A-Z

Ted - Interview 19

Age at interview: 56
Brief Outline: Ted was 12 years old when his father took his own life by hanging. Ted's family found it hard to talk about it and Ted lacked information. He felt intense grief during that first year. Ted has found help by researching his father's life and through SOBS.
Background: Ted is a web designer. He is married and has 2 children (1 grown-up). Ethnic background/nationality: White British.

More about me...

Ted was only 12 years old when his father took his own life by hanging and asphyxiation. This happened in 1964. His mother found it hard to talk about this terrible event. She told Ted that his father had had an accident and that he was ill; that he had had a sudden aberration. Ted discovered that his friends knew more about his father’s death than he did, because they had read about it in the papers, but he could not talk to them about it. Ted could not talk to his sister, grandmother or friends about it either. He only found out what had happened because he found his father’s death certificate in a box.
 
Later Ted discovered that his father had suffered from serious depression and post traumatic stress disorder, almost certainly caused by experiences he had had during the war. Ted’s father had sought help from his GP, who had given him medication. Ted’s mother told Ted that she blamed the doctor for not helping her husband enough. She had asked the doctor to sign her husband off work, because her husband worked too hard and came back from work shaking and in a terrible state, but the doctor had sent her away and had not intervened.  Although Ted’s mother blamed the doctor for what happened, Ted has never blamed the doctor, he blamed his father.
 
Ted felt numb and experienced intense grief for at least a year after his father died. He cried when he first heard the news, but then found it hard to express his emotion. After about a year Ted started to feel intense anger with his father for what he had done. Ted was angry mainly because his father’s death “ruined” his mother’s life. He believes that she never really recovered from his father’s death.
 
In 2000, 36 years after his father died, Ted read a book called Easy Peasy, by Lesley Glaister, about a man who had hung himself because of war time experiences. This made Ted think about his father’s death. He wanted to know every detail about his father’s life during the war. He talked to his sister, aunt and uncle, looked for war time records and photographs, and he read his father’s letters and diary. He also read books about depression.
 
Ted recalls that he became “obsessed” with what had happened. He wrote about the events that had taken place before his father’s death, what happened on the day he died and what happened afterwards. Ted says that he reconstructed his father’s war time career. Ted believes that his father suffered from “survivor guilt”, because he had been ill with appendicitis and had not been able to accompany his men on the day that many of them died in action.
 
Ted tried to understand what had happened on the day his father died and what had led to his death. His father had not been happy where he worked in a bank, but Ted thinks that his father felt that if he left the bank he would be leaving his colleagues in a difficult situation, rather as he had done in the war when he had had appendicitis.  
 
Ted says that he no longer feels so angry with his father and that perhaps his reconstruction of his father’s life and his writing has made him feel less angry and less guilty about what happened. Although he was only a child when his father died he says he did feel some guilt about what happened, perhaps because he beat his father at cards, which his father disliked.       
 
Ted did not go to the funeral or the inquest. At the inquest the coroner’s verdict was that Ted’s father “took his own life”. His mother would have preferred the verdict “he took his own life while of unsound mind.” She was sure her husband was depressed and ill and she perceived that the coroner thought that perhaps other matters, such as financial difficulties, were involved. 
 
Ted got involved with the support group SOBS (Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide). He found that talking about his father to others who had been bereaved by suicide was helpful. Talking to others helped him to remember what his father was like.
 
Ted still believes that even though his father might have been ill with depression he should not have taken his own life. Ted believes that his father “fell down on his responsibilities”, and that suicide is not a morally acceptable action. Ted regrets that his father was not part of his life for so many years as he was growing up, and he has not absolved him for what he did so many years ago.
 
Looking back, Ted feels that his father’s suicide gave him strength to deal with adversity. He knows that he survived his father’s death so he can survive other difficult events in his life. He thinks his father’s death also made him more adventurous and gave him creative insight, intellectual curiosity, and the ability to take risks.

Ted was interviewed in October 2007.

 

Ted’s father had had episodes of depression ever since he suffered post-traumatic stress from...

Ted’s father had had episodes of depression ever since he suffered post-traumatic stress from...

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

It was 25th March 1964 that he died and I think in common with a lot of other people who’ve lost people through suicide it is engraved upon your memory. I remember that day, that was the day I remember from my childhood, everything changed on that day, we were just an ordinary family before, my mother my father and the two of us, we went on holiday every year, I struggled with the school work, and there was absolutely nothing abnormal about us, my father worked in a bank, he was a bank clerk. He drove me to school every morning, I was really unaware that he was suffering from very bad depression. There were a few clues in the time leading up to the time he took his life but I was just getting a bit lippy then, I was 12 years old and I really was thinking, “Well why did you do that.” And I remember him; he’d got upset because I beat him at cards. Well that’s the wrong way round really isn’t it, and I thought, “Well why are you getting upset,” but it was clearly a symptom of his depression.

 

And in fact my father’s depression as I later discovered, was post traumatic stress, from experiences that he had during the war. So anyway, I went to university, I dropped out, I took lots of drugs, and again you might say that I might not have done that, but on the other hand a lot of other people took drugs in the late 60’s early 70’s, so I might’ve done, I might not have done, if you see what I mean. You can’t, you know, say that event A has…. I certainly don’t regret any of it, anyway as regards the death I never talked to anybody about it that knew my father. But I did talk to other people, I talked to, I talked to friends, and I had this story and the story was one my mother told me when she got older, and she told me the story and again she said he’d had bad experiences during the war, he got depressed at Christmas 1963, when we were at our relatives, he got more and more depressed, it related to a breakdown he’d had after the war in 1946, it was 18 years without depression, then he got depressed, he was having nightmares, he was dreaming about sailors drowning because he was in the navy. He couldn’t go into work. Every time he went into work he came back shaking and in a terrible state. She was up all night talking to him. He was hallucinating. And all the time he was just taking me to school, and behaving quite normally.

 

After a year of intense grief Ted only felt anger with his father for what his father had done.

After a year of intense grief Ted only felt anger with his father for what his father had done.

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

And I was numb and I, for a year I suppose. I think it, in my mind it’s a year that the intense grief lasted and I’ve had many other things happen to me in my life, I’ve had divorce, I’ve had other losses, you know, I’ve had various other traumatic experiences, but I’ve never experienced anything like that. It’s as though all the other deeply emotional experiences I have are nothing when set, set beside that period of that day it happened and that year afterwards. I would doubt I’d even truly grieved since then because I tend to dismiss grief, that period was so painful to me it, it, it, it, it was so painful that it was a place that I, that I, that I never want to go again.


After a year, of feeling terrible as I remember it, outwardly I know, that I was behaving like I always did and I think this is the thing about children, I think you can underestimate just how emotional, because I think in terms of emotion as I say that children, certainly of 12, are just as sophisticated in their emotions as adults, so when you feel emotional pain it’s the same as an adult feeling emotional pain, but as far as the adults around me were concerned, you know I didn’t show them that emotional pain, I never cried, only on the time I heard it, I, that was the only time I cried. In fact I got really fed up with my mother sitting on the stairs weeping. And then after a year it seems to me like a year, I suddenly realised one day that I didn’t feel anything anymore, except anger with my father for what he’d done.

 

Ted thought that the inquest hearing was handled very professionally. Having looked at the...

Ted thought that the inquest hearing was handled very professionally. Having looked at the...

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

You said you were going to come back to the inquest. When you were doing all your research did you get in touch with the ….


Yes, Yes I got the inquest papers, and the inquest papers were very interesting. The inquest papers, and the newspaper reports, they just had statements, so they had a statement from the policeman that found my father, they had a statement from the people he worked with, and they had a statement from my mother. And he had penciled on it, and it was quite clear from the inquest, to me that the whole thing had been handled in a very professional way, so my mother’s view of things, I couldn’t, I couldn’t agree with. I don’t know about the doctor and the pills, the poor doctor was probably just doing his job, but certainly, the inquest, and this is what’s curious, because the verdict, my mother was hung up, on this he’d, verdict as she put it, the verdict was, “He took his own life.” And she said that he, it should have been, “He took his own life while of unsound mind.” Which I think it tends to be these days. And putting the fact on his illness, rather than, and she said that, you know, it was the finance, they’d cross questioned her on the finances of the family and all that, but he, but when you read the inquest paper and the statements and the newspaper report, it doesn’t add up to that to me, to me it’s perfectly clear that the inquest decided that the war time experiences were very significant.


The way my mother looked upon it, was that my father was ill, and I think she was probably right about this, he was depressed, and he took his life because he was depressed.


Mm.


It was his illness, his illness was caused by the war, it wasn’t the fact that there was anything wrong with their relationship, and it wasn’t the fact that they had financial difficulties.


Was that hinted at by the coroner?


That was, well the coroner asked about the financial difficulties.


Ah.


And my mother said, “No more than anybody else”. I think the thing is that when my father was depressed, when you’re depressed things become magnified, and that was probably one of the issues between my mother and father, my father was saying “Oh, you know, we’ve got financial problems,” but I went into the finances, and actually you know when I, well I found the contents of the wallet and things like that, I went through it all, and there were no financial difficulties, she, she was right about that, we weren’t, we didn’t have financial difficulties.


No.


It was just the family making ends meet.


So she felt the coroner was somehow blaming her and the family etc by …


Yeah. But I don’t think he was.


Right, interesting, that was her perception.


That was her perception, but we all have to have, we all have to have a story, and really it doesn’t much matter.

 

Years after Ted lost his father by suicide he attended a Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide conference and a Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide retreat. A chance discussion helped him remember that he and his father had been very close.

Text only
Read below

Years after Ted lost his father by suicide he attended a Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide conference and a Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide retreat. A chance discussion helped him remember that he and his father had been very close.

HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

Well, I think there’s groups, and I haven’t been to the groups. There’s groups all, all over the country in local areas which you can find on the SOB’s website, and really it’s very informal, you go along and you can go along once, or you can go along as many times as you like, and you can say a lot, or you can say a little, and it gives people an opportunity to exchange their experiences with people who’ve had similar experiences. And then they have, there’s a, there’s a conference in Birmingham every, every spring, where you have speakers, and workshops, where you can just discuss things, and they have things, people like coroners come to speak and they’re mainly you know, the real conversations go on in the coffee breaks often. And I remember once I went to a place in Bolton and there were these two women there and they’d just lost a, each of them had lost a partner, within the previous twelve months, and they were obviously very very upset and I was sat having coffee with them, I wasn’t really speaking but they, they’d just found each other really, and they were just talking to each other, and I think that was, it’s that kind of thing you can meet people and they’ve had a similar experience and you can share that experience, and you don’t have to, the thing about SOB’s is you don’t have to progress, you know, I mean there is an idea of progression but you know I think the idea of progression you know in a in a therapeutic way, you know it’s more of a sort of, more of a target of the counsellor rather than anything else ‘cos the counsellor has to prove that they’re, you know, they’re curing this person. So I don’t like the idea of progression and SOB’s doesn’t have that idea you know, you just, you just be there get involved.


Mm.


And then they have a retreat, there’s a, the, you know you can go on a retreat, and I went on the retreat, because I was involved really, I was on the trustees of SOB’s at one time, and I went you know because I thought I should go and experience this retreat, I didn’t really go with any anticipation of benefiting from it personally, it’s my sort of character to do business at arms length with this, with this, with this issue, so typically I was on the trustees you know, but I went to this retreat and I just found it wonderful. And what I found wonderful about it was the fact that you know there were all of these people in the bar afterwards talking and I was talking. You know, everyone was telling their story, like they do, and there was this guy there and he’d lost his son, and he said that he was glad he was quite old when he lost his son ‘cos there was less time to live without him, and I talked to him a bit about what had happened to me, in just, not expecting anything, and he said, “You were very close to your father weren’t you?” And it was something I’d never really admitted to myself until that point when I was in the bar having had a few drinks, and I said, “Yes I was.” And some part of me remembered that, yes I was close to my father. And I’d somehow forgotten that for over 40 years. So even if you’re very very cynical and not expecting anything out of you know meeting people, and I didn’t, and I was thinking, yes he’s right, I was close to him.

 

Ted's loss of his father by suicide has given him a kind of strength in terms of dealing with...

Text only
Read below

Ted's loss of his father by suicide has given him a kind of strength in terms of dealing with...

HIDE TEXT
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

I wouldn’t wind back the tape and say, you know it’s ruined my life because it in no way do I think it has, in fact I think, I almost, I know that it’s a very strange thing to say, but I almost feel as though it was a gift, you know? This traumatic event made me feel different, and it gave me armour, it made me feel strong as well. And I suppose I’ve taken more risks than I would have done otherwise. I’ve changed, you know I’ve, you know, I’ve been a bit more adventurous than I could’ve been, you know in my personal life and in my career, you know I think it’s got, it’s given me a kind of creative insight, and it’s given me a kind of strength in terms of dealing with adversity.

 

Why do you think that’s happened, that event gave you that strength?

 

Because I measure things against it.

 

Mm.

 

In a kind of unconscious way. I’ve been there, I’ve been to this terrible place and you know I know this divorce I’m going through with all it’s pain is not nearly as bad, I know this unemployment is not nearly as bad, I know, you know, I know that I can survive this, I survived that.


But it made you stronger you said?

 

Well it makes you stronger and, and in reality you know you go out after that and the colours are brighter, you know, your experiences are potentially more intense, you have insight into people’s emotions, you, you, you, you have intellectual curiosity because you’re presented with something that’s different and you have to accommodate it so, it’s, it’s in a way, it’s a privilege, you know, and also the other thing is that , everybody experiences joy and loss in their life, and you know when you can look on them as all part of, part of what it means to be alive.

 

Mm.

 

Then that surely enriches you? Just as much as the love enriches you so this also tragedy enriches you as well, so it’s an enriching experience if you look on it in the right way, and you have to examine it, to look on it in the right way. If you say, “Oh it’s dreadful and my life’s been wrecked,” that’s not a recipe for coming to terms with it, but if you say, I’ve had this experience, you know, what can I do with it? You know, it’s very hard though if you’ve lost, it, that’s easy to do if you’ve lost a parent.

 

Mm.

 

If you’ve lost a child, I, I’ve got children, so I don’t know, I don’t think if I lost a child to suicide that I would feel the same.

 

Ted was only 12 when his father died. He says that if you are a survivor all emotions are valid...

Ted was only 12 when his father died. He says that if you are a survivor all emotions are valid...

SHOW TEXT VERSION
PRINT TRANSCRIPT

…and again if you, if you’re a survivor, you know again whatever emotion you have is, is a valid one, and not everybody is the same, and you’ve got to work it out in your own way. So you’ve got to remember, you’ve got to remember who you are.


Mm.


And be true to yourself.


Mm.


And this person who’s gone who you were very very close to, well that’s something that’s happened but it’s your responsibility again as a survivor to carry on and you know be strong, you know, and you know, get the, get the best out of it, and and also the other thing is, that I do think it is a good idea to talk about it.


Mm.

 

It’s not a good idea not to talk about it, all the research as far I know that’s been done on issues of secrecy says that it is corrosive and that children [need to know], however old they are, it’s not a case of, “I’ll do it next week, I’ll do it next month, I’ll do it next year, or I’ll do it when he’s 12.” If you’re thinking like that, it’ll never happen. You have to do it now, you can’t go and read a book and find out how to do it, you have to do it now, you have to say I am going to tell this person this child, you talk to your child, you say, you you make, you make a pact with yourself that you are going to do this thing, you are going to, however hard it is, you are going to tell this child, that your, that this father who they’ve been terribly close to has taken their own life. You make that decision because it’s the right thing to do. And there is a right thing to do. You make that decision and then you will find the words.

 

Mm.

 

The words will come to you, not in any mystical way because you know how to talk to your children because you know you’ve got a relationship with them so you use that, you don’t suddenly go into a different mode where you start behaving in a different way towards them, and then it becomes easy to do.

Previous Page
Next Page