A-Z

Stuart - Interview 22

Age at interview: 40
Brief Outline: Stuart had been separated from his partner, Anne, for 13 months, but saw her and their son regularly. He was deeply saddened when she took her own life by carbon monoxide poisoning in 2005. He feels isolated but has found help for his grief in many ways.
Background: Stuart is a project manager. He was widowed and has 1 child. Ethnic background/nationality: White British.

More about me...

Stuart’s partner, Anne, became ill about a year after the birth of their son. She complained of headaches and blurred vision. After a consultation with her GP, tests to assess Anne’s physical condition were undertaken. Following those it was identified that there was not a physical problem. However the headaches still persisted.
 
About two years after the initial diagnosis Anne and Stuart sought the assistance of a psychiatrist, who thought her symptoms might be due to depression, but Anne still thought she had a physical problem. Anne’s headaches persisted and she saw a psychiatrist, who firstly diagnosed general anxiety disorder and later concluded that Anne had chronic somatization disorder, when symptoms of a mental condition manifest themselves in a physical way.
 
Stuart and Anne separated, after having spent 14 years together. Stuart still saw Anne and their young son regularly.
 
Social Services got involved after the separation, when Anne found it difficult to look after their son. Anne often saw members of the emergency community mental health team, and sometimes saw health care professionals on a daily basis, but she saw someone different each time, so lacked continuity of care.
 
In 2004 Anne got worse and started to talk about suicide. One day she tried to hang herself.  Shortly after that she tried to asphyxiate herself with carbon monoxide poisoning from her car exhaust. She was admitted to hospital for a while.  
 
Stuart found it frustrating at times because he was no longer living with Anne and so was often excluded from conversations and decisions about her care.
 
Eventually Anne gave permission for Stuart to be involved in her care and he managed to arrange a case conference at their house, with members of the community mental health team, a social worker, an occupational therapist, and one of Anne’s relatives. Those present discussed what sort of support they could provide for Anne. 
 
One day in 2005 Anne did not collect their son from the after-school club. Later the police arrived and told Stuart that they had found a body in a car. Stuart was taken to hospital to identify the body.  After identifying Anne, Stuart was taken to the place where she died by the police, which Stuart found very helpful. Stuart had almost expected Anne to take her own life, but he felt sad, shocked and numb when he saw her in the mortuary. He did not feel angry with Anne and wondered if he could have done anything to prevent her death.
 
The next day Stuart had to tell his seven year old son that Anne had died. This was very difficult for Stuart.
 
Stuart’s son did not want to go to the funeral but later on that day the vicar held a ceremony at the grave, which his son, and Anne’s brother and sister attended.    
 
When Stuart went to collect Anne’s clothes from the police station he felt that the police did not handle the situation in a sensitive manner. The police just handed him the items and asked him to sign for them.   
 
The charity, Winton’s Wish, which helps children who have been bereaved, gave Stuart useful advice about how to tell his son what had happened. Winston’s Wish also gave Stuart and his son the opportunity to attend a residential weekend with others who had been bereaved in similar circumstances. Stuart and his son found this weekend most helpful. The school has not offered Stuart’s son any counselling or other support, which Stuart finds surprising. He thinks it may be because of cost. The GP did arrange some counselling for his son, which was useful and now Stuart is trying to find some additional private counselling.
 
The WAY foundation, which supports those who are widowed and under 50, has helped too. Stuart and his son have met other people who have been bereaved and joined in activities organized by WAY. Stuart has also attended meetings run by the support group, Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS), which have been helpful. He has also had some private counselling, and some counselling organized through work. Stuart has found counselling very useful.
 
Before the inquest the coroner’s officer invited Stuart to visit the place where the inquest would be held and she guided him through the whole process, which was helpful. She asked Stuart to write down what had happened, including personal things about Anne, which made him feel better. The coroner was excellent in the way he dealt with the inquest. He was discrete and considerate. Anne had left numerous notes to say that the headaches had made it impossible for her to carry on, and the coroner concluded that Anne’s death was due to suicide. She had died from the exhaust fumes from her car.
 
Stuart often feels isolated and alone. When he phoned the policewoman who told him about Anne’s death she did not bother to return his calls. He feels weighed down with the responsibility of looking after his son on his own with very little support from family or friends. He finds it hard to make friends with other parents, particularly since he works full time. He worries about his son and he also feels that he has been abandoned by most of Anne’s family. Some days are better than others. Anne’s suicide has put other problems in perspective.
 

When Anne was told she had chronic somatisation she realised that she might not get relief from...

When Anne was told she had chronic somatisation she realised that she might not get relief from...

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

Looking back is there anything you think could’ve prevented her death?

No, I don’t know really. It’s difficult to pinpoint any single thing, I think, when she saw the diagnosis of what she had and it said chronic it was somatisation, I think when she saw that it said chronic I think that was a sort of, and chronic meaning long term I think that was really, quite a big deciding factor for her.

Mmm.

But I think it’s, I think maybe, I don’t know I wasn’t there obviously when she was given that diagnosis, I think maybe sometimes the, medical profession when they give these diagnoses they’re trying to, do it to sort of help, either the treatment, or to demonstrate that they have some understanding of it, and I think it may be important for them sometimes to say, “No we don’t actually know everything about this.”

Mmm.

Or, “What this diagnosis means is x, y and z.”

So they actually gave her the diagnosis of chronic somatisation?

Yeah somatisation.

Mmm.

But then we looked it up on the web together, and we saw that it meant chronic and I think that was the thing that really worried her was the long term effects of it and I think she just wanted to see a way out of it and I think that was the thing the fact that she saw that there wouldn’t be any, that she perceived that there’d never be any rest or a relief from it.

 

Stuart kept wondering if he could have done things differently He also feels guilty because he...

Text only
Read below

Stuart kept wondering if he could have done things differently He also feels guilty because he...

HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

Why would you be cross with yourself?


Just because maybe thinking of things that I should’ve done, or, I could’ve done this differently, or I could’ve done that differently, or, if she’d have, you know, did I really love her enough, did I care for her enough, was I a good enough partner.


That that must’ve been hard?


Yeah that’s the sort of things and you never sort of really get an answer and that was one of the other things after Anne’s death actually was, it wasn’t a feeling but it was just a desire to know that she was okay.


Have you ever felt that other people have expected you to grieve or react in a particular way?


I think after I initially I went to identify her I found it really difficult to cry, and I felt really guilty at not crying so much, and I think that’s one of the things that I have felt guilty at is not being so, not crying so much, but there have been times when I’ve found it really difficult and I’ve found it difficult on my own, and I think people expect a time continuity to it, as though there’s, well after so many months or you should be over it and things will be okay now, but it, it’s not that straight line.

 

The police took Stuart to see the spot where Anne had been found in her car. He thought this was...

Text only
Read below

The police took Stuart to see the spot where Anne had been found in her car. He thought this was...

HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

And the police, the police said that, “Oh we’ll come round straightaway.” And I said, “Look, there’s no point in coming around straightaway if she’s done anything she’s done it.”


Mmm.


“I’ve got to get my son to bed.”


Mmm.


And I tried to get him to bed, you know, so I got him off to bed and then  when they were coming around I found a couple of notes that she’d left, so I let them know that as well, and when they arrived they said, “Oh you know we’re really sorry but on the way we found a car that matches Anne’s description, you know, we’ve had a report of a car that matches the description with a female found inside it.” Before that they said to me, “Oh you may want to sit down.” [laughs] which is like pretty obvious, what’s coming in a way isn’t it? 


Did they stay with you for a while?


They did, they were quite good, the good thing that they did, which was really good and helpful was that they took me to the spot where she’d been found, on the same night, which I thought was quite helpful for me, for others it might not have been helpful but for me it was really helpful.

 

The police woman did not return Stuart's calls. When he went to the police station to collect...

The police woman did not return Stuart's calls. When he went to the police station to collect...

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

…but the other thing that was really, there’s one thing that was really horrible, it was when I went to collect her stuff from the police station, it might’ve been like I was collecting a parking ticket really, the approach they had, they were appalling, the people on the front desk were absolutely appalling, their attitude. I tried to contact, that was the other thing, I tried to contact that policewoman on the night, and I tried a few times to contact her, the woman who’d been around to, tell me, just to say thanks and, you know, this is how I’m getting on but I never heard back from her.

 

But you’d left a message for her did you?


Yeah I’d left two or three messages for her and they never came back to me.


And then they asked you to go to the police station to collect her clothes?


Yeah, then I had to go to collect her clothes and all the belongings and like the bags and when I collected them it just felt.


They just handed them to you did they?


Yeah it was just a, it was just horrible the way they did it, it was just, you know, it was oh you have to sign here and it’s, as though it was a real big effort for them, you know.


How, how could they have handled it better, because policemen might be able to learn from this.


They could’ve just actually just maybe dealt with it in a more private area, got someone who had a bit more sort of training who’s a bit more sympathetic to it who wasn’t treating it as though it was just another task on their daily list to do…


Mmm.


…you know, that’s how they could’ve dealt with it a bit better and the, the policeman, I tried to get in contact with the person who’d come round and told me, she could’ve at least returned my call, you know, it just, that’s again another thing of feeling in isolation and feeling that I got dropped.


Not being followed up.

 

Stuart explains why he found his psychodynamic counselling useful.

Text only
Read below

Stuart explains why he found his psychodynamic counselling useful.

HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

And how many sessions did you see a counsellor for or is that still going on?


I saw them for about twelve sessions and then I stopped it and then I carried on with another counsellor, for a while as well, because I’d changed location.


And what happens at a typical counselling session?


It depends on what sort of counselling you go for because there’s a number of different types that are available. So I wanted something that was reasonably structured, although I did in the end have, I think it’s called Psychodynamic Counselling and that’s where you just sit there and you talk about things yourself and at first it may seem really difficult to get, talking about issues and talking about things, but actually, what you can find is that after maybe a, sort of a short while of being there the counsellor can be very good at sort of, without actually having to ask you probing questions get you to think about things and sort of open up a bit really, and that’s what’s useful, I found it useful to dump issues on a counsellor in a nice way, you know, rather than having all these issues sort of around in my head I, I felt like you could go there and it’s like putting them in a little box, taking them away from yourself, putting them in a little box with the counsellor and that’s it, it’s, that little bit’s squared off and dealt with.


So that was really helpful?


That was really helpful yeah, and I think you just need to keep that going regularly though and not expect it to happen overnight, because it will take time, depending on.


And how many years was it since Anne died?


Two years.


Yeah.


that’s probably in about the September two thousand and five.


And are you still going sometimes?


Sometimes I do go and see a counsellor yes because I think that’s useful.


Can you just ring up and make an appointment?


It depends on the counsellor. Some of them like to see you on a regular basis and some them are happy for you to do that.


Mmm.


But at the moment I’m seeing someone who may also be able to help with children as well and I think that’s quite useful.

 

Stuart found some help-lines frustrating. He had to keep repeating his story. He found Winston's...

Text only
Read below

Stuart found some help-lines frustrating. He had to keep repeating his story. He found Winston's...

HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

So what sort of experiences have you had ringing up these help-lines?


Some have been totally bizarre. There’s been one helpline where I’ve phoned up and somebody tried to tell me all their problems [laughs] which actually worked in a way because it distracted me from anything that I had to talk about and I just thought, “Oh please shut up so I can get off the phone” [laughs]. And I had another one where somebody was convinced I’d phoned up before, and I had an argument with her about whether or not I’d phoned up before; that was the one through work and it was just a completely and utterly bizarre [laughs] and it was just, and it, it was quite amusing actually, but not at the time.


Which ones have you found helpful then?


Winston’s Wish have been really, really helpful because, you get to go and, if you’re lucky then you can apply to go on a weekend, through being bereaved through suicide, and that can be very helpful, and also the fact that they know you as an individual, that’s the thing that makes a difference. Yes, some [help-lines] are just frustrating because they’re well-intentioned but it’s just you get different people all the time and you feel as though there’s no connection with you and they keep saying, “Oh try and talk about things.” And you just, “Oh”.


So if you ring Winston’s Wish, they’ll remember who you are or?


Yes they have like a case on you…


Oh that’s good.


…which is really helpful, and that’s what makes a really big difference being able to speak to someone, when you need, to who actually knows some background information.


You haven’t got to go over it all again?


Yes, yeah and that’s the problem with a lot of the helplines, well virtually all of them you’ve got to go over everything again, and it’s so frustrating to have to do that.


I can see that.


Yes, and again you can’t sort of progress and you sort of, well you can’t record any progress that you made with them so you just feel as though you’re just on the same old loophole, and finding things really difficult. Rather than if you phone up someone like Winston’s Wish they say, “Wow well, you are finding things difficult but I can see that you’ve moved forward.”

 

Stuart had a young son when he lost his ex-partner. Suddenly he had full responsibility for his...

Text only
Read below

Stuart had a young son when he lost his ex-partner. Suddenly he had full responsibility for his...

HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

It’s also about trying to keep things going as well, even though it’s really difficult. Other sort of practical things I would say to people are trying to; if there’s my top five things let’s say of things that people needed to do, it’s probably, I imagine it would be one would be care for yourself, and make sure that you’ve got support in caring for yourself so let your work know, and let work know that although you come back you may need to ease yourself back into things and there may be a time when you have to go back away from work.


Mmm.

 

I think the other thing is making sure that you’ve got some sort of care, for your child so you can care for them and you try and get some routines in place for them…


Mmm.


…and they, and talk to them about what’s happened sort of well and don’t, don’t ignore the death of the person or anything about the person…


Mmm.


…and you could make the memory box would be helpful for that. The other thing which I would say as well is making sure you get some good childcare as well, I was very lucky for that because [my son] was attending, well my son was attending an out of school club, and they were excellent, and there’s, there’s a young lad from there who looks after my son…


Oh that’s good.


…and I think that’s particularly good to have a boy looking after a boy and he’s been very good and they have a good relationship, and you also know that if that person comes from the out of school club that they’ve been checked as well…


Mmm.


…and that they’ll have some experience of dealing with children so that’s really useful. And then it was trying to make sure that I kept something going for myself…


Mmm.


…and that the more, only for myself and it may be different for other people, but the more that I found that I kept myself busy the better it is so I didn’t dwell too much on things, but then the other tips would be as well would be making sure that you’ve got, some sort of support network in place for yourself, and you’ve got some way to channel the sort of, bereavement that you deal with…


Mmm.


…as well I think that’s sort of quite important.


Those are really useful messages for other people.

Previous Page
Next Page