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Susan - Interview 8

Age at interview: 58
Brief Outline: Two of Susan's sons have taken their own lives by hanging. Barry died in 1995 and Stephen died in April 2006. Susan has had support from various sources. She is still grieving but feels she must 'move on' for the sake of her other children.
Background: Susan replenishes stock in a supermarket. She is married and has a grown up son and a teenage daughter. She had 2 other sons who died. Ethnic background/nationality: White English.

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Susan’s sons both took their own lives. Barry was aged 23 when he hung himself in 1995, and Stephen was 35 when he hung himself in April 2006.
 
Barry had various problems which he found hard to talk about with other people. Susan saw Barry two weeks before he died. He had cut his wrists and said that he did not want to live and could not promise that he would not try to kill himself again.
 
Susan recalls that before Barry cut his wrists he had asked to be admitted to hospital and but the psychiatrist had refused to admit him because he was not a danger to anyone else. When he cut his wrists he was taken to hospital but soon sent home again. Susan was very upset that her son was not given more help. Two weeks later Barry was found hanging in a garage near to his flat by two little girls.
 
Barry’s death was a terrible shock for Susan and her husband. However, she had half expected this to happen and although she felt terribly sad about Barry’s death she also felt a sense of relief that she no longer had to worry about him. When Susan, her husband and Stephen went to see Barry in the Chapel of Rest at the hospital he looked very peaceful, which was a comfort to Susan.  
 
Many people attended Barry’s funeral, which took place in church. Susan and her family received wreaths from some of those who had worked with Barry in the catering business and from people who knew Barry through football. Barry was buried and had a really nice head stone with a picture of a lion.
 
Stephen had to give a statement at Barry’s inquest because he was the last person to see him alive. The coroner said that Barry’s death was due to suicide.
 
After Barry died a counsellor from the hospital visited Susan every fortnight for a year. Susan found this counselling most helpful. It was free.
 
Stephen never came to terms with Barry’s death. Susan suspects that Stephen felt a sense of guilt after Barry died, partly because they had planned to die together.
 
The year after Barry died Stephen was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and was in and out of hospital for ten years. He usually had to go into hospital under a section order with a police escort.
 
Stephen often heard voices including Barry’s voice. After Stephen’s death a psychiatrist had told Susan that when Stephen could no longer hear his brother’s voice he had become suicidal. Susan felt angry that she had not been told about this. She was also angry that Stephen had access to illegal drugs when he was at the hospital. Both Barry and Stephen had taken drugs, such as cannabis, but at the time of their deaths no drugs were found in their bodies.
 
In April 2006 Susan’s husband found Stephen dead in his own flat. He had also taken his life by hanging. Susan was devastated. She couldn’t believe that Stephen had taken his own life. She felt upset and angry. She also felt guilty because of a row she had had with Stephen the previous Christmas, mainly about illegal drugs.
 
Susan and her husband went to see Stephen’s body at the Chapel of Rest at the undertakers. Susan found this “heartbreaking”, seeing a second son lying dead.
 
Stephen had a wonderful funeral, during which his sister read a lovely poem. The vicar read out a “talk” about Stephen composed by his father.
 
Perhaps the most difficult thing for Susan was telling her 15 year old daughter what had happened.  Susan had to go to the school to find her daughter and tell her the terrible news. Since then, Seesaw has helped her daughter with counselling. The counsellor suggested that she should create memory boxes for both her brothers, which she did.
 
After Stephen died Susan had a “kind of breakdown”, and was off work for over three months. She says she thinks she was grieving for both her sons, and she felt like taking her own life. Her GP talked to her and gave her anti-depressants. Susan had support from family and colleagues. She also had some help from a Cruse counsellor, who she saw regularly for a year. Susan’s husband also had some counselling.
 
Stephen’s inquest was six months after his death. Susan’s husband had to give evidence about what had happened, which he found very distressing and traumatic. The coroner gave a verdict of death by suicide.
 
Susan is gradually coming to terms with what has happened and feels that she must “move on” for the sake of her other children. She has had a tattoo in order to remember her sons and has also put a memorial bench in the church yard.

Susan was interviewed in August 2007.

 

Explains why she thinks two of her sons committed suicide. Stephen had paranoid schizophrenia....

Explains why she thinks two of her sons committed suicide. Stephen had paranoid schizophrenia....

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Right, twelve years ago I lost my first son aged 23, he committed suicide and then last April I lost another son aged 35, who did exactly the same, and committed suicide. It’s very very hard. I felt a lot of anger and sadness. I was more angry with my second son for doing what he did as he’d always promised that he would never do this to us. But I also understand that it was harder for him, trying to cope without his brother, and I think as time goes on I’m beginning to understand more why Stephen had to do what he did. He suffered with a mental illness for ten years, paranoid schizophrenia.

 

Was this the first one?

 

The second.

 

The second one, right.

 

He found that very hard, he would always say that he talked to his brother, he talked to his grandparents, and towards the end before he died, he felt that he was losing his brother’s voice, and I think this was always a danger we were told by the hospital, that if that happened then Stephen could become suicidal, but we didn’t find this out until after Stephen had died.

 

By losing his voice, he used to hear his voice?

 

Barry used to talk to Stephen, which gave him quite a lot of comfort, and also my parents which were Stephen’s grandparents, but Stephen also spoke to what he called a demon, which would tell him to do really bad things. And Stephen said that he was being punished and the demon was taking away Barry’s voice. It was getting fainter and fainter and he could no longer hear him, so Stephen deteriorated even more, which I believe actually led to Stephen’s suicide. I know that he never came to terms with Barry’s death; he blamed him self, as they had actually made a pact to die together, and obviously Stephen didn’t go through with that, why, we don’t know. And I think Stephen carried an awful lot of guilt after Barry died.

 

Why did, why did Barry decide to die?

 

Barry had a lot of problems, they both got into drugs quite badly in their teenage years, which I think didn’t help their problems, because Cannabis does cause paranoia and both my sons suffered with paranoia, although Barry was never diagnosed as being with schizophrenia. 

 

Both her sons left suicide notes. Both told the rest of the family to remember the “good times”...

Both her sons left suicide notes. Both told the rest of the family to remember the “good times”...

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Yet you still feel a sense of disbelief?


Yeah, yeah. I just, to be perfectly honest, I just didn’t think that Stephen had the guts basically to commit suicide. I really didn’t. And it’s still strange to me that he died exactly the same way that Barry did, he felt that he had to go the same way as Barry. Again he left a letter, and very very brief, but again he said the same as Barry had said, “Please don’t think about the bad times, think about the good times”, he left a separate letter to his sister, and he left a letter to his brother and his wife. He listed everything that he wanted somebody to have, and certain you know particular things, and one of the things that he did say in the letter was, “Don’t chuck anything, chuck anything away, please give it to charity.” He was very much like that, he didn’t like binning anything he, he always thought somebody could make use of it.

 

Susan had not been told about changes that might predict that Stephen would take his own life....

Susan had not been told about changes that might predict that Stephen would take his own life....

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And I’ve got to be honest, I asked one of his carers, because when he, he had two main carers in the community as well as us, and I actually asked one of those carers, when Stephen was going through a really bad time, “Is Stephen suicidal?” And I was told, “No.” And it wasn’t until after Stephen died that we were told by his doctor on a meeting that we had, that they felt that if Stephen ever lost his brother’s voice, then he would be more likely to commit suicide. And again, I felt really angry, we were part of his care team for ten years, my husband especially, and yet we were never ever told, and I do understand that things do have to be kept confidential when people are a certain age, I quite understand that, but there’s lots of things that Stephen told the hospital that they couldn’t confide to us. Stephen talked to his Dad quite a lot, at different times.


What hadn’t you been told? You hadn’t been told that he might commit suicide if he lost the voices?

 

No. Not until…?

 

That’s what you’re cross about.

 

Yep, Not until actually after he died.

 

Mm. And you were aware that he had lost the voices.

 

Yeah, I was also very angry that Stephen would be able to get access to drugs, illicit drugs, and I actually put in a letter of complaint, stating what I felt, and why was he able to get drugs. Stephen’s biggest fear when he became ill and we knew that he was heading back into hospital, he would actually say to his Dad, “Please don’t send, let them take me back Dad.” Because he knew that the one place that he should’ve felt safe, he wasn’t, because he knew he’d have access to drugs.

 

He could get drugs in hospital?

 

Exactly, people coming onto the premises selling, and they know this goes on. They know it happens.

 

And this was only last year?

 

Yeah. And I was very very angry. I mean I know my husband visited Stephen one Sunday morning with his brother-in-law and Stephen was coming back from, they’ve got like a bit like a sort of nature reserve up there, and Stephen was coming back with a coloured guy that wasn’t a patient and my husband knew then and there that Stephen had had something off of him.

 

And you say it’s his money, that’s money that’s given to him by the state?

 

No, it was money, Stephen was on income support, because he couldn’t work.

 

Yes, so that’s his money.

 

Because of his illness, it was his money which he gave to his Dad to keep for him and he would have bits and bobs here and there. When Stephen was at home, he never touched drugs, he was fine. But as soon as he got back into the hospital he was back on the drug scene.

 

Susan felt depressed and suicidal after another son died by suicide. She felt she was going mad...

Susan felt depressed and suicidal after another son died by suicide. She felt she was going mad...

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When you said you had a break down, what form did that take?


As I said, I felt quite suicidal, I couldn’t cope, didn’t want to do anything, couldn’t understand really how I was feeling,  thought I was going mad at times, and I knew I needed help; I had to get help to get through it. It wasn’t something I was going be able to do on my own. And you may just think, “Oh you know, brush it under the carpet it’ll go away”. It wasn’t going to work like that.


Was that when you went to your GP?


I did yes. I didn’t like the feelings I was having, I was frightened. And I told my GP that, I told him everything, how I felt, but also the guilt side of things that I felt guilty because of what I was thinking, of what I was feeling.

 

Susan and her husband still find it hard to talk about Barry and Stephen. Susan says that she...

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Do you think relationships get affected for those who are left behind?


Certainly. Yeah I can quite understand why marriages break up, because it’s a strain, and it’s a big strain. People are quick to say, “You have to get on with your life, you have to move on”, but it doesn’t work like that. I live every day with my sons’ death. And that is really hard, very hard, I always ask myself, “Why?” “Why me?” You know. And their normal upbringing, as young boys, they, they played football, they were in you know, Barry actually played for [the town] boys, he had a great football career, and you think “Why?” you know. It’s just life wasted basically.


Do you ever get the feeling that other people blame you?


I’m not sure.


You say you blame yourself.


I think sometimes in anger we blame our partners, I think sometimes in anger. It’s not deliberate, but you tend to remember things you know, where if you’d have done this, or you’d have done that, things might’ve been better. So I don’t know really.


Do you talk about them to your husband?


No.


Just to other people.


Yeah, just to other people, yeah. Yeah we don’t really mention, you know I mean [my husband] recently laid, we’ve put a summer house up the garden, and he laid a patio, and we joked about that because Stephen was a bricklayer by trade, and I said to him, “I’m sure Stephen’s looking down and thinking you haven’t laid that slab right”, and we laugh about little things like that you know. So yeah we can, but we don’t really, you know I could see we were at the graveside, Sunday afternoon, no Saturday afternoon, and [my husband] was just standing there, and I could see sort of how sad he looked, just looking at the two graves you know, I don’t know what he was thinking, but he just looked so lost.


That you find it hard to talk.


Yeah and I didn’t say anything but you could see it in his face that he’s probably thinking, “How could that happen?”

 

Stephen’s death was reported in the evening paper. The huge headline “Father’s grief” shocked...

Stephen’s death was reported in the evening paper. The huge headline “Father’s grief” shocked...

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Did the press ever get involved? Did you ever get newspaper people talking about it?


Only at the inquest, both the inquests were actually in the local paper. Not the daily paper, the evening paper.


Was that reported in a sensitive manner or not?


Yeah, I mean for Barry’s inquest it was very very small, very very small piece of inquest, Stephen’s was quite, quite the opposite, the headlines were huge, “Father’s Grief” which hit you straight in the face, which was a bit of a shock, you know, I don’t think my husband read it actually. I can’t remember if he did or not, yeah, it was quite a huge piece. Yeah.


Do you feel that the press shouldn’t report this or…?


We did ask if they could not be available but unfortunately you can’t stop them.

 

They have a right to come in?

 

They have a right, and so do anybody from the public outside. At inquests or court cases whatever, they can actually walk in and there’s nothing they can do. Yeah, you can’t stop it.

 

She could talk to the counsellor in confidence and found counselling helpful. It was hard to talk...

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How did you find that counselling? Was it helpful?


It was very helpful, yeah, it was, I could talk to her, my counsellor, whereas I couldn’t always talk to family.


Did you have to go and see her? Or did she …?


She came to see me.


She came here?


Yes she came to my home for almost a year.


Was that every week or every month?


Every fortnight.


Mm.


Yeah, once a fortnight, which was a really good help.


How long did she stay with you?


Usually about an hour. Yeah, she was very very good.


She lets you talk as much as you want to, and it’s all in confidence which is nice, I could talk to her whereas I couldn’t really talk to my husband, because when somebody commits suicide, there’s a lot of guilt, you blame each other, which is awfully sad but you do, you’re looking to blame somebody, or you blame yourself. Could I have done more? Could I have done this? Could I have done that? You think about the things when you’ve had quarrels and the things that you said to them, which happened with both my sons, due to the drug taking, things could be quite heated at times, because we were angry with what they were doing with their lives. And you could see the problems it was causing.

 

Having a tattoo with her son's names was a personal way of remembering them. She and her husband...

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And did you get any more support from the church for example.


No. No. I think if I’d have needed it, it would’ve been available, yeah, I think you can go and talk, I get a lot of comfort from visiting my sons’ graves, I’ve also got a memorial bench in their memory, with a plaque, I also have a tattoo with both their names which for me is comfort, it’s my way of, it’s my own little personal thing of remembering my sons. And even my counsellor said that she thought that was a really good idea. Because she actually said would I mind if she mentioned that to some of her clients. Because they often say, I want to do something to sort of remember and she thought that was a really lovely idea to do that. I said, I just suddenly thought it’s something I want, you know, to do, and I did it last year when I went on holiday. I thought, yeah, I’m going to have this done you know, with the help of my daughter dragging me in.


Where’s the memorial bench?


That is actually in the churchyard, yes.


That’s nice.


Yeah.


Have you got their names on it?


I have yeah, have a plaque. Instead of, what we actually did this time, instead of having too many flowers, we decided to put donations to a memorial bench in their memory. Obviously asking people if, if they minded if that’s what we did, and nobody had any problems at all, and it really is lovely. Yes.


How did you find someone to make that?


My husband was talking to a guy in the cemetery, about the benches, and he actually gave my husband a place to go. And which he did, he went and ordered it and [um], they actually made it, fitted it and we can just sit there and quiet and can actually see the graves from there yeah, it’s really lovely.


How often do you go?


We go every week. Yes. My husband goes every day.

 

After Susan's second son died she asked SeeSaw for help. Her daughter only wanted counselling two...

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Yeah, the school actually gave us a card, about SeeSaw, which helps children in bereavement. I then contacted SeeSaw, I left a message, and they got back to me. I gave them brief information, and asked if they could come and talk to my daughter. I wasn’t sure at that time how much she needed help, but they did, they arranged a visit and they did come and talk to her. My daughter is quite grown up for her age. She did talk and actually saw them for two or three times but then decided off her own bat that she didn’t need to talk anymore. But she was reassured that if in future even in late teens if ever she needs to talk then she can always go back, or even go to another counselling group, I think, I believe SeeSaw only deal with children up to 16 years of age. But after that if ever she needs to speak to somebody, which they said she might later in life, but at the moment she was coping really well. She knew exactly what she wanted to say. What she didn’t want to talk about.


How old was she at the time?


She would’ve been 15.


So you allowed her to have that contact.


Yeah, Yes.


Okay.


I felt that [my daughter] she couldn’t really talk to me; I think that was probably because we would get very upset, and she felt that if she talked to us we would be crying, we would be upset, and she didn’t want to do that.


Yes.


So I think maybe this is why she doesn’t always talk about things. She might say the odd; bring his name up now and again, but not very often. SeeSaw also gave her what they call a memory box, and she’s got little bits of things of her brother’s, she made an actual memory box of both her brothers, which is really lovely, she’s got photographs, and little bits and pieces. But again she’s put that away, and she knows where it is if she feels she wants to get it out in her own time, then she will do that. I’ve never pushed her into, to saying oh you should do that, or you should do this. She will do things in her own time and when she’s ready. She also had a lot of help from friends at school, very very supportive, which I think helped her, really helped her through it.

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