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Kate - Interview 7

Age at interview: 55
Brief Outline: Kate's life has been devastated by the deaths of two of her daughters. They took their own lives by hanging, in 2006 & 2007. Kate has had support from family, friends and the church and says that answering emails from members of POS has also helped.
Background: Kate is a nurse. She is divorced and has 3 children (2 grown up). She had 2 other daughters who died. Ethnic background/nationality: White English

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Kate had five children, four girls and a son. Interviewed seven months after the death of her second daughter (who was called Anna) Kate explained that in 2005 her ex-husband committed suicide by drowning. He killed himself on their youngest daughter’s birthday. Izzy, their youngest daughter, was very upset that he had chosen her birthday to take his own life.
 
In 2006 Izzy was aged 17. When she was aged 13 she had been excluded from school and had been in some trouble with the police and had been put in care, but in 2006 she returned to school. She only went to school for a couple of hours a week but passed her ‘O’ level English with a ‘B’ grade. She also found a job selling hot dogs and hamburgers, which she enjoyed. She was given a small flat for accommodation and she talked about joining the army.
 
In November 2006 Izzy was upset because a colleague had died by suicide. She became very drunk one night, left the family home at 3.0am, went back to her flat and killed herself by hanging.
 
Kate and her daughter Jenny, aged 18 at the time, found Izzy dead in her flat. It was a terrible shock. At first Kate felt numb and did not cry. She said that she felt as though someone had “sucked out her soul”. The next morning the tears came. Since then Kate has felt “devastated and destroyed”. She went to see her GP on a weekly basis for a while but he said that there was nothing he could do and that she has to “walk through the pain”. She does not want to take anti-depressants.
 
Christmas 2006 was a difficult time for the family but they had a small tree for Kate’s son, Hannes, who was aged seven. In January 2007 Anna, who was aged 21, decided to return to work. She said she would be away for a few days. Two days later two policeman arrived at the house and told Kate that Anna had also died by hanging. She had been found in her flat by a friend.  She had left a note to say that she felt terrible because of the death of her sister, and because she had broken up with her boy friend. The “final straw” was that on Christmas day her computer had been stolen from her flat.
 
Kate was deeply shocked when she heard the news that Anna was also dead and she shook violently. She was taken to hospital and was given oxygen and valium, but soon went home. A mental health nurse from the local NHS “crisis team” visited her every day for six weeks, gave her medication, and put her on suicide watch in case she took her own life. Kate thinks that the “crisis team” is part of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service. Kate’s GP visited the house and gave her valium and sleeping tablets. Kate was also seen by a psychiatrist. Kate told the psychiatrist that at times she wanted to die herself- not to commit suicide but just to die.
 
Health professionals were concerned about the safely of Kate’s young son, Hannes. He was seen by a member of Jigsaw, a counselling service for children.

Kate also goes to see a “family psychotherapist” once a month, but she is the only member of the family who goes. She finds this helpful. She has been for about five months. Her other daughters have also had some regular counselling.
 
Kate has had great support from family, friends and the church. She has also found great help and support through an American web site called “Parents of Suicide” [POS]. She is in regular email contact with about 80-100 other people who have lost children through suicide and she feels that this email contact helps her more than the family psychotherapy because all the other members of the group understand what she is feeling because they have had similar experiences. She says that it is good therapy to help other people by talking to others who have experienced the same and know exactly how you feel.
 
Now, in August 2007, Kate is still having flash-backs of the terrible time when she found Izzy and of the time the police told her about Anna. She is going to go to the post-traumatic stress clinic at the local hospital and hopes that these images will not be so strong in future.
 
The minister from church was very supportive but at first Kate was very angry with God and could not pray.  Both girls had church funerals. Izzy’s body was brought home from the undertaker the night before her funeral, and she lay in an open coffin in the front room. Kate put her own wedding veil on Izzy’s head and made her look beautiful with make up and jewelry. Then prayers were said by the local minister and the coffin was closed. Many of her friends were there. The next day there was a horse drawn carriage to take Izzy to her funeral.
 
When Anna died her body was also brought home. Both the Lutheran pastor and the catholic priest said prayers in the house that night. She was buried with Kate’s wedding dress. Having the girls at home before their funerals was a help and a comfort. Anna also had white horses and a carriage to take her to her funeral. Both girls have been buried in the local cemetery and Kate often sits beside their graves.
 
The inquest for both girls was held on the same day in May 2007. They were both given an “open” verdict. Kate is glad about the “open verdicts” because she knows that the girls did not mean to kill themselves when they died. They were both drunk at the time and had so much to look forward to in their lives. Kate believes they took their lives in a “moment of madness”.
 
Kate returned to work in June 2007 and thinks that was the right decision. However, she still feels that a black cloud hangs over the family and she is grieving for her beautiful daughters. She believes that they are always with her. At times Kate still feels that she would like to die but she is now trying to make life as normal as possible for Hannes, her seven year old son, and for Jenny and Emily.

Kate was interviewed in August 2007.

 

Kate is sure that her daughters did not mean to kill themselves. Too much alcohol and other...

Kate is sure that her daughters did not mean to kill themselves. Too much alcohol and other...

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She [Izzy] worked with her cousin and he’s in his forties. And he told us that he phoned her on the Thursday and said to Izzy that one of her colleagues, a chap had gassed himself in the car, carbon monoxide poisoning on the Monday. And he had an argument with his wife and he had a three month old son and he just went off and did this. And, and Izzy was so upset, so upset. And when she found this out, she mentioned it and Anna said that she mentioned it a few times when they were sitting up drinking, how upset she was over this colleague’s death. And so I think all of this going on and Izzy was very, very drunk.

 

Hmm.

 

And the post mortem … she had two and half times over legal limit alcohol.

 

Hmm.

 

And I, I kept saying she wouldn’t have done this, she was drunk. She didn’t mean to do it. She keeps saying sorry.

Izzy was very, very drunk. She didn’t know what she was doing. It was a spur of the moment thing. She left no note. She probably just wanted to go to sleep or she was trying. I don’t … we never know, we never know. But I knew that she didn’t want to do it. Anna did leave a note. She left a 28 page note. And it was the break-up of her relationship with her boyfriend and the death of Izzy. But what finally, finally as she said was the last straw was somebody stole her computer from her flat, that was on Christmas day. And she had all her pictures and all her work and everything and she said somebody broke … not broke in but had keys and went into her flat and took her computer. And she said it was all my lifetime, all my everything was on that computer.
 

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

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

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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.

 

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

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

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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.

 

Kate had mixed experiences: a newspaper carried an irresponsible and inaccurate article, and a freelance journalist hounded her but another reporter was 'lovely' and sympathetic.

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Kate had mixed experiences: a newspaper carried an irresponsible and inaccurate article, and a freelance journalist hounded her but another reporter was 'lovely' and sympathetic.

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One of the newspapers wrote this article after Anna died about the suicide gene, that because their father had committed suicide. It was a tabloid, and wrote about it as if it … it was being said, did my girls have the suicide gene? And I never ever have said that. And I don’t believe in a suicide gene, totally. And it actually led to two mothers writing to me. They actually named my hospital where I worked and the department where I worked. And when I went to work … returned to work just a couple of months ago there were two letters from two different mums, really concerned about the newspaper report because their husbands had committed suicide years ago. And they were so worried about their child now and they were asking me, do you think my son will commit suicide?

 

We were hounded by one freelance journalist, hounded by him. And he, he played on my vulnerability, he played on my inability to make a decision and he actually got me to sign a contract. I was under the influence of sedatives at the time and he played on that. And it was for him to make money out of an article …. which fortunately another magazine came in and they didn’t ask me. They took it from one of the newspapers. I formed a very close relationship with one of the reporters and she was sympathetic, understanding. And I knew that the papers were going to write about them. So I invited this young reporter in and she was lovely. She was really lovely. And she’s phoned me and said, “Look, I’m going to send you the draft.” And it was in one of the national newspapers.


Hmm.


And she wrote a very lovely article about them. And then she said that a magazine was interested and would I agree? And I said okay. And she said that you know … and so a magazine wrote about the girls. I think the speculation of another newspaper who wrote about the suicide gene, I think that was so wrong. So wrong for them to alarm people.

 

The police stopped all the traffic for Anna’s funeral. Kate said that the police had been very...

The police stopped all the traffic for Anna’s funeral. Kate said that the police had been very...

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I’ve always had great respect for the police although Izzy didn’t [laughs]. My daughter wants … Jenny wants to join the police force, always has done. I’ve always had great respect for the police. They were incredibly sensitive, very sensitive and very supportive.  At Anna’s funeral they stopped all the traffic, because it was a huge cortege,  plus a horse drawn… They’ve been very, very sensitive … understanding … you know they deal with suicides everyday.  They deal with people’s distress, you know accident, murders, deaths … they deal with everyday. 

 

And they were very … I. I will always remember that young police officer saying to me when I found Izzy and he just said, “All I want to do is to give you a cuddle.” [laughs].


Did he feel he could?


And I just said, “No, I’m okay, I’m all right.”  But he … I think if he cuddled me I would’ve broken down then. 

 

At home, the day before the funeral, Kate adorned Izzy with her wedding veil. Three months later...

At home, the day before the funeral, Kate adorned Izzy with her wedding veil. Three months later...

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Did you actually go and see either of the girls’ bodies after they died?


Oh gosh, yes. 


Was that a good thing to do?


For me oh absolutely for me, totally. I dressed, I put my wedding veil on Izzy and quite a bit of jewellery and all her bits and pieces.  And we had a coffin.  The coroner said to me because Izzy had been there for a few days she … there was quite a bit … she was decomposing.  And they advised us not to see her.  And I said, “No.”  But my sister who, who organised all the funerals, said, ”Don’t worry, don’t worry, Kate we you know,  we will make her presentable.” 


So you did look at her?


Oh yes she had lots of makeup on. 

 

Hmm.


And we had her home the night before and we had an open coffin.  And because there were so many of her friends who couldn’t … we had the church service in one part where we live and we had a horse drawn carriage and the actual cemetery was a few miles away.  And we knew with Izzy’s friends they couldn’t get to the church and then get to cemetery.  So the night before Anna’s Izzy’s funeral, we had her in the front room.  We had lots of candles and flowers. We closed the coffin and we invited them all round and they were all outside the house about thirty, forty of her friends.  And the minister came and we pulled the curtains and we just said prayers. 

 

And my, my … one of my sister’s work for an undertaker’s and she arranged all of Izzy’s funeral. And so I just said to her just do the same for Anna. We had the white horses and the white carriage and the white coffins. And Anna’s buried with Izzy. 

 

You were talking about the importance for you of arranging the funeral and burial as you wanted?


I think… it is important because it’s the last thing that you can do for your loved ones.  It’s was the last thing I could do for Izzy and Anna.  And I couldn’t arrange their weddings.  I couldn’t do that.  Izzy has my wedding veil and Anna had my wedding dress. And we all wrote letters and put everything into their coffins.  We had them home the night before. And I wanted them home, I wanted them to come home.


Was that a family tradition, has your family always done that?


We did it for my mother when she died in ’98. And we all found it was, it was helpful that we could all say what we wanted to say.  And not just a quick five minute in the undertakers when my dad died in 1980. It was a very, you know a quick viewing and then you’re off again.  And I think having them home helped us.  I know a lot of people it’s not for them, but I didn’t want a quick funeral. I didn’t want a quick service. And neither of the girls wanted to be cremated and I didn’t want to be … I don’t want to be cremated. And it was helpful that we could take our time and have them home and do what we wanted to do. And it helped so much in that finally parting, that final goodbye. 

 

Post-traumatic stress counselling is sometimes offered to people who have lost someone by suicide...

Post-traumatic stress counselling is sometimes offered to people who have lost someone by suicide...

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You said you wanted to say something about this post-traumatic stress counselling.


I still have flashbacks to the time when I found Izzy and also when the, when the police came to tell me about Anna. You know, that, that was horrific. So I still have those, that is an, also a flashback of the time. And my therapy, therapist has suggested for me to go a post-traumatic stress clinic which is at a local hospital, which I shall be going to in a couple of months. It doesn’t take the images away, the images will always be there. But they soften them so they’re less, they’re not so overwhelming, because they, at, at his moment they’re just too overwhelming and, and they can just come. You know, I can be thinking about things and all of a sudden I’d, I’d see Izzy and I’m back to that time and I’m back to that time when the police came. So, hopefully, it will help.


You haven’t been yet?


No, I haven’t been yet. But it, it’s just, until this actually happens, a suicide in the family, people don’t realise the utter devastation that is left when a person commits suicide. I know the person that is thinking about it thinks, “Oh gosh, you know, I can’t go on. I can’t do this and nobody loves me and I’m not, I’m not worth, I’m not worth anything, nobody will miss me [airplane noise] and I’m so bad. I’m this and I’m that and I’ve caused my parents so much trouble and my girlfriend/boyfriend, you know, they, you know, it’s not fair and I’m going to teach them.” But it’s final, it’s, death is final.

 

The support via Parents of Suicide (POS) helps Kate more than family psychotherapy. The people...

The support via Parents of Suicide (POS) helps Kate more than family psychotherapy. The people...

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I don’t feel, until you’re actually involved in suicide, you don’t realise how frequent it is. And I don’t feel that there is enough support given to the families. It’s still a taboo subject. While I was on this site, I found a group that’s based in America called ‘Parents of Suicide’. And it was founded in 1998 by a mum who’d lost her daughter two years previously. And at the moment there’s over 700 members. When I joined I was 696 and I think there’s about 730 members now. And I’ve known other people who’ve lost their loved ones to suicide and I’ve mentioned about this suicide site, ‘Parents of Suicide’. And I joined, I joined this group. You pay a very, very high price to join, not financial but … And I receive about 80 – 100 emails a day. And from all different mums, all over the world' Australia, Africa, France, quite a few in England [um] America, lots and, most of them are in America. And a lot of their children; it’s gunshot (…), or hanging. And we can talk, by email. I haven’t yet, yet got into the chat room, because of the time difference. But I’m just very basic on the, on the computer, so, I can do emails, just.


Do they support you?


Very much so. And it’s therapy. It’s, it’s my therapy of reading other people’s emails. There’s lots that you delete, lots of them you don’t read. But every now and again you just get one little snippet, one little ‘Ah’, that, that’s so true, by other people’s experiences. They write about their experiences and what they do. And I’ve actually found that more beneficial than going to therapy, going to the family psychotherapy, because I’m talking to other mums, I’m talking to other families. Because they know what I’m feeling, they know the feelings. The therapists, they’re just going by the textbook, ask this question, ask that question, what’s the response? But I’ve found that this ‘Parents of Suicide’ has been, has saved me. Has kept me on this earth. And in, the one remark that was said to me, quite a few months ago when I was feeling very, very, very low, and I was in a very, very dark place, very dark place, was that I can’t, can’t look after the dead I can only look after the living. And it, that was a kick up the backside for me, that sort of, yeah, I can’t look after Izzy and Anna anymore.

 

Was that somebody on the website?


Yes. Yeah, it was, it was the mum in the east of England who lost her son a few years ago.

 

After her girls died, Kate’s seven year old son, Hannes, was seen by someone from Jigsaw4u, who...

After her girls died, Kate’s seven year old son, Hannes, was seen by someone from Jigsaw4u, who...

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I worry about my other children. We, we worry as mothers about the stranger; we worry about the road. And now I have, I have a, awful, dreadful fear of one of them doing the same. My young son was seen by a group called Jigsaw, who go into the school and they, they deal with children and bereavement. And the lady that sees him thinks that, feels that he needs to see a medical, a doctor, so Hannes is going to be seen by the children’s psychiatrist because he’s suppressing, he’s trying to block it all out whereas he should talk about it openly.

 

Who suggested Jigsaw?


It was by CAMHS, by the crisis team because they deal specifically with children…


Yes.


… with bereavement.


So, an, an individual person from Jigsaw met your son?


Went into the school, just played with him and then just asked him sort appropriate questions, and talked about the girls [who died]. But she felt that he was trying to suppress his feelings and she says it’s, it’s not healthy, not a healthy thing because later on, in years to come, these could explode. And that’s how I feel about anti-depressants, I feel that, and as I said to my doctor, I never asked him for anti-depressants and I, he wouldn’t give them to me. And I said to him, “I’m not depressed, I’m grieving.”

 

About five months after Anna died and seven months after Izzy died Kate went back to her work as...

About five months after Anna died and seven months after Izzy died Kate went back to her work as...

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I went back to work at the right time. I went back … its five months after Anna died, seven months after Izzy died … and it’s only less than nine months that Izzy died and seven for Anna so it still early days.


Yes.


It’s still very early days. But I think I went back at the right time. I was sitting around the kitchen table, day after day, night after night, with the two photographs of the girls. I started smoking again which I hadn’t smoked for 25 years. And the kitchen table was becoming a shrine. And I thought, “Oh I can’t go on living this”.

 

And going back to work, I did it at the right time. And going back to what I do best and it’s to look after other people … being a mum you look after people. And I’ve always been a nurse and it’s, that’s just part of me that is me. Obviously I can’t talk about other people, how they cope. I can’t talk about how … I can’t tell you how to grieve. I can only talk about my experiences. And people keep saying, “You’re very strong.” But as I say before by helping others, it makes you stronger.

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