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Bereavement due to suicide

The headstone or other memorial

The people we talked to wanted to have one or more ways of remembering the person who had died (also see ‘Coping with grief and keeping memories alive’). It sometimes took many months after the death to decide whether and how to mark a grave or special place. It offered a good opportunity to involve people affected by the death, but sometimes the decisions were made rather too quickly, or people felt excluded if they were not consulted.

Some had marked the grave with a headstone. Others had marked the burial place, or where ashes were scattered, with a plaque, a small stone or a memorial bench.

Most people found it comforting to visit a gravestone or other memorial (see ‘Burying the body or scattering or burying the ashes’). A few said that they did not need to visit a particular place because the person was with them in spirit or because they would rather live with memories of the person than visit a place to remember him or her.
 

Jane and Maurice marked Tom’s grave with a small stone. Jane wishes the stone were bigger to...

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Age at interview: 65
Sex: Female
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Did you have a special memorial stone made for him?


Well that’s one of my regrets, because he was cremated we were only allowed to put his name and date on the stone, and it had to be a specific stone and specific size, and that at the time was a huge regret for me because there was nothing personal on it, and if I could change that I would’ve done.  I think that’s a big thing, but it’s not just name and date situation but that’s how it was at that churchyard and because of there being a time lapse from the funeral and the burial, I guess if we’d had him buried here he might’ve not been cremated. And I’ve got no strong feelings about either, it was just being left with this single little stone, I don’t like; we can put flowers there, and the churchyard bends the rules a little bit by having a pot and things and it’s nice to go back and change it and the grandfather and other generations are there, so that seemed sensible and we also put a seat in the churchyard because I think time to contemplate was good for anybody. 

A few people had planted a tree or some plants, or had given money to a hospital or school, in memory of their relative. Alex and Felicity took comfort in setting up a prize in their daughter’s memory, The Alice Duncan Travel Prize.
 
Some people had asked their funeral director to put them in touch with a monumental mason, who had helped them to design a memorial. Ann, for example, said that she could order a stone at the crematorium. Others had found a sculptor or letter cutter who had spent hours designing, carving and installing a headstone or a smaller stone to lie in the ground. Alex said that it is important to take time to think about a memorial and not to rush the process of designing and choosing a stone.
 

A year after Alice died Alex and Felicity asked a sculptor to carve a headstone. One of their...

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Age at interview: 57
Sex: Male
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There is a rather wonderful headstone, in Portland stone, done by a local sculptor. One thing that was I think right is that we left it the best part of a year before getting going on the stone. And I’m glad that we did that because it helped very much for time to pass and to allow one to think of the form that it should take and what one wanted to say on it. One of our sons is also very artistic and he took a very active role in the design of the stone. And as the stone was done by somebody who was a sculptor rather than a stone mason it was a rather interesting process of two artists having to come to an agreement which I mean ultimately it did take quite a number of months to arrive at an agreed design and shape for it, and I think we’re all really delighted with it now. The grave is somewhere that we go on a fairly regular basis, all of us, I mean in general I feel that cremation is a perfectly appropriate thing to do with a body, but I think with a young person where the nature of the grieving is I suspect very different from when an old person dies, I found it extremely helpful to have like a place to go to, which one can associate with her, and so I’m really delighted that she was buried rather than cremated, and that we have a stone which reflects something of her, but it was also something that should not be started too early I think.
 

Did you have a, a little ceremony when the headstone was put in place, or did you meet at the grave at that time?

 

Yes we helped the sculptor to put the stone in place, and that again was one of those activities that we did together, which I’m very glad that we did, and we had an extremely modest ceremony, with the three or four of us at the time. But there was nothing much, but again it was the, to have this physical activity that you can do together is an important part I think of grieving.
 

The funeral director helped Linda and her family to find a stonemason, who showed them a booklet...

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Age at interview: 39
Sex: Female
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And has she got any memorial stone or anything there?

 

Yeah, she’s got a gravestone. Yeah. And we take flowers up.

 

Hmm. And was it quite easy to get that made?

 

I think it took about a year for the headstone to come. It was quite a long time really. But we wanted it, because it came and they hadn’t done it exactly how we wanted it and we decided that, it was only a little thing that I think one of the flowers wasn’t engraved properly. But we decided that it had to be what we wanted really. So we had to send it away again [laughs].

 

How did you know where to go to have the headstone made?

 

The funeral director.

 

So they’d suggested somebody?

 

Yeah.

 

Because some people don’t know about these sorts of things.

 

Oh no, I mean even thinking about where her ashes were going to be buried …

 

Hmm.

 

… it just, you know, it’s just something you don’t think about.

 

No. Of course not.

 

And look, I mean the man came, the stonemason came and left us a, a booklet of gravestones …

 

Hmm.

 

And it’s just like, you just don’t’ think about things like that.

 

No.

 

But that was, you know, and we tried, and we did get my other daughter involved with that as well.

 

Hmm.

 

You know, and when the stonemason came she sat and listened and he said that was, said that was quite nice because some people don’t want their children to have anything to do with it. They try and keep them out of it. But, you know, we were always like tried to involve her as well. And we all decided, you know, what headstone she was going to have. I think that was important.

 

Did the stonemason explain how they’re made? Are they made by hand? Did he say anything about it?

 

Yeah, he did, he sort of, he brought all the different kinds of stone that we could, and  they actually, I think they send away to another country, that’s why it took a long time.

 

Oh.

 

For the stone to come back. And then they engrave it for you. And he, he actually like drew the picture of how it was going to be. You know, we told him what we wanted and then he’d draw it so …

 

And then they send you the drawing to approve?

 

Yeah, he came round with it and asked if that was OK.

 

Hmm.

 

Yeah. That was quite good.

Kate pointed out that in many parts of the country, it may take a year or more for the soil to settle after a burial. That was another reason for waiting to have a gravestone made. Margaret delayed a long time before commissioning a gravestone for her daughter because she mistakenly thought she had to wait until after the inquest before she could erect a permanent memorial stone. When she received the final death certificate she had a heart shaped stone made for the grave.

Some people spent a long time choosing the type of stone, the inscription and the design for a gravestone. It sometimes took a while for people to find the type of stone they really wanted. People often chose a design or motif for the stone that represented something important about the person who had died. For example, Susan, Barry’s mother, asked the stonemason to carve a lion on Barry’s gravestone, because her son had left a picture of a lion with his letter when he died. The lion represented freedom for him. Amanda asked the letter cutter to carve a daisy on the back of the stone for her son because he had called one of his guitars Daisy. Also when he was a child and his grandparents' ashes were buried he had picked a daisy and put it on the box.
 

Amanda didn’t like the headstones suggested by the funeral director. She found a letter cutter...

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Age at interview: 53
Sex: Female
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Actually choosing his headstone was really special, that was really special, his favourite colour, green, definitely, so, I got a green headstone, not bright green, it’s green riven slate. Originally when I wanted a headstone I felt really sad because I looked at what was around at the funeral directors and they were just not Lori, and I thought I do not want to spend a load of money buying something that will be horrendous and I don’t know what to do. My sister sent me some articles she found, and discovered they didn’t have to look quite like the ones I’d seen before. And I still didn’t know what to do and, and I decided well it probably just happen all right, and we happened to be looking at some special art, and saw a stonemason, a stone carver, and I suddenly realised that he could carve my son’s stone. And my eldest came along with me as well, and that was really special, having the words that expressed it, his name was Laurence George Miles, and we always called him Lori Gorgeous, so it became on his, on his stone, we had his name in the middle, and then round the outside ‘Lori a gorgeous son and brother’ and his dates, and on the back there’s a daisy because one of his guitars was called Daisy, and when both of his grandparents ashes were buried, he was only a little boy but he bent down, he picked a daisy and he put it on the box, so it seemed right to have the daisy, and it’s, rough, the stone is rough apart from where his name’s carved, and it just really stood for him. And I think he’d like it, and then when the, where we went to look at it when it was nearly done, I turned and I looked and on the wall there was this other stone being done for the Queen ‘cause she was going to open something or other and it was in the same colour slate, not quite the same obviously, and I could just hear him going off to tell all his friends, “Guess what me Mum’s found somebody who’s doing one for the Queen as well”. And he’d be laughing his head off, and that was really good.
Bob and Lynda did not want a religious symbol on Darren’s gravestone, and chose a stone with a smooth face and a rough edge, to represent the life they thought he must have led. They had his name carved on the stone. They find the graveyard both a comforting and a painful place to be.
 
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Bob and Lynda put up a headstone which 'summed up Darren's life'. They visit their son's grave...

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Age at interview: 59
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Mm. Did you have a special stone made for him later?


We had, we had yes, we got a stone from one of the local firms. It was actually a new design that had just come out because I didn’t want anything with crosses on or things like that, and nothing too fancy. This one was; summed up we felt Darren’s life probably it was smooth face with rough round the edges, the smooth with the rough like the life he must’ve led I mean, and it’s a new, fairly new design that just come out.

 

And do you go there sometimes?

 

We go there every, all the time, we go at least once a week. While we’re over here, I mean if we go away we go before we leave and go when we come back. We look after the grass up there, we cut the grass, that’s all I can do now for Darren is to just look after him, after his plot, his his garden, if you like, it’s is his garden. You allowed so much to have your own bits and pieces out up there and the rest of it has to be lawn, or what they call lawn garden, lawn cemetery. So I cut the grass ‘cos I don’t like them doing it, ‘cos they make a mess whenever they do it, but they’ve got a job to do and it’s a big site so they do it the best they can but I as I say I take a little extra care.

 

Do you find it a comforting place to be?

 

Yes.

 

Or a painful place to be?

 

Well again it’s mixed, mixed emotions, comforting at least it’s a sign that he’s there, his name’s up there, but painful that he’s there and not with us in life.

Rachel was only 15 years old when her mother died by suicide. Her father chose the headstone and an inscription which refers to ‘such a tragic ending’. Rachel has been planning to replace it.
 

Rachel wants to change her mother’s headstone so that her mother is remembered in a positive...

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Age at interview: 41
Sex: Female
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And you said that your mum was cremated. Did you have any special place for her ashes?


No, she went to the cemetery near, sort of near where we lived and near where my dad’s parents are. Which again in hindsight, I think, I don’t know, because she wasn’t from there, but they probably, you know, had her ashes there because it was closest to where we were. And I don’t know how quickly dad got a headstone. There’s a headstone there now which I’ve been meaning to change for years because we, none of us like what is on the headstone. Because dad had the headstone engraved with “such a tragic ending” and I remember thinking, “Well, actually, I don’t want that to be anyone’s, you know, impression of mum.” There were a lot of good things and I thought, “Why focus on what happened at the end?” So a couple of years ago I got, I got loads of information about gravestones and, and tried to get the headstone redone and, you know, just tried to think what we could put on it. But it’s amazing how apathetic my brother and sisters are. You know, they’re all very, they want to do it, but they’re quite happy to let me do it. So as I say I haven’t done it yet. But I’d like to get it changed.


You say it’s in Cheshire?


It’s in, yes, it’s sort of near where my dad lives, where, where we grew up really. So I don’t actually go very often. I used to go, but I found it quite upsetting. I don’t actually get a lot of comfort [from going there], I know some people get a lot of comfort from going to a grave, maybe because it doesn’t say anything particularly positive about mum on the stone…


Looking back, as teenagers, would you like to have been consulted, do you think, about what was going to be on the gravestone?


I think definitely, yes. Because I think, you know, it was, mum played such a big part in our lives and I suppose it is, it is a permanent reminder of, of somebody. But I, you know, it, I don’t know, I don’t know if dad felt he, he, he shouldn’t consult us. I think, as I’ve said before, he’s not someone that speaks easily about his feelings. And, you know, that would have been quite a, a, I suppose a challenge to get all four of us to agree with what we wanted to say on the, on the stone. In hindsight it might have been better to just put mum’s name and then I think you, we could have gone back later on and, and, and had some engraving done. But, you know, I suppose that he just had to make a decision and do what he thought was right. And I suppose hindsight is a, is a great thing. There are an awful lot of things that would have been done differently.

Susan has found great comfort from giving money to build a teaching block, a loo block and a playground for a school in Africa, in memory of her daughter Rose. Her daughter’s ashes are scattered in places that are important to Susan.
 
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When Rose died, Susan donated money to help build a school in Africa in memory of her daughter....

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Age at interview: 54
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One thing I would say to anybody who, who has a chance to do something like this, I haven’t been to see what I’ve done yet, is to set up something in the person’s memory because it’s really worthwhile, even if it’s only … not just to give some money to a charity, but to do something even, even if it’s to buy a new desk in a school or something. (…) We’ve raised money for a charity, and it turns out quite by coincidence Rose was already involved with the building of this school in Africa, run by someone called Grace, who has set up a place for girls and women who’ve been abused and left with children. And in Rose’s memory they built a loo block, and a teaching block and a covered playground. I think that’s a great thing to do. As yet I haven’t got her head stone or anything. I’m going to because she must be marked.


Where will you have that?

 

Well probably against what I would do but what she would like it’ll be in the church yard.


Hmm.


Hmm. And by the way there was a wonderful charity called Memorials by Artists set up, working from Snape in Suffolk, set up specifically for people who’ve lost children. It’s memorials for young people. And you design your own memorial and it’s made and you can put in it … it’s totally a-religious, and set up by someone who didn’t know what to do for her stepdaughter who killed herself.

When Paula’s husband died she commissioned a headstone for his grave. On the second anniversary of his death his colleagues put together a short film of him at work and put it on YouTube. Paula thinks the film will be nice for her daughters as they get older, and help them to remember their father.

Last reviewed July 2017.

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