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Lynne - Interview 26

Age at interview: 47
Brief Outline: In 1981, when Lynne was 19, her mother drowned in the bath at home. It seems that she took her own life. Lynne felt her mother had been let down by the professionals who had been involved in her care. She has found support from friends & colleagues.
Background: Lynne is a university lecturer and occupational therapist. She is married. Ethnic background/nationality: White British.

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When Lynne was a teenager she was aware that her mother was affected by mental ill health. Sometimes her mother seemed happy and extrovert but at other times she seemed anxious and almost agoraphobic. In 1981, when Lynne was 19 years old, the family moved from a village to a nearby town. Her mother wanted this move but after the move her mental health problems seemed to get worse.  Her mother’s medication had been changed by the GP - the dose had been reduced - and Lynne wonders whether or not this affected her mother’s increasing mental ill health.
 
Lynne’s mother started to hear voices. She said that someone was telling her to kill herself. One day she took an overdose and was admitted to hospital, but was soon sent home. On another occasion she tried to kill herself by putting her head in an oven. She was seen by her psychiatrist the following Friday, and she told him that she felt suicidal, but she was sent home.
 
Two days later, Lynne, and a friend, and Lynne’s father, went out for a walk. It was Sunday afternoon. They returned to find Lynne’s mother apparently dead in the bath.  They tried to resuscitate her and Lynne called 999, but when the ambulance men arrived there was nothing they could do. The GP was called to certify the death and the police arrived too.
 
A policeman stayed with the family and took care of the girls and showed a great deal of compassion, while they waited for Lynne’s mother’s body to be taken away, but the GP left soon after he had seen the body and did not call again to see if Lynne and her family were alright. Lynne would have liked the GP to have shown more concern.
 
After the initial shock of finding her mother dead, Lynne wondered if there was any way the family could have prevented her death, and she felt a sense of guilt. However, she also felt a sense of what might almost be called “relief” because the family had been living with her mother’s mental illness for so long and because there never seemed to be an end in sight. Lynne found it hard to make sense of what had happened. As her parents were both active members of their local church Lynne wondered how her mother’s death would be regarded by other members of the church.
 
Many people attended the funeral and Lynne felt that the family was well supported. However, although Lynne did not feel that other people were judgmental she found that others were not very happy to talk about what had happened. Lynne thinks that other people feel embarrassed when they hear that someone has committed suicide, and that they fear talking about it in case they upset those involved.
 
Soon after her mother’s death Lynne’s mother’s psychiatrist offered to see her and her father, but Lynne felt that her mother’s health care team had let her mother down and so she did not feel that it was appropriate to seek help from those who had been involved in her care. Lynne felt angry because her mother had been sent home even though she had told the psychiatrist that she was feeling suicidal.
 
Lynne had to return to work, a clinical placement at a London hospital. She did not seek any formal support or counselling but she felt that her colleagues and friends were very supportive.
 
Months later Lynne attended the inquest. She found it emotional, quite “scary” and very formal. The verdict given by the coroner was “death by fresh water drowning, whilst the balance of her mind was unstable ”.
 
Years later Lynne wished she had looked at her mothers medical notes, because she wanted to make sense of what had happened, and today she thinks that help and support are not always offered to those who are bereaved at the most appropriate time.  People bereaved due to suicide may need different kinds of support at different stages.
 
At times Lynne still feels sad and angry, particularly on important occasions, when her mother is not with her to celebrate certain events in her life. Lynne also feels sad that the family were not able to help her mother and make life happier for her. Although Lynne feels upset that her mother apparently made a decision to take her own life she understands that her mother was ill at the time and may not have been thinking in a logical manner.

Lynne was interviewed in November 2007.

 

Lynne tried to make sense of what had happened. She wondered if her mother’s psychotropic...

Lynne tried to make sense of what had happened. She wondered if her mother’s psychotropic...

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No, obviously you kind of try and make sense of what happened and I think that’s one of the hardest things for, for families of people who have committed suicide is trying to make sense of the whole process and just what went wrong and what could’ve been done, but I, I have my own, I suppose the way I’ve made sense of that is that this was quite a long time ago, and Mum was on quite heavy medication at that time and for some reason just before Mum and Dad moved they started cutting down her medication and cutting it down quite quickly. And I think that was probably at a time where people didn’t know so much about withdrawing people from psychotropic medication. And I just wonder whether some of the things, because she started talking for the first time that she was hearing voices and people, somebody was telling her to kill herself and things, and that had just never ever been part of her problems ever before, and that at that period of time was she was just behaving very very differently, and I suppose the way I’ve kind of tried to make sense of that in my own mind is that maybe that was associated with the cut in her medication. But also during that time because they’d moved, probably about 20 miles away, she was almost between GP’s, so she’d left her GP who was a very traditional family GP and he’d known my mother’s parents and he’d known my mother and he’d, you know was at the hospital when I was born so he knew us as a family, so I think she’d gone from a, a fairly supportive environment that, that all of her treatment was really handled by the GP, there wasn’t an extended team, to living in a new town, where she had lost that contact.

 

Mm.

 

And was under a new GP who was part of quite a large practice, and so I think the time at which her medication was being cut she was also in transition because they’d moved house, between health care teams as well, although during that time she was still being seen by her psychiatrist and she did have an appointment to go up to see the psychiatrist a few days before she killed herself so she had been for that appointment. And the way my father recounted that was that she did tell the psychiatrist that she was feeling suicidal, but I’m not sure whether he just didn’t believe her or, or what, but he actually, she had her appointment with the psychiatrist on the Friday, and she killed herself on the Sunday. So….

 

Lynne loved her mother, but having spent about ten years helping her mother live with mental...

Lynne loved her mother, but having spent about ten years helping her mother live with mental...

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And I think it, it sounds a very, I guess it, it will sound a very horrible thing to say, but I think if I’m totally honest, when you’ve lived with somebody who has a mental health problem for years and years and years, and it’s completely dominated a lot of your family life, and then when you go through quite a few weeks of you know, all those kinds of things about attempting suicide, and whatever, there is a, there is a, a little part of me that felt almost as if, “Well it’s all over now.” And that sounds an incredibly horrible thing to say, but there’s almost a sort of a, it’s almost as if there, relief isn’t the right word to say, but it’s almost like that you know that, that that having gone through all of that, and trying to help somebody and just never, there never seemed to be an end, you never seem to have reached a point where you could feel “Yeah, Mum’s now better,” ‘cos every time when we did that, then she would slip back and we would go through another period of lots and lots and lots of her having, of being quite poorly.


Other people have said that too.


Oh.


It’s a sense of relief, having gone through so many months or years of trying to help somebody, so you’re not alone.


Well it feels, because it feels such a horrible thing to say about, you know, how could you love somebody so much but sort of feel relief, you know, hearing them telling you about how she killed herself, and then how can you turn round and say it’s a sense of relief? It doesn’t, it doesn’t feel right to say that, but that is the absolute honest answer is you know that there is a sense that well at least, you’d know that, you’d know that all of that’s stopped, you haven’t got to keep going through it and I’m sure, because I was away, training during the week and home at weekends I’m sure I only know half of what my father went through. I’m sure he was going through you know an awful lot of things that that we were just never told about. So I think about all that you’ve lived with, someone for years and years and years, there is in all honesty, that that kind of sense and that makes, in dealing with that in itself you, because that’s something that I’d never, I never said that to my father, would never have dreamt of saying to him, gosh isn’t it a kind of relief that all of this is over now, so it was never spoken about. So you kind of almost have to try and make sense of that in, in your own head and that’s quite hard you know, how can you actually really admit to yourself that you feel relief when you’re also going through bereavement and, and so that, that was quite difficult.

 

At times Lynne feels sad and angry that her mother has not been there to share the important...

At times Lynne feels sad and angry that her mother has not been there to share the important...

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Yes, I’m, what I was trying to explain was there’s, there’s a lot of sadness and anger that that she has not been part of all the big things that have happened to me since , but that at the time, that it’s almost as if it’s an anger about her making a decision not to be there, that she chose not to be part of our lives anymore, but it’s also I guess an understanding that at the time she made that choice she was a very poorly lady.


Mm.


And that throughout those last few months of her life she wasn’t, a lot of her thinking was revolving around her, she was at a place where she was very unhappy, she was very ill, and she wasn’t thinking in a logical way.

 

Lynne doesn’t think others made judgments. She thinks that others avoided the subject of her...

Lynne doesn’t think others made judgments. She thinks that others avoided the subject of her...

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And you know Mum’s funeral, the church was absolutely crowded with people and it was a very, it felt a very supportive and you know sort of, a supportive funeral. There were a lot of people who were offering support during that time, but I think people don’t, people didn’t make judgments, but also people didn’t talk about it either, and I think you know it was almost as, and I think it is the reaction that you continue to get whenever you say, “Oh my mother committed suicide” is that it’s almost as if people just sort of say, “Oh okay,” and then pass on to the next thing you know that it, I, I just have this very strong sense that it is something that we just don’t talk about, that people don’t talk about, whereas if you say, you know somebody had another illness, they’d probably, it’s likely that somebody would ask you the details about it, but when we.


Would you like, would you like to be able to talk about it more openly to people?


…it’s hard isn’t it, because there’s a level at which people in reality, in our day to day lives, is people don’t want to know the detail, but I think that that the response that you get is that people are embarrassed and I think what I would want is for people not, not to be embarrassed when they’re told, when somebody tells you that a person has committed suicide. And you can actually sense the embarrassment from people if you say that. So in some situations absolutely not, it’s not appropriate to be able to, you know to talk to people more, but I think it is just that that whole thing about what, you know why are we so embarrassed when somebody tells us that a person you know, somebody that they love, or my mother, if I tell someone my mother committed suicide, why does it embarrass somebody that I’ve told them that? Certainly people very few people would ever ask any questions.


Mm.


And the normal response is to change the subject and move on to something else.


And why do you think that is?


…I don’t know really, I don’t know whether it’s because people think it’s upsetting, for, it would be upsetting for me to talk to them about it. So it maybe that people just don’t want to upset me, I think probably we, I guess we don’t tend to handle bereavement very well do we in any case, whether, you know when somebody you know says that a member of their family has died I think probably we do tend to move on, so I’m not sure whether it’s just that we’re not very good at doing bereavement in our country or whether it’s just that people don’t…, I think there is this fear, this genuine fear that, that people don’t want to upset me.


Mm.


Rather than, I think that’s what it is. Because they, they won’t know where that story goes once they ask will they, so I think you know people can quite, quite quickly get into maybe areas of my life that they don’t necessarily want to go to, don’t know.

 

Lynne’s parents had been active in their local church before her mother’s suicide. Lynne was...

Lynne’s parents had been active in their local church before her mother’s suicide. Lynne was...

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I think one of the, one of the sort of strange questions I think that went through, through my head when we were planning what the funeral was, the whole thing about you know, the sort of, if people are devout Christians that whole reaction in that kind of circle to somebody taking their own life and committing suicide, can you know for some people, that that is perceived as a sin. So that’s quite hard and I think I had it in my own mind as well, you know how when you sort of, you know, read back through sort of novels and things, people talk about people who commit suicide not being buried on, say people being buried on the outskirts of cemeteries and things, you know and just sort of questions in my own mind like that about well you know' “Will Mum be able to be buried in the cemetery or will she be tucked up in a little corner because of the way she died, because she took her own life?” And those maybe all illogical things, but those were the kinds of things that you just sort of think of, that I was thinking of in those, those sort of first, you know that first week or so after, after she killed herself.

 

Was your mother buried in the churchyard?


Yes. Yes she was, she was buried in the churchyard, in a little corner, but I think in a little corner because they happened, that was where the plot was rather than my own nightmare of in a little corner tucked behind a fence because she’d committed suicide sort of thing so it was, yes, she was buried in there, in the cemetery.

 

Lynne urges others not to be hard on themselves. When someone has a mental health problem the...

Lynne urges others not to be hard on themselves. When someone has a mental health problem the...

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And I suppose the thing for other families and friends of people who’ve committed suicide is not to be too hard on yourself, because I think there is, certainly for us, a whole tendency to soul search and try to answer all those questions about what could we have done differently, and what did we miss, and why didn’t we do things, or why didn’t we pick up on whatever it may have been the day the person died, why didn’t we know that was going to happen or why couldn’t we stop them. But I think if, if you live with a person with a mental health problem over a long period of time, you’re under as a family a lot of pressure and a lot of sustained pressure and in the cold light of day you’re so, after a person’s died, you may look back and think I should’ve done this and I should’ve done that and I could’ve done…, but just not to underestimate as a family or as friends just the day in and day out pressure that you’re under, that probably you were doing the best that you could at the time, but the place that the person was at because they are unwell, was just at a place where you couldn’t do anymore.


Yeah.


And I think there is a tendency you know to be very very hard on yourself, and in hindsight you can look back without that day in and day out pressure, and be quite tough on yourself about what you should’ve done differently, but when you’re in the midst of that pressure you probably are doing the best that you can do.

 

Support should be offered at a time to suit each individual. It may be needed years after...

Support should be offered at a time to suit each individual. It may be needed years after...

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I actually think for health care professionals, and I think there, there is, there is an issue for me about appreciating the support that families and friends of someone who has committed suicide need, but also appreciating that the timing that they need, it may not be the time that it’s traditionally offered, which is around you know traditionally it’s around the time that someone has committed suicide that that people are there, certainly for me, I guess there, there maybe support for people needed then, which is about, you know, coping with the trauma of the event itself, but I think that people, when a member of your family has committed suicide there is quite a long journey that you go on.

 

Mm.

 

That starts with dealing with the actual suicide itself, and kind of almost progresses through to trying to understand and make sense of it, and understand and make sense of your role in it.


And the other thing that I just wanted to say, is also to think about that the person who offers the support as well, because although support and help was offered to us by Mum’s psychiatrist, that actually, probably at the time that she died, wasn’t the person that certainly I would’ve chosen to have gone to for support, because there was quite a strong sense that he was a person who had let Mum down. So although that person had offered support, I wouldn’t have gone there, so I think it is that, that that thinking about whether it is the same team who care for the person with the mental health problem, whether they are the appropriate people to be supporting the family if the family do have a feeling that maybe things didn’t go so well with the team or that the team hadn’t picked up on stuff. Maybe the family needs their own support independent of the team looking after their relative.

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