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Marion - Interview 32

Age at interview: 58
Brief Outline: Marion's husband took his own life in 1996. He had taken alcohol and analgesics and died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Marion and their four children were shocked and devastated. They found support from SOBS, professional counselling and Noah's Ark.
Background: Marion is a factory shift supervisor. She is a widow and has 4 grown-up children. Ethnic background/nationality: White British.

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In November 1996 Marion came out of hospital, where she had been ill. Her husband, Graham, had been looking after their four children, who were aged between 10 and 22 years old, while she had been away. When Marion came home her husband seemed a bit tired and “down in the mouth”. Marion suggested he should go to see his GP or the local pastor, but he told her not to worry and that he would do “something” about it.
 
The next day Marion woke to find that Graham had left the house early. She phoned his work but he did not answer. During the morning a policeman arrived at the house and told her that there had been an accident and that her husband was dead. The policeman said he could not tell her how it had happened or when it had happened.
 
Accompanied by her two eldest children, Marion went to identify Graham’s body. It was only later that she discovered that it had not been an accident and that Graham had killed himself with some pain killers, some alcohol and the exhaust fumes from his moped. He had left a note, a copy of which the police gave to her three days later. The note did not explain why Graham had taken his life. Some time later Marion discovered that Graham had had financial problems and that in the past, before they had married, he had had mental health problems. However, she never found out why he had decided to take his own life at that particular time.   
 
Marion returned to the house. Later, when her youngest son returned from school, she had the terrible task of telling him that his father had died. Marion and the children were shocked and devastated. The children felt confused, distressed and angry about what had happened. The school teachers were very supportive and helped her with the youngest child, collecting him for school and bringing him home.
 
The two youngest children also wanted to see their father’s body at the mortuary. The coroner’s officer stayed with them while they were there. He was very caring and helped Marion get through the ordeal of seeing her youngest son holding on to his dead father. Marion’s middle son was speechless when he saw his father and ran out of the room. However, Marion does not regret her decision to allow the children to see their father’s body. They asked to see him and it was their decision. She wanted to include the children in all the decisions she had to make about Graham. Marion took the older children to see Graham’s body again, after he had been moved to the chapel of rest. She wishes she had spent some time with him on her own too.
 
The funeral was arranged for a fortnight and a day after Graham’s death. Marion planned it with the children. There was a short service at the local crematorium, which was led by their vicar. Marion found the whole event “horrendous”. The children were devastated and cried and cried. Marion did not cry. The day seemed unreal. She felt stunned. She was still numb with shock. It was only months later that she felt she really needed a funeral so that she could grieve properly. After the funeral Graham’s body was cremated.      
 
The coroner’s officer was very professional, helpful and caring through-out this terrible time. When he phoned he always used her name, told her what he was calling about and reminded her of what he had told her before. He gave her all the information she needed about the inquest and answered her questions.
 
Marion found the police much less professional and much less helpful. Many factors relating to her contact with the police made her feel upset. For example, instead of using her husband’s name the police talked about “the deceased” and seemed to forget they were talking about a human being. When Marion rang the police for information she got passed from one policeman to another, and when she went to the police station to collect Graham’s things she heard a policeman talking about Graham in derogatory terms.
 
The local press reported Graham’s death in a horrible manner, which upset the family. The reporters included too much detail about what had happened and published inaccurate headlines and misquoted Marion’s account of events.
 
The inquest was held the following February. The verdict was suicide. Marion found it all very somber. The coroner concluded that “the deceased had taken his own life”, which Marion found very impersonal and cold.
 
After Graham’s death Marion felt that she must be to blame for what had happened and she felt a terrible sense of guilt. It took many years for her to accept that she was not to blame for Graham’s death and that she was not responsible for what happened. Marion also felt that others blamed her for Graham’s death. She thinks that there is still stigma associated with suicide. Her family were not supportive at the time.
 
It took Marion two years to find the support group, Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS). She has been to a couple of conferences run by SOBS, which she has found very helpful. She has also attended the SOBS retreats, which are social events, and where there is a candle-lit dinner and where she finds support from others who have been through a similar experience.
 
Marion coped for a long time without any professional support. She worked very hard to support the family. However, eventually she found she could not cope any longer on her own. Her emotions were like a roller coaster. One moment she felt fine and the next she was in floods of tears, swinging from sanity to “border-line insanity”. To start with she did not want to tell her GP how she felt, but eventually she broke down in front of her GP when she went to consult about her ankle. The GP arranged for her to see a professional counsellor once a fortnight for three years. This helped her to go on with her life and it put her life “back on track”.  Marion also enlisted the help of the Charity called Noah’s Ark, who helped her youngest son cope with his bereavement.
 
Now, eleven years after Graham’s death, Marion still finds it very hard to live without him. She misses him greatly, especially on special occasions, and she worries about a future without his love and friendship and without his emotional and physical support.

Marion was interviewed in November 2007.

 

Marion’s husband had not told her about his financial worries or history of mental health problems.

Marion’s husband had not told her about his financial worries or history of mental health problems.

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I found out afterwards in the, in the May afterwards when I was speaking to his elder brother that he had had mental health problems in the past. But we were married nearly 25 years and I knew nothing. I knew nothing. It was all very, very strange, totally unreal, totally unreal. And I also discovered that there were horrendous financial problems as well about which I knew nothing.

Do you think that had been worrying him?

Oh I think so, yes, I think so, but yeah that’s, that’s what happened.

 

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

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

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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.

 

The children wanted to see their father’s body. Marion took them and thinks it was the right...

The children wanted to see their father’s body. Marion took them and thinks it was the right...

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Did the younger children want to go and see him or was it just the three of you went to see his body?

No the younger two wanted to see him. And we arranged to go on the Monday after he died on the Thursday. We had to arrange that with the Coroner’s Officer and the police and everybody. Our pastor, our vicar took us, me and the two younger ones and… [sigh] the 16-year-old took one look and fled and disappeared into the vicar’s arms and stayed there. And the youngest one took his daddy’s hands and was talking to him and stroking his hair and gave him a kiss. I remember standing there like a statue thinking, “I just want to get out of here. I don’t want to be here. This, this is not somewhere I, I should be.” I didn’t want to be there at all. Then he started asking questions about the fact that daddy’s head was all hollow at the back and I sort of said, “Well you know, that’s because his head’s not on the pillow properly”. And I remember Graham’s hands were neatly folded on his chest and the little one holding his hands tightly in both of his and then saying, “Oh he’s all hollow down the middle as well.” And I said, “Yes well he always was a scrawny old thing wasn’t he?” And laughing about it.

And the Coroner’s Officer was just stood in the corner. He was, he was wonderful. I don’t think I’d have got through any of it without him. He was wonderful. And I remember looking across at him and sort of begging him to understand that I just needed to get out of there. I couldn’t stay any longer. But I had this child in front of me who was glued to his father and I mean glued to his father. And the Coroner’s Officer just quietly came across the room. He put one arm around me, one arm round my little one and he gave me a hug which was much needed. And I remember watching his arm slide down the little one’s arm to his hands and he took his hands in one of his, turned him round and said, “I think we need to take Mummy home now don’t you?” and we went.

And we talked about it since, and that particular son said, “I don’t even remember coming out of there.” And it was purely because of this fantastic guy who knew exactly what I needed to do which was to just get out of there. My middle son was speechless. He never spoke all day. I tried to talk to him but he didn’t want to know. He, he just, he closed himself off in a, in a very big brick box. There weren’t even any windows in it. He ate what I gave him and if I took the plate away halfway through his meal he wouldn’t have noticed. He was just literally on autopilot.

Did you give them the choice of going, whether or not they wanted to go and see their father?

Oh they both wanted to. They both wanted to desperately yeah.

And looking back was it the right decision to give them that choice?

I think so. I don’t remember asking them if they wanted to. I remember them telling me they wanted to. I don’t know whether I’d have had the courage to ask them to be honest, but they both said, “Where is he? What’s happening to him and what does he look like?” And then the older, the middle one saying, “Well, I want to see him”. And then the other one of course said, “Well I do as well.” [laugh] Not to be left out. I know my parents particularly were absolutely horrified that I’d allowed them to do that. With the benefit of hindsight I would do it again. It would never occur to me now not to.

Afterwards I thought, “Oh I shouldn’t have done that; the trauma of them seeing him like that,” but maybe the trauma of what they would have imagined would have been worse. I just tried to keep them up to speed with what was happening on the grounds that they had a right to know as well. He was their Daddy. So yeah we, we did all of that. I did take the older two to see him once he was moved to the Chapel of Rest. They wanted to go and see him and neither of them could drive so I took them.
 
Again with the benefit of hindsight I wish I’d gone on my own once, but each time I went with the children and therefore had no time with him on my own. And that actually after, after the funeral and everything that became quite a big issue that everybody else had had a part of him. You know there were the fire brigade were involved, the ambulance, the GPs, the police, the Coroner’s Officer, the bloke who did the autopsy. Everybody had had a piece of him and I hadn’t had any time to say my own personal goodbyes. And by that time it was too late.

 

Marion called a friend to help her calm her ten-year-old son after she had told him the terrible...

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And then of course my youngest came home from school. His head-teacher brought him home from school in the car and he didn’t know anything about all of this. He had no idea. And.


That must have been the hardest thing.


He came in from school and there was a police car still outside the house, and a policeman in the house, and he bounced in like all 10-year olds do and said, “Hi yeah Mum”. And I said, “Hello darling, come and sit down.” And he said, “Why, what’s the matter? Has granddad died?” Granddad being the oldest person in the family. And I said, “No Daddy has.”

And he was hysterical within minutes. He and his daddy were very, very close. And he was really desperately upset. He was. He was pretty difficult to handle, I must admit he was very difficult to handle. My auntie was still here, bless her, she hadn’t gone anywhere. It was very, very hard. And that particular evening I don’t know what happened that evening. I can’t remember what happened that evening except that I remember ringing my other very, very dear friend and saying to her, “Will you please come and put this child to bed before I strangle him”, because he ’d lost the plot completely and I don’t think I’d even found it. I mean it was just total devastation.


Was anyone else in the house when you told him? Was the policeman here still?


The police were here and his head-teacher stayed. She was well, the deputy head. She was actually his form teacher at the time and she was absolutely amazing. She was lovely but she wasn’t who he wanted and I wasn’t who he wanted and he was really, really bitterly distressed.  And I do remember this friend of mine coming down and saying, “You go and sit in the sitting room. I’ll deal with this.” And she spent about an hour just talking to him about the place where daddy could be now where it will be better and…


You are Christians you said?


Yes.

 

Marion 'felt' that a stigma was attached to her because of the way Graham died. She acknowledges...

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And of course it was in the run up to Christmas so things were happening at school and my youngest son was actually in the Christmas play and he was absolutely determined he was not going to do it, absolutely determined. And I, I wanted him to do it because it was something that he had planned for several months and he was persuaded by his head-teacher that it would be a good idea if he did it. And therefore I had to go as well on the opening night. And I went on my own which would never have happened normally. Graham would have been with me. And I was shown to my seat by a very solicitous deputy head which would never have happened normally. And I sat all on my own with an empty seat beside me because we’d had our tickets for quite a long time. And I was aware that all [my son’s] classmates were, parents were around me. And I knew quite a lot of them and nobody said anything. They didn’t know what to say did they, been there, done that, you know. They didn’t know what to say.

And his turn came on, on the stage, and I have to say he was brilliant. It was a comedy sketch that he and this other lad did. And they were just so funny the two of them. Where he got it from I do not know. He found it from somewhere and he and this lad did this sketch. I don’t remember what it was about and I remember sitting there and thinking, this is supposed to be funny and I couldn’t laugh because I knew if I laughed I wouldn’t be able to stop crying. Everybody else was in fits of laughter.

There were mince pies and cups of tea afterwards and I remember standing in the school hall with all these people and kids and you know, it was great excitement. It was the end of the school term and there’d been this fantastic play. There were lots of other little sketches as well but that was really funny apparently. And I remember just standing there and being completely on my own.


How awful.


Yeah. Completely on my own although there were loads of people there that I knew. And people did come and talk to me but I was completely on my own because Graham wasn’t there. And I think that was probably the first time I realised what it was actually going to be like without him.


Do you think people avoided talking to you or do you think they were just so busy talking to their children?


Yeah I think, yeah I mean it was, it was a school play and it was all very exciting. My perception of it was that I had this stigma attached to me because he’d committed suicide but I don’t think that was it really. I think I felt that.


Felt that at the time.


Yes, yeah. I think a lot of it was people very, very embarrassed. They didn’t know what to say. Quite a lot of them were probably frightened to death I’d dissolve in tears which was quite a possibility at the time. But generally speaking for that, for that fortnight, certainly for the fortnight up to the funeral I don’t remember being particularly tearful or particularly weepy. I, I think I was just shocked. I was so shocked. It was unreal, the whole thing was unreal.

 

Graham’s death was reported on the radio before Marion had been told about it. His death was also...

Graham’s death was reported on the radio before Marion had been told about it. His death was also...

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And the headmaster was very sweet. He had already identified that there was a car outside from the local newspaper and they were obviously waiting for a report, photographs whatever I don’t know. And the headmaster also said he would keep my youngest with him all afternoon because a lot of the other children went home for, for lunch and by that time the news of Graham’s death was out on the radio and he’d been named.  He was actually named at half past 9 on the radio but I didn’t hear that because I was in my friend’s car going to the vets. So the whole of the town knew before I did.


How do you feel about that?


I’m, I’m still quite shocked about it actually. He was found about quarter past 8. He lived until quarter past 9. He was pronounced dead just after quarter past 9 and on our local radio station he was actually named. The place where he died and the local newspaper office are very close and one of the reporters was walking through the grounds of Graham’s place of work when there was all the kafuffle going on. And he asked somebody who was there what was happening and it was actually my husband’s boss who told him who it was and what he’d, what had happened, what he’d done.

 

I didn’t know for two hours after that and the place he died is ten minutes drive away from here. So that was, that was all very difficult to cope with as well. Everybody knew. It was plastered all over the newspapers.

 

The press were involved from, virtually from Day 2 because the local paper was published the day after Graham died.  And they splashed headlines right across, “Horror Death at local place.” And of course they, I mean they already knew that Graham had left a widow and four children and they knew the address. They knew everything about it except my bra size I think. I’m sure they’d have printed that if they’d known. They were very casual in their reporting, very careless. They didn’t report things accurately. Even after the inquest they asked for a quote and I gave them a quote and they just changed it to suit themselves, so why ask for a quote if you’re not going to use it. It’s either a quote or a statement. You know. But they were [sigh], they were very unsympathetic, very unsympathetic, to the extent that our vicar actually wrote to the editors of both the local papers and protested basically about the way they’d handled it. And they both actually responded, ‘Well it was news’. And that’s all that mattered but the horror death headline really, really upset [name] upset the youngest. He was terribly upset. ‘It wasn’t a horror that was my daddy.’

 

A policeman did not know how to get into the mortuary. When Marion went to the police station to...

A policeman did not know how to get into the mortuary. When Marion went to the police station to...

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And you would have liked to have known more about the manner of his death then when you were told?

Yes, yes, yes. They did say to me that they couldn’t actually tell me that he’d committed suicide because the Coroner has to give that verdict. But having led me, led me to believe he’d had an accident I was thinking fractured skull, come off his motorbike, something.

The policeman that took us to the mortuary was singularly ill equipped to do that. He was very young. He didn’t speak to us all the way there. I sat beside him. My elder two sat in the back and we all held hands through the gap in between the seats and he [the policeman] never spoke to us. He didn’t know how to get into the mortuary so we had to walk round it twice. Those things are really important. You just need somebody to be in control and he obviously wasn’t. He didn’t speak to us all the way back again either. He dropped us at the, at the gate and as he drove away as I said the reporters turned up.

Oh.

I wanted, I wanted them to sort of

Look after you?

Be, be a buffer. Yeah to look after me and there wasn’t anybody there to do it. I needed somebody professional to do it. They, they were even worse when I went to collect his effects. They were even worse then.

What happened then?

I had a phone call saying would I go and collect my late husband’s effects and I made the appointment and got to the local police station and [pause] as I opened the door there was a very young constable standing with his back to the door obviously talking to somebody behind the desk. And he said as I walked in, it was unfortunate for him, as I walked in he said, “Oh and that suicide’s widow will be up here soon to collect the silly sod’s stuff”.  And I remember thinking if I hit him I’ll probably end up in a cell and I just said, “That suicide’s widow is behind you”. Well, to say he wished he could have collapsed in a heap is an understatement. His face was a study. He didn’t apologise. He just asked me to sit down for a few minutes, by which time I was very near collapse I can tell you. And this was, this was towards the beginning of March so it was quite a long time afterwards. And he eventually came and got me and took me through. They left this young man to deal with me. He took me through this filthy, dirty, smelly little office with no windows, really dark and horrible. And then he went and came, got, disappeared and came back again. Went and got a Sainsbury’s carrier bag, out of which he took the wallet, and various things, keys, Graham’s watch, a few other things that he had. And then to my absolute horror he produced the paracetamol bottle and the whisky bottle. …And there was a drop of whisky left in the bottom of it and he asked me if I wanted it measured, as if I cared. And then he told me that my husband’s motorbike was still round the back of the police station and that had to be moved. And then he put the whole lot back in the carrier bag, gave me a piece of paper to sign which I did and showed me out.

And at that point I think I lost the plot completely. I remember driving down the road and stopping outside our local chemist. I knew the pharmacist quite well professionally and I walked into the chemist and he just happened to be in the shop thank god. And he took one look at me and said, ‘What on earth’s happened?’ And I said, ‘What am I supposed to do with these?’ And he took the whisky bottle and the paracetamol bottle and he said, ‘I’ll deal with those for you’.

And I thought why. I’ve said to the police since, if he’d hanged himself would you have given me the rope?

 Incredible decision.
 
And they said, “Yes”. Now I’ve spoken to people at SOBS conferences, SOBS retreats and they do actually do that. It’s part of the deceased’s effects. Would you want the rope your husband hanged himself with, because I wouldn’t. Whether it’s just one police force that does it I don’t know, I don’t know but what I wanted at the time and for the period afterwards up until that, what I needed was to have one person with one name that I could go to if I needed some help. And what I got was passed around the police station and people referring to me as a ‘suicide’s widow’ and referring to him in terms that were derogatory to put it mildly. It was unfortunate that I heard it. I’m sure I wasn’t intended to.

 

Financially things were difficult. Marion had financial support from the church and did not know...

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Would you mind just saying a little bit about practical matters?

Yes the bank thing was a nightmare. I went to the bank shortly after he died and to make an appointment, well to arrange for our account to become my account. And I ended up with the bank manager for two hours because of various transactions that Graham had made; two of them in my name while I’d been in hospital, that I knew nothing at all about. And which took me the best part of eight and a half years to repay.

Telephone bills, we were with British Telecom and it took them four years to stop addressing letters to him and send them to me. The communications people of the world couldn’t get it right, but there you go.

You just wrote to them about it or did you have to send certificates, the death certificate?

Everybody wants the original death certificate. And of course you, when it’s a suicide you don’t get a death certificate until the Coroner has told you or has pronounced that it is a suicide. But you can get an Interim Death Certificate, but some firms won’t accept that.

Who gave you the Interim Death Certificate, the Coroner’s Officer?

Yeah I think that was the Coroner’s Officer. I think so, must have been. I don’t think I dealt with anybody else.

And you say some people wouldn’t accept that?

No. The insurance company wouldn’t accept it. And of course when push came to shove as a suicide he wasn’t covered anyway.

Oh.

So financially things were very, very difficult, very difficult. Again I had financial support from the church for a while which was heaven sent [laugh], I have to say. It was, it was. Well I had minus 4p in my account when, when he died. Paying for his funeral was a nightmare. Organising the payment for that was a nightmare because you then fall onto the Social Fund and you have to go to the DSS office and sit there for four and a half hours while they decide whether they’ll see you or not. And my father came with me for that and he was getting more and more and more angry.

Do people get any help from the state for funerals?

There is help available.

Is that if you ask for it or?

Yes, yes. And the crazy thing is, once you have your death certificate and you go to register a death, a normal death or you know whatever, one that doesn’t involve the Coroner shall we say, at that point and having done this several times, you register the death and you get a booklet from DSS which says ‘What to do When Somebody Dies’. That’s what it’s called. [But after a death by suicide] you actually get that at the inquest, by which time hopefully you’ve done most of it.

Again the most helpful people in that situation are the undertakers because they know the situation and they know how to deal with it. But I hadn’t got a clue.

So for somebody who was in, who might be in your situation at the time without any money to pay for a funeral how do they get money from the State to help?

You have to go to the DSS and plead your case basically. I went to our local office. As I say my father took me because I still wasn’t allowed to drive. I was ill. And  my dad took me and we were there four and a half hours waiting to be seen. And eventually I spoke with a really, really helpful lady actually. I was glad I got her and not the guy in the room next door. But she, she was really, really helpful. She was lovely. And did I want this? And would I need this? She couldn’t have been more helpful but nobody told me that’s what I had to do.
 
No
 
I just didn’t know what to do and somebody said well try the DSS office.
 
So can you then send the bills to them or do they give you a grant?
 
No they, they give you an allowance, I think it’s called a Death Allowance or something. It pays basically for a basic funeral. Wouldn’t give you any treats or anything. And sometimes I think it has to be repaid if there’s an estate as such. Certainly in my case there was no estate [laugh] so, but I think it has to be repaid. But there is help available but it’s very, very, it’s difficult to access that if you haven’t got the information and I didn’t have the information. I got the booklet at the Inquest and that was in February.
 
And you needed help.
 
Three months after Graham died.
 
If you’re going to have a funeral quickly, you need the help.
 
Exactly. Yeah you can’t say to the undertakers, well you know in a few months time we might [have a funeral]. It’s got to be done.
 
And did the money come fairly quickly to pay for the expenses?
 
As I remember the church paid for Graham’s funeral. I repaid them from the money that came but I think it did come quite quickly. I don’t really remember. I do remember thinking I, I can’t even bury him. I can’t do anything.

 

Graham's funeral at the crematorium was horrendous. The hearse was late and all the children were...

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The funeral was arranged for a fortnight and a day after his death and that was horrendous.


Did you plan that with the children?


Yes. It was all planned with the children, the hymns everything. We didn’t have many believe me. It was a very, very short service, primarily because I knew I would fall apart completely. And ironically I was the one that didn’t. That, that was very, very strange and I am quite an emotional person anyway and I really thought I would fall apart completely. My best friend took me and the two youngest boys and a friend of the middle son. The others went independently. My daughter came with her fiancé and my eldest son came with his girlfriend. They arrived independently. We got to the crematorium and we waited and waited and waited and the place filled up and the hearse was late, got caught in traffic. Nobody else did but the hearse did and I remember saying to the undertaker; he said, ‘I’m really sorry we got caught up in traffic so we’re late’. And I said, ‘Graham would have hated to have been late’.

 

It was, as I said, a very short service. Our vicar was really, really choked. He was a personal friend as well. He was very choked. He did an address. He came with a prepared address and didn’t use it. He just spoke. My best friend stood between, stood beside my youngest son who was beside me and my children and their friends were in the front row. And I remember saying to my best friend, “If anything happens with the youngest, if he kicks off just take him out”. I knew she would do that, just take him out. He sobbed the entire time, the whole funeral. My middle son stood beside me holding my hand and crying his eyes out. My daughter was tucked up in her fiancés arms weeping buckets and my eldest son just stood holding his girlfriend’s hand and the tears just fell out of his face. He wasn’t even crying. It just fell out of his face. And I just stood there and thought, “This is totally unreal. I wonder what I am doing here? All these people.” It, it felt exactly as if I was in some sort of a play where I had to do this particular, play this particular role and there was no room for emotion or anything like that.


Did you feel you were having to support them all the time?


I don’t, I don’t even remember thinking about them at the time. It was awful.  While we were waiting for the hearse to come and the youngest kept disappearing and I remember I kept saying you know, “Where is he, where is he?” Because I was so worried that he would disappear somewhere. He didn’t of course but….  And afterwards going outside and there were all of these people just wanting to shake my hand and say how sorry they were. And the headmaster had come from the youngest one’s school and there were so, so many people there who loved him. And I still didn’t feel it was real. It was about six months later when I suddenly thought I really, really need to go to Graham’s funeral. And that was a really odd day because it was, you know, it was right out of nowhere. What on earth would I want to revisit a funeral for? But I was suddenly very aware that I hadn’t actually been there. I had in myself but spiritually, mentally, whatever I was totally removed from it. I was the only person who didn’t cry and I knew that I would fall apart. I was absolutely certain I’d be a sobbing wreck and that people would be shovelling me up afterwards and [laugh] putting me back in the car and it wasn’t like that at all.

 

The coroner’s officer was “wonderful”. He dealt with Marion and her young child very...

The coroner’s officer was “wonderful”. He dealt with Marion and her young child very...

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I’d really like to know about the Coroner’s Officers, what their role is and what they do.


He [the coroner’s officer] was amazing. His role was basically to tell me what was going to happen. In a normal death, you as next of kin have the Death Certificate. You register the death. Well of course you can’t register a suicide death until the Coroner has pronounced that it was suicide and then he registers it. You don’t. So that is something that’s taken from you. It’s a, it’s a dubious privilege but it’s something else that’s taken from you. It’s his duty to liaise with you and the police about anything that happens. He needs to know about police interviews and statements that they take.


The Coroner’s Officer does?


Yes. And then it’s all presented to the Coroner at the inquest. And he, he needed at various times to get things clear in his own mind. It was, it was all a bit shady. I don’t know why but the police didn’t seem to understand that I had last seen him [her husband] on the Wednesday and he’d actually been found on the Thursday but he was still alive but he died. So that was suspicious because. It was all very difficult and he [the coroner’s officer] was absolutely amazing. I have heard people who’ve said, oh their Coroner’s Officer weren’t but he really was. He should have a medal. He was fantastic.


What was special about the way he looked after you and treated you?


His care of my youngest when we went to see him [her husband’s body] to start with. He was wonderful in that. The depth of his understanding of a newly widowed woman with a fairly young child with very strong emotions going on all round and he, he dealt with it professionally but so carefully. He was lovely. Whenever he phoned me, and sometimes it was two or three times a day, sometimes not for a couple of days, he would say, good afternoon, and he always used my name, always. Sometimes my Christian name but usually Mrs…. He would then tell me his name and who he was so that I knew who I was talking to. His, his depth of experience he obviously realised that people in my state didn’t have a clue what they were doing and just functioned on autopilot. Anything that happened happened. So he would always say good afternoon, tell me who he was, tell me what his job was so I knew who, that he was him and then he’d say, “You may remember that when I phoned you on, whatever day, I had to ask you X, Y and Z. I’m sorry to disturb you now. I know how difficult this is but I do just need to ask A, B and C”. The next time he phoned he would recap on both those things and then ask me what else he wanted to know. I think the most important thing was I knew he was there. I knew who he was. The police were anonymous.


Could you phone him if you had a query?


Yes, absolutely yes. The police were much less helpful, much less sensitive. And we, trying to get things like my rent card and the electricity payment card and things I rang our local police station and asked for the constable whose name I had been given. He wasn’t there. His colleague would deal with it but he wasn’t there either and when they came back they’d ring me. They didn’t. I phoned again. I got passed all around the police station and ended up with the desk sergeant who said, ‘I’m sorry I don’t know anything about it’. You know and I really needed to talk to one person who could solve this problem for me. I needed people to solve things because I couldn’t do them myself. Normally I’m quite a managing sort of person but I couldn’t do it.


No, so the Coroner’s Officer was really goo

 

When Marion was “at rock bottom” her GP arranged for her to see a counsellor. Counselling, once a...

When Marion was “at rock bottom” her GP arranged for her to see a counsellor. Counselling, once a...

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I fell and broke my ankle out on the common, which was careless, and then of course I had to go and see my GP because I needed time off sick. And I went to her one day and she said, ‘How’s the ankle?’ And I just dissolved, I just fell apart completely and said, ‘My ankle’s fine’. Which it wasn’t. ‘My ankle’s fine it’s just me. I can’t do it anymore’. And.


You needed somebody to look after you.


Yes, yeah. And I mean that doesn’t mean that my children haven’t because they’ve been wonderful. They really have, well three of them and the fourth one we’re working on [laugh]. No he’s, he’s ok now. He’s fine. I have to say I’m very proud of him now. But he was very hard work, very hard work. And I just fell apart completely. I couldn’t. I couldn’t cope any more. And my GP said, oh you know, “Would you like to see somebody?” And I said, “I don’t know. I don’t know what to do” And she set it [counselling] up and I turned up at this day centre thinking I shouldn’t really be here. There are people who need it far more than I do. And actually that was a load of rubbish because I needed it tremendously and I needed somebody to say to me, “It’s ok to go on being alive”. Because I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to.


Mm.


I think I’d reached a point there where I was just at rock bottom. I really, really was so.


So this was a trained professional counsellor?


Yes, yeah, yeah, yeah.


How often did you go and see that person?


I saw that person once a fortnight for three years. He’s now retired but I think it enabled me to put my life back on track where I just literally; I think to an extent I had still been on autopilot. I do. I think I’d been on autopilot. I think after a shock like that it is so, so difficult to, to go on functioning as a human being. You function at a totally different level. What was normal is not normal anymore and the new normal isn’t normal. It’s not what you want it to be but you do it anyway because that’s what happens.

 

During a SOBS retreat weekend people support each other. Marion describes what usually happens....

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During a SOBS retreat weekend people support each other. Marion describes what usually happens....

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What happens at the retreat?


We always have nice food. We have a lovely hotel which the coordinator susses out before anybody goes. We’ve already done it for next year’s. And we have excellent food, excellent service, just a time to get together. It is fairly, it is very informal. The first full day, it’s usually held in a town where there’s a street market or there’s local activities' steam railways, attractions, that sort of thing and there’s always shopping. And then in the afternoons the local college, health and beauty students always put on some sort of a massage and facials and that sort of thing. Because a lot of us find that, that you don’t actually take a lot of time for yourself. It’s very hard to feel that you’re worth taking time for.


I suppose some people are very busy earning money?


Absolutely yes, yeah. And then there’s always a candlelit dinner, always a candlelit dinner on the Saturday, which again could be a very emotional time but actually is usually a scream. Everybody brings a candle and then it’s, the staff from the hotel put them randomly on the tables so you hopefully don’t get your own candle and then the candles are lit and they’re just a symbol of why we’re there. Sundays some people go home, sometimes people stay the next, that night. It’s just a sort of social day really.


And the cost is just the cost of the hotel?


Yes, yeah, yeah. Yes so it’s quite good but it’s, I think it’s very important. We, we always, sadly always have new members. Always.


Can people come from all over the country?


Oh yes, yes. Once or twice we’ve had a contingent from way up North and South East, West, everywhere yeah, yeah.

 

Marion finds the idea of the future without her husband quite frightening.

Marion finds the idea of the future without her husband quite frightening.

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I’m frightened basically, very frightened of what the future holds. When I, when I was well it was difficult enough. Now that I’m not so well always, it’s very, very hard. I never planned going into a nursing home or a residential care home for that matter because we were always going to look after each other. Well that’s out of the window, out of the question now. When I’m ill I find it very hard to be on my own. Not because I want somebody waiting on me hand, foot and finger but because it’s nice to have somebody around. And again my children would be there but they’re not, they’re not Graham, they’re not their dad. And they have their own lives to lead. So the future is quite frightening. I’m quite apprehensive about it. …I’m looking forward to the wedding and seeing the younger two settling down. You know there are, there are positives in it. But they all seem to be tinged with ‘but if Graham were here it would be easier’ you know.

 

Yes.

 

It’s quite irrational because he isn’t and he isn’t going to be but it doesn’t stop you hoping [laugh]. It doesn’t stop you longing for it does it.

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