The HR Juggler

The 25% Club: An Aftermath

Posted on: January 25, 2013

dawn

This post is part of the 25% club series dealing with the topic of mental health, particularly as it relates to the workplace. All of these posts are intended to shine a light on a topic that we need to talk about so much more than we currently do. This one is written by me.

Mind have asked me to provide a trigger warning for this post, as it discusses suicide. Please read it carefully. If you’re struggling, please read Mind’s information on coping with suicidal feelings or talk to the Samaritans, who are there to listen 24/7. Mind also has information on how to help someone who is suicidal.

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I don’t know whether this story fits within the 25% club series. I am not a member of the 25% club, nor even just one step removed, yet my life has been inexorably altered by one who was. And on today, of all days, I would really like to tell you his story.

Eleven years ago yesterday on a Thursday evening, I came home in the evening after a long and busy day at work and listened to an answer phone message from Mr C’s brother, Roger. It was an upbeat, cheerful message, thanking us for his Christmas present, talking about his new house and where he was going to put the mirror we gave him. I listened to the message, smiled, told Mr C when he came home and thought no more of it. We would phone him back at the weekend and have a chat.

Eleven years ago today on a Friday evening, I came home from work late and tired after a busy week at work. I cooked, ate, drank some wine, waited for Mr C to come home after he had run his scout group. He eventually did and we chatted and laughed and went to bed. Then, at nearly midnight the phone rang. Mr C – Dave – answered it. It was his Dad, telling Dave that his brother had died, had committed suicide. His Dad had driven to Roger’s house, fearing the worst when he had not shown up at work and he had found him.

Even now, I can’t articulate the shock, or incomprehension. We had only once been told by his parents that Roger had “been a bit down” and knew nothing of his depression or the demons he had been fighting. We scrambled back into our clothes, Dave telling me I could remain in the flat, me insisting on remaining with him. The dreadful, silent journey to his parent’s house. Ringing his Mum to tell her that Dave was on his way and the utter deadness of her voice. Watching Dave embrace his Mum and then driving off to my own parents’ house, waking them in the middle of the night and howling and sobbing my grief for what had happened, my anger at the choice that Roger had made and my sense of betrayal that we had known nothing of what was coming, the impact that I knew it would have on all our lives.

 It wouldn’t be true to say that the weekend passed in a blur, as I remember much of it in all its dreadful technicolour. Seeing Dave’s parents for the first time since it happened, the grief and loss etched on their faces. Going to Roger’s best friend’s house and being there while Dave told him and his wife, us all crying together and drinking hot, sweet tea, trying and failing to find answers or reasons. Dave’s grief was mostly silent and heavy; he could only tolerate classical music, he wanted to try to maintain as much normality as possible, we still had friends over for dinner on the Saturday evening. Such very, very good friends who were willing to give Dave the normality that he craved and put their own feelings and shock to one side to be there for him. Dave managing to come to Sunday lunch with my family, but on the condition that no one asked him how he was, talked about what had happened or told them how sorry they were. So incomprehensibly difficult for an open and communicative family like mine, but they managed it, simply saying how very pleased they were to see him, us. Dave insisting on going to work on the Monday morning, when I couldn’t even consider going in. It wasn’t until someone asked him cheerfully if he had had a good weekend that he realised that he couldn’t bear it and came back home.

Two questions came up again and again in the dreadful telling of the news to people: how and why. We didn’t know the how for several days, as Dave’s parents wouldn’t or couldn’t tell us and Dave wouldn’t or couldn’t ask them. Finally my parents gently and compassionately asked and we finally learned that Roger had hanged himself. This was no cry for help; this was a cry for release, a deliberate choice. We also learned, over time, that he had made previous attempts at suicide and that he had suffered depression for many years, although had hidden it well. After his death we found some emails that Roger had sent to the Samaritans, describing with heartbreaking detail the depression that consumed him like cancer. The ‘why’ we will never really know the answer to: he wasn’t happy, he didn’t have a long-term girlfriend, he didn’t want to continue living, he seemed to genuinely think we would better off without him. But the silver bullet answer to ‘why?’ is one that is rarely, if ever, provided by someone who commits suicide. The only solace comes from accepting that you will never truly know.

And life goes on, of course it does. But it has also shifted and changed things irrevocably, relationships changed and altered, pressure points contracted and expanded. In the early days, months and years there were so many painful experiences for all of us, some of which inevitably spilled over into the work environment. A straightforward meeting with my boss to talk through my objectives six months after it had happened ended up with me in tears for no apparent reason…except that just keeping going and trying to keep everyone else going was painful and difficult. I struggled with my relationship with my mother-in-law and the pressure I felt under to somehow fill the gaping void in her life. I worried that Dave was often so absent from me, lost in his thoughts and grief that he couldn’t put words to. I had counselling on my own, we had counselling together and things started to get better again. But it took time, a lot of time. It was Christmas and Roger wasn’t there; we got married, he wasn’t there; we had our children, he wasn’t there, he isn’t there….that part of it never really stops and that is for me, who is at least one step removed from being the closest affected. I can only relate the story that is mine to tell: if my mother or father-in-law were to ever tell theirs, it would break your hearts and mine to read.

There is so much I haven’t told you about Roger. In the same way that people do not wish to be defined by their mental health conditions, he would hate to be defined in your minds by his death. He was thirty years old when he died and he was clever, thoughtful, kind and considerate. He was exceptionally well-read, intelligent, funny, hard-working, proud, stubborn, physically strong and fit. He had good friends, many of whom he had known most or all of his life, a good job and a loving family. He was interested in politics and history, patriotic, highly knowledgeable about many subjects and had a great sense of fun. He is greatly missed and will always be so.

If I leave you with any points, it is these: firstly, that depression remains deeply, dangerously hidden in some people, who walk and live amongst us. Unless we do more to talk about it, they will continue to feel alone and isolated. Suicide has such a stigma: we need to understand more about how to give people the tools to talk about it, to offer support, to not be frightened or to condemn what we don’t understand. Secondly, that the ripples from those in the 25% club extend far beyond their membership and that we have a duty of care to support the carers and others who are affected in the workplace and out of it.

This story is one aftermath of a suicide, the aftermath that is part of the fabric of my adult life and has been absorbed into it. If I knew the true story prior to the aftermath, I would have told that instead.  But on the anniversary of my brother-in-law’s death, I wanted to honour his memory and give him retrospective membership of the 25% club. Rest in peace and know that you are loved.

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If you are affected personally by this issue or know someone who is, there are people and resources to help

If you care about mental health and want to make a difference there are lots of things you can do

  • visit Mind’s website and check out their excellent corporate resources
  • take the ‘time to change’ pledge
  • attend our event with Mind on 5th February 2013 at 6pm
  • share your story and read those of others as part of this blog series. If you would like to contribute a post, please get in touch with my on Twitter (@AlisonChisnell) or via the comments section below.

15 Responses to "The 25% Club: An Aftermath"

Thank you for sharing this. It’s so important to get these issues out in the open. Easy to say but have strength. Lot’s of love

Thank you for taking the time to read it and to comment. I have been truly overwhelmed by the response to this today.

This is really hard to read – it illustrates eloquently the lives of the people who are struggling in silence and the impact on those who love them. One of the most important things I learned when educating myself about Mental ill Health is that you will almost never cause someone to commit suicide by asking if they have had thoughts about ending their own life. Asking this question is hard, and you have to be prepared for the answer, but at least it opens up the conversation and might save that person’s life. Beautifully written as always Alison, and RIP to your brother in law.

Thank you so much Hayley. It’s still such a terrible taboo isn’t it? I can’t imagine how awful it must be to live with these thoughts on an ongoing, relentless basis and not be able to talk to anyone about it.

HHere’s hoping that more openness will come on this topic and that wwe can learn to better support those that need it.

Thank you

The tears are rolling down my face and flooding my desk from reading this. Suicide has also had a profound impact on my life too and I often find it deeply upsetting to read or talk about, but it is so refreshing when people do, because unless we talk openly about these things it will remain a shameful, difficult problem, rather than one which we can tackle together, to try and prevent.

I really feel for you and your family and hope that time is at least easing the pain. I also hope Roger found the peace he was seeking.

One thing I would add – it is not recommended to describe in any detail the method of suicide because it can lead others to try the same. Explaining that someone died from hanging is acceptable as it doesn’t give any details, but it is not a good idea to describe the ligature point as well. If someone who is suicidal searches online for information on that particular method, they may read this and see it was successful, which could make them more inclined to try themselves.

There are some useful guidelines on media reporting of suicide from the Samaritans available here: http://www.samaritans.org/sites/default/files/kcfinder/files/Samaritans%20Media%20Guidelines.pdf – Although this are media/press guidelines I actually think they are useful things to consider for anyone discussing suicide.

I feel very privileged to have connected with you through this blog series. There is so much that I don’t know and am learning and I am truly grateful for your generosity and kindness. Thank you very much for your help and gentle education. Sending you much love, peace and strength for the difficult times.

I too am crying as I write Alison. Your comment about suffering in silence is so true – so many people, a lot of them male, feel the need to hide the extent of their illness and therefore cannot get the help they need.

When I was 19 I lost one of my best friends in almost exactly the same way as you lost Roger. Shelly was bi-polar and none of us understood how she could be the life & soul of the party one day, full of wild plans to become a female firefighter, and then avoid us or lock herself away in her house the next. We didn’t understand mental illness, we thought she was being flaky or rude. I will always wonder if we had understood it better, could things have been different.

Finally, and most importantly, I’m so sorry for your loss & am sending much love on its anniversary. X

I’m so sorry for your loss too, Lorna and at such a young age too. It’s very, very tough and toughest of all for those who are suffering in silence or near silence, The questions of whether things could have been different will haunt us all, even though I know that Roger, and probably also your friend, would argue to the contrary.

Much love to you x

I’ve mopped up the tears from my desk and keyboard appears to be working. It is hard, as you acknowledge, to be the ones left behind by suicide and I cannot imagine what Roger went through to get to that point.

My love to you, Dave and your families on this anniversary. May this post inspire and spur action to help people like Roger know they are loved and wanted here in life, and to get help and become well.

Thank you so much Charlie. I didn’t mean to make you (or anyone else!) cry. I appreciate your support tremendously. Love you to bits xxxx

Important messages in this Alison, very open and beautifully written, had to read it in small chunks …

I trained (and operated) as a Samaritan many years ago and they provide a dignified and non-judgemental service for those contemplating or ‘implementing’ their suicide plans. It’s a tough job to do but the training was excellent and I’m sure it’s even better now, maybe this post will help some people to consider volunteering?

Many people find it easier to talk to a stranger rather than ‘burden’ their family or close friends…

Thanks so much Margaret, I agree that many seem to find it easier to talk to someone impartial in this way. The Samaritans do an amazing job and I have utmost respect for anyone who volunteers with them.

[…] The HR Juggler discusses the heartbreaking aftermath of a suicide. […]

[…] In January 2002, my brother-in-law committed suicide. None of us knew at the time that he was depressed or suffered any mental health issues. I wrote about his story here. […]

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