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Patricia - Interview 4

Age at interview: 58
Brief Outline: Patricia's husband, Andrew, had had depression for years. A number of times he had taken an overdose or tried to gas himself and then sought help. In 1994 he died in a car, due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Patricia found support via Cruse & SOBS.
Background: Patricia is retired, having worked in education (special needs and literacy support). She is a widow, and has 3 grown up children. Ethnic background/nationality: White Scottish.

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Patricia’s husband was called Andrew. His parents had expected him to do well, both at school and in his professional life. However, he hated school and Patricia wonders if he had been abused during his time at boarding school. At university he studied law and then trained as a barrister and later qualified as a solicitor, but fee income was variable and sometimes he was not paid for long periods of time. He had to look after his young family and at times there were severe financial pressures.
 
Patricia thinks that Andrew had a depressive illness long before she met him. He found it difficult to cope in tough situations and found it impossible to discuss his problems. Andrew disappeared on more than one occasion, and a number of times tried to harm himself. He took an overdose of commonly used medication but then asked his GP for help. He was taken to hospital. Patricia thinks that Andrew may have behaved in this way because the actions were a type of catharsis and he sought help immediately afterwards.
 
Patricia herself experienced post-natal depression after her second child was born. This lasted two years, so she says that she does understand what it is like to be severely depressed.
 
Andrew was made redundant and had further financial problems. He joined another practice but felt under pressure to prove that he was competent. Then in 1986 his mother died. This seemed to have a huge impact on him and after he had sorted out the estate he disappeared again. This time he tried to gas himself in his car.
 
Andrew re-appeared and was referred to a consultant psychologist. Patricia believes that the joint sessions they had with the psychologist were most helpful, and had they continued Andrew might be here today. However, Andrew’s partners insisted that he resign from his job and this meant that the family had to move away and were no longer in contact with that source of help.
 
Andrew found more work and again became a “workaholic”. In November 1988 he disappeared again. He tried to gas himself again in his car, but did not succeed and called an ambulance.  He was seen by his GP but declined medication. Patricia had expected Andrew to continue treatment with a psychologist but the GP told them that psychotherapy was not available within the NHS in the area. Patricia now knows that psychotherapy was available in the area but that the GP, who at this time had only known the family for three months, had decided that in Andrew’s case it was not necessary.
 
Andrew lost his job again, which meant that the family were in financial difficulties. He managed to get another job, but was under other pressures. Unknown to Patricia, he had problems with the Inland Revenue, which was demanding money which  should have been paid by his partners at his previous place of work.
 
In 1990 Andrew disappeared again. A week later he returned during the night and put a suicide note through the letter box. Then he phoned home and Patricia persuaded him to return.
 
Andrew changed jobs but had to work incredibly hard and was under great stress. In February 1994 he disappeared for the last time, and was missing for five days. During that time Patricia was very distressed and found help from a Canon at the local cathedral, who listened to what had happened.
 
Andrew was found dead in his car. He must have suffered from hypothermia because it was the coldest week of the winter and he had had no food for days. Patricia is convinced that his reasoning was affected by this. She is not convinced that he meant to take his own life by carbon monoxide poisoning because he left a note indicating that he was worrying about whether or not she would have him back or not. Patricia wonders if Andrew had had a “Russian roulette” approach to his own survival. She was not happy with the way the inquest was conducted or about the verdict of death due to suicide.
 
Patricia had to tell the children, who were then aged 18, 15 and 8; the most difficult thing she has ever had to do. Two of the children found support via the Charity Winston’s Wish, and they also had some professional counselling.
 
After Andrew’s death many people attended the funeral. Patricia felt she needed to talk to someone who had also been bereaved due to suicide but could not find anyone at the time. She had help from a bereavement counsellor from Cruse during the first six months after Andrew died, and she also continued to have support from the Canon at the cathedral, but she really needed to talk to someone who knew what she was going through.
 
About two and a half years later, Patricia found Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide [formerly known as SOBS] and she attended a conference run by the support group. She found it most helpful. The main speaker reassured her that after all she had experienced it was normal to feel some sense of relief after Andrew’s death, as well as other emotions such as sadness, guilt and anger.
 
Patricia soon became more involved in SOBS and in 1999 she set up a new group locally. For a while she was also national liaison officer, and organised and spoke at many conferences. She also runs weekend residential events for those who have no local group or have moved beyond needing a group but still need contact with other survivors.
 
Patricia says that she has made many friends through her work with SOBS. She continues to help others bereaved due to suicide via her work with the organisation, and also works with LawCare, an organisation that offers support to legal professionals suffering from stress.

Patricia was interviewed in July 2007.

 

Patricia does not think her husband meant to kill himself. She describes the second 'incident'...

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But the second incident that I was aware of that indicated his depressive illness, underlying depressive illness, was when he was brought home by our GP on one occasion covered with what looked like, I don’t know, white stuff all down the front of his suit, shirt, trousers and it was the aspirin he’d vomited up. He had taken an overdose and then gone straight to the GP. So some people would say that was an attempt to kill himself. I would say it wasn’t because you don’t tend to take a whacking overdose and then go and tell a medic, if you intend to kill yourself. I think … I’ve learned a lot in the last ten years that I’ve worked, building Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide. I’ve met a lot of other people. I’ve met a lot of professionals and I’ve read an awful lot.
 
Hmm.
 
And in my opinion and also my experience of my husband, my first hand observations, for Andrew, the act was the catharsis. Followed almost immediately with the thought, “I don’t want to die” because on other occasions that I’ll talk about he also went himself … and he wasn’t found … he went and sought medical help for what he’d done.
 

When Patricia heard the news of Andrew's death she wished a second police officer, perhaps a...

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There was a knock at the door and it was a police officer. And I knew as I walked to the door it was a police officer because it was this black figure. We had two, had a porch, through the two, it was a blurred figure but I opened the inner door and sure enough it was a police sergeant and I knew Andrew was dead. Because when it’s good news they haven’t time to send somebody round, they phone you. So a police officer turning up on the front doorstep I knew, it was only one sort of bad news it could be. Because good news would be, “We’ve found him, he’s in hospital.” He came in. I took him into the dining room because I didn’t want the children to see him through the French window at the back. And he just said, “I’m very sorry, I have to tell you your husband’s body was found today. He was in your car on the Malvern Hills.”
 

So I was a widow. I think it’s safe to say, actually when you get news like that the room does spin. I remember I just reached, I was standing in front of our sideboard and I just reached and grabbed a, a glass and a bottle of brandy and took a, a whacking great slug of brandy and sat down. And I have to say the police officer was marvellous. He was a sergeant. He was absolutely wonderful, he, the only thing that was wrong was that he was by himself and I needed, I needed somebody to touch me. I needed to feel a hand on my shoulder or somebody to hold my hand. I needed human touch. And he quite properly and quite, I wouldn’t have expected him to do otherwise, kept himself at one end of the dining table and I was sitting at the other. And he was alone in a house with a woman who was likely to be highly emotional, vulnerable and quite properly he was very much at a distance. Had he been with another officer, a female officer, but even another male officer, one of them could have gone to put the kettle on…

 

Yes.

 

... and the other one, just a touch on the hand, touch on the shoulder, just some human contact, but that wasn’t his fault. He behaved in that situation totally as he should do. I mean, since then, since being involved in the work I do, I’ve done some police training and I have said to them, “Yes, I know, you know, there are times you have operational difficulties.”
 

A speaker at a conference organised by Cruse told Patricia that after all she had been through he...

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When the sergeant told me that Andrew was dead, in amongst this bombarding of thoughts and emotions that just hit my head from all sides and made the room feel as though it was spinning, in amongst it I recognised that I felt relief.
 
Hmm.
 
That wasn’t the only feeling but it was in amongst all those, “Thank god it’s over”. And I said I you know there have nights I couldn’t sleep for thinking about it. How do I deal with it? What do I do? And he [the speaker at the conference] looked at me and said, “Well”, he said, “You know I think after what you went through, you’re experiences over all those years, sixteen and half, from start to finish, if you hadn’t said something like that to me I’d be very, very worried about you. What you felt in those circumstances was totally normal”. And I felt as if somebody had taken a great big haversack, full of granite boulders off my back, as he said that. Anyway we then had a very nice lunch the hotel served. And we then we due to go to workshops sessions in the afternoon and I was in the ladies loom just getting freshened up and ready to go into that. And another woman stopped me and could I … do you mind if I speak to you?
 
Yes. 
 
And I said, “No not at all, why?” I knew I’d seen her in the room but I hadn’t the faintest idea who she was, up to this day I still don’t know who she was. And she said, “I just wanted to thank you for asking that question this morning, I made sure I would recognise you because I just want to thank you because when you asked that question, you asked it for me too. But I would never have had the courage to ask”. And I think it was that that that propelled me into the work I’ve done for ten years now.
 

Identifying Andrew's body was an awful experience, but Patricia thought it was important to...

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There were more pressing things I had to deal with; one immediately was going to identify Andrew, which I felt instinctively again, that only I could do because by going away as he had and dying apart from us, apart from comfort and support, alone, he’d, he’d sat in our car, in a car park, on the Malvern Hills and he’d gassed himself. We don’t know if he died before midnight or after midnight but it will have been dark, cold, alone, away from his family and I felt it was so important that I went to identify him because it was like bringing him back into the family. It was one of the worst things I’ve ever had to do in my life. It was not an experience I would wish on anybody.   But I know it was the right thing that I did it and not somebody else.
 
Was somebody with you?
 
Yes. Two, one was a colleague from work, who came rushing across the county to get to me. Another was actually a colleague of Andrew’s who had been very supportive during the week he was missing. She’d been extremely helpful in practical ways and there for me and kept in touch. And they were one each side of me as we went through from the mortuary waiting area to, to where they had Andrew for me to see him. I said a couple of prayers over him. And then went back outside and had a brief chat with the coroner’s officer.
 

Patricia's children all reacted differently when they heard their father had died. She thinks she...

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How did you tell the children what had happened?
 
That was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life. That was the worst thing ever. My eldest son wasn’t living at home at the time; he was living in the near vicinity, in digs, he was at college but decided that he wanted to live independently and was living in digs. He had popped in to see us because he knew that his dad was missing. On all the previous occasions I had lied to the children, quite deliberate untruth.
 
Hmm.
 
I had told them that he’d had to go away on business and that he’d been delayed. The last occasion, (…) they were 18 ¾, 15 ¾ and just 8 when he died. So, four years before that, even the boys were still young enough for me to say, “Dad’s had to go away on business.”
 
In the past.
 
But the last occasion, [my eldest son] was 18. And when he popped in to see me at my office, I told him, “Dad’s, dad’s gone again.” And I came clean with him then.
 
Hmm.
 
About the previous occasions.  On this occasion, when Andrew died, [my son] popped in in the morning, or lunchtime, just before the policeman came and had gone, I think he’d gone off to see his girlfriend actually. That’s what he’d done. And within half an hour of him leaving, the police officer had arrived and I just rang him and I got [my eldest son] and said, “Just, just come back will you, over, you know, I need to see you.” “Well can’t you tell me on the phone?” I said, “No, I need to see you. Just please come back as soon as you possibly can.”
 
And when I told him [about the death] he just rushed off. No, he had been at his digs for lunch. And when he rushed off he went to his girlfriend’s and they, his girlfriend’s mum then appeared that the house, thought I’d be worried if I didn’t, just to reassure me that [my eldest son] was OK. And, and to offer what support …
 
Hmm.
 
… she could. [um] But he’d gone rushing to see his girlfriend. [My younger son] he reacted by, he went and shut himself in his bedroom and started trashing it, just an eruption of anger, distress, agony. I remember [my eldest son] ducking and dodging side to side on the patio as [my younger son] was throwing things out of the window and shouting up to him to stop it. And eventually we had to get the assistant scout leader. That was [my friend’s] inspiration that was. And a chap [name] who came down and banged on the bedroom door and eventually got [my younger son] to open it and sat with him and talked for a while. And [my daughter] just looked bewildered. 
 
I think I made a complete hash of it [telling the children]. Well I know I made a complete hash of it because the police sergeant offered to break the news and, again it’s part of the training I deliver is that you must explain to people why you shouldn’t be the one to break the news because what happened was, I said, “No, I must, you know, I must tell them.” The policeman said, “Well you can sit with them.” And I said, “No, I think it…, you know”, got them into the dining room, told them there with the, with the police officer present. The reaction when you get news like that very often, particularly with youngsters is to feel anger. And the anger is focused on the teller of the news. 
 
Hmm.
 
Which it doesn’t matter if it’s a police officer.
 
Oh, I see. 
 
And it is much, much better practice, (I didn’t understand at that time, nobody can be trained to go through this sort of experience), for me to be sitting beside them and the police officer to deliver the news.
 
OK.
 
I didn’t understand that. [My youngest son’s] reaction was immense anger which he took out on me for a long, long time. And also the shock, blanked, after I’d said, “Daddy’s dead,” everything else I said didn’t register, so that some months later, when the inquest report was in the, in the paper, some kind soul, pupil at school cut it out, took it in to show [my youngest son], and ages later [my youngest son] said to me, “You, you lied to me.” The conversation we were having, we had a very difficult time with him, and middle of one night he came in and we had a conversation down here at about 4 o’clock in the morning and he said, “You lied to me.” And I said, “No I haven’t lied to you.” “What, what do you mean? When dad, you didn’t tell me my dad topped himself. I had to hear that from somebody at school.” And I said, “[name], I did tell you.”
 
Hmm.
 
“I didn’t use that phraseology”.
 
Hmm.
 
I said, “You seem to have forgotten there was a police sergeant there. We will go and find that police sergeant.”
 
Hmm.
 
I said, “What you’ve, unfortunately suffered from was one of the effects of shock.” 
 
Yeah.
 
“As soon as you knew dad was dead, nothing else that I said to you registered through the emotion that that caused. But I didn’t lie to you. You just didn’t retain it. It couldn’t lodge itself in your brain.”
 
So, as I say, that’s one of the things I feed into training that, that I give these days. Just, simple practical things: try to make sure there are two officers; one can do the tea, the other can be human touch, human contact; don’t just say to the parents, “We can break the news,” explain why it’s important, and that whatever anger or emotion is focused on them and not on the parent or other relative, sibling or whoever is with them.
 
Hmm.
 
But nobody had prepared me for what to do, I just had to do what seemed right and I, that was a mistake I made.
 

Patricia recalls that someone who attended a 'Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide' meeting said...

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And that is, I think, the single most important message that we can give over because when it happens to you, you are totally alone. Even in a big family, you are totally alone. Your perception is that this sort of trauma has not ever happened to anybody else; it’s just landed on you. It has set you apart. I’ve spoken, I certainly felt myself, and I’ve spoken to many a widow in the ten years of work I’ve done, and funnily enough it came up at the group meeting, the last group meeting we had in [this town]. We had a new person there and she feels as if she’s got emblazoned across her forehead, ‘Suicide’s widow’ for all to see. She has been separated, marked out, it’s to do with the feelings of stigma.
 
So it’s still very much stigmatised?
 
Oh definitely, absolutely.
 

Patricia decided to have Andrew buried because she wanted to have a place where she and her...

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And then, after the funeral, was there a burial or was there cremation?
 
Burial, burial. Yes. 
 
Were you pleased to make that decision for a burial?
 
Yes. I’m not sure that Andrew would be pleased. It’s not a thing we ever discussed.
 
No.
 
His parents were cremated so I have a feeling that might have been what, if we had discussed it, he would have said. But given that he hadn’t said…
 
Hmm.
 
… I wanted there to be a grave because I don’t know whether cremation, there’s nowhere for, for you to go.
 
Hmm.
 
And I wanted him to be there.
 
Yes.
 
Because there were children …
 
Hmm.
 
… I wanted him to be somewhere they knew where he was. I don’t know if that sounds a bit bonkers.
 
No, I understand.
 

Patricia thinks that the inquests held in England and Wales are 'utterly unnecessary' in the...

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Why do we have inquests?
 
Umm.
 
They’re utterly unnecessary in the modern age. Inquests grew from the twelfth century from the medieval Norman kings’ desire to raise taxation. In the Middle Ages, when somebody died the, the death dues were due to the Lord, which was ultimately the King. 
 
Hmm.
 
Work it back up the line. And the family of the deceased had to pay the death dues. Where somebody had died …
 
Hmm.
 
… and nobody knew why, you didn’t know why, who had to pay the death dues. So if somebody fell, somebody, I don’t know, a load of wood fell off a wagon and crushed somebody to death, then the Waggoner would have to pay the death dues.
 
Hmm.
 
Where somebody was murdered if the community could not produce the murderer, whose own goods were then forfeit to pay the death dues, then the deceased’s family had to pay it.  And where it was a suicide death, all the possessions of the suicide were forfeit, not just the tenth or whatever the percentage was, of that person’s wealth, the whole lot went.
 
Right.
 
So this idea of who, who has died, who is responsible, therefore who pays the money, is a medieval thing which has absolutely no, you know, revenue raising and taxation these days isn’t quite as bad as that, though incidentally, the law which said that the property of somebody deceased from suicide was all forfeit to the Crown I think was only repealed in 1921.
 
Yes, things have changed.
 
Hideous when you, you think of that.
 
Hmm.
 
But this idea of having a public inquiry, and I called an inquest before a public inquiry into a private tragedy…
 
Hmm.
 
… because it if wasn’t you’d be being charged with a crime. 
 
Hmm.
 
Manslaughter or whatever. And north of the border, if you live in Scotland, there are no inquests. The police investigate the death. When they put in a report to the Procurator that they are satisfied that this person brought about their own death…
 
Hmm.
 
… It is signed off and that’s it.
 
I see.
 
There is no public inquiry. But then the Crown legal system of how money was raised, Scotland wasn’t governed by the Norman kings.
 
That’s very interesting.
 
So I have a sort of historically educated perspective on it that I know is totally unnecessary …

Hmm.
 
It is an intrusion into a family’s tragedy. But why should that be played out in public?
 
 

Patricia is convinced that the coroner did not listen to the evidence at the inquest hearing and...

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The, the coroner’s officer took a lengthy statement, which obviously goes to the coroner for consideration. I don’t think the coroner paid the blindest bit of notice to what I actually said. 
 
It was just actually a waste of time having any evidence. He’d made his mind up and in complete defiance of evidence presented as to the weather conditions at the time, which were, it was the coldest week of the year, Andrew had not eaten anything from the Monday till the Friday …
 
Hmm.
 
We don’t know if he died at five to midnight or five past. He could have died on the 25th, but they gave the date of his death as the day he was found. Because that was when he was certified dead.
 
Hmm.
 
But they did say that it could be that he’d died on the, the Friday night but nobody would ever know that. There’s no way of establishing a precise time of death. You know, in those circumstances. So from, at the very least from Monday to Friday he’d had nothing to eat.
 
Oh.
 
So you’ve got extremely cold and no food. And living rough in a car.
 
Hmm.
 
He was, at the time died by carbon monoxide poisoning, undoubtedly suffering from hypothermia.
 
…he was so weakened with hypothermia that I think his body succumbed …
 
Hmm.
 
He, he just didn’t have the physical reserves. He’d had no food, and he was suffering from hypothermia. And I just think that, bluntly if you do that thing, sort of thing often enough, there’s a chance that one of these days it’s going to work.
 
Hmm.
 
One of these times your, I don’t know, your luck or, or maybe, maybe God says, “You’ve had enough. Come to safety”.
 
So you weren’t really happy about the, the inquest at all?
 
Because, no, because I didn’t at the time, or I’d probably have bounced to my feet and shouted at the coroner, I didn’t for the time, as it was only three months after his death, I, I barely knew which way was forward at that stage, I didn’t understand the significance of, “I know you will never have me back after this episode.” Why if he had a clear intention to die, would he be worrying [in his note] about whether I’d have him back or not? 
  
So, did the coroner come to a decision that it was a suicide but you …
 
Oh yes.
 
… you would have preferred an open verdict.
 
Yes, because I don’t think it was clear that Andrew’s intention was to kill himself.
 
Hmm.
 <
 

Patricia helped to arrange a service of thanksgiving for all the things people had shared with...

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We had a first in SOBS this year. We put together a Thanksgiving service at Tewkesbury Abbey, which was in April.
 
Oh, that’s nice.
 
It was a national event. It wasn’t just for local people bereaved by suicide. People came for literally all over the country and this chap flew over from Ireland.
 
That’s a really nice idea.
 
Well, it was a Thanksgiving, twofold. Thanksgiving for all the things we’d shared with the person we lost and it was a Thanksgiving for the support that we offer to each other. It was the most wonderful spiritual occasion. Of course it was a Christian service, it was a Christian church but I don’t mean it was an overtly Christian; it was the spirit of the people in there, a lot of emotion. But I was quite clear from the outset this was not a memorial service, this was upbeat, happy, and strong event.
 

A priest helped Patricia when Andrew was missing. He offered friendship and informal counselling....

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During the week Andrew was missing, on one of the mornings, and it could have been the Wednesday, or maybe it was the Thursday, I don’t remember, I’d got into work, I managed to get an earlier bus and it got me into the [town] just after eight, quarter past, maybe. And I wasn’t due to be at the office till nine and I thought, “I bet the eight o’clock service is still on. I’ll go and sit at the back.” And I, when I walked into the cathedral I could hear, so I followed the noise. And I just got, it was in one of the side chapels, and I just got to the, the blessing, the very last prayers and the blessing and I was standing outside the chapel and, it was something about, something that was said in the blessing that just tipped me over and the tears started flowing. And I thought, “Oh Lord, I don’t want anybody to see me like this.” So I walked away from the chapel that way. Of course they all came out and walked the way I was walking [laughs] “Oh no”. So I stopped. I can remember stopping as these people were coming past me and turning so my face was to the wall to go back the other way so they wouldn’t see me. By which time I couldn’t, I really couldn’t see where I was going. And then suddenly there was this arm on my shoulder, down my, onto my shoulder and, “I think we ought to go in here and maybe sit down and just have a little word.” And it was the officiating priest. Must have seen me over the heads of the congregation…
 
Hmm.
 
And he sat me down and he said, “You’re obviously in some distress, do you feel the need to talk about it? Can I help you?” And I just fell apart. And he took me over to his place and made me a cup of tea and gave me a box of Kleenex and I just said, you know, “I’m sorry I’m wasting your time, you’re busy and …”. “No, no, no I’m not. No I’m not.” And I just told him that Andrew was missing and he’d been missing before and that I knew it was different and he was very supportive and got me to a stage when I could pull myself together sufficiently to face the world and go into work. And then, as I say, when Andrew died, and we had the funeral and it was a week or two after Andrew died that I, I can’t, do you know, I can’t remember now if I rang him up or went and banged on the door.
 
Hmm.
 
I think I rang him up. Anyway, to thank him. And to, you know, to say, “I’m sorry I didn’t let you know, I don’t know if you saw the paper but…” “Oh you poor soul. Well, if I can be of any help. Would you like to come and have a cup of tea and a chat?” And it wasn’t a formal counselling …
 
No.
 
… but it was a friendship offered and I used to go and see him, again maybe fortnightly.
 
Hmm.
 
Just to have a cup of tea and a chat and he was, he was a nice man. 
 
 

Patricia has helped to organise and run support groups for 10 years. She feels that this type of...

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I think occasionally, I’ve done this work for ten years maybe it’s time to do something different. And I can’t move away from it. Not because I think I’ve got all the answers. Because I don’t know where else I belong.
 
Hmm.
 
I can talk, and I’ve made many friends through this work. A lot of people see me as very strong, a leader. What, only a few see as well is that I still have needs that are served by being able to, even if I just feel having a good old moan, moaning to somebody else who knows …
 
Hmm.
 
… I can, I feel able to do it.
 
Yes.
 
To let it go a bit. I also feel there’s an element to of, if I wasn’t doing this, then Andrew’s death would be a complete and utter waste, 110%. By doing what I do, and I was going to say to help others, that sounds terribly Lady Bountiful and …
 
No.
 
… Of the skills that God gave me, my parents through the education they provided, have enhanced, I have a bossy organising ability.
 
Hmm.
 
What I bossily organise I know is, is to the benefit of other people who are at a stage at which that support wasn’t available to me. And I know what it feels like to not have it available, to not have the choice …