A-Z

Dolores - Interview 29

Age at interview: 40
Brief Outline: Dolores' husband, Steve, developed mental health problems soon after their baby was born. He fell from a bridge in 2005 and died soon afterwards. Dolores felt distraught and very sad. She has found help though a psychologist, and SOBS, and web sites.
Background: Dolores is a senior mental health worker. She is a widow, with 1 child. Ethnic background/nationality: White Scottish.

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Dolores and Steve were married in 2001. They were a happy and devoted couple and in 2005 they were delighted that they were expecting a baby. Dolores had a healthy baby boy, but from that moment Steve seemed to become mentally unwell. When Dolores came home with the baby they argued and Steve became aggressive. He said that he felt that his head was going to explode.
 
After the baby’s Christening Steve disappeared, and was missing for about five days. He phoned to say that he felt suicidal. He was found and brought home by the police. Steve was aware that he was ill and went with Dolores to see the psychiatric “on call team” at the hospital. To Dolores’ amazement Steve was not admitted to hospital but sent home. Steve seemed detached and not himself. The next day he disappeared again and was missing for five weeks.
 
After five seeks Steve phoned Dolores to say that he wanted to come home. He returned home and seemed quite different. He had changed his appearance and dressed like an 18 year old, even though he was 47 years old. They made an appointment to see the doctor but he ran away again, returning a day later. They then went to see their GP, who phoned the psychiatrist, who was busy. The GP asked them to return in an hour, but when they went to get a coffee Steve ran away again. Dolores found him at the bus station and Steve said he was frightened he would be “put away” for a long time. They returned to see the GP, who told them that they would have to wait two weeks for a psychiatric assessment. Dolores thinks that the health professionals concerned thought that since Steve had been missing before and had not committed suicide it was unlikely that he would do so now.
 
Steve rang the resource centre himself and pleaded for an appointment with a psychiatrist but was then told that he would have to wait eight weeks for an emergency appointment.
 
Steve seemed calmer and Dolores hoped they would get through the emergency. One Tuesday morning Steve said that he was going to chapel, but he never returned. That afternoon the police arrived and told Dolores that Steve had fallen into the river. They took her to the hospital, where she waited for over an hour. Eventually she was told that Steve had died of his injuries. She was taken to see him but was only allowed to stay a few minutes and was not given any of his things. Dolores was distraught and found it hard to accept that she had to leave without any of her husband’s clothes. Later she was devastated to hear that they had all been incinerated.
 
The funeral was delayed because there was a post-mortem. Dolores wishes that someone had told her that she could have seen Steve at the funeral home. She only saw him as he lay in an open coffin in her mother’s house just before the funeral. The hospital Chaplin took the funeral and he told Dolores to remember that Steve had not been well at the time of his death. This was a comfort to Dolores.
 
Dolores has been devastated by Steve’s death. She feels a sense of guilt because she feels she should have demanded a better service for Steve. She believes that lack of resources cost Steve his life. She also feels a great sadness, but no anger with Steve. She believes that Steve made the ultimate sacrifice because he did not want her and their son to live with someone with mental health problems.
 
Dolores sometimes feels isolated by family and friends and thinks that there is still stigma attached to suicide.
 
Since Steve’s death Dolores has been seeing an NHS psychologist twice a month, which she has found helpful. Recently she has been having a psychotherapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Dolores contacted Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS) soon after Steve’s death and decided it was not for her. However, last September she went to a meeting and was glad she attended. Dolores has also found the internet helpful, particularly web sites such as WAY and an email group for those widowed by suicide.
 
Dolores wants to tell her young son exactly what happened to Steve when the time is right. She keeps Steve’s memory alive by visiting his grave and by many other means. For example, Dolores and her son send balloons up into the sky for Steve on special occasions and they talk about him very often. Dolores tells her son that Steve is still around and is guiding him in his life.
 
The fiscal has not yet decided whether or not a fatal accident inquiry is needed. If there were an inquiry it might show that mental health services were inadequate and that Steve did not receive the care he needed. The decision about the inquiry has been delayed because the doctor who treated Steve at the time of his death has not been found. At the moment the death certificate says Steve died due to “A fall from a height and from chest injury”.  
 
The only positive thing that has happened as the result of Steve’s death is that Steve’s organs were donated. At least eight people have benefited from Steve’s organs, such as his corneas.

Dolores was interviewed in November 2007.

 

Dolores had not been told how serious her husband’s injuries were before she arrived at the...

Dolores had not been told how serious her husband’s injuries were before she arrived at the...

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…and I was then aware of a police, police van, kind of one of these, police bus things going up and down past our house, and I started to get really panicked I says, “They’re looking for me Mum, I bet you they’re looking for me.” And they went to walk my neighbour’s path and I thought, I started shouting my name, I shouted starting my surname, and I said, “That’s me, that it’s me you’re looking for.” When Steve had been missing the police kept going to my neighbour’s door, instead of my door to search the house…

 

Mmm.

 

…and, and I just knew they were looking for me I could just sense it, and they came in to my mum’s garden and they said, “Your husband has fallen into the river and you need to come to the hospital with us.” Never yet said he’s dead. Never gave me indication, any indication that he was dead. And I went through the traffic on this, the main road to the hospital and it’s like stop start, stop start traffic, and I talked, and talked about everything that had happened since the baby had been born and how he was missing, and mentioning the police sergeant that I was dealing with, his name, all this kinda thing, and then I went into the A&E Department with these two police officers and they said who I was and you’re very aware of everybody hearing everything, you know? And, we stood there and then the next thing the clerical girl came back and said, “Oh the nurse is still with your husband I’ll take you round to a wee room where you can wait for him.” And I never, never for a minute thought, he’s dead, I never for a minute thought, I sat in this room with these two police people and I’m wittering on about, “Oh I shoulda left feeds for the baby, oh I shoulda brought clean clothes for him he’ll be all wet, his clothes’ll be all dirty, well maybe he’ll get the help he needs now.” And I was talking and talking like a budgie I’m sure, and there was a phone in the room and the, the girl said, she came in with a tray of tea, and it’s funny how nothing drops, no penny drops to say, this is really serious, nothing dropped, and she said, “You can use the phone.” And I phoned my mum and I said, “I should’ve brought clothes for Steve will you get my sister to bring down clothes for him.” I said, “And I’ve not seen him yet, the nurse is still with him.” And she was the first person to say to me [crying], “He might be dead.” And she says, “He might be in the white sheet Dolores.” And I says, “Don’t be daft.” And she said, “Well let’s hope not, because he’ll get the help he needs now.”

 

Did she know anything, your mum, at that stage?

 

I think it was just a wise woman talking [crying].

 

Mmm.

 

I think it was just a wise woman talking, and then I sat in that room, it felt like about an hour, I’m sure it was about an hour and nobody telling me anything and these two police just nodding at everything I’m saying and I’m asking them when they’re finishing their shift and all these things. And then the next thing it’s just like a scene out of Casualty, these, this doctor and a nurse came in, and they started to say how this man had been brought in with massive injuries, and I just kept screaming, “Did he have a bonny Scotland tattoo? Did he have a tattoo?” And I can remember banging my arm, and, that was it. “Our best efforts.” “Unfortunately.” And it’s just like wee bits of the words that you remember.

 

Mmm so he’d, he had been brought in alive

 

Dolores lost her husband in 2005. She still feels desperately sad, mainly because her young son...

Dolores lost her husband in 2005. She still feels desperately sad, mainly because her young son...

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…but I think it’s too painful for my family, to deal with their grief because they’re too angry at Steve, because they see the impact it’s had on me, they see the changes it has caused for me and I think they have a great deal of anger which I don’t have any of, that I have absolutely no anger for my husband, I put a lot of that down to the fact I was so angry at him when he was missing, that I don’t carry any anger, I don’t carry any anger, I carry grief, I carry guilt and I carry a great deal of sadness for my son because he’s missed out on a really, really good guy, a big part of his life [crying].

 

Dolores had to go to the hospital to identify her husband’s body. She wasn’t allowed to stay long...

Dolores had to go to the hospital to identify her husband’s body. She wasn’t allowed to stay long...

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So I was basically taken round on my own, to see him [Steve], to identify him, and when I went round there was two puddles of water and drips coming from his shoes, and I said to the nurse, “Take his shoes off his feet will be wet, his feet will be getting cold.”  And they wouldn’t let me touch him, I wasn’t allowed to really touch him, I couldn’t touch his shoes, I had to leave them on, I wasn’t allowed up one side of him, obviously because of the head injury, and I wasn’t allowed to kiss him goodbye, I had to make a wee move on his hairline to take the mud and the dirt away from his hairline to kiss him because of the tubes that were in his mouth.  They wouldn’t let me kiss him on the face as such, or on the lips.


Why, why didn’t they?


Because of a post-mortem, there had to be a post-mortem done, and it’s nonsense, nonsense; sort of these programmes like Casualty and Holby City they give you this impression that you get time and you are allowed to sit with them, and I wasn’t, I can remember being ushered back round, and taken back round to the room, and I asked for the Chaplain to come, and the hospital Chaplain came and we went back round and he gave Steve his last rites.  But, it wasn’t long.  You weren’t allowed, I wasn’t allowed, I certainly didn’t feel there was like time with Steve, and his hands were cold, and he was completely lifeless, and maybe if I’d been taken round that bit earlier…


Mmm.


…there might have been something…


Yeah.


…I’ll never know.

 


…for the bereaved, there’s no compassion shown it’s just very much seen as, somebody who’s taken their life and was of no importance, you know, I came away feeling very judged and juried that day and it was my first sense of feeling.


Feeling judged and juried?


Uh-huh.


Mm-hm.


Oh it must’ve been some situation there and we [sighs] I, you know, I can’t stress enough, you couldn’t have got a more in love couple


Mmm.


you know we were like any other couple we had our moments, but we were completely devoted to each other, and you can’t impress that upon the hospital staff when you’re there identifying his body because they’re just clinical, they’re too clinical and there isn’t enough compassion in that environment…

 

Dolores’ two-year-old son has some understanding of death. She will tell him more about the way...

Dolores’ two-year-old son has some understanding of death. She will tell him more about the way...

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So, we’re now left with visiting a grave and, having a little boy that’s daddy lives in heaven, but I do, I do believe it’s very important where young children are involved that they have an understanding that they do have this daddy or mummy, but daddy or mummy are no longer alive and visually there for them, but they have, I believe they have to be given an, understanding that they’re guiding them, that they’re around them.


Mmm.


And I keep Steve very much a living memory for my son.


But at some point in the journey, and I do put faith in knowing that I’ll know when the time is right, he will be given all the information, and he will know what happened, because at the end of the day, daddy did commit suicide thirteen weeks after he was born and there is a connection there, and I would be foolish to think my son wouldn’t make that connection at some point in his life.


Did anybody advise you what sort of age would be a good age to tell him?


No, what happened, nobody has but I’ve kind of, made my own decisions with regards how I was keeping daddy a living memory with our son, and at one point I came up against quite a lot of harsh criticism from my family, and I spoke with my psychologist about it and she showed me a DVD from Leeds Animation Workshops and it was how they work with young children, for Winston’s Wish, work with young children who have been affected by bereavement in their early years and it gave me a great amount of confidence because they were doing things that I had naturally just started to do with my son.


Mmm.


So it, it kind of just gave me a wee bit of reassurance and now as my son grows and develops, he has a very unique outlook and he will take something to school that a child that has two parents and lived a very charmed life won’t take, he has an understanding of death, he has an understanding of what it is to go and visit daddy in a grave, he’s not frightened of the graveyard, you go up there and he runs, he plays, so he’s not been brought up with an image of it being a bad place.  He even actually, just last week we were driving up to the, the cemetery, and he said, “We going to daddy’s house?”


Mmm.

 

And that is how he sees it, that’s where daddy lives, the headstone has a photograph of the three of us and it, it’s very real to him, that is where daddy is and he blows a kiss to the sky and he sends a balloon up now and again, and that’s his understanding.

 

Many people haven’t spoken to Dolores since Steve’s death. Her parents don’t mention his name....

Many people haven’t spoken to Dolores since Steve’s death. Her parents don’t mention his name....

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And, you can’t change it for my husband but I think services that, situations like this should be, research like this and the various organisations that are trying to make a difference with regards, of raising the awareness of suicide needs to be funded, they need the assistance to make the difference because, I don’t want anyone else to go through what I’ve gone through [crying] but I know other people will; but a bit of compassion from medical people, a bit of compassion from undertakers, police, a bit of understanding would go a long way because I certainly have felt the stigma of suicide, as a person, I’ve felt it within my family and I’ve felt it within my work colleagues, which really and, aye has been a shocker for me ‘cause I worked in mental health, but you become very aware of people’s attitudes towards suicide and the lack of understanding that there is for it, and it needs to change, it needs to change.

 

When you say you’ve been aware that there’s stigma to do with suicide…

 

Uh-huh.

 

…do you think people, can you explain the actual stigma you feel a little bit and what that is?

 

It’s that whole thing of you’re very aware of, people not wanting to talk to you, you’re very aware of mumbling; before I moved from where I lived, prior to, where we lived when this happened, we were well known and established in the area, and it’s amazing the amount of people that haven’t spoken to me since this happened.


Really?


You’re very aware of people, seeing you in the supermarket and disappear up a different aisle, and you’re very aware of when you think, when you, when I feel strong enough and capable enough and I’ll maybe say, “Oh hello.” And they’re like, gottae get away from her, you know, and you are very aware of people uncomfortable around you, you don’t know, you want to say to them, “What is it makes you feel uncomfortable?.” But you know you’re not gonnae get told and, I see it in my own family, I see it in my own family and because of, coming from a very strict Irish Catholic upbringing, from my parents, it’s a difficulty that they had a, a son-in-law that took his own life and they would prefer his name’s never mentioned, and they would prefer that his son didn’t look so much like him. But that’s a great comfort to me because he is so like his daddy, that, it makes me feel there’s a huge part of my husband still here.


Is that because they feel it’s against their religious beliefs?


Uh-huh, yes because they’re, they’re in their seventies and they’ve been brought up in a very strict Catholic faith and so then, they would have the same opinion if one of their children was to walk in and say they were divorcing, that would be a major difficulty for them, and there is that generation thing of, they just don’t feel comfortable with it and you don’t show emotion and you don’t show weakness, and Steve showed the ultimate form of weakness and emotion by taking his life.

 

Dolores wanted Steve’s clothes returned. She was upset when she heard they had been incinerated....

Dolores wanted Steve’s clothes returned. She was upset when she heard they had been incinerated....

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…Then the police came the next day to take a statement, at the house and I asked for his belongings, and I was told I couldn’t have them that they had to be kept.

His clothes?

His clothes, his wedding ring, his watch.  And I was told I wasn’t able to have them because it would be part of an investigation, and, they had Steve had been writing a wee diary from the Saturday, and they had a copy of that and, they.

Did you get to see that?

They brought me a photocopy of it on the Thursday. The policemen came back on the Thursday because I was too distressed on the, the Wednesday to do the statement and things, and he came back on the Thursday morning and he brought Steve’s wedding ring and his watch and he informed me that all of his clothes and his shoes had been incinerated.

Oh.

And that was just absolutely [sighs], …that’s like something that was taken away from me that was unnecessary, and I do believe it was unnecessary; nobody had that right to do that. He said, “Oh his other bits and pieces we’ve got them but you’ll not get them until the Procurator Fiscal says it’s all right.”  But I’ve never got over the fact that his clothes were incinerated, never.  And this has hurt, hard, that is hurt the hardest because they’d no right to do that [crying] and his shoes, what I’d give just to have those shoes would be a, you know, but it’s all gone I, it’s that whole thing of knowing they would just have been put in a bag and thrown in an incinerator, but they were precious to me.

Obviously they were.

And it’s another thing that’s, taken out with your control, they’ve taken something that they didn’t need to take, and I find that very difficult.


Did the policeman show any compassion when he realised how distressed you were about it?

It’s just a matter of fact thing to him, you know? It’s just, just that’s, you know, “I’m sorry they’ve been incinerated.” What’s there to say?  What’s there to do?  So, I, I have big issues with, I don’t feel it’s appropriate that that be the case, especially in sudden death situations and, so that was on the Thursday, and then unfortunately it was a holiday weekend and Steve’s post-mortem wasn’t done until late on in the next week because, again I was informed, it’s amazing how factual they can be when they want to be, professionals.

I got back his [sighs], I got back his belt, and his reading glasses and, papers that he had on him, you know, his prescription and things, and they were all, because they hadn’t been cleaned or anything they were all put in these police sealed bags, the evidence bags, and they’d all got fungi on them and it’s like, there’s no need for that, you know?  What was it, what difference was having his glasses sitting in a police property office going to make to the, to the decisions?  None, and so when I got them back they were all dirty and the policeman that handed them to me said, “They’re actually all mucky do you want me just to bin them?” I said, “No, no.”  And I just broke down when I got handed them and I hugged them, and I hugged them, and like, back, going back to his clothes being incinerated I miss not having them so much.

Mmm.

And every night I sleep with my husband’s nightshirt on my pillow because that’s the last thing he wore that I have, that I don’t have what he wore the day he died, I only have what he wore the night he slept, that night before and that’s just so precious to me, and that I can see me still sleeping with it on my pillow twenty years from now and my son kisses that every night and says night-night to daddy, ‘cause that’s daddy’s, and he’s actually got to the stage now where he takes it and cuddles it and then I have to go and get it back off him when he’s asleep [laughs] so, ‘cause I need to cuddle it, so.

 

After Steve died Dolores felt guilty about what had happened. She has seen a psychologist every...

After Steve died Dolores felt guilty about what had happened. She has seen a psychologist every...

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So, but I’ve been very lucky, I’ve a very good bereavement counsellor and I broke down in the chapel, one day after Steve’s funeral mass, I broke down in the chapel, and we had been married in this chapel and our son had been christened in it just like thirteen weeks before, and I broke down one day in the chapel and I was very lucky that a person that came into the chapel while I was there, was in the field of psychology and, they said, “I’m going to ask somebody to give you a wee call, who I think’ll be really helpful for you.” And it was a psychologist who still sees me fortnightly two years on, and has made a big difference, and she has done EMDR, eye, eye densense, eye movement desensititation.


Can you say that again?


E, M,D, R, it’s Eye Movement Desensitization and I don’t know what the R stands for.


Mmm.


But it’s to help you, you have to be, excuse me, you have to be in a certain place with your grief, or with your situation, to be ready to do it and about April time of this year the psychologist asked if I would be willing to try it, and she basically gets you to relax, gets you to a place, you find a safe place where you feel you’re safe, and then you use a mode of transport, and you go on a journey, and they do this, get your eye follows their finger at different speeds and you’re kind of working through your grief or your, sorrow, whatever inside and your emotions. And she got me doing this with Steve, and she got me to a place where I could actually after it say, I couldn’t save Steve, because I was just another passenger on the train, but he was on the train as well and he was driving the train, and I couldn’t stop the train, and it was one of these therapies that I found very useful to, getting me to a place where, I will always carry guilt, I know I’ll always carry guilt but, but not the intensity, I was, a year ago, because I do feel I should’ve shouted more, and demanded a better service than what we got.

 

The counselling you’ve had.

 

Mmm, uh-huh.


Do you have to pay for that yourself or is that free?


I’ve been very lucky, I’ve been extremely lucky with the counselling that when my husband was missing the GP had referred me because I wasn’t coping very well and so I was in the system.


Mmm.


But if I wasn’t in the system prior to my husband dying I could’ve had up to a six months wait for an appointment, and again, the services are just so overstretched and under resourced that it’s really, really frustrating because you know there’s a lot more people than yourself out there that all need help with this.

 

Dolores knows that all the members of her internet support group have been widowed by suicide but...

Dolores knows that all the members of her internet support group have been widowed by suicide but...

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There’s a website for widowed by suicide which is a much more appropriate site for me because the WAY website had people that had lost partners or husbands through accidents, various things, whereas the widowed by suicide site specifically, as it says, it is for people widowed by suicide and you get, true reflection of how you’re feeling, and you get advice, you get information from people who are maybe four years down the road of being widowed, six years down the road being widowed and they’re giving you fact that they can understand if you put on the, you’d put a posting up saying, ‘I’m really struggling today because it’s the first day of October and October’s a really special month’ they can relate to that…


Mmm.

 

…and they will send you back something that will truly make a difference to how you’re coping, and it’s just a sense of, it’s like a, it’s like a circle of friends but you have a certain amount of anonymity because you don’t really need to know what the person looks like, whether they’re short, tall, round, whatever, because it, they’ve all walked that same journey that you’ve walked and that journey is a bit like a marathon, you might have all these people cheering you on and supporting you on the sidelines, but you have to run the run, you have to do the marathon and you have to find out where the potholes are for yourself, and you have to find the signposts for yourself. And it doesn’t matter how much support’s on the sidelines you have to do it, and no-one can carry you, but the online websites and Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide, gives you the support, they’re like the energy bars, they’re the energy bars that give you that little bit more strength to go that next hour of the day, or through that next day of the week and carry you through to a point where you may be going two days without getting upset to three days without getting upset and they’re a great source, and they give you great information on books, on other support groups and they do make a big difference.

 

Dolores finds anniversaries difficult and she thinks that Christmas is horrendous because it...

Dolores finds anniversaries difficult and she thinks that Christmas is horrendous because it...

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And I think that all feeds into anniversaries, wedding anniversaries, whatever, birthdays, Christmas, like Christmas is horrendous now, absolutely horrendous and I’ve become very aware of how, commercialised Christmas is and how it’s all done on this mummy and daddy and two perfect children, in a perfect house, with everything they want and life’s not like that.

 

But also every special day, every special celebration, like Christmas is coming up, we will go to the cemetery with balloons and we’ll let the balloons off and we’ll send them to daddy, and that has become a big part of my son’s understanding of daddy, because we recently had daddy’s birthday and I had planned to buy the balloons while my son was at nursery, but we had done the cards and everything that morning and we’d gone up to the grave with them and my son literally started to get very upset ‘cause we hadn’t bought daddy his balloons and we had to go to the nearest supermarket and buy one, and that to me is, moving it forwards, giving the child an understanding of, that his daddy was much more than the, the eight weeks he was ill.

 

After Steve’s death his organs were donated to eight other people. Dolores feels that at least...

After Steve’s death his organs were donated to eight other people. Dolores feels that at least...

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Is there anything else you want to say about the organ donation?


I think what I would say is that really, it’s given me something really positive to hold on to, they sent me a letter, they’ve sent me letters about what happened with Steve’s, the procedure used to take his organs, they then wrote to me to tell me what organs they took, and then we got a final letter to say how many lives he helped and he helped eight lives, and the cornea implants, which is quite a new thing in many ways has helped two lots of people and that to me, is something I can give to my son, and daddy still was doing good after he died, and he is still doing good because there’s people embracing life today because of it, and that has to be the positive and, just to know that, it’s a big, it does take a lot of sadness away for me at times because I do know, there’s somebody out there walking about who has got an extra gift because of Steve.

 

Mmm.

 

So that makes a big difference to me and I can’t promote organ donation enough, when, the day of Steve’s funeral we actually had got organ donation leaflets from the organ donator and they were put in the, the service sheets for everyone and we, I heard back from a few people that they actually filled in the donor cards. So I do feel it made a difference.