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Nina - Interview 11

Age at interview: 27
Brief Outline: In 1999, Nina was shocked to hear that her brother, Joe, was in intensive care. He was aged 16. He had been found unconscious, hanging from a tree. He died three days later. Nina has found most support from friends, family, counsellors and SOBS.
Background: Nina is a student. She is single. Ethnic background/nationality: White British.

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Nina’s brother, Joe, died in October 1999, when he was aged 16. Joe was on holiday with his girl friend. They were very happy together and had had an excellent relationship, but one evening they had an argument and he left the caravan. He was found hanging from a tree. He was unconscious and taken to an intensive care unit in a local hospital. The care he received was very good, but he died three days later.
 
When Nina heard that her brother was in hospital she felt that she could not breathe and collapsed on the floor. Her father took her to the hospital to see Joe. Nina, her parents and Joe’s girl friend stayed with Joe during the next three days. Nina was glad that she had the three days to say “goodbye” to Joe while he was still alive. When he died she felt she was in a “haze” and was exhausted. She found it hard to tell people what had happened.
 
After Joe died Nina moved to another university so that she could move back home with her mother. She felt she had to be strong for her parents, particularly her mother, who had been living with Joe. Nina felt that roles had reversed. Nina is now studying for a PhD.
 
Joe had an “amazing” funeral about 10 days after he died. The church was so full that people had to stand outside. Afterwards Joe’s body was cremated.  
 
The inquest was about six months later. At first the family could not accept the verdict of suicide and the inquest had to be adjourned. When the inquest resumed some time later the coroner still returned a verdict of suicide. Nina has now accepted that Joe did kill himself. She thinks it is important that people recognise that that people do not have to be “down, depressed or mentally unwell” to take their own lives.
   
The family were not offered any support while at the hospital or immediately afterwards. Nina had to ask her GP for counselling. She was referred to the Community Mental Health team and had one session with one of their counsellors. Nina also went to a Cruse meeting with her mother but wanted to meet others who had been bereaved due to suicide. She felt that the “guilt” that comes with a suicide was not really addressed at the Cruse meeting.
 
A bit later Nina went to a meeting organised by Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide [SOBS], which she found “good”. She still goes to meetings occasionally, especially when she feels “down” for any reason. She finds it helpful to meet others who understand how she feels. Nina has also attended conferences run by SOBS, which she has found helpful but exhausting. Nina still sees a university counsellor from time to time, when ever she feels a need to talk to someone. This service is free and is helpful. Nina has also found some help from the internet by joining a support group called “A thousand deaths”.
 
Nina says that she will never stop missing Joe. She will never be the same person, and gets angry with other people when they get upset over trivial things. However, she says that she is happier than she ever thought she could be; she never thought she would reach where she is now.
 
Nina feels sad at the thought of a future without Joe and she anticipates feeling a great sense of loss when she has children of her own. No one knew Nina as well as Joe. They went through many experiences together and Nina says that it is hard now because no one is there to remember these shared experiences. However, Nina says she had chosen to live through his life and to remember the happy times they had together rather than his death.

Nina was interviewed in August 2007.

 

Nina felt breathless and collapsed when she heard that her brother was in intensive care. After...

Nina felt breathless and collapsed when she heard that her brother was in intensive care. After...

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When you got that phone call from your father, what was your first reaction then?

It was just like I couldn’t breathe, I collapsed on the floor, as if you’d picture it in a film. My Dad said to me, “Nina, there’s been a hanging”, and I couldn’t process what he meant, “What do you mean, there’s been a hanging.” And my Dad just, you know he said, “Joe’s hung himself. And he probably is not going to live.” Just within one sentence, and just trying, trying to process the information, I’d only seen my brother and although we were living, I’d just started university, I’d seen him the week before,  you know I’d seen him happy, we’d been away, we’d got on so well, he was you know, he’d had his 16th birthday.

 

The first, I mean the first year was just a haze and a bubble, and I can’t really, you know you’re just on auto pilot then, you’re just doing things because you know you have to eat, and you know you have to, well in Mum’s case she didn’t go to work but you know you have to kind of almost maintain a kind of normal life, but you’re just existing for the first year, you don’t, I can remember Dad saying to me, just that in those three days that Joe was still alive, I can remember him saying to me, “Nina you won’t remember anything that happens when we’re at the hospital, all this will just, will just go, you won’t remember it.” And I can remember thinking, don’t be silly, of course, of course I will, and I do, and I remember that whole three days when Joe was alive in the hospital, the minute that he died, that’s when my memory just went, gone. And, and I have conversations with my friends and, the, “Do you remember this and that?” Nothing, and I think it’s your body kind of protecting you almost, because if you would actually you know have to deal with what had happened, then you know you would just crumble, you would just fall apart. So yeah absolutely, the first, the first year was auto pilot, I call it, and “I was in the bubble.” And then probably two years after that I was still so tender, and I would just be exhausted at the end of the day.
 

Nina says that suicide is such a hard death to deal with because it is stigmatised. She had to...

Nina says that suicide is such a hard death to deal with because it is stigmatised. She had to...

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Were you offered any sort of support at the hospital by anybody?

 

No, no. Nothing, Absolutely nothing. We, we had to, we; we were left very much alone. Very, you know there was, no, no, not even a referral to the GP you know. Everything, everything had to come from us; we had to seek out the support.


Would you have liked the hospital chaplain or somebody to have come along?


I mean, they did, it was…


Was that too, too premature?


No I mean its personal preference really isn’t it? If you, if you would like, I mean I would just, I think that particularly because there is evidence to suggest that once you have a suicide in a family then you are more prone, you are, you know its, particularly in those, in those tender months, even years afterwards, there… there just should be some, there should be a referral I think you know if suicide is such a hard death to deal with, it’s such a stigmatised death, you’re not able to talk about suicide freely. You know, my Dad lost a friend over it, he wouldn’t speak to him because of, because of what happened. And I can, and I can remember you know people you know, I’d obviously, I’d moved back home and people knew, friends knew, school mates knew, school friends, but I can remember people crossing the street, just to avoid me, to not, whether or not that’s because you know they’re thinking, “Oh I can’t speak to, you know, that’s just too much for me to be able to speak to Nina.” And I’m sure, I’m sure that that, but its still, you know, added with the fact that you have, you know you’ve lost your brother, and then you have to cope with people’s reactions as well.

 

Family members supported each other and ‘just gelled together’ when Joe was dying in hospital.

Family members supported each other and ‘just gelled together’ when Joe was dying in hospital.

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And when you were at the hospital, what was the interaction like then? It must have been difficult.


At the hospital we were just, everyone was in a daze, everybody was just, just had the, I can just remember this ache in my head which didn’t go for about a year, you know you’re just you just feel like someone’s got your brain and just [holds her head] just squeezing it, but interaction in the hospital within the family considering my parents had divorced and relations weren’t that good between them really, prior to Joe killing himself, at the hospital things, I mean I, you know family try to do, everybody just gelled together, it was, it was, it was quite remarkable really. Didn’t continue. But, you know at that time when, when you know when it was needed, well we were all going through the same experience, we were all losing you know our son, our brother.

 

Nina’s family found it hard to accept the coroner’s verdict of suicide. When the family objected...

Nina’s family found it hard to accept the coroner’s verdict of suicide. When the family objected...

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So then was there an inquest?


Yeah.


How long afterwards?


The inquest, so Joe died end of October and I think that the first inquest was May, June? I might be wrong about that but it was a considerable time afterwards.


But the funeral was quite soon afterwards?


Oh yeah, oh yeah. But yeah the inquest, which is not, which is not abnormal, I mean inquests do, can take up to a year after death can’t they, which is horrible because I think you just, ‘cos you’re just waiting, and you’re expecting it, and its, closure is a horrible word, but that’s kind of, the last thing that you have to do and you are just kept waiting. I think it’s because also it was, we had to travel because where Joe actually died was not where we live so we had to travel outside, and go past the place where he died as well, to go to [the inquest]. We, our family, had great difficulty initially even accepting that Joe had committed suicide, we hate, you know the word suicide, just for our family it didn’t describe what Joe had done. I think because we had just had held the view, I mean prior to Joe doing this, that you know that people who killed themselves are depressed, down, possibly a history of mental illness, just all the things that that Joe wasn’t really, and because of this, and because he was, I think, because we were just stuck on the fact that he was actually happy, although he wasn’t happy; in the way that I kind of came to terms with it, is he wasn’t happy for that five minutes, when he actually, when he actually did it, or even half an hour, but prior you know prior to that, that its all it takes isn’t it, is just half an hour just to, just to flip. But I think because we were, because we were so adamant that he was happy, therefore how could he have killed himself, so when we went to the inquest, my Dad was adamant to the coroner that we don’t want to have suicide on his death certificate, it doesn’t, it doesn’t describe what we believe that Joe did, it was accident, it wasn’t a suicide, and the inquest got adjourned.  My Dad, not so much Mum, but my Dad was upset that they you know that they didn’t take character references, you know they didn’t want to know the person that Joe was, all they were focused on was the manner in which he died. And because he had hung himself, therefore you know the coroner said that he couldn’t come up with an alternative cause of death, than suicide. But which at the time, we were angry about and we were really stuck on, but since I’ve managed to, to reconcile that with myself really, and I know that Joe did kill himself, I know that now it was just, you know, you don’t, you don’t have to be down, depressed, mentally unwell to, to kill yourself, it can happen to anybody, and so yeah I, whereas at the time when it first happened we were, we found that difficult but now that’s, I’ve resolved that for myself really, I know that he did.

 

The conferences run by Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide were interesting, and Nina found them helpful, but she found an entire day talking about suicide exhausting.

The conferences run by Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide were interesting, and Nina found them helpful, but she found an entire day talking about suicide exhausting.

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Have you ever been to any of the conferences that SOBS organise?

Yeah. Yeah.

What happens there?

The day is split into two parts, the first part of the day, up until lunch, is much like an academic conference on this really, you, you have two, three, people within kind of well suicide research maybe, tend to be academics, talking about what they’ve found out about suicide really. It’s interesting, it is, I mean people do find it interesting, then you will have survivor testimonies where people who’ve lost somebody to suicide will talk about their experience, tell you know their story. What actually happened? And then in the afternoon you get divided up into what they call a relationship group, and by that I mean you know your relationship to the person that died, so I would be in the sibling group and that sort of mirrors a, a SOBS you know normal meeting, where you go around and you tell people whatever you want to say really, tends to be the story of what happened, so it’s a day long of suicide, and you come back absolutely exhausted, absolutely drained. Its, beneficial to some, I’ve spoken to people who’ve been to one and have not really, personal choice really isn’t it, if you would find that…

Have you found them helpful?

Yes, yes, but you have to; they have to be kind of emotionally strong to be able to go to them I think.

Mm.

‘Cos they are intense, they are hard work and they are draining. So I won’t always go, it depends really.
 

Reading about other experiences of bereavement by suicide on a website comforted Nina and her father. Posting messages can also help to clarify one’s own thoughts.

Reading about other experiences of bereavement by suicide on a website comforted Nina and her father. Posting messages can also help to clarify one’s own thoughts.

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And, “A thousand deaths”, you say you actually joined because you were looking for support? [www.1000deaths.com – is not available at the moment]

Yeah.

What did you find there?

If you need support and you post something, you will get a response, its, its good you know. As I said, I mean I just tended to, to, to look rather than, and I found comfort just in reading, not reading other people’s stories but just kind of just the interactions and you know how you just kind of feel less alone I guess when you’re, when you’re reading other people’s similar experiences. Dad sought great support in them, and was absorbed by them for a while, by “A thousand deaths.”

How did he find support?

I think that he just, the act of writing down your feelings, writing down what is going on in your head, and you tend to be able to work through your thoughts that way and I think that’s another kind of benefit of the support groups that are online.

Mm.

You know there’s, you know you kind of clarify to yourself what’s going on as you are explaining to other people.

And then sometimes people respond to you?

Always, oh always. Yeah, they’re very active, particularly this one, it’s very active.

And your father found that helpful? To get responses?

And I think that he found it helpful to provide support to other people as well. I think as, you know as the years went on, I think that he sought comfort being able to tell other people who were in the early days, “look it does get better, it does get easier.” Yeah I think that he sought support from that as well, you know benefit from that.
 

Nina used to think about her brother’s death all the time. She will always miss him but she is...

Nina used to think about her brother’s death all the time. She will always miss him but she is...

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I, I’ll never ever. I’ll never stop missing him, I’ll, I don’t think about him or I don’t think about the death, it doesn’t consume me as much as it initially did, and I can remember when I first started having hours, maybe even, no, never days, but hours where I wouldn’t think about him, yeah, possibly days, and I’d, and I’d be, I’d get really annoyed with myself and really angry with myself because you know I kind of thought well that means I’m forgetting about him but you know I was, he will always be a part of me as I said, and you know he, he has made suicide a part of, a part of me as well. I’ll never be the same person, I tend to get, I tend to get, they say that anger can be a, can be a part of suicide and I’ve never been angry at him, I’ve never been angry at anybody involved in his death, but I do tend to get angry with other people who just, ah, just get upset and over trivial things, and I just, but I that, that’s where I think I kind of you know, which is unfair, and which I know is unfair. I think it’s made me a shorter person; I have less time for things. …Yeah. But you know I’m happier that I ever thought would be possible when it first happened; I never thought that I would reach where I am now.

 

When Nina's brother died in hospital the family was not offered support. Nina thinks survivors should be offered help automatically and given the number for Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide.

When Nina's brother died in hospital the family was not offered support. Nina thinks survivors should be offered help automatically and given the number for Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide.

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And I think there needs to be recognition that it [death by suicide] is a different death and I think that once you know, in the hospital, wherever, you know, there should be some support, there should be an automatic referral or something, you know, whether or not you need it or not, just so you feel connected, even here we go, here’s a number for SOBS, or here’s something, but there was just nothing. We were literally at the hospital for three days, said our goodbyes to my brother and went back and then just were left. And as I said, where, where do you go from now, what, what do we do now? Try and maintain a normal life, but, that’s not possible you know.

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