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Mike - Interview 9

Age at interview: 53
Brief Outline: In 1972, when Mike was aged 18, his father took his own life. He died in his car by inhaling fumes from the exhaust. His death has had a huge impact on Mike's life. Mike has done much to help others bereaved due to suicide, which has also helped him.
Background: Mike is a mental health lecturer and social worker. He is married. Ethnic background/nationality: White British.

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In 1972, when Mike was aged 18, his father took his own life. He died in his car by inhaling fumes from the exhaust. Mike thinks that his father was feeling depressed at the time partly because of an unhappy second marriage and partly because he had recently been made redundant. His father took his life three days after this happened.
 
When Mike heard the terrible news about his father’s death he was away staying with his sister, recovering from a motor bike accident. Mike felt a great sense of shock, despair and perplexity. He also felt a sense of guilt and wondered if he could have done something to prevent the suicide. His whole world seemed to “disintegrate” around him. Mike described the situation as his “personal holocaust”.
 
The funeral was a “dreadful experience”. Mike felt shattered in body, mind and spirit. Mike did not have a religious conviction at the time and so did not find any support from the church. There was little other support available to him or his sister. His GP offered him medication but that is all. Mike and his sister had to support each other. At one time his sister became depressed but the psychiatrist only offered her medication. Counselling was not offered as an option.
 
After his father’s death Mike “buried himself” in his work and found it hard get emotionally close to other people. He feared rejection once more. It was a lonely time for him.
 
In 1990 Mike joined a local group of people who had all been bereaved due to suicide and he later helped to facilitate the group. He also helped to develop the booklet called “Help is at Hand”, which is a resource for people bereaved by suicide and other sudden, traumatic death. Mike has done a great deal to help others bereaved due to suicide and he sees this as a positive thing that has come out of his dreadful experience of losing is father in this manner.
   
Mike’s mother died when he was only 16. He says that he has come to terms with her death because it was a natural death but his father’s death “can not be healed.” His father’s death still has an impact on his life, though “the passage of time” has helped.

Mike was interviewed in August 2007.

 

Mike thinks his father was unhappy at the time of his suicide: He had had an unhappy second marriage and had been made redundant at work.

Mike thinks his father was unhappy at the time of his suicide: He had had an unhappy second marriage and had been made redundant at work.

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In the house that day was my sister, and my brother-in-law, and well we, we’d known that my father was unhappy, to say the least, he’d, he’d made a second marriage, my mother had died about three years previously, and he was very devoted to my mother and he made a second marriage, which unfortunately was a disaster. He said himself he’d, he’d, he’d married in haste and was now repenting in leisure and it was a big mistake, he was very unhappy in his marriage. And then the, the next big thing was he was made redundant at work, and he’d worked very hard, he’d, he’d started off right at the bottom in this firm, metal refining firm, in Wolverhampton and had worked his way up to being the Managing Director on the firm. And the firm got taken over and the next thing we know he was being made redundant, and within what, three days of that happening he’d taken his life [sighs]. So we knew he was very unhappy with his circumstances, with the second wife where, you know, the marriage had been a disaster really and then this issue of losing his job, I think that was the, the final thing really, you know?

 

Mmm.

 

And it was a great surprise because he was a very strong person, a very tough capable man who’d had a lot of blows and difficulties in his life, and I think this was the thing that we found so hard to understand, I mean I know now that depression and mental distress can hit literally anyone and all it takes is enough pressure and enough problems and in it the toughest of people will break.

 

When Mike was only 18 a young and inexperienced policeman arrived at the house and told him and...

When Mike was only 18 a young and inexperienced policeman arrived at the house and told him and...

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At the age of eighteen my father took his life through suicide. It was an incredibly hard moment to discover what he’d done. I first found out about it through a young constable, who was only twenty, knocking on the door to let us know this news. At that time I was staying at my sister’s house, and the situation was this young constable, as I say, he turned up and imparted this terrible news to us that our father had taken his life. We thought initially there’d been some sort of mistake or, miscommunication and did some checking round to absolutely confirm what had happened and in fact it, it was the case that he’d taken his life. The young constable was in such a state trying to impart this news to us that my brother-in-law had to sit him down and give him a cup of tea. I think it was appalling that he was sent out, without the proper training and preparation, and also on his own, a young lad of about twenty, appalling, so there’s a big issue there for the police, well I think this is an issue from talking to serving police officers now that still needs to be addressed.
 

Mike was only 18 when his father took his own life by suicide. Mike felt tremendous grief. He...

Mike was only 18 when his father took his own life by suicide. Mike felt tremendous grief. He...

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... but at the time it was very bewildering that such a strong person to, for this to happen and we just totally completely, your, your, your, your feelings and emotions, it’s just like you’ve been churned around in a huge washing machine because you, your feelings of great despair, great sorrow, perplexity, well why? It just seems such a senseless act, what’s all this about? You know, it, it is bewildering, at the same time you’re feeling anger, you’re feeling resentment, you’re feeling absolutely despairing and  the, the deepest of grief, because it’s all seem so senseless to you.
 

Mike lost his father over 30 years ago but it still feels very recent in his mind. He does not...

Mike lost his father over 30 years ago but it still feels very recent in his mind. He does not...

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Extremely hard I mean yes, it is a personal holocaust I mean I think that’s the best way of summing it up it’s, you, your whole world just disintegrates around you, the impact of it is, it’s inconceivable to express, I can’t put it into, into words what it does to you, it really wrings you in, inside out, just a sort of whole, a kaleidoscope of emotions and feelings all swirling around together, which, are just really hard to deal with, you know, confusing.


How long do those feelings go on for, are they still going on?


A long, long time. I mean I, I don’t think you ever adjust, you know some people talk about adjustment to bereavement and, I don’t know whether we ever really adjust fully to, to losing someone who’s close to us that we love, a friend or a relative. But certainly with bereavement through suicide I don’t think you ever do really, you don’t adjust, at best you reach an accommodation with yourself and that’s different to an, that’s different to an adjustment. To use a comparison, my mother died of cancer when I was fifteen and that was like horrendous, we nursed her at home, it was horrendous, and in many ways you could say it was worse, the experience of that, but I’ve come to terms with my mother’s death, you know, in that that was a natural death, natural, natural causes, it was terribly sad it was awful experience to, to see her suffer, but my father’s death through suicide I’ve never, that, that hasn’t healed. Somebody wrote a book called ‘A Special Scar’, it’s a really good way of putting it because it doesn’t heal in the same way, it’s still there, it’s still, it’s still like it was, I’m not saying like yesterday ‘cause it’s been a long time now it’s been over thirty years but it still feels very recent in my mind and it still impacts on me very centrally in a way that my mother’s death doesn’t.

 

Mike said that after his father died people crossed the road to avoid meeting him because they...

Mike said that after his father died people crossed the road to avoid meeting him because they...

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…people don’t know what to say, I mean we’re not good at dealing with death in our modern day society, it’s like sex in the nineteenth century was a great taboo, well it’s death is a great taboo in the twenty-first century, you know we’re not good at talking about this, bereavement of any kind, let alone bereavement by suicide which has got a whole new dimension, the very fact that somebody’s taken their life by their own hand makes it completely unique, different even to murder or sudden death it’s, it’s that dimension that it’s by that person’s own hand.  And some people just don’t know how to deal with it, they just feel so uncomfortable, they don’t know what to say, people will walk across the other side of the street sometimes to avoid talking to you, I’ve had that happen to me in the past with it. So, yeah I mean people just don’t know how to deal with it really, it’s a problem.

 

After his father died Mike resented the fact that his step-mother would benefit from his father’s...

After his father died Mike resented the fact that his step-mother would benefit from his father’s...

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Oh yes, we were involved with the solicitor, we had a solicitor because there were issues about the Will, that we had to deal with through the solicitor.

Was that difficult?

Well it was because the thing that was very upsetting to us was my mother and father had worked for thirty odd years themselves and, to accumulate what they’d got materially, and the Will was about to be changed to leaving everything to my stepmother. Her half, she was going get half of everything anyway, and as it turned out she ended up getting half of everything that both my mother and father had worked for all those years and the other fifty percent was split between me and my sister. So we resented that very much, I mean if she’d been a good wife to him then that would’ve been different, we wouldn’t have minded.  We didn’t have any objection to him getting married again we could see how upset and lonely he was that wasn’t a problem to us, but it was just very unfortunate that he ended up marrying the wrong woman, basically.

 

You said the Will was about to be changed?

 

Yes.

 

But it still went half to her?

 

Yes it did, so it was going to be changed so she’d have got everything.

 

Ah.

Yes.

So that was quite a difficult time?

Very difficult time, having to deal with solicitors, to sort of ensure that our legal interests were being represented, and we were going get our share of what we should be getting entitled to under the Will, so that was a difficult time yes, very difficult.
 

Mike was only 18 when his father died. The funeral, at a crematorium, was dreadful because it...

Mike was only 18 when his father died. The funeral, at a crematorium, was dreadful because it...

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The actual funeral was just a dreadful experience, really in the sense that of course it really brought it home that he’d died. It was an horrendous experience for me in that, in the January of that year, my father took his life in the April, from the January of that year I’d got badly smashed up on a motorbike, I was in hospital for three months, and when I came out of hospital I still had a full length plaster cast and I was at the funeral with like two crutches hobbling about with a full length plaster cast feeling not only smashed up in body but smashed up in mind and spirit, so it was a triple whammy, you know, in all senses of the word.


Mmm.


It was a dreadful day. There was like hundreds of people there I couldn’t believe how many people were there, I didn’t realise my father knew as many people as that, that was quite amazing how many people were there to me.


Mmm.


I remember feeling quite overwhelmed by that but at the same time it was good that people were there, you know, that, in remembrance of him, you know? 

 

Mike helped to start a support group. He explains how he got involved and what happens during a...

Mike helped to start a support group. He explains how he got involved and what happens during a...

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Well eighteen years later I was working as a Social Worker, Psychiatric Social Worker in Leeds, psychiatric hospital, and I noticed a sign on the notice board talking about the need to have a group set up for people bereaved through suicide. And I thought ‘what a great idea, this is really what’s needed’ and I wished there’d been something like this around for my sister and myself back in nineteen seventy-two. So I decided to make contact with the people who were setting it up and I’ve been actively involved with it ever since, and I’ve been a facilitator and Vice Chair of the group, and it made me realise the impact of suicide on other people as well, not just my own suicide but how it affects them, and the fact that if you’ve been bereaved through suicide you are more at risk of developing mental health problems and have an increased risk of suicide yourself.

What do you do at the meetings can you explain please?

Well what we, what we do basically is to, provide emotional support to people essentially, we help them to tell their story, they know they’re talking to people who themselves have been bereaved through suicide, that’s a crucial thing because we’ve had people come to the group before who’ve been to other bereavement groups and okay they’ve found people sympathetic and helpful but, it’s been really important to them to know they’re talking to somebody else who themselves has been through this, to really understand what it’s like, and that’s one of the first questions that people tend to ask you, you know, “Have you been bereaved through suicide?”. And of course we can say yes. So they, the help that we provide is in the sharing, we can’t change the facts, we can’t bring people back to life, but what we can do we share with them in this, and help them to understand that the thoughts and emotions and feelings they’re going through are the same kind of thoughts, feelings, emotions that most people go through, or everybody goes through, we’re all different as individuals, as people so we grieve differently, but there’s a lot of common ground obviously.

 

And I think it’s knowing that you’re not alone with these feelings and emotions that other people have gone through this as well and understand you, that’s the therapy of it really, that’s the support that we provide really, yeah.
 

Mike suggests that the internet has great potential for helping people, but is a ‘mixed blessing’...

Mike suggests that the internet has great potential for helping people, but is a ‘mixed blessing’...

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Is there anything else you want to say about the internet?


Yes, just that it’s a mixed blessing, I think it’s got some, some real good potential for helping people, some good information on the websites, collections of stories that people can give, which can be really helpful, but of course there’s some very bad stuff on there as well, stuff that encourages people to take their lives. So, that’s the internet, it’s like a microcosm of life isn’t it?  All of life is reflected there, the good, the bad and the ugly.


Mmm.

 

Yes, so you have to be careful. One of the things that does concern me as well, is, this issue that’s been in news recently like “You Tube” and some of the other, social networking sites; people being photographed, humiliated, and the impact that that could have on them in terms of their self-esteem particularly young people. So I think that’s very concerning that we’ve got these things, these images going out, you know, people being photographed sort of interviewed in a maybe a compromising, embarrassing situation or what have you and then their, their private life being paraded across the internet for anyone to see.


Without their permission?


Without their permission necessarily yeah.

 

Mike suggests that people should know what support is available for those bereaved by suicide and...

Mike suggests that people should know what support is available for those bereaved by suicide and...

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The message that I would like to pass on is for people to be aware of what support there is available, to be aware of the information pack we’ve now got Help is at Hand which was developed, as I say, by the Department of Health, with a whole group of interested stakeholders like myself and, and others, to develop a comprehensive guidance for people bereaved through suicide, and people suffering sudden and traumatic death ‘cause it covers that as well, like murders and road accidents etcetera. It’s really important to be aware of that resource and to be aware of the support helpline that SOBS provides seven days a week, to know about that and.

 

What does SOBS stand for?

 

Survivors of Bereavement through Suicide, to be aware of that organisation and the, the help and support they can provide, because they have this national phone line, to be aware of organisations for people who’ve lost children in particular, Winston’s Wish do some great work, they do some really good work in helping and supporting people bereaved through suicide particularly young children. So to be aware of what the resources are and the, the great thing about the Help is at Hand document it’s got all that in there.

Mmm.

 

You know so, I would, I would, I would always say go and get help, don’t try and struggle with it on your own, it’s too painful, it’s too difficult, you need the support of these other organisations, and I really would encourage and, and, and recommend to people that they got help and support through them, it’s too big a thing to carry on your own.
 

Mike recommends Alison Wertheimer's book 'A Special Scar'. It helped him understand emotions and...

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Mike recommends Alison Wertheimer's book 'A Special Scar'. It helped him understand emotions and...

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Are there any other books that you’d recommend to people?


The big book that we’ve always recommended to people in Leeds which I think is excellent is, A Special Scar by Alison Wertheimer. (…) I found it helped me, reading it. It helped me understand sort of emotions and feelings around suicide. I think with her professional background as a psychologist as well as having a personal loss [Alison Wertheimer lost her own sister by suicide] it’s a great thing she’s put this together, and you know there are a number of good books and as I say we know about the websites and articles, but I think that particular book is one I would really recommend to people, it’s particularly good.

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