My top 5 reflections on surviving in times of crisis

Now, more than ever, is a time of reflection. Millions of people around the world have had their lives shattered and turned upside down, out of the blue, with no warning and everything they thought was normal and safe has disappeared.

Me and Toby April 2011

Me and Toby April 2011

Losing a child is the worst thing any parent can go through, so those of us that have lived through losing a child to suicide and are still living through it – making the best life we can – we already have the skills and experience to know that a pandemic is nothing compared to what we have already gone through.

These are some of the things I have learned to help me live my best life in the worst of circumstances.

  1. I stubbornly refuse to not talk about my son to make other people feel more comfortable

I don’t blurt out to everyone I meet that my 23-year-old son took his own life, however if conversation flows between people talking about their families or if I am asked, I will tell people; I will usually say something like “Yes, I have a son but unfortunately he is no longer with us”. If they do go on to ask how he died I will tell them that he took his own life.

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Happy 32nd birthday

Dear Toby,

What do I say to you now on the day that would have been your 32nd birthday, the ninth one where I can’t send you a card or a Facebook message. You wouldn’t be on Facebook anyway if you were here, you didn’t do social media and I can’t see that would have changed.

Sometimes I wish stupid things, like if I had lost you more recently there might be more pictures of you or videos. One of my fears is that I will forget the sound of your voice, I envy people that have videos of their lost children. My circumstances mean I don’t have a single person around that shared the memories I have of you so I don’t have anyone to whom I can say ‘oh do you remember when Toby did that or said that’.

Sometimes I talk to people about you, I like doing that, but they didn’t know you so can only listen. The other day I was talking to a lady at work, it was a slow day, and I was telling her how much I loved hearing you laugh. You laughed a lot as a child, you used to giggle a lot when you were watching Cartoon Network and we had lots of funny moments we shared. Then later on when you were living at home with me and Grandpa you used to play computer games at night talking to people all over the world and even though it kept me awake sometimes and I used to moan, I loved hearing your laugh coming up the stairs in the night,

When you went to University you never shared any stories with me about your friends or your adventures and I am not really in touch with your friends. I only met most of them at your funeral. I know that they loved you though, because they wrote about you in a book they gave me.

I hardly hear from them now, Graham now has a baby of his own, and Sean and Emily who have Toby (named after you) aren’t on Facebook which is the only way I had to contact them. Toby – your namesake – is 7 now.

Anyway I digress, I still love you and miss you more than ever. Even though you weren’t a model son, you hardly ever called and frequently forgot Mother’s day and birthdays, I wouldn’t have swapped you for anyone else. I loved you just the way you were. You were so intelligent, more than anyone knew, you were quirky – your own person, you didn’t follow the crowd, you sought out people who you could relate to and who understood you. I am comforted to know that you had lots of happy time with this bunch of friends who you met in Cambridge and I know they loved you, which makes it even harder to understand why you left, but I stopped agonising about that long ago.

There were so many little things about you that made you unique, I could write a book. I loved that you weren’t like most young men your age, you weren’t that bothered about clothes or travelling. I bought most of your shirts from Superdry. You didn’t go out late drinking or to nightclubs. When you did discover drinking and smoking it was with your bunch of friends in Cambridge. I know you watched wrestling with them and the Superbowl. I wish I could invite them round one night and just listen to them telling me stories about you.

To me you are just my Toby  – forever frozen in time at 23 – that was your life 23 years and a few months, then you’d just had enough so packed up and went somewhere far away where we can’t contact you but I often feel you floating around.

I will always remember you as my funny, sweet, sensitive, intelligent little boy and as a young man who never really found his place in the world.

I’m doing better this year than any previous year as December to me is just a tortuous month to be endured. The black dog bites me out of the blue and then before I know it the 22nd is here, I take a wreath up to Chyenhal where your ashes went, hang things on your tree, have a little chat, then it’s just Christmas day to get through, then I sigh with relief until next year.

Every day is a struggle without you but December just make it a little harder, but I’m getting quite good at self-care and knowing what I need to do to get through it.

I will never ever regret a single second I had with you and I cherish the memories even though I can’t share a lot of them, they comfort me and make me laugh and cry.

I still campaign about mental health in men and this year I did a 20 mile walk through London in the middle of the night to raise money for a charity that helps men. If just one person calls the helpline and gets support then it’s worth it. It is no good me wishing things had turned out differently for you because that’s pointless, but I think you’d be proud of me.

I am still proud to call you my son and will never feel ashamed to mention your name or say how you died.

I’ll always love you – stay close and pop in to remind me your spirit will never die, my beautiful boy – happy 32nd birthday and your 9th as an angel.

Mom x




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Was I a complete failure as a parent?

toby baby 2One of the traumas parents often face in the complex and tragic aftermath of losing a child to suicide, is the feeling of being a complete failure as a parent.

We are supposed to protect them. From the time they are born we sneak into their room at night to check they are still breathing, we put plastic protectors on sharp corners and locks on the kitchen cupboards. We sacrifice our own social lives to drop them off and pick them up rather than allowing them to travel home on their own, and when they are grown, we can’t sleep until we hear the key in the front door indicating they are home.

How often do you hear or read about parents feeling proud when their children achieve milestones such as exam results, University degrees, getting married having babies or getting a new job or a promotion? ‘We must have done something right’, they crow. ‘Oh, you must be so proud, their friends say’. Continue reading

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Letting go…..

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Today, 7 years and 6 months later, I’ve finally decided to throw out the shirt Toby was wearing when he died.

It is so hard to let go of anything that reminds me of Toby, but the other day I was rooting around in my drawers under the bed looking for a pair of black tights and suddenly came across it.

At that moment it struck me that every time I see it, I get a feeling of dread punching me in the gut so why do I want to keep it, it symbolises death, just like the black colour? Every time in the past I looked at it, then put it away again, I just felt I couldn’t let it go as it was the last item of clothing to touch my son’s body. Continue reading

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Will it get better?

grief-statueI often get emails from desperate parents who have lost their child to suicide recently, and the first thing they ask is ‘Will it get better?’

In the early weeks and months this is all you really want to hear. I tell them ‘yes it will’, but of course there is a huge caveat, a huge amount of small print and terms and conditions that go along with this.

But hearing from someone 7 years down the road, offering a glimmer of hope can mean the world to a parent going through their worst nightmare. Continue reading

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It will get better……

I saw this today posted from The Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide in America. Having just heard from someone with a recent loss, I think this mostly describes how I feel. Time does not heal, the sadness never ends, you don’t get over it but in time it does get easier. So if your loss is recent, if nothing else, have faith that it will get better. At times it will feel worse than ever but it won’t hurt this badly forever.

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Happy Birthday

toby xmas hat

Dear Toby,

This year you would be 31 in earth years, born 22nd December 1987 in the early hours of the morning in Good Samaritan hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. You were due on the 29th but came a week early so I was home by Christmas Eve. I watched the movie Meet me in St Louis the day you were born, the one where Judy Garland sings ‘Have yourself a merry little Christmas’, so every time I hear that song I cry.

I still feel I should celebrate the day you entered the world, even though you are not here anymore. Its different from the anniversary as that is the day you left the world which is full of sad and tragic memories. I’ve still got Beatrice the black and white cow soft toy that some of your Dad’s friends bought you for your first birthday. Even when you were grown you used to fall asleep with her tucked under your arm, she now lives on my bed and sometimes I cuddle her and try to feel you. Continue reading

Posted in bereavement, Christmas, guilt, Loss, parents, suicide | 10 Comments

Why are we so uncomfortable talking about death?

Living alone and being single, I often find myself in situations where I am meeting people for the first time. I belong to walking groups, a writing group, a women’s business group and a dining club, so it is common for me to find myself facing the normal ‘getting to know you’ type questions that people ask when you first meet.

I don’t walk up to people and say  ‘Hi, I’m Anne and my 23 year old son died 7 years ago, and by the way he took his own life’. However, the fact I do not have a living child often naturally comes into conversations, as at my time of life most people will tell you about their children and how much they delight in their grandchildren. I refuse to NOT mention my son just to avoid the awkward silences that often follow, and I have just got used to answering the question about children by saying that ‘yes, I do have a son, but unfortunately he died when he was 23, 7 years ago’. I don’t always volunteer the suicide bit unless it feels relevant. Continue reading

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Seven years on

I am both heartbroken and thankful when someone emails me about reading my blog. Thankful that they have found me. Heartbroken because they are on the same painful journey of learning to live again after the life shattering event of not only losing a child but coming to terms with the manner of their death. Death from suicide encompasses huge loss along with stigma, guilt, judgment, confusion and isolation.

I haven’t written a new post for nearly a year so thought it might be helpful to look back and reflect on where I am today and how far I have travelled on this lonely road of rebuilding my new normal.

I consider myself fortunate that I had the strength and resourcefulness to go and find support once I realised no one was going to come along and pick me up and lead me to help. Continue reading

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Dear Toby

Toby photo 2

Dear Toby,

It is your 30th birthday today, it is always a bit confusing on birthdays – should I celebrate or cry all day? I still think of you as my little boy, I lost you when you were 23, so you were a grown man then, I wonder what you would be doing now?

I am sure you wouldn’t be having a big party, you never were into big celebrations, your 21st passed without hardly any fuss. I can’t even remember where you were, you must have been at Uni then…

I can’t believe it has been 6 and a half years since you went away, how have I got through these years I can’t tell you. I worry that I will forget you, the sound of your voice and your laugh. I try and hear them in my head, I wish I had some videos, I only have a tiny clip of when you were in Amsterdam trying to climb into a big Dutch clog with Graham. Continue reading

Posted in bereavement, gratitude, Grief, guilt, Healing, Loss, parents, suicide | 12 Comments