Ten years…

Ten years…..

Waking up every day with an ache so deep in my soul I want to wail like a wounded animal

Ten years without hearing your voice, your laugh, your Toby wisdom, your infectious laugh

Ten years without hearing ‘I’ll always love you’, ‘mother you’re so retarded’ or ‘Welcome to Orange answerphone’

Ten years of wearing a mask, pretending I’m fine but living half alive

Ten years not seeing how your life turned out, not meeting your girlfriend (or boyfriend..), lending you money to buy a house, comforting you when you had a broken heart, going to your wedding, holding your first-born child  

Ten years knowing I’ll never hear your child saying ‘I love you grandma’..

Ten years of feeling I let you down, I failed you as a mother, of feeling I wasn’t up to the job

Ten years of not being sure whether I could even call myself a mother

Ten years of striving to find meaning from your death, yearning to make a difference so you didn’t die in vain

Ten years of memories and every precious happy moment from the past being tinged with sadness

Ten years of no one to share them with

Ten years of aching to hear your voice, give you a hug; I’d do a deal with the devil to have just five minutes with you

Ten years of guilt, regret, heartbreak, emptiness, ten years of love with nowhere to go

Ten years of not caring much about anything apart from dogs

Ten years of wondering how I will get through another day, putting on a brave face, wondering how I survive

Ten years without a Mother’s Day card or birthday card (although you didn’t always send me one when you were here…)

Ten years of standing by your gravestone every July and December, talking to your tree

Ten years of not seeing you at Christmas, not buying you a present or wishing you happy new year

Ten years since I looked into your eyes and told you how much I love you

Ten years living with a gaping hole in my heart and soul

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The me you can’t see

Ten years…..ten years…..ten years without you, ten years of pain, ten years of trying to live my best life – without you.

In many ways I cope well, everyone says I am so strong and an inspiration – but they don’t really know my day-to-day reality where I think of you ninety-million times a day and I think of how you died and seeing your lifeless body more often than I want to.

I have gone to great lengths to accept and find peace with you ending your life. In many ways my life ended too on that day, but I resolved to rebuild, paper over the cracks and then fill them in as best I could so I didn’t completely fall apart.

There are some things about your death that remain unspoken, a secret, too awful to confront but I feel the time has come after 10 years to confront some of them.

I am a strong believer in rituals and ceremonies to find closure. A long time ago I emptied the ‘suicide drawer’ which had copies of your inquest results, your post-mortem report, police reports and death certificate. I burned everything and scattered the ashes on the beach at Perranuthnoe to separate your ‘death’ from your ‘life’. I resolved to never have to read those things again, and not to dwell on your death but to remember and celebrate your life.

But something that continues to haunt me is the lack of a suicide note. When you sat in that field that fateful night you had a notebook and pencil and you scribbled some notes – but no loving message to me. Did you think of me at all? Would it have been too much to ask for a sentence saying: ‘sorry Mom, I’ll always love you’, which was our sign off phrase. Did you not think that would comfort me?

Of course, I know that these are the conversations that will destroy me if  I let them invade my psyche. For a long time I searched your belongings, looking for clues or for that hidden note that I was sure you would have left for me.

Instead there was a flippant message written at 23.53 on 9th July – with a sign off message for your friends and online gaming friends, I assume. It said T minus 6 minutes so I know the exact time – give or take a few minutes – when you took your last breath, there in a sugar beet field in Ely.

I haven’t shared the words in that note and probably won’t, but when I emptied the ‘suicide drawer’ a few years ago, I somehow couldn’t let go of those few last notes that you wrote as you sat there and contemplated the end of your life.

The notebook that was found with you was the one I had given you the last time I saw you. I had written some options and sage life advice as you had recently dropped out of Uni and were finding your way in life. Such things as: ‘don’t worry – Uni obviously wasn’t for you’ etc. The last thing I wrote was ‘There is nothing to stop you having an amazing life’.

You were so intelligent, so talented, so special – you could have done anything. Your friends loved you – I loved you, but it wasn’t enough.

On the day I came up to Cambridge to see you at the funeral place, I also visited the police station and the policeman gave me an envelope with your belongings in – your glasses, your phone, the pencil with which you scrawled that last message – and the notebook.

I opened the notebook and the first thing I saw was my writing ‘There is nothing to stop you having an amazing life’. I was shocked, trying to process this – then I realised this was the notebook I had given you. As I turned the pages looking for other notes, I found a page with some writing on it that you had obviously written the day before you died – but this was not addressed to anyone – it was like a diary entry.

I have never shared much of this but in that writing was one sentence that has haunted me over and over again, and so yesterday I decided after 10 years to also destroy that notebook and the other notes you left so I don’t ever have to see them again.

You see the sentence you wrote was ‘Today is the most satisfying day of my life’.

How do I cope with that? What do I do with that? After 10 years, thinking I am doing OK, coping well, living a reasonable life – I have to live with that thought. That after 23 years of loving you, raising you, supporting you – the day you ended your life was the most satisfying day of your life. Really? That sentence is like a knife right through my heart and out of everything has been one of the hardest things to process.

Of course I know rationally that you were in mental pain, you felt lost, hopeless, maybe like a failure – I will never know – but that notebook has gone up in smoke now with your last words, now ashes to be blown away up into the Universe.

I have to believe that you loved me, that you didn’t mean to hurt me. I can’t imagine that you even thought about those words being found at the time you wrote them – maybe you were just cementing your intentions by writing them down. I know you wrote them the day before you died (from other information) – so I know you had planned this – it was a conscious decision, a plan that you carried out – not a rash moment.

I nearly phoned you that day – 9th July, but I was walking from Porthcurno and had no phone signal. Did you think of me at all? I will never know but I know after 10 years I can’t allow it to destroy me anymore so by burning the notes and writing this blog I am releasing the burden.

We are all carrying burdens and secrets that people know nothing about. With all grief comes guilt, with suicide grief that guilt can be a huge burden, with suicide of your child you have loss, grief, guilt and stigma. I was ashamed to tell anyone that my son had written those words – what did that say about me as a mother, as a parent – what would people think? This was ‘the me you can’t see’.

But I’m not ashamed anymore – you can criticise Prince Harry as much as you want but it was watching his documentary yesterday ‘The me you can’t see’ that prompted me to pull out that envelope out of its secret hiding place, process the anger, hurt and shame and let go of this secret which can only hurt me over and over again if I allow it.

I don’t blame you Toby for writing those words. I know now that many young people feel lost, troubled and hopeless. You had struggled in pain for years maybe, we don’t know – so you saw that day as the day your struggle would end. Maybe I should feel comforted by those words.

Today it is time for me to forgive you and to ask you for forgiveness. I was the best mum I knew how to be, and now, after 10 years, I know I must close this chapter and even though I may think about it at times, the physical reminder of your last words and thoughts are now just ashes blowing in the wind, so no one needs to see them. I have not shared details of other things you wrote as I know you wouldn’t want me to but I will always love you no matter what.

Image – Getty images

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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.

Continue reading

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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

Posted in bereavement, Grief, Loss, suicide | 5 Comments