Bereavement due to suicide
Seeing the body or not being able to do so
Some of the people we talked to had seen the body of their friend or relative quite soon after the person had died because the suicide had occurred at home. Jacqui, for example, had found her husband’s body in their own home on the day he died. Arthur found his son in his garage. He called an ambulance.
Arthur followed the ambulance to the hospital, where a doctor told him that his son had died....
You were at the hospital…
After the nurses had tried to console me, the doctor came through and said, “Well we’ve tried everything we could but we couldn’t help Leon, unfortunately we’ve lost him.”
And then the … they asked would I like to go through and see Leon, which I did. And I remember the thing that really was very, very important to me the nurse was stroking his head, his hair and said, “Would you like a lock of Leon’s hair?” I said, “Yes I want anything of Leon’s,” it was so important at that point.
Identifying Andrew's body was an awful experience, but Patricia thought it was important to...
Colin and his wife felt obliged to drive in the night to identify their son's body in the...
Had they found your son in the car?
Yes. Yes. And as time stood still, we went to the [hospital] and were taken by the lady known as the “deaths’ lady” I understand, to the mortuary to identify, in the company of a police officer, to identify our son dead at the age of 24.
I have to get you to give the [hospital] credit, they had taken time to, even if dear Matt had died in the horror of running his car into the wall of an historic building, they had very much cleaned him up so that he was superficially, simply a cold version of the boy we had known and loved for the previous 24 years.
It must have been very difficult.
Yes, I think my wife has never forgiven the constabulary for requiring us to drive through the night in a state of, how can you describe the state in which you are when you suspect the worst but do not know, and you are going to confirm it as it were?
You had to drive yourselves?
I did. Yes, and we did.
Dolores had to go to the hospital to identify her husbands body. She wasnt allowed to stay long...
So I was basically taken round on my own, to see him [Steve], to identify him, and when I went round there was two puddles of water and drips coming from his shoes, and I said to the nurse, “Take his shoes off his feet will be wet, his feet will be getting cold.” And they wouldn’t let me touch him, I wasn’t allowed to really touch him, I couldn’t touch his shoes, I had to leave them on, I wasn’t allowed up one side of him, obviously because of the head injury, and I wasn’t allowed to kiss him goodbye, I had to make a wee move on his hairline to take the mud and the dirt away from his hairline to kiss him because of the tubes that were in his mouth. They wouldn’t let me kiss him on the face as such, or on the lips.
Why, why didn’t they?
Because of a post-mortem, there had to be a post-mortem done, and it’s nonsense, nonsense; sort of these programmes like Casualty and Holby City they give you this impression that you get time and you are allowed to sit with them, and I wasn’t, I can remember being ushered back round, and taken back round to the room, and I asked for the Chaplain to come, and the hospital Chaplain came and we went back round and he gave Steve his last rites. But, it wasn’t long. You weren’t allowed, I wasn’t allowed, I certainly didn’t feel there was like time with Steve, and his hands were cold, and he was completely lifeless, and maybe if I’d been taken round that bit earlier…
…there might have been something…
…I’ll never know.
…for the bereaved, there’s no compassion shown it’s just very much seen as, somebody who’s taken their life and was of no importance, you know, I came away feeling very judged and juried that day and it was my first sense of feeling.
Feeling judged and juried?
Oh it must’ve been some situation there and we [sighs] I, you know, I can’t stress enough, you couldn’t have got a more in love couple
you know we were like any other couple we had our moments, but we were completely devoted to each other, and you can’t impress that upon the hospital staff when you’re there identifying his body because they’re just clinical, they’re too clinical and there isn’t enough compassion in that environment…
Margaret went quickly to the mortuary. Her spiritual beliefs gave her a strong sense of what she...
But the first and most important thing was to get to [my daughter]. (…) And that was because [crying]; when they said she appeared to, to have taken her own life that she’d hung herself, (…) I was terrified that she might still be lingering around her body in a confused state because of the suddenness of the death.
I really do believe that that’s the least auspicious way to die. You know like at the moment at death that you’re in this pain and confusion and …
… on your own. And so I needed to get there so they could shift the energy on for her, if it was still lingering.
The body of the person who has died belongs to the coroner, legally belongs to the coroner. So the usual arrangements, if there’s such a thing as usual for a funeral, and a death, which would be decided by the family, next of kin, partners, whatever, that has to wait for the release of the body. But also there are all the rules and regulations about when you can see the person and where you can see the person. I was fortunate in that when I said very, very clearly that that was the first thing I must do, when I heard my daughter had died, which was to get to her, although the coroner, the coroner’s officer said, “We can’t stop you, we can’t prevent because that’s your right. But we would strongly advise that you wait until the funeral directors have seen to your daughter before you see her.” And I can remember saying, “Well she’s my daughter, she doesn’t need to look pretty, I need to hold her.”
And so he said, “Well, I’ll meet you at the hospital.”
But anyway, he met me at the mortuary. And I was able to buy a little toy for my daughter and a red rose in the little foyer there.
Is that at the hospital?
Yes, at the mortuary. (…) I guess what’s important is that when somebody dies and it’s a suicide or for any reason that there’s a bereavement, what’s important to happen then is what the people perceive to be helpful and important. It’s not a one-size fits all remedy that people can come up with, either an organisation or a family liaison officer. And what was important to me was to get to [my daughter] and to be able to hold my daughter.
And I appreciate that for some people that would be last thing they’d want. They might want to remember them as they had been, laughing and walking about and everything. But to me because of my beliefs, it was to make sure that she was all right and that any lingering energy could be moved on if she, if her spirit or soul was in a state confusion and not realising she’d died. And that was so important that I would get to her as soon as possible. So that’s really what I’m saying, that I think all of us when we lose somebody, even though we mightn’t know, we know what the most important thing for us at the time, if someone can skilfully and respectfully say, you know, “What needs to happens now for this to be manageable?”
Then somehow we can, that can be elicited. We can actually come up with that, if it’s said gently and we’re given the time. And it might be something that’s seems as trivial as well, can someone walk my dog while we go to the mortuary. It’s whatever at that’s second is helpful.
Looking back, did you find it helpful to go to be with [your daughter] … to see her?
Oh absolutely, oh absolutely. When I actually saw her, she was in w
Jenny went to the hospital to see David, feeling incredibly upset. She was glad that she had a friend to show her exactly where she had to go when she arrived at the hospital. She was met by the coroner, who was very calming, helpful and sympathetic.
Jenny saw her husbands body at the hospital. She stayed with him for almost an hour. She found...
Many people said that seeing the body in the hospital mortuary or at the undertaker’s chapel of rest had helped to convince them that the person was really dead. People found it hard to believe that the suicide had taken place (see ‘First reactions’). Melanie said that when she saw her husband’s body she shouted, “Wake up.”
Michael went to see his friends body. He found it disturbing but he said it was a useful thing...
I went to see the body at the funeral parlour, which was very hard, very disturbing but at the same time I think it was a useful thing to do because it brought home I think you know, the reality of it was quite, it was kind of no denying it in your mind after that. As it happened. I was also there when the fellow’s mother came to view the body and you know was ushered out into the next room and we heard her wail and scream when she saw the body. That’s something I’ll, I’ll never forget. We actually made a point of, several of us, made a point of going and seeing his parents who we, you know had met, but had never really known before that, and I think that was useful as well again, another opportunity to talk about things.
Kavitas brother looked as though he was sleeping and about to wake up. Seeing his dead body was...
And they sat in an office and advised us and told us that his body’s actually remarkably intact. And he doesn’t look as though he’s been through anything. So we won’t find any horrible surprises, you know, as it were. And there are pictures if we want to see them, we can see them as well.
Which we did. And again there wasn’t anything … you couldn’t say it was gruesome or awful to look at.
So when we went to see him, I just remember his face. I just felt he was so real there, you know, as though he was sleeping and just going to wake up. And none of us broke down. We were just calm. It was quite sort of probably in shock and numb.
Yeah, the whole thing was really calm, no tears nothing like that.
Looking back was it the right thing to go and see him?
It was. I’m so pleased, even though the image is always stuck in my mind. But the thing is it wasn’t a bad image.
You know it wasn’t … he just looked peaceful as though he was sleeping. And, and there wasn’t anything traumatic there, you know when we saw him.
So I’m, I’m really pleased we did go and see him.
I mean it can … it sort of hit home this, it hit, it hit more. I suppose it sunk in a bit more that he’s not actually … he really has gone.
Seeing him because there’s always the disbelief you know, even after seeing him. There’s always this sort of thing, he can’t really be gone, you know.
Still. But yes, seeing the body actually and, and they were very helpful and very good with us. And they weren’t rushing us, nothing like that you know.
They were there if we needed them. So yes it was …
And that was a coroner’s officer who was looking after you at that stage?
Brenda was glad that she saw her son after he left the ICU. He looked lovely without the tubes,...
But the one thing I did, I had to, we had an inquest. I had to go and identify, and I never thought I could do that. And I did, and I’m glad I did because he didn’t have any of the tubes in him and he looked absolutely lovely, absolutely lovely, beautiful skin, face, everything. He was just asleep, just had his eyes closed. A neighbour came with me, my husband couldn’t come and, from that day, I wanted to go to see him every day. I then said to my husband, “You must go, you have got to go”. And he, “I, oh I can’t, I can’t”. And then he just went without saying anything to me, he just did it on his own and then I couldn’t keep him away. He was there every day, right up until the funeral, he just stayed with him the whole time.
…visiting our son every day was something that I think everybody should do it’s, I think it’s really important, really important, because once the funeral’s here it’s just far too late and you can’t look back and say, “I wish I’d done it, I wish”. It’s not frightening, it’s not, it’s not nasty. It’s just very peaceful and very lovely.
Amanda had never seen a dead body before so before she saw her son she felt worried. It was a...
At first Linda thought it was horrible that her daughter looked so pale and lifeless. However,...
And when I went to see her at the chapel, we went in, me and my husband went in together the first time (…). I just walked back out again. I was quite surprised. And my husband, I went and sat outside and he went back in and then he came out and said to the funeral director, “Oh, she looks really nice. Thanks, thank you.” I just couldn’t believe it. I was just amazed because I thought, “No, she doesn’t. She doesn’t look nice. It’s horrible.”
When you say you walked in and out again, did you not want to stay for a minute? Or what happened?
I looked, I went in and looked at her and I just thought, I don’t know, I didn’t like it, so I came back out. And when we came, when we got out of the funeral director’s, I said to my husband, “How could you say she looked nice? She looked awful. Didn’t, didn’t look like her at all.” And he said, “Well, what was you expecting her to look like?” And I said, “Well, I was expecting her to look pink, like pinker, and like more like when she was alive.” And he just said, “Well she’s not alive.”
Would you recommend to other people that they didn’t go and see their loved one after they’d died?
No, because I went after that. I kind of, when he said that it kind of sunk in that, you know, she wasn’t going to look the same.
But we did go and see her quite a few times after that. Yeah.
And was that the right thing to do?
Yeah, I think so. Yeah, we went in, we took some things in, took some photos and things like that for her and we’d said that, we’d told our family they could go inside if they wanted to, just close friends and people, you know, whoever wants to go and see her, and others didn’t and that’s OK. But I wanted to go and make sure that she was OK really.
And then we went just before the funeral as well. We went to see her but I think perhaps people should realise that they’re not going to look the same. You know, it was still, it was still Chloe but she just, it looked like she’d died.
Hmm. And it was, you say it was very important to you because you wanted to make sure she was alright.
Some people took the children to see the body of their mother or father. Marion, for example, took all her four children, aged 10 - 22, to see their father. It was difficult, but she says that with the benefit of hindsight she would do it again. She thinks that if the children had not seen their father, their fantasies might have been worse than reality.
The children wanted to see their fathers body. Marion took them and thinks it was the right...
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.
Stephen prepared his young daughters as well as he could for what they would see when they went to the chapel of rest. He also explained how Gill might feel if they touched her.
Stephen took his young daughters to see Gill after she died. He felt devastated but he says they...
Did the children want to go and see her [Gill]?
They did, yes, they did. Gill loved bags, and it was the time of year, there were lots of roses in the garden, and the children, they did a load of roses and I remember putting the petals in the fridge, actually, so that they wouldn’t go off. And they decided that they wanted to sprinkle her body with, with rose petals…
So was it the right thing to take the children to see your wife’s body?
Oh without a doubt, I mean when my father died I really wanted to go and see him, and I know people “um” and “ahh” about whether or not to, but I, it was, it felt like all I could was give them the choice, I mean I think you know, yeah they’re certainly old enough to be able to make that choice, and I feel also it was just important that, again looking back, that they were involved and they were making choices, and yes okay they were the choices of a seven, of a six and a half and a, a, well six and a four and half year old, but they were choices that they made. And I think it’s really, really important that they, that they did that, I mean we, it was quite a, you know, it’s the whole ritual of death, we make a ritual of it for a reason, you know there are older societies of, you know, making a really big thing of it, and it’s for a really good reason, because it’s important that you say goodbye, in the right way and that you say everything that needed to be said, and you do everything that needed to be done, and it’s not an, it’s not an easy thing to do necessarily. But for me it was absolutely critical that, you know, I’m glad they wanted to see her, I mean if they hadn’t have wanted to see her it was fine, it was you know, “You said you didn’t want to see her,” “Why didn’t,” “Well because you said you didn’t want, okay I’m not going to force you.” But we sort of we sat down we filled a bag, one of Gill’s favourite bags with you know, well they chose what she was going to wear. They decided they wanted to put some money in her bag so that she had some money, sort of like to, to buy things with, and they wrote, they wrote cards that went in there. And, as I say we took a whole bunch of petals. I described, I told them, said it’s probably best not to touch mummy, because you know she’ll feel different, she’ll feel very cold and she won’t feel like Mummy, but if you want to touch her, you know, touch her, you know, touch her clothes but don’t touch her bare skin. And Mummy’ll look, you know she won’t quite look like Mummy, you know, she’ll look, she’ll look…. So we prepared the whole sort of thing and everything, we did a dry run for it as well, so we went to the chapel of rest before Gill was in there, and said, “Well this is where we’re going to go, this is where Mummy’s going to be and this is what it’s going to look like.” And at every single point it was like, you know, just speak to me, you don’t have to do this, but they were really at ease actually. And in fact they weren’t upset at all by seeing her.
No, you’d have, you’d have expected, I was completely devastated but I mean, they were just, it was, it was just like, it was like their Mum you know? They were, they took it remarkably, well it was just remarkable the way they took that.
Steve thinks he would have found it easier to accept his sisters death if hed been allowed to...
I think just having the opportunity I may not; if the coroner had said, “Yes, you can see the body”. I may not have taken him up on that but to be denied the opportunity completely took away the choice really. It would have been nice to have been able to make an informed choice about whether or not to see the body. And although I discussed it with my siblings and they all said, apart from my older brother who was, had the same vision as myself, the same, the same understanding really. They all said, “No it’s not, it wouldn’t do you any good to see the body”.
However, I don’t know. I’ll never know now because the opportunity wasn’t there and I didn’t have the choice and I may have accepted the death better or I may not have but I’ll never know now. That question will be unanswered. But I think having looked at the photographs of my sister’s body; they didn’t bear a resemblance to the post mortem report anyway so again there is doubt in my mind although I suppose they may have reconstructed the body from the remains. That’s perhaps why it doesn’t resemble the post, how it was described in the post mortem report. But I think certainly when it comes to accepting the death it would have been easier to accept it if I had seen the body. Never mind that’s not to be now.
Some people did not want to see the body of the person who had died. A woman who decided not to see her father after his death knew that his body would have been “hardly recognisable” and she did not think he would have wanted her to see him in that state.