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Bereavement due to suicide

Finding out

Most of the people we talked to had learnt of the death from the police, and most found the police helpful and courteous. Usually people received this news at home, but one man found out about his sister’s death when he went to the police station because she was missing. Some people were expecting to hear bad news by the time the police arrived at the house. Others were utterly shocked (see ‘First Reactions’).

 

Alex and Felicity received the news that Alice had died in the middle of the night. The police...

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Age at interview: 57
Sex: Male
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Yes, they rang us, plus or minus 3 o’clock in the morning, and said that they would be round in five minutes, so they were obviously at the end of the drive. Two policemen came round and they handled it with great sensitivity, I was very impressed. They came round and it was pretty clear to us that it related to Alice and we assumed instantly that she had in fact killed herself, so when they came a few minutes later it was no great surprise at that moment in what they said, they chose their words very carefully, I was impressed by the consideration that they showed us, they used the phrase that, “Alice is no longer with us.” As a euphemism it was very well, well judged by them. So altogether, you know, they were very courteous, they obviously waited long enough to see whether we needed them to stay on or needed any further help, but we didn’t. So off they went after I imagine a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes or so.
 

The police arrived at the house and told Kate that Anna had died. Kate’s other daughter, Izzy,...

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Age at interview: 55
Sex: Female
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And at nine o’clock Jenny was in the front office, the front room where we have our computer, and she said, “Mum there’s a police car outside.” Oh okay. And shortly afterwards the two policemen knocked at the door and I knew. And they … I said, “What’s happened, what‘s happened?” And they said, “Can we come inside?” I said, “Who is it, is it, is it Anna or Emily?” And he said, “Annalis.” And I said, “She’s dead isn’t she?” And they said, “Yes, she, she was found hanging by her friend.”  And they brought me into the kitchen and sat me down and, and …I began to shake, my hands were shaking. And it … Jenny was dreadfully upset, crying, screaming. She phoned for my friend to come back. She phoned for my nephew to come.  And I was just shaking so much. 


How were the police with you?


The police were trying to comfort me. They were trying to talk to me but I couldn’t speak to anybody. People came in and they spoke to me and I knew they were there but I just couldn’t, I couldn’t speak. All I was doing was shaking so much. My … like there’s just …


I’m sure.


And then my friend she screamed at me, “Kate cry, just cry, scream.” And I couldn’t so they phoned for the doctor. The doctor came and he tried to administer some valium but I couldn’t take it. And he said that I was turning blue, I was not breathing. I was not hyperventilating.

 

Hmm.

 

I was just not breathing. And then they phoned for an ambulance and an ambulance came. And I remember them trying to give me oxygen and trying valium but I just couldn’t take it. And they just whizzed me off to A&E, where they kept trying … and now I know what it feels like with patient’s oxygen mask you, you actually feel as though you’re suffocating with this mask on. But they finally … they couldn’t give any injection because I was shaking so much. So they finally sort of managed to get some valium in to me. And after about forty minutes or so, I was able … I was calm.

A few people, especially those who had lost loved ones many years ago, said that the policemen who arrived at the door seemed ill equipped to deal with such a difficult situation.
 

When Mike was only 18 a young and inexperienced policeman arrived at the house and told him and...

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Age at interview: 53
Sex: Male
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At the age of eighteen my father took his life through suicide. It was an incredibly hard moment to discover what he’d done. I first found out about it through a young constable, who was only twenty, knocking on the door to let us know this news. At that time I was staying at my sister’s house, and the situation was this young constable, as I say, he turned up and imparted this terrible news to us that our father had taken his life. We thought initially there’d been some sort of mistake or, miscommunication and did some checking round to absolutely confirm what had happened and in fact it, it was the case that he’d taken his life. The young constable was in such a state trying to impart this news to us that my brother-in-law had to sit him down and give him a cup of tea. I think it was appalling that he was sent out, without the proper training and preparation, and also on his own, a young lad of about twenty, appalling, so there’s a big issue there for the police, well I think this is an issue from talking to serving police officers now that still needs to be addressed.
 

A policeman told Marion her husband was dead but he did not offer enough help. She felt that he...

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Age at interview: 58
Sex: Female
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The police were very professional. That’s the kindest thing I can say I think. It is true that when, that people say when you’re told something like this you remember what’s said and how it’s said. And certainly although it’s eleven years I can remember it was a morning very like this morning actually. And the police car going past the door and turning round and coming back again. The police sergeant getting out of the car and it was almost…. As he walked up the path it was almost a casual, “Is this your name?” And I said, “Yes”. And he said, “Oh, I’m afraid I have to tell you your husband’s dead”. And I was out on the front path on my own. And I remember saying, “Oh, right, would, would you like to come in?” And he said, “Yes.” And he followed me in and I remember offering him a cup of tea. I was in the hall and I remember saying to him, “Would you like a cup of tea?” He must have thought I was crazy. He then came into the sitting room where my daughter was and that’s when he said again, “Your husband’s dead”. And that, that seemed to be his sort of, the purpose of his being here was just to say that.

 

I do remember saying to him, “What do I do now?” And he said, “Well what do you want to do?” Well I had no idea what to do. I needed him in his official capacity to say to me, “Right this is what I’ve told you. This is what you have to do.” And he didn’t. He said there’d be another policeman turning up in a few minutes which did happen. He did come. So there were two male police officers here. He said, “Somebody would have to identify the body”. Which sort of took it out of being real to me. He [Graham] just became somebody they’d had to deal with. He was a bit of paperwork.

 
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When Patricia heard the news of Andrew's death she wished a second police officer, perhaps a...

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Age at interview: 58
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There was a knock at the door and it was a police officer. And I knew as I walked to the door it was a police officer because it was this black figure. We had two, had a porch, through the two, it was a blurred figure but I opened the inner door and sure enough it was a police sergeant and I knew Andrew was dead. Because when it’s good news they haven’t time to send somebody round, they phone you. So a police officer turning up on the front doorstep I knew, it was only one sort of bad news it could be. Because good news would be, “We’ve found him, he’s in hospital.” He came in. I took him into the dining room because I didn’t want the children to see him through the French window at the back. And he just said, “I’m very sorry, I have to tell you your husband’s body was found today. He was in your car on the Malvern Hills.”
 

So I was a widow. I think it’s safe to say, actually when you get news like that the room does spin. I remember I just reached, I was standing in front of our sideboard and I just reached and grabbed a, a glass and a bottle of brandy and took a, a whacking great slug of brandy and sat down. And I have to say the police officer was marvellous. He was a sergeant. He was absolutely wonderful, he, the only thing that was wrong was that he was by himself and I needed, I needed somebody to touch me. I needed to feel a hand on my shoulder or somebody to hold my hand. I needed human touch. And he quite properly and quite, I wouldn’t have expected him to do otherwise, kept himself at one end of the dining table and I was sitting at the other. And he was alone in a house with a woman who was likely to be highly emotional, vulnerable and quite properly he was very much at a distance. Had he been with another officer, a female officer, but even another male officer, one of them could have gone to put the kettle on…

 

Yes.

 

... and the other one, just a touch on the hand, touch on the shoulder, just some human contact, but that wasn’t his fault. He behaved in that situation totally as he should do. I mean, since then, since being involved in the work I do, I’ve done some police training and I have said to them, “Yes, I know, you know, there are times you have operational difficulties.”
The police were not always the ones who broke the bad news. Bob’s wife, Lynda, had a phone call and heard that their son, Darren, had died in France. It came from one of Darren’s friends. When Bob got home and heard the news he thought there must be some mistake. They phoned the local police and asked them to find out if it was true. Bob thought that the French police should have informed them through the official channel.
 
Susan received a phone call from her husband. He said that one of her sons was going to visit her. Susan insisted on finding out why her son was about to visit because he never visited her during the week, so her husband gave her the terrible news that a second son had died due to suicide. She was on her own and collapsed on the floor, devastated.
 
People may not be certain that someone they love has died until they identify the body (also see ‘Seeing the body or not being able to do so’). Lucreta had to identify her daughter at the mortuary. The bad news came from the welfare officer at work.
 

A welfare officer at work told Lucreta that she had to go to the mortuary to identify a body....

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Age at interview: 57
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Right. I have, well I had two children, a son and a daughter, and my daughter Dionne committed suicide on the 21st February 1996. Dionne was a bit, she was a problematic teenager, and on this particular day I was at work and my manager’s manager came down to the office and he asked where my manager was, and I said my manager was out, and then I had a phone call from the welfare section in the government, I’m an ex-civil servant, and they said as a matter of importance they wanted to come and have a word with me, and so I went for lunch, and I didn’t take much notice of them and I came back, and, you know there she was telling me Dionne had, they’d found a body and it was in the morgue in the hospital, and, they thought it was Dionne. So my friend [name] and various other colleagues, rang my now ex-husband, and the police came and took me to the morgue in, in the hospital, in the local area that I live in. And that was really hard, I was shaking.

 

Anyway we got in [to the mortuary] and it was Dionne. She, she was battered, she had bruises all over her and I identified her from her fingers, you see she has eleven fingers like me. You know, twelve. And her toenails are like her Dad, and so I looked at those things, and I, I knew it was her, and I smacked her. I smacked her, I said, “Why didn’t you come to me, why didn’t you come to me Dionne? Why didn’t you….?” You see at this point she wasn’t living with me. Our marriage had broken down drastically and she stayed behind. And so it was really, really tough.

Dolores was taken to the hospital by the police. She had no idea that her husband was critically ill. After waiting an hour she learnt that he had died from the injuries he sustained when he jumped from the bridge.
 

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

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Age at interview: 40
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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

A few of the people we talked to had discovered the body of the person who had died. This was a shocking experience which left vivid memories.
 

Susan found Rose a few moments after she had shot herself. Rose was in the house upstairs when...

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Age at interview: 54
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Yes well … I mean the only merciful thing for me … I mean the shock because I had no idea that she … I mean if I’d thought in my wildest dreams that she might shoot herself I would not have allowed a gun in the house obviously.


Hmm.


But she’d grown up with a family that shoots and therefore it’s just part of gun cabinets, you know approved gun cabinets in approved places have always been in this house.  I think … so when I actually found her, when I thought she was going to be playing her guitar, with a gun …with the gun lying on the floor … mercifully, mercifully she was face down. But I think it happened literally thirty seconds before I found her, because actually afterward my cleaning lady said she had heard a bang. But you know hadn’t thought anything of it. And it was in the attic so three floors up. And because it was literally half, half a minute or something, I think she had looked out of her bedroom in the attic seen me coming out of the office and thought, quick, help, panic … got to do it now. This was on a Tuesday.

 

On the Saturday before she looked at me with her gray, gray face and said, “I nearly did it yesterday, mum.” And I said, “Did what Rose? What?” And she said, “You know what.” And I said, “Well in that case you must tell me, you must tell me what you were going to do that you haven’t done.” But I mean she wasn’t stupid. I mean she knew … she was obviously planning to do it at some point so why would she say I was going to shoot myself because then I would’ve been able to stop her. But of course when I found her, because it was so soon after, there was no blood. Or I didn’t see it.


Hmm.


I didn’t see it. It must have been there and I didn’t see it. So I picked up her hand and of course it, of course it wasn’t … she hadn’t got rigor mortis from it because it was so soon.

 

Kate and her daughter Jenny found Izzy’s body. She had hanged herself. Kate thought that Izzy had...

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Age at interview: 55
Sex: Female
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I finished my shift. I came home and Jenny said, “Mum, I’m so worried about Izzy. She’s not answering her phone. She should have gone to work today.” So I said, “Ohh, she’s fine, leave her. She’s probably, you know what’s Izzy, she’s goes off for a few days and she comes back. And the more you try and hold on to them, put reins on them, the more they break away.” And I said, “Oh, she’ll be all right, don’t worry.” I was a little bit concerned but, because she, she would never miss work because she loved it so much.

 

Sunday, I was working a long day and I was looking after another very sick patient. And I came home, 8 o’clock, and Jenny said to me again, “Mum, I’m really worried about Izzy. She’s just not answering her phone. I’ve been round to her flat twice today. The light is on.” She said, “I know she’s in there. I know she’s in there.” She said, “I’m going to go round again.” So I said, “Well, I’ll come with you.”

 

We drove round. We could see the light was on. We rang the doorbell. And then one of her neighbours who holds the pass-key came and he said he would open the door. And as he opened the door, it was double locked, and as he opened it, the chain was on. And he had difficulty pushing the door.

 

And then Jenny screamed and said, “Mum. Izzy, Izzy’s foot.” I tried to get the chain, trying to get my fingers to the chain. Could see her foot was there. I could see that Izzy was dead, just by her foot because of the, lividity of, in her foot. That’s the blood that’s drained.

 

We managed to break the door but not the door completely, just the frame and we were able to push the door open just slightly, but it was just enough for me to get my head, arm and shoulder through the door. And I could, and I looked and I, I knew what I was going to find and I found Izzy hanging. She was, she was kneeling, partially kneeling and just hanging. And her head was dropped forward and I could see that she’d been dead for a few days.

 

Jacqui found a note on the dining room table before she found her husband’s body. Then she found...

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Age at interview: 45
Sex: Female
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And I walked in and I looked around and, and the house is always a mess, we’re not very tidy but there was a note on the dining room table, and I can’t remember exactly what I’d said but so, “He’s left a note.” And then my manager said, “Do you want me to go upstairs?” And I said, “No.” I said, “He is my husband.”


Mmm.


Says I, “It’s me, you know, I want to find him.” And then when we got to the bottom of the stairs there was a dining room chair at the top of the stairs but that didn’t, didn’t register anything, that there was a dining room chair up the top of the stairs, it just didn’t mean anything to me at all, that didn’t you know, you, but it’s, being a bit surreal at the time, and I went up the stairs, half expecting to either find him in bed, thinking he’d maybe would’ve taken an overdose because he had tried an overdose before, or in the bathroom, maybe in the bath or something, with his wrists slashed ‘cause he had attempted, he’d attempted that before as well, so I got to the top of the stairs and I just… turned my head off to the left and he, he was just there [sighs]. But he just looked like a, he just looked as though he was standing in the corner, you know he was, obviously very, very still but, he was very, very tall so his feet were fractionally just off the ground so it didn’t look…


Mmm.


…you know when you see on TV and things like that you, you, you know, you see, you think…


What a shock.


…the sway, you know, you think it’s swaying and there’s a big gap off the floor but, there was nothing so he just looked as though he was standing in the corner.


How sad.


…and I sort of said, I just, “Oh Mike”, and I tried to feel his, you know, feel his pulse but my hands were freezing anyway ‘cause I’d been outside and I couldn’t and then I said to my boss, “He’s hung himself.” And then, then I had to say, “Come on up and have a look.” Because I couldn’t believe that, you know, I had, somebody else to see, you know? And my, am I imagining it? You know what I mean?


I’m glad you weren’t alone.

People may have a little time to adjust to the possibility that someone they love may be dead or may be about to die. Ann’s friend was missing for a month before she was found by a man and his dog when walking in the fields. Nina and her family had three days to say “good-bye” to Joe before he died in the intensive care unit.
 
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Ann's friend was missing for a month before her body was found. This gave Ann time to adjust to...

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Age at interview: 60
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It turned out that in actual fact from that time onwards it was a full month before we actually found where she had gone. And she’d walked away from our home, out into the countryside. And eventually she’d just found somewhere where she obviously felt comfortable and she’d laid down, taken an overdose and just waited for death to come really. When her body was found obviously it was indistinguishable and I had anticipated that. So there was quite a lot of investigation had to be carried out to make sure that there no you know, circumstances that there anything other than her having had taken her own life. And so by that time, I had that period of a month, I’d actually adjusted to the idea that I wouldn’t see her alive again. And also I’d quite a lot of time to think through the implications of what had happened. Obviously that didn’t make it any easier.

Sometimes people are told that an accident has occurred and only later discover that the death was due to suicide.
 

At first Lucy thought her partner’s death had been an accident, but about a week later she found...

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Age at interview: 39
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My life changed completely when my partner, Darrell, committed suicide in November 2005. He’d had slight depression prior to this, but gave no signs of wanting to take his life, or leaving at all. The first I knew of it was when a policeman knocked on my door and said there’d been an accident between a car and a train.


Hm.


I was then, told to … was there someone I could call, which I called a friend. And then another policeman arrived and I was told that Darrell’s car had been hit by a train and he was dead at the scene. I was then contacting families, to let them know that he had died.


Terrible shock for you.


Yeah … complete shock. Yeah.


The policeman came to the door?


Yes.


He came and what happened when he came?


The biggest, hugest policeman I’ve ever seen in my life, he just filled the whole doorway. But he was very kind. He came, walked upstairs with me because I lived in a flat upstairs. And just said there’s been an accident. He then sat me down and let me waffle and ramble, until another police lady came. And she explained that Darrell’s car had been hit by a train and he was killed instantly. At that time, nobody knew whether it was a suicide or an accident so they keep saying it was an accident, accident.

 

It wasn’t until a few, sort of, I suppose it would be a week, ten days that, just before the funeral, that I found a letter on my computer saying, “Good-bye Lucy.” And it was only just by luck that I‘d gone on there and, and seen it. There were no other signs anywhere else, that he was going to do this.

Last reviewed July 2017.

Last updated October 2012.

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