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Kavita - Interview 33

Age at interview: 41
Brief Outline: Kavita's brother was 30 years old when he jumped to his death. He had been feeling suicidal for some time. Kavita felt 'shattered' and desperately wanted help. She had counselling with a psychotherapist and found that SOBS was a 'lifesaver'.
Background: Kavita is a housing benefit officer. She is married. Ethnic background/nationality: British Indian.

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Kavita’s brother was an intelligent man. He successfully ran the family business. In 2000 he told Kavita that he was feeling “strange” and at times depressed and suicidal. He did his own research and concluded that he had bipolar disorder. He consulted his GP and started medication, but did not always take the drugs. He continued working but still said he felt suicidal at times. He looked well and no one thought that he was seriously considering suicide.
 
Kavita’s brother became worse. His mental health deteriorated and he was voluntarily admitted to an NHS psychiatric unit. The next day he told the doctor that he wanted to go and look at the shops and would return that evening. Kavita tried to phone her brother during the day but he did not want to talk to her. She became worried and that evening she went to a hotel, where he had been when she phoned him. Kavita and her husband were met by the police, who told them that her brother had jumped to his death from a hotel bedroom.
 
Kavita felt hysterical and did not want to leave the hotel. She could not believe that her brother was really dead. After a while she went to see her mother, who was also feeling devastated.
 
Two days later, a coroner’s officer took Kavita, and her younger brother, and her mother, to see her brother’s body. He looked peaceful and did not look as though he had been through a bad fall. They felt calm but numb. Kavita was glad that she went to see her brother’s body because it convinced her that he was really dead.
 
At the inquest the coroner concluded that her brother had died by suicide. Kavita did not find the inquest traumatic. She found it helpful.
 
Looking back, Kavita wonders if she should have stayed at the hospital with her brother and not left him alone. She thinks that her brother should have been kept in hospital and not allowed to leave. However, Kavita knows that her brother was good at convincing people that he was well.
 
After her brother’s death Kavita felt shattered and desperately needed help and support. She rang someone from the mental health team, but was told she would have to go on a waiting list for an appointment with a counsellor. Meanwhile, Kavita went to see her GP and was given some anti-depressants.
 
Friends and relatives visited her mother’s house in a steady stream, as is the custom in the Punjab after someone dies. The visitors were tiring but were a form of support. When the visitors stopped visiting they felt quite alone in their grief. Kavita took two months off work.
 
Before the funeral Kavita’s father washed and dressed her brother’s body in the Hindu tradition. On the day of the funeral her brother’s body was brought home and lay in an open coffin. The priest performed rituals, such as anointing the body with oils and ointments, which Kavita did not like. Prayers were said and then the body was taken to the local crematorium, where there was a Hindu service. Kavita cried and cried. Later, her brother’s ashes were scattered on the river from a boat, as is the Hindu custom.                 
 
After her brother’s death Kavita found out about the support group, Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide, SOBS. She went to some of their group meetings, which she found a “lifesaver” because she met others who had also lost loved ones due to suicide. When she was with people who had not been affected by suicide she felt very isolated.  
 
Eventually Kavita had about 20 weeks of counselling with a psychotherapist, which she found very helpful. However, she still felt depressed due to her brother’s death and from about 2001 she began to drink heavily. Kavita thinks that this was a way of numbing her grief. She decided to seek help for her drinking when she started to put on weight and when her liver began to suffer. She saw a psychotherapist, who suggested she contact Alcoholics Anonymous, which she did, and by 2005 she had stopped drinking.
 
Kavita still feels that she is grieving. Her brother is at the back of her mind all the time. She has a strong spiritual belief. However, the grief isn’t as strong as it was before and she has accepted that she must live on without him.
 
Kavita likes to talk about her brother but has found that some people do not like talking about suicide. She thinks that there is still stigma associated with suicide. Her mother says that some Hindu’s believe that suicide is a sin. However, Kavita does not see suicide as a cowardly act and she wishes that it could be discussed more openly. 

Kavita was interviewed in November 2007.

 

Kavita’s brother looked as though he was sleeping and about to wake up. Seeing his dead body was...

Kavita’s brother looked as though he was sleeping and about to wake up. Seeing his dead body was...

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And they sat in an office and advised us and told us that his body’s actually remarkably intact. And he doesn’t look as though he’s been through anything. So we won’t find any horrible surprises, you know, as it were. And there are pictures if we want to see them, we can see them as well. 


Hmmm.


Which we did.  And again there wasn’t anything … you couldn’t say it was gruesome or awful to look at. 


Hmm.


So when we went to see him, I just remember his face. I just felt he was so real there, you know, as though he was sleeping and just going to wake up. And none of us broke down. We were just calm. It was quite sort of probably in shock and numb.


Hmm.


Yeah, the whole thing was really calm, no tears nothing like that. 


Looking back was it the right thing to go and see him?


It was. I’m so pleased, even though the image is always stuck in my mind. But the thing is it wasn’t a bad image. 


Hmm.


You know it wasn’t … he just looked peaceful as though he was sleeping. And, and there wasn’t anything traumatic there, you know when we saw him.


Hmm.


So I’m, I’m really pleased we did go and see him.


Hm. 


I mean it can … it sort of hit home this, it hit, it hit more. I suppose it sunk in a bit more that he’s not actually … he really has gone.


Hmm.


Seeing him because there’s always the disbelief you know, even after seeing him. There’s always this sort of thing, he can’t really be gone, you know. 

Yes.


Still. But yes, seeing the body actually and, and they were very helpful and very good with us. And they weren’t rushing us, nothing like that you know. 


Hm. 


They were there if we needed them. So yes it was …


And that was a coroner’s officer who was looking after you at that stage?


Yes, yes.  

 

Kavita believes that there is stigma associated with suicide because others see suicide as...

Kavita believes that there is stigma associated with suicide because others see suicide as...

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Well it’s quite distressing actually. I had a couple of people who were very willing and happy to listen and be there. But the rest, most people, especially when I went back to work, I was, I was very, very disappointed really. People’s reactions especially being, this being a suicide, people didn’t obviously know what to say, and they would just not even acknowledge anything or say anything. And I think that was very painful.


Do you like to talk about your brother now?


Yes. I still … I always did, even afterwards. And I never hide the fact that he died by suicide.

 

Hmm.

 

My mum, on the other hand, has started, she told me recently she’s started to tell people that he died but she hasn’t said why. She hasn’t given them a reason.

 

Is that because she’s experienced negative reactions?


Yes, she’s experienced negative reactions in a lot of people. Depending on, even the Hindu culture, the Muslim culture, I don’t know, whilst her friends and people from those sort of cultures, Sikh, Hindu, whatever, in Asian, Indian they’re quite open in a lot of ways, like when they were coming round the house they were openly expressing and crying and, you know, all that sort of thing, some of them are very insensitive and will come out with things like, “It’s a sin.” You know. And, you know, “In our culture it’s a sin,” and just things like that really.

 

Does the Hindu religion see suicide as a sin?


I think so.


Do, do you sense there is still a stigma about suicide?

 

Yes, I think so.

 

Why do you think that is?

 

Because, well why do I, why …

 

Why do you think there’s been this stigma, or there is this stigma still?

 

People perceive someone who has killed themselves to be cowardly, weak, selfish, all those things.

 

Hmm.

 

And somehow that’s, even though that is really not true, it isn’t true, nobody in their right mind would kill them, we all have an instinct, a self-preservation instinct …

 

Kavita’s father helped to prepare her brother’s body. His open coffin was in the house. A priest...

Kavita’s father helped to prepare her brother’s body. His open coffin was in the house. A priest...

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My dad was very helpful in, in terms of sorting my brother’s body out and washing and getting the clothes … all these sort of things. 


Is this a Hindu tradition, washing the body…?


Washing the body and dressing the body in a new … I think it’s a new outfit. So my dad had brought this suit, for dressing my brother, and had bathed him and all this.

 

But the day of his … the coffin in the house was the day of the funeral, yes. The priest was there for ages and doing all his rituals and putting stuff on him, my brother. And I felt really bad about that actually that his body’s being tampered with if you like and I don’t know just sad. And I remember touching my brother, you know, his head, and I just couldn’t believe that, the feeling, it was like a touching a rock really, a stone.

 

Hmm.

 

And that’s really it’s sort of you know because he looked normal really. Just looked his normal self you know. So you expect to feel him. 


Hmm, Hmm.


But you don’t you, you feel this you know, sort of stone.

 

Kavita and her family hired a boat so that they could scatter her brother's ashes in the Thames;...

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What happened to your brother’s ashes?


Ah yeah. That’s actually quite a nice day, well almost. I can’t remember how long after the funeral, it wasn’t too long after the funeral, we, we were given his ashes. And I think quite soon after that my mum was quite anxious to get the ashes scattered because culturally I think you’re supposed to as I said, do everything almost …


Hmm.


… the same day or next day. Although this couldn’t happen here. But she didn’t want to hang on the ashes. And we all went. My dad, my mum, me and my [younger brother], had the ashes with us and went … we decided to scatter them on the Thames because my brother had a huge love for London. He loved London.


Hm.

 

Or you know passionately. So I thought it was appropriate for the ashes to be put in the Thames really.

 

Hmm.

 

So we went near Bermondsey I think, somewhere like that, where you can actually get a boat. They do, they cater for Hindu or any, all different cultures.  So we asked for this boat anyway. And we went on this boat and then scattered these ashes.

 

Was it a special boat designed to help people who were going to scatter ashes?

 

Yes it was.

 

Oh.

 

So that was very; I was quite amazed there was such a thing actually, you know. I suppose maybe living in London perhaps is one of a sort of ….


How did you find about that?


I don’t know. My mum must have done it.


Yes.


She must have done some research. I think she’s got so many friends and people, people who know much more than she does actually about the Hindu culture. I think there was … it might be the funeral people who actually suggested, recommended this company or this, these people who do this.


Hm. So you had the boat just to yourselves …


Yes.


… at the time?

 

Yes … which was amazing. It wasn’t long time, we weren’t on there, the boat only went out a short way.


Hmm.


And stopped and we scattered … it was a windy day, some of the ash came back.

 

Hmm.

 

You know.

 

Did you have a Hindu priest with you?

 

Yes, I think we did. Again I’m, I, I’m trying to remember, I can’t fully remember.

 

No.

 

But I think we did have Hindu priest.

 

Hmm.

 

Because I think some prayers are, are said.

 

Hmm.

 

Uttered you know when, when that happens.

 

In ‘South Asian culture’ it is normal for many visitors to call at the house after someone dies....

In ‘South Asian culture’ it is normal for many visitors to call at the house after someone dies....

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And then you know …, everyday went on like that in slow motion. I used to go to my mum … everything was slow motion. It was … we’d sit and have these talks about my brother every evening at my mum’s house, I remember this. And they were so calm, the talks were so, so calm. And people kept coming to the house. I remember loads and loads of visitors because the sort of Asian culture is that sort of … when someone dies people come and visit constantly, you know, for days on end really. And it was really difficult. I remember my mum sort of saying she finds it really hard to receiving people and can I help. And it’s you know.


So you weren’t going to work at that time?


No I remember I was off, off work for two and half … was it something like two months, two and half months.


Hmm.


It’s when the people stopped coming, going to my mum’s, that’s when things felt really odd. It felt, I think we felt alone then because people had stopped or slowed down I should say. You’d get the odd visitor who hadn’t heard, or just heard and would come. I mean, initially the visitors were a problem because it was constant and it was tiring. But you sort of get used to that and it’s like a support.

 

Kavita explains what happened when she had psychotherapy. She could talk about her feelings and...

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I had a very good counsellor actually, a psychotherapist I think he was. And I saw him for about twenty something weeks, something like that, sessions anyway. And we covered lots of different things. And it probably was helpful. But I think by this time my antidepressants had sort of kicked in. So I wasn’t, I wasn’t able to reach within, within you know, my emotions became more numb, if you like.


How long did you have to wait to see a counsellor?


Fairly long. I don’t remember how long. But it was …


Weeks or months?


It was weeks.


Hm.


It wasn’t months to fair, it was weeks. But by then the antidepressants had surely kicked in.


Yeah.


And I wasn’t crying an awful lot. The same thing was happening with my mum, she wasn’t crying. She wasn’t, you know, the antidepressants were doing their job really. We were functioning if you like.


Hm.


And not, not … yes we were … I think the antidepressants help you to function, carry on. Not reach in and not feel that raw pain and emotion as much as you would without them.

 

…I think initially it’s about speaking and about opening up and talking, you’re given the opportunity really to talk about how you feel (during counselling). I was asked how I felt and my relationship with my brother and how this has affected me. And, and from, from that other things emerge, you know, about your, I mean, my, my former life, before my brother, the way our childhood was. So it obviously can become in, intensive in that, and things do come to light, you know, come to the surface a bit. But it’s worth persevering really. For instance, it sort of dawned on me through psychotherapy about our childhood, whereas it hadn’t before.


Hmm. So this was psychotherapy rather than just counselling, wasn’t it?


Well both. I think counselling will do that as well.


Yes.


Psychotherapy is a bit more, it’s a bit more practical I would say. Counselling is sort of more about the patient or the client or whoever speaking, opening up. The counsellor, counsellor more, offering, steering the, the client in the right direction. Whereas psychotherapy is very focused on treatment and maybe sort of how to review your thinking and other things. Many aspects are covered in psychotherapy.


By treatment, do you mean to, to help the person reassess and think in a different way?


Yes. Yes.


Or did you have something else in mind?


Yes, that’s about it, to sort of change your thought processes and negative thinking and ...

 

Hmm.


... what you can actually do to, practical things, what you can actually write down things, you know, write down events and how they’ve affected you and, you know, just sort of very practical, so that you can actually see what’s happening there.


So were you encouraged to write about what had happened?


I was sort of made to write about things, and I remember having a lot of fears and worries about something happening to my younger brother mainly.


Hmm.


So I was, that was put more into perspective in that, you know, what are the like, what’s the likelihood? What would be the event? What would be the, you know, that sort of analysing.


Hmm.


And the risk factors and trying to sort of get it into perspective so you’re not overwhelmed and thinking, “My God, this is going to happen to him.”
 
Yes.
 
Tomorrow. You know. And also [sighs] also I sort of, when things come, come to, came to the surface a bit more, how to sort of practically create boundaries, say with my mum, trying to do that sort of stuff, because it’s been quite tough because she’s been left isolated.
 
Hmm.
 
And I became a bit entangled, you know.
 
So therapy helped you decide on how much you should help and when you should help?
 
Yes.
 
And that sort of thing.
 
Yes, and that’s been a very, very long and difficult, and it’s still going on…

 

After her brother's death Kavita felt isolated. She saw Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide as a 'haven' away from the chaos and away from 'normal' people who didn't understand what she had been through.

After her brother's death Kavita felt isolated. She saw Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide as a 'haven' away from the chaos and away from 'normal' people who didn't understand what she had been through.

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But one day, just not long after his, literally two, three weeks after his death, I was out with my husband one evening because I’d started to say, well we should start to go out and try to do stuff really I suppose. And I think we’d been for dinner or came back home and switched on the TV. And there was a documentary going on about … I can’t remember which rock star it was … but it was about, this programme was about his suicide. And at the end of the programme, we only caught the last five minutes of this programme and I thought, “Oh I wished I’d seen the whole thing.” And how relevant, you know how relevant it was at that time.


Hmm.


It was amazing how it was a sign, you know. And at the end of the programme, the SOBS number came up.


Ah.


And that was that. I rang then straightaway, the next day I think, and they told me about their meetings and when they’re held. And I went to the next meeting which happened to be just the, the following week. And I can honestly say I remember going quite a few times after that. I’d go every month for the first, quite a few months. I might’ve missed the odd one, but I think I went quite a few times, in the initial stages. And they were … it was lifesaver. The first time I felt … there were people who had so much in common with me. I was not alone. Being in that group, it was, it was comforting because being in society and having to live with normal people was tough.


Hmm.


You felt very, I felt very isolated. People could not possibly understand what I was going through. And I didn’t, I sometime blamed them, sometime I didn’t. But even friends you know, some of them were there, some were not. But this group was this shelter, this haven in all that chaos you know, away from normal people. I remember thinking that when I was there. And I said it in the group as well. I said, “This is massive comfort, to get away from normal life and normal people and just focus on this thing is so, so important, so important”.

 

Kavita thinks about her brother all the time and sometimes experiences periods of intense grief...

Kavita thinks about her brother all the time and sometimes experiences periods of intense grief...

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You say that you feel as though you’re grieving, how have your feelings changed over the years?


Changed over the years, there’s been lot of changes in a sense, some of it remains so, so static that you know, some of the feelings, they’re repetitive and they’re, they have remained more or less the same. But what’s changed is and it, it is now a feeling of acceptance that’s he’s actually, wants me to live … wants to see the world through my eyes. And that feeling is, is strong. It’s comforting. And whilst I’ll have periods, it’ll come in waves, where the grief will become intense again.


Hmm.


And I’ll really feel it within, raw again. It’s, that, that doesn’t happen frequently, it doesn’t happen all the time you know.


Hmm.


He’s there at the back of my mind every single minute of the day. I can’t really think of a time he’s not, actually. But what changes is this kind of an acceptance to live without him and to live.


To go on living your life?


Yes. But knowing, rather than fighting the fact that he’s not here, living my life as though, knowing he’s not around, but is around.


Hmm.


In a different way.


Hmm.


Accepting.


Because he’s around as a spiritual person …?


Yes which is … and I feel probably even closer to him than maybe in life actually.

 

Her brother died exactly a year before 9/11. She is in emotional turmoil from the end of August...

Her brother died exactly a year before 9/11. She is in emotional turmoil from the end of August...

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His birthday would have been 7th November. And obviously, automatically you find yourself in an emotional turmoil.


Hmm.


It’s all very jumbled up. It’s not obvious. You don’t think, “Ok, the day is coming now when I’m going to feel sad.” It’s very automatic, it’s very unconscious if you like, it, it creeps up on you and you find yourself feeling down and you don’t know why and then you realise because …


Hmm.

 

… I often find myself starting to get down and low end of August, September obviously is a bad month because of this, when it happened. The actual day, because it’s connected to 9/11 makes it very strange and I’ve sort of got wrapped up in the 9/11 thing because of this. Because the 9/11 America one happened a year after, exactly a year after my brother’s one. Now my brother loved those twin towers, loved them, New York too and took lots of pictures of them and …


Ah.


… to me there’s this connection and, so the first anniversary was actually the most unusual one in that we were preparing for this overwhelming grief and suddenly this happened, which affected the whole world.


Yes.


You know, such a big even, you know. So it kind of took over a bit. And we got distracted because of that. And it kind of merged and …


Hmm.


… the one and, sort of together type, same thing. It’s very strange.


I can see, it must have had a huge impact on you that day.

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