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Bereavement due to suicide

Family dynamics

 

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

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Age at interview: 59
Sex: Male
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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.

Alex and Felicity were also glad that family members supported each other when their daughter, Alice, died by suicide.
 

Alex and Felicity realised that a death by suicide in the family might weaken family bonds. Alex...

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Age at interview: 57
Sex: Male
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I think we all inevitably have changed as individuals as a result of an experience like this, I suspect in our different ways we are to use the Ancient Mariner’s phrase, “Slightly sadder and wiser people,” because these are the kind of experiences which form an individual. I think I’m very struck by my two sons who were both late teens or twenty or so when this happened, that they have both grown up a great deal very rapidly as a result of this having happened to them, and I’m very impressed by what I see, I was delighted that they were able to pick themselves from this fearful shock and carry on with their studies with their lives, in a way that I was very very impressed by. So, one can’t separate the fact that death does happen in everybody’s family’s, that it is part of one’s experience of living, and in the case of my boy’s of growing up from a youngish age, I think long term they will be stronger people because of this, also I suspect more humane people you know, it helps you to be humane to understand that other people you know also have heavy burdens that they sometimes carry. So I think we’ve all matured to some extent because of this experience, beyond that I suppose I’m simply delighted that the family has been able to have solidarity through this process rather than fragment because I think that one of the most distressing situations that I occasionally see where family’s bonds themselves are then weakened because of the after effects of a death like this, and there I think the loss is compounded, and fortunately in this case that’s not happened.
Nina recalled that when her brother Joe was dying in hospital their parents supported each other even though they were divorced and relations between them had not been good.
 

Family members supported each other and ‘just gelled together’ when Joe was dying in hospital.

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Age at interview: 27
Sex: Female
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And when you were at the hospital, what was the interaction like then? It must have been difficult.


At the hospital we were just, everyone was in a daze, everybody was just, just had the, I can just remember this ache in my head which didn’t go for about a year, you know you’re just you just feel like someone’s got your brain and just [holds her head] just squeezing it, but interaction in the hospital within the family considering my parents had divorced and relations weren’t that good between them really, prior to Joe killing himself, at the hospital things, I mean I, you know family try to do, everybody just gelled together, it was, it was, it was quite remarkable really. Didn’t continue. But, you know at that time when, when you know when it was needed, well we were all going through the same experience, we were all losing you know our son, our brother.

Steve also said that when his sister died by suicide the rest of the family ‘pulled together’ and became even closer than they had been before the terrible event. Steve said that in particular his relationship with his parents had become much stronger. 
 
After Linda’s teenage daughter died she found that she had become closer to her husband. However, she said that it took a while for her, her husband and her other daughter to become a ‘family of three’.
Lucy and Darrell had not been in contact with their families for many years. After Darrell’s suicide both families supported Lucy and instead of being known as Darrell’s girlfriend she now feels part of his family, and she sees both families every week.
 

The families had disagreements before Darrell died but his death made people stop and conclude...

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
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How did all this affect family interaction? Did families come together?


Yeah. Since this has all happened obviously I’ve now become closer to Darrell’s family.  


Hmm.  


And I’m now part of their family rather than Darrell’s girlfriend or fiancée that I was. I’m now a part of their family and I’m in contact with his, his parents on a weekly to daily basis the same as I am now with my parents. I mean, not everybody’s welcomed me back but this is real life, not everything goes as, to plan. But more good has come, come out of his death than, than bad, definitely.


I was going to say, would you see that as a positive thing then?


Yeah. 


Hmm.  


I mean, nobody wants to that someone’s got to lose their life to do this.


No.


But definitely where there were disagreements in the families before, that has helped to make people stop and think, is this really worth it? Should we do this or should we do that?  And I think everybody’s a lot closer for it. 


Hmm. 


And a lot more positive has come out, more good’s come out of it than bad.  And if that’s, if that’s something good to come out of it then, then that’s how, how we’ve taken it.

Thus in some families relationships had improved after the death of a family member by suicide. However, in other families, relationships had become subtly changed or strained. One man, for example, said that when his wife died he found it hard to love his young daughters for a while. Someone else said that when her brother died, family relationships were uneasy because members of the family realised that everyone was vulnerable. Thus it felt a bit like ‘living on a knife edge’. They no longer took each other for granted. Others also said that family relationships had become uneasy.
 
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Dave's relationship with his surviving son was great but not 'easy'. It was no longer a ...

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Age at interview: 56
Sex: Male
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Would you say a little bit about how Ben’s suicide has had a huge impact on the whole family?

 

Yes, it’s, it’s difficult to explain, but I think it’s changed everything about our lives and how we do everything. We now, I now have to question and think about everything, almost everything I do. The change is so fundamental that before I’d just got on with my life and went to work, and did things, or didn’t do things, without really thinking about them, but now everything is highlighted. Everything is, almost everything is a decision you have to make, without being able to just drift along and do things. And that, that impact, personally, also extends to any social contact, with even people who are close to you, where, like my son, my surviving son, our relationship is great, but it’s not easy. It’s not, it’s not a thoughtless relationship, it, you’re all the time standing back saying, “Oh, after you, or, after you.” And, “What do you want for Christmas? And what do you [sighs], and how shall we do this?” And it’s difficult to make a decision; you’re always wanting to make an allowance for the other person.

Arthur said that when his son died he was so wrapped up in his son’s death that he neglected his daughter to such an extent that he almost felt there was only one child in the family. He regrets that. After Tom died Jane and Maurice found it hard to talk to each other about their son’s death, and life was ‘uncomfortable’ for a while.
 
Once there has been one suicide in a family people may worry that others will see this as a way of dealing with any problems. Families that had been affected by more than one person dying by suicide suffered particularly and found it understandably difficult to cope with the prospect of losing anyone else in this way. Counselling – perhaps involving the whole family – may help (See ‘Help and support from professionals’ and ‘Help from Cruse Bereavement Care’). Susan and her husband found it hard to talk about their sons’ suicides and they sometimes blamed each other for what had happened.
 
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Susan and her husband still find it hard to talk about Barry and Stephen. Susan says that she...

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Age at interview: 58
Sex: Female
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Do you think relationships get affected for those who are left behind?


Certainly. Yeah I can quite understand why marriages break up, because it’s a strain, and it’s a big strain. People are quick to say, “You have to get on with your life, you have to move on”, but it doesn’t work like that. I live every day with my sons’ death. And that is really hard, very hard, I always ask myself, “Why?” “Why me?” You know. And their normal upbringing, as young boys, they, they played football, they were in you know, Barry actually played for [the town] boys, he had a great football career, and you think “Why?” you know. It’s just life wasted basically.


Do you ever get the feeling that other people blame you?


I’m not sure.


You say you blame yourself.


I think sometimes in anger we blame our partners, I think sometimes in anger. It’s not deliberate, but you tend to remember things you know, where if you’d have done this, or you’d have done that, things might’ve been better. So I don’t know really.


Do you talk about them to your husband?


No.


Just to other people.


Yeah, just to other people, yeah. Yeah we don’t really mention, you know I mean [my husband] recently laid, we’ve put a summer house up the garden, and he laid a patio, and we joked about that because Stephen was a bricklayer by trade, and I said to him, “I’m sure Stephen’s looking down and thinking you haven’t laid that slab right”, and we laugh about little things like that you know. So yeah we can, but we don’t really, you know I could see we were at the graveside, Sunday afternoon, no Saturday afternoon, and [my husband] was just standing there, and I could see sort of how sad he looked, just looking at the two graves you know, I don’t know what he was thinking, but he just looked so lost.


That you find it hard to talk.


Yeah and I didn’t say anything but you could see it in his face that he’s probably thinking, “How could that happen?”

Ted’s father died when he was only 12 years old. He said that the family did not talk about his father’s death and pretended it had not happened, which was ‘not ideal’.
 
Some people told us that family relationships had got worse. Stuart’s ex-partner died by suicide. Since then some of her family have been ‘absolutely fantastic’, but others have had no contact at all, and at times Stuart feels quite hurt and abandoned. He thinks that Anne’s family blame him for her death. Lucreta also said that after her daughter died relationships with the family have got worse. She wonders if other family members are afraid and do not know what to say.  

Last reviewed July 2017.

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