there because my daughter’s psychiatrist told me to go there and that helped enormously. I’ve also started helping at a homeless centre, where my daughter used to go sometimes, although she wasn’t homeless, the people that are vulnerable can go there. People that run out of money half way through the week, they can’t look after their own money properly, they go there, and I’ve felt that, I felt that going there I was closer to her. And I also felt as if I was doing it for her. I read in a, although I’m not Buddhist, I read in a Buddhist book that even when somebody’s dead you can still do things for their soul. And it just seemed very important to me to do that.


So those two things have really helped, Cruse and helping at the Homeless Centre?


Yes. Massively, and the Church too.


And the Church.


But I think of all, the Church and the homeless centre have helped me the most. And I think, not at the beginning, because I couldn’t have done that for the first year, I’ve been going to the homeless centre for 18 months, so it was 18 months after Charlotte died I started going there, and I couldn’t have done that for the first year I think. I think you have to know yourself when you’re ready to do things, and I think it’s different for everybody, on when they’re ready to do things, but for me I needed to go back to work, I needed to, to be doing things all the time. And when I started going to the homeless centre it made a massive difference to me. And I think, because I’d taken care of Charlotte for such a long time, when she died everything just stopped. And that was as bad as losing her really, because I had big holes in my life.

Other people also found that by helping others they could cope more easily with what had happened. For example, after his son died Arthur and others started Papyrus, a voluntary UK organisation committed to the prevention of young suicide and the promotion of mental health and emotional wellbeing.
 

By helping to start Papyrus Arthur felt that he was giving something back to Leon.

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Age at interview: 70
Sex: Male
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Well, I did mention a little earlier on in the filming that I was so grateful to Leon for giving me the chance to help him that I decided that I would try and do something and I, actually went to, with Samaritans for a little while, but wasn’t very happy with that. And then I eventually was listening to some, I suppose it would be, we’re going back a few years after Leon’s death now, probably about 4, 5, whatever it was, and a friend rang me up to say, “Oh there was a programme you should listen to, it’s on Woman’s Hour.” So, I thought that’s a bit strange so I tuned into this programme and one of the ladies speaking on the programme was a lady who eventually became part of our organisation. And I was so much at one with the various speakers on this broadcast that I rang the BBC and I got the names of a few people, or I was able to give my phone number across and they contacted me.

 

And it finished up with a lady who was involved with an organisation called SOBS [Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide] and I; let me put this in perspective, it was then that I got involved with the Samaritans but I really found that it wasn’t the sort of thing that I wanted to do and I, I eventually got to know of a lady locally who was involved with this SOBS operation and when I did talk to her about it felt that I couldn’t possibly be a prop for two or three years for somebody because like having gone through my own son’s death, I think that it was something that I had to do by myself. But this lady said to me, “Well there’s somebody I want you to perhaps talk to who is organising a, a little group and she’s going round, who’s lost her son to suicide and she’s going round speaking to hospitals”. So this lady, I eventually did get to meet, and found that this was the sort of thing that I wanted to do, explain to people about the impact of what it has on the family, and that there should be some better facilities able to cope with suicidal people and that when we get emergency and crisis situations we should have some drop in centres and things like that.

 

And it eventually finished up with a group of us all getting together through this lady who was giving the talks to forming an organisation called Papyrus. Which I’ve found very, very, very helpful to me in giving back to Leon this chance he gave me to help him. Say, “Look let’s all get together, let’s see what we can do”. And that’s how the group came to be formed. Where a group of very, few, initially I think it was about 13 of us, in the early days, there were probably four of us on the committee, thought, well, you know, we must do something about all this.

Kavita found it comforting to walk around in the places where her brother had been before he died. She said that she felt close to him in areas that he loved, at the crematorium and also where he had died (also see ‘The headstone or other memorial’).
 
Some people said that their faith and the church had helped them enormously, but others had lost their religious faith as the result of their loved ones suicide.
 

Helen had a re-found faith before Charlotte died, which helped enormously after her death. Helen...

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Age at interview: 53
Sex: Female
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And since then how have you found any help?


I found a lot of help. Before Charlotte died, I can’t remember, I think about a year before she died I’d started going back to the Church, and I’d spoken to a retired vicar on several occasions, I used to have appointments with him on a Thursday morning for about an hour. He was lovely. And, so I’d found a, I’d found a, I had a re-found faith before she died, which helped enormously afterwards, and actually going to the church after she died, I went nearly every week, and to begin with I cried through every service, I think the whole way through, but and I had a feeling that I didn’t have to explain how I felt there, I had a feeling that I was totally understood there, not, not by the congregation or the vicar, but just by God I think.

The Catholic Church has traditionally maintained that it is a ‘mortal sin’ to die by suicide. Some people we talked to had been reassured that the church is now more liberal on this matter. A priest assured Steve that his sister would not go to hell and made Steve feel much better.
 
Many people told us that it was really important to keep memories of their loved ones alive. When Amanda’s son died she asked his friends to write about Lori on brightly coloured bits of paper. She kept all the notes in a memory box with some photographs. Looking at what his friends wrote about Lori makes her smile.
 
Michael kept a box of small things that had belonged to his friend before he died. He also kept a scrapbook with newspaper cuttings about what had happened, and an obituary that had been written for his friend.
 

Michael kept things that had belonged to his friend as a physical reminder of him. He felt that...

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Age at interview: 42
Sex: Male
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Yes, I kept a kind of scrap book because, …you know just some small things, like we put a, I put a death notice in the newspaper and cut that out and kept that. And a friend of mine actually wrote a little obituary in a local paper, for the fellow who died and I kept that, cut that out, kept that, and my friend, the friend who died had actually you know brought me back a little kind of brooch thing from, well a trip he took to the United States once, and I kept all these things in a, in a box together, and certainly at the time I would look through that you know on quite a regular basis, and I think, it, these, these things you could actually touch and feel and handle, did, you know, it’s quite odd, some of them, they were just words on a, on a page, but they were kind of physical reminders of his physical presence I suppose so… that was quite meaningful to me, I mean, …in the immediate aftermath of his death it tended to just to make me upset and you know I would cry, and and be very very sad, but I probably had to, and …and certainly you know over the next couple of years say, you know I would get those things out and look at them from time to time, and just, to be reminded of him was a very intense feeling, and it was…, it was kind of an odd mixture of upsetting and and, I don’t really know how to explain it actually. I would continue to get upset but at the same time I would want to do it because there was something about you know not just consigning him to history I suppose, there’s some ongoing part of him that was somehow embodied in these things and so that kind of sense that he, something about him was still having an effect in the world you know was, was, was quite powerful.

Rachel lost her mother from suicide when she was only a teenager. She has kept a box of jewellery and some postcards which her mother wrote to her own mother when she was travelling. Rachel has also kept a diary which had belonged to her mother and some letters.

Many people spent time and effort ensuring that the person who had died would never be forgotten. This seemed to help them cope with their grief.

 
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Jenny felt driven to ensure that David would be remembered through fitting tributes for the...

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
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The things that helped me the most at the beginning were planning the perfect funeral, setting up the bursary and doing the media stuff (to raise awareness about bipolar disease). I felt driven to ensure that David would be remembered through fitting tributes for the exceptional man that he was and I didn’t really care how many hours in the day or night it took to achieve that end. Listening to David’s music (he had an enormous collection) and seeing our friends and family helped too. Then our daughter was born, and although it has been tiring, looking after her has probably saved me from going under. She is part of David but also, of course, an amazing little person in her own right and she gives me her biggest smiles when I really need them! I have also just started seeing a counsellor from Cruse and think that is going to be helpful. Finally, there is an email support group for those widowed by suicide – a spin off of the WAY email support group – and I am finding that especially helpful, as so many of the emotions expressed are so similar to those I have felt.

Susan and her husband collected donations for a memorial bench in their sons’ memory. They both got great comfort from visiting their sons’ graves (also see ‘The headstone or other memorials’). Susan was tattooed with both their names, Barry and Stephen.

 
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Having a tattoo with her son's names was a personal way of remembering them. She and her husband...

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Age at interview: 58
Sex: Female
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And did you get any more support from the church for example.


No. No. I think if I’d have needed it, it would’ve been available, yeah, I think you can go and talk, I get a lot of comfort from visiting my sons’ graves, I’ve also got a memorial bench in their memory, with a plaque, I also have a tattoo with both their names which for me is comfort, it’s my way of, it’s my own little personal thing of remembering my sons. And even my counsellor said that she thought that was a really good idea. Because she actually said would I mind if she mentioned that to some of her clients. Because they often say, I want to do something to sort of remember and she thought that was a really lovely idea to do that. I said, I just suddenly thought it’s something I want, you know, to do, and I did it last year when I went on holiday. I thought, yeah, I’m going to have this done you know, with the help of my daughter dragging me in.


Where’s the memorial bench?


That is actually in the churchyard, yes.


That’s nice.


Yeah.


Have you got their names on it?


I have yeah, have a plaque. Instead of, what we actually did this time, instead of having too many flowers, we decided to put donations to a memorial bench in their memory. Obviously asking people if, if they minded if that’s what we did, and nobody had any problems at all, and it really is lovely. Yes.


How did you find someone to make that?


My husband was talking to a guy in the cemetery, about the benches, and he actually gave my husband a place to go. And which he did, he went and ordered it and [um], they actually made it, fitted it and we can just sit there and quiet and can actually see the graves from there yeah, it’s really lovely.


How often do you go?


We go every week. Yes. My husband goes every day.

Bob and Lynda keep their son’s memory alive in many ways. For example, when they send cards to people at Christmas they stamp a butterfly onto the card, and include Darren’s name. The butterfly is one of the symbols of Compassionate friends. The butterfly is a sign of hope that children who have died are living in another dimension with greater beauty and freedom.
 

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

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Age at interview: 59
Sex: Male
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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…

 

Last reviewed July 2017.

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