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Maurice - Interview 14

Age at interview: 70
Brief Outline: In 1984 Maurice and Jane's son Tom took his own life by hanging. Jane and Maurice were shocked and devastated. Maurice found most support from friends and colleagues. The local vicar has also been helpful.
Background: Maurice is a veterinary pathologist. He is married and has 1 adult child. He had another child who died. Ethnic background/nationality: White British.

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Maurice and Jane’s son Tom was 17 when he hung himself while at boarding school. Tom may have been under some degree of stress, partly because he was preparing for ‘A’ level exams, and partly because he was about to take his driving test. Jane suspected that other factors might have played a part in Tom’s decision to take his own life (see Jane’s account, interview number 13). Maurice, like Jane, thought that Tom may have had some problems at school with particular teachers. Maurice also wondered whether or not Tom had girl friend “problems.”
 
At the time of Tom’s death in 1984 there was also some “upheaval” at home because Maurice had been made redundant, and he and his wife Jane had been thinking about moving to Australia.
 
When the police arrived at the house to tell Maurice and Jane that their son was dead they were devastated. Maurice said he loved Tom and missed him, and wondered why Tom had killed himself. Maurice thought about the way his son had died and even today, 23 years later, Maurice still wonders about the exact manner of Tom’s death and about how long it took his son to die.
 
When Tom died Maurice also wondered whether or not Tom’s suicide could have been prevented, and he also wondered whether or not he was guilty in some way or could have handled things differently.
 
Maurice and Jane went to see Tom 48 hours after officials had done the autopsy. Tom was lying in the hospital chapel. Maurice says that it was important to see his son and to spend that time with him after his death.
 
Tom’s funeral was held in the school chapel. Maurice is a Christian and he found the service helpful. After the service the family held a wake at their house so that they could celebrate Tom’s life.
 
Tom was cremated and then buried next to other family members in a church yard in Cheshire. Jane and Maurice placed a seat in the churchyard in Tom’s memory.
 
The inquest was six months later. Tom did not leave a note but the coroner decided that Tom’s death was due to suicide while “the balance of his mind was disturbed”. Maurice says that he is not sure he likes the coroners conclusion that his son’s mind was “disturbed”, because no one knows what was going through Tom’s mind at the time. In 1984 there was stigma attached to the idea that a person’s mind was “disturbed”.
 
Maurice cried after Tom died and found it helpful to talk to close friends and colleagues about what had happened. The local vicar has also been a source of support. Maurice has not had any formal counselling. He has found it helpful to work hard and to keep busy with activities such as sailing.
 
Maurice says that he and Jane go on living despite the trauma of what happened, and he gives thanks for the 17 years that Tom had with them when he was alive. However, painful memories still come to the surface from time to time. Sometimes another school boy or a grand-child reminds them of what happened. Only recently Maurice and Jane wept together while remembering Tom.   

Maurice was interviewed in August 2007.

 

Maurice wanted to know why his son had taken his life. He wondered if he could have altered the...

Maurice wanted to know why his son had taken his life. He wondered if he could have altered the...

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What were your immediate feelings when you heard that terrible news?


Well obviously, well, within the, within the first few minutes one occupies oneself talking and then the gradual realisation that that you will, well probably not at that stage, that you will no longer see them. And immediately you start asking “Why?” And that’s continued really for 23 years. Partly one, one questions whether one should be guilty or whether one could have altered facts or altered the circumstances to, to alter his decision, but then immediately, yes immediately I handled it differently to Jane because Jane, my wife, she didn’t express outwardly grief at that stage, it was some considerable time before she handled, she expressed open grief, but I was, yes I don’t know whether I was able, but I, I did cry  in those first few days and then I was able to talk about it to other people and in fact I occupied myself I suppose by telling other people what, what had happened I suppose.

 

Maurice and Jane found social occasions difficult for a long time because other people ignored...

Maurice and Jane found social occasions difficult for a long time because other people ignored...

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How, have friends helped you? You said you found it reasonably easy to talk to friends after it all happened?


Yes, I think it is important to have friends and to use them, and I explained that I, I used them in a way, that I told them what had happened, and talked to them. Do they talk to you? A very small number do. And obviously some people are frightened of talking, quite clearly some people are frightened of talking to you and won’t, and won’t even broach the subject, and social occasions were very difficult for probably 12 months and even longer for Jane. They were difficult because people ignored what had happened completely, and when they ignore what happens that is very hurtful. And I don’t think they mean to be hurtful, just ignore it and think that well it will go away, but it never does go away, not in a lifetime.

 

Maurice and Jane chose Tom's favourite music for his funeral, and a reading from The Prophet by Khalil Gibran. They like the line that starts, 'Your children are not your children'.

Maurice and Jane chose Tom's favourite music for his funeral, and a reading from The Prophet by Khalil Gibran. They like the line that starts, 'Your children are not your children'.

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And the service itself, did you choose special readings or music?


Yes, yes I’ve forgotten the name of the band, he wanted some band there, Pink Floyd, that’s right, Pink Floyd was his favourite, yes and I think yes he had a particular record of Pink Floyd, it’s quite amazing that now they’ve resurfaced again, and I didn’t appreciate them then but apparently a hell of a lot of other people did.


Mm.


And there were readings yes. I rather like Khalil Gibran about the children, they’re not your children, they’re God’s children. I’ll recommend anyone to read that.


Did you read that yourself?

 

Yes, well I knew the piece, I, I’d read  Khalil Gibran before, and knew the piece and it’s there, yes I always have to have it in front of  me to remember it in detail now but, do you know it?


No I don’t, I must look at it.

 

It’s out there I’ll show it to you.

 

After Tom died Maurice and Jane supported each other. Maurice found he could talk to colleagues...

After Tom died Maurice and Jane supported each other. Maurice found he could talk to colleagues...

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You said you went back to work, how did work colleagues handle this, did they know what had happened?


Yes, oh well yes, I’ve already said that one work colleague told me actually what had happened in detail because he’d been listening to the police radios. Yes the colleagues were very good, the colleagues yes, were very good yes. When I say that they were supportive I suppose.  They were willing to talk about it, well some of them were, not the youngsters, we had, I was working with the youngsters and older people. It was generally the older people who would talk about it not the youngsters, they, they, they were not willing to talk about it.


Mm.


Although in fact we were, I’d probably told them, I did find I was telling people what had happened, and whether they liked it or not.


Mm.


And then one saw their responses, so people yes the work people were good, but work was, work was good, I’m, I’m fortunate in that I enjoy the work I do, did, and I think that that was, very, I was very lucky to that extent, and probably that’s why it was much harder for Jane who was not, who although she was in fact, again, well yes she had her horses, and I think her horses helped her too, as occupations somehow, other occupational therapy.


Did you seek support anywhere else?


I didn’t no.


You didn’t have any formal counselling?


No, I had no formal counselling; probably you know I’m a bit reluctant and a bit cynical about counselling.

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