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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7 Responses to The me you can’t see

  1. Deborah Haslam says:

    Dear Ann. It has been some considerable time that I have written a message to you and to anybody else that reads this. But thank you again for your wonderful words, that explains so much of how you feel and how others also are inclined to feel when they have suffered the loss of a child. Finding your website all those years ago was my saviour I turned to your forum every night, and often throughout the days. The sentiment to which you write, ring so so true. It is almost 8 years now for me, and yes, I have been able to rebuild my life. The loss of my daughter did to a very strong degree ruin my life and my families life. But I have had to carry on and try to enjoy the best way to continue and go forwards. I felt so raw, so empty, so completely and utterly a Failure as a mother, with my daughter‘s decision to leave this world. To anyone reading your forum please please know that although hard it is possibleTo continue and begin again, a new life without your child. Thank you Ann , I want you to know how invaluable your words were to me in 2013. Best wishes Deborah Haslam

  2. Dear Anne and Deborah & all parents whose kids have died by suicide,

    I saw the comments today and wanted to briefly respond. Last weekend my husband and I drove several hours to attend the beautiful wedding of one of the groomsmen for our oldest son (who took his life 1-13-2012) which was wonderful and filled with vibrant young lives celebrating the best life has to offer. It’s the third wedding since Shane’s unfathomable death that we’ve attended mainly to be there since our son can’t and to enjoy the wonders of our son’s many friends during his 25 years on earth. I’ve grown a thick body of armor so I could attend this wedding without breaking down in tears and having to walk away from the wedding reception just to gain my composure. In the nine plus years the hole in my heart never closes, but the searing pain from Shane’s suicide has become less intense. I can breathe again, but only because I had to make peace with the unfathomable. My son did leave a suicide (I always call it a “goodbye” note) which may give some parents solace, but not really. Shane acknowledged he did not want to take his life but he said “my choices led me to this point”. Shane suffered (2) separate episodes of “cannabis-induced-psychosis” over the 27 months before his suicide. I’ve never seen a brain before descend into such a horrific state of hallucinations literally overnight and even though Shane emerged back to what we thought was his normal brain the scientific literature now finds almost 1 out of 2 (47.4%) of pot users who experience just one psychotic episode eventually develop either some form of schizophrenia or bipolar one (means with psychosis).
    I don’t know if either of your kids used 21st century cannabis, but it’s becoming well known there are tremendous numbers of users developing serious mental health disorders including depression, psychosis, severe anxiety/panic attacks and often the adverse consequences are irreversible.
    Your kids may not have indulged in “medical” marijuana as Shane did following a serious boating injury in 2009, but drug use, especially normalization and legalization here in the U;S. are causing untold terrible consequences for young people.

    I believe we parents were the best we could be for our children. None of us were perfect nor were our children perfect kids. But we loved them with all our hearts and provided everything we could to give them the best upbringing we could. Just reading how much we still love and cherish our kids says it all. The wedding last weekend was difficult to try to understand why Shane’s friends are all alive and living vibrant lives with many of them married and/or having their own families. My son was a great young man who hit many milestones in his young years. It’s quite likely our sons knew we would have easily given up our lives so they could live the rest of theirs. But something in their mind was unable to see the future or they knew something was catastrophically wrong with their brain and they chose a way out from the torture they were living with. Over the years since Shane died so tragically and without any cries for help, I’ve learned to make peace with the truth – I had no control over Shane’s decision. Our kids didn’t consult us because they knew we would have moved heaven and earth to stop them. I promise our kids knew how much they were loved and for that it gives me comfort as I navigate this world..

  3. Wendy Webb says:

    Thanks for writing, and leading the way for us parents.
    Well said.

  4. annwae says:

    Thank you Lori…..yes I know Toby smoked, we had a discussion about it but he said it wasn’t any worse than alcohol- I think most kids try it at some point. We will never know what was going on in their heads, I found your words comforting so thank you for your reply x

  5. iain says:

    Dear Anne I hope you are ok. Toby would have loved you as the best Mum in the world. That is a certainty. He was just lost about himself. I dont know where the years have gone, its 7 for me in a couple of weeks. Take care and keep writing – but dont believe he didnt love you.

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