In 1984 Jane and Maurice’s son Tom took his own life by hanging. Jane and Maurice were shocked and devastated. Jane found support from friends. Counselling and a support group were also helpful.
Jane and Maurice’s son Tom was 17 when he hung himself while at boarding school. Tom may have been under some degree of stress, partly because he was preparing for A’ level exams and partly because he was about to take his driving test. Jane thinks that other factors may have contributed to his suicide. Tom had had a painful back and was unable to play sports, which he enjoyed, and his GP had not been able to offer any help with this problem. Tom seemed to like school and had chosen to board, but he said he had been bullied by a teacher and Jane thinks that perhaps this could have affected his decision to take his own life too. Maurice also wondered about other factors (see Maurice’s account, interview 14)
Tom had painted his room purple and Jane had suspected that he was a little depressed. The television news at that time had been awful because night after night there had been reports of people starving during the Biafran war in Nigeria. Jane says that Tom was a sensitive person and may have been affected by that too.
At the time of Tom’s death in 1984 there was also some upheaval at home because his father, Maurice, had been made redundant, and Jane and Maurice had been thinking about moving to Australia.
After Jane and Maurice had been told about Tom’s death Jane felt shocked and totally numb. She felt anger towards the school, perhaps because the school had not accepted any degree of blame and was so defensive. She was also upset and angry with her GP because he had not understood her feelings, and because he seemed cross with her for dressing in black and appearing melancholy. She also felt a terrible sense of guilt.
Jane and Maurice went to see Tom’s body after he had died. Jane found it was hard to believe that he was dead, even having seen him in the hospital chapel.
Tom’s funeral was held in the school chapel. Jane was glad that a great many people attended the funeral. Tom was cremated and then buried next to other family members in a church yard in Cheshire. Jane and Maurice placed a seat in the churchyard in Tom’s memory. Jane now finds churchyards comforting places.
Jane felt even worse during the second year after Tom’s death. The fog’ had lifted and she felt a great sense of pain and felt very vulnerable. She cried only a few times but heart wrenchingly at this time. To start with she found it very hard to talk to her husband about what had happened.
Jane found that other people expected her to join in social activities much too soon after Tom’s death. Looking back she knows that she should have refused invitations to dinner parties and other social events, such as weddings. It was at least seven years before she felt comfortable attending large social gatherings.
Jane found that some of her old friends found it hard to talk about Tom’s death, perhaps because they found the subject of suicide so frightening. However, Jane wanted to talk about Tom and found it hurtful when others ignored what had happened or expected her to feel better after only a few weeks.
After Tom’s death Jane had some private counselling for about a year, which she found helpful. She also joined a support group organised jointly by Cruse and Samaritans. Ten years later she saw another counsellor and had some transactional analysis, which she also found helpful.
Eventually Jane decided that it would be better if she accepted some degree of responsibility and a little bit of guilt for what had happened to Tom. She recognised that it was very negative to be struggling with guilt all the time.
Jane can now talk about Tom without crying and she has good friends who offer support. She has gradually learnt to live again and enjoys travelling and learning about other cultures. She particularly likes mountains because Tom loved mountains. Jane says that Tom is always with her and that his death has changed her life. She likes to talk about Tom and she keeps some of his belongings, such as his school hat, some clothing and photos around the house.
Jane was interviewed in August 2007.