Barbara & Colin’s son, Matt, found his first job as a junior doctor very stressful. In 1992 Matt was found dead in a crashed car; probably due to suicide. He was aged 24. Colin & Barbara were devastated.
Barbara’s and Colin’s son, Matt, was very talented (see also Colin’s interview). Matt was a high achiever and a good sportsman. He studied medicine at university and seemed to enjoy his days as a student. In1991 he started his first hospital house job, which he found stressful. He was living in a house on his own and he felt unsupported by senior colleagues. After about five months he left his job and returned home, feeling unhappy, inadequate and depressed. Looking back,Barbara thinks that perhaps he found the responsibility involved in his medical work quite overwhelming. Matt started working for a medical publishing firm and moved to another town.
One of the hospital consultants wrote to Matt to say that he was sorry Matt had left and that he was a good doctor, but no-one else wrote to him to encourage him to return to medicine. Barbara wished that others had shown some compassion, and she wrote a letter to the BMJ saying that some young doctors are vulnerable and need more support and encouragement to return to medicine after they drop out of the profession.
One night two police officers arrived at Colin and Barbara’s house. The policemen said that there had been an accident, and they asked Colin and Barbara to drive for over an hour to identify a young man who had been found dead in a wrecked car. Feeling shocked Colin and Barbara drove to the hospital mortuary and found their son, dead at the age of 24. At first Barbara felt stunned and frozen, and only later howled in anguish. Matt’s corneas and part of his aortic valve were used for organ donation, which gave Barbara some small degree of comfort.
Matt’s funeral was held at a crematorium about 10 days after he died. Some of his favorite music as played, such as A Whiter Shade of Pale. His ashes were scattered at the crematorium. Later Colin and Barbara planted at tree in Matt’s memory, at a local arboretum.
The inquest was about four months later. The coroner delivered an open verdict, because even though Matt had left notes before he died there was still some uncertainty surrounding the circumstances of his death. Barbara does not remember much about the inquest. She thinks the open verdict was kinder than a verdict of suicide, but having seen the note that Matt left behind she thinks he probably meant to end his life. One of Matt’s friends finds it comforting to think it could have been an accident.
Barbara went back to her job as a teacher she found it helped to get back to work. Other people did not know what to say to her and she found this difficult. Barbara had one session with a private counsellor, but decided that this type of counselling was not for her, partly because the counsellor looked at her watch and had not met Matt and so Barbara felt the counsellor could not really understand the situation.
Barbara likes people to remember Matt, but sometimes she gets upset so she does not like talking about him when the grand-children are around. The pain of losing Matt is still there and sometimes she worries about the pressures put on the next generation.
Barbara now finds some joy in activities such as walking in the countryside, but there is never a day when she does not think about Matt. She has never felt angry with Matt, only a great sadness that he is no longer alive and with the rest of the family. She thinks Matt died while balance of his mind was disturbed. She would have liked that verdict given at the inquest, because she finds it meaningful and comforting.