I remember the date so vividly. It was September 19th 2013. I arrive home late from being at a friend’s house and as I walk up my drive way and put my key into the front door, I am unable to get in.
I start to think that I have the wrong key or, in my tired state, I am using a pen to open my front door. However, after 30 seconds I realise there is a key in the lock on the inside so I think to myself what an idiot my Dad is, that he has gone to bed and locked the door and left the key in the lock (like he does every night before he goes to bed) but only this time he has forgotten that I am coming home. I call the house phone and call his mobile but there is no answer. I search the floor and I use a piece of wood to bang on the front bedroom window, but again to no avail in trying to wake him. I bang and bang on the window for 30 minutes and it is only now I start to rethink everything that my dad has been saying to me for the past week, and the change in his behaviour the weeks leading up to this day.
After these thoughts, the panic sets in and I call the police and tell them that I am unable to get into my home as my dad has left the key in the lock on the inside, and that due to his recent ‘acting weird’ actions, if I break in I am worried he may think someone is breaking in and react negatively. Thirty minutes later two police officers arrive and tell me to break a small window on my front door to allow me take the key out so I can let myself in.
I do this and call out ‘Dad’ a few times, and then turn the alarm off which my dad must have put on before he went to bed. I keep calling out to him as I walk up the stairs and as I look up I see the loft hatch open. I shout louder thinking he is in the loft (truthfully hoping he is in the loft). Unfortunately he was not, and this is where years of hurt since and still to this day, have affected me and many others.
As I keep walking up the stairs I follow the rope that is coming from the loft hatch and eventually I get to my Dad who is hanging from the rope. He has committed suicide. It is September 19th 2013 and ultimately the day that changed my whole outlook on life as I know it. It changed the way I looked at individuals and evidently made me a better person but at the same time someone I hate. This is how ‘Mental Health’ affected me and still does today.
No one can ever prepare you for the day, when someone you know commits suicide, let alone a family member, and me even finding them but what I have learnt since that fatal day is that I am not the only person this has happened to and therefore I am not alone when it comes to dealing with a variety of obstacles.
Without sounding like an old cliché the next few days were obviously one of the worst of my life to date. The thoughts, feelings, anxieties can only really be shared by these that have ever experienced the ‘gut wrenching’ actions that something like this leaves you with, however ironically they were also some of my most favourite days. I am sure that people who have experienced a loved one committing suicide maybe thinking what a load of rubbish or how can a situation so shocking be anything other than ‘sadness’. However this is our brains deciding our emotions and as those that suffer know, there’s no rhyme or reason for this. Let me explain a little bit more.
My dad committed suicide on a Thursday night and as with any death in the family, every other family member is notified of the news. Many were told by me straight after I found him and others were told by other family members. The next day all of the family were off from work (in shock and disbelief) as well as over the weekend. My aunts and uncles (my dad’s brother and sister), my two cousins and my mum spent the day telling my Dad’s friends of what had happened which, were some of the worst conversations I had ever had. This was due to me crying when telling them as well as hearing them being sad over the phone. Seeing some of them break down in person is a feeling I never want to see others going through, even though just 24hrs before I had been experiencing this as well.
The happiness feeling that I mentioned above, that when sharing this before people look at me funny (as I should be constantly grieving) was that for the next few days I spent it with my family, sharing stories about my dad and laughing with them not just about him but about random things in life, and this got me through those early days.
My dad hung himself from the loft and I was back in the house (and in the loft) two days after the incident, sorting through his stuff like his old football trophies; his old work stuff and old possessions that had been stored in the loft over many years. In my head (as well as out loud) I was giving detailed analysis of what he did and how he did it. I even went into as much details as to pointing out the holes he drilled either side of the loft hatch to keep the block of wood that was used to tie the rope around. At the time I was thinking this was totally normal and that I needed to do this to get over it. At the time it worked but I made it a habit and I kept analysing what happened that night over and over again as this is what I done two days after.
I should have never have done this and feel that even though everyone is different and everyone reacts differently to death, suicide and grieving, analysing how a loved one committed suicide is a very bad idea. As soon as you start to analyse how it happened you are starting a journey down the rabbit hole and you will never find a satisfactory answer, yet if you are lucky to find an answer then it won’t be what you are looking for.
The downside to my euphoria was that just as quickly as it was that my family where all there by my side helping me just after his death, the time came that they were gone just as quick as they had their own lives to get on with and by my family and friends going back to work, when this happened I have never felt more alone. Some parts of me understood why they had to go back to work but another side, the darker side of my feelings hated them for it. How could they go back to work and carry on with their own lives after what has happened? There was me at my mums thinking about every aspect of how and why my dad had committed suicide and as it seemed, they couldn’t care less about me, my dad or how I was feeling.
Time is a great healer and I now know I could not have been further from the truth. The problem with suicide is that there is a ‘stigma’ attached to it and the people around you have no clue on how to behave around you. Do they mention it? Do they ask how you are feeling? Or do they act normal? Nobody knows and this is the issue. People ask “are you ok?” or “how are you feeling?” These are two innocent questions to a friend or family member but to me it was the most stupid question I had ever heard at that point in my life. My dad has just hung himself, I had found him therefore I am not doing ok or feeling ok.
Looking back I never helped myself as I used to smile and say yes I was ok and make a joke of the situation. Deep down it didn’t help.
Making light of any situation is always a good coping mechanism for me, as you forget why you are sad to begin with, you forget what made you say the joke in the first place as you are laughing. The problem is that over time (4+ Years for me now) the people around you start to resent you for making these jokes, as they don’t find them funny anymore. I made jokes about the situation for 3 years after my dad’s death, most of them were all sarcastic comments to other comments my friends or family have said about random things. An example comes to mind when writing this and that was when I was with a group of friends one evening where they were doing impressions of Arnold Schwarzenegger. One of my friends started to say (in Arnold’s voice) “are yeah who’s your daddy?” and my response was “cheers mate I don’t have one any more”. At the time my friends and I laughed but they also gave me a look of disgust as if to say that’s too far. I look back now and think that making jokes worked for me as it was my coping mechanism and a way of forgetting what really happened. Now if this is a mechanism you have used or use this as one then I recommend not to as the pain comes out later down the line and it comes out a million times worse.
I had about 3 weeks off after my dad died, but two of those weeks I worked with my uncle (my dad’s brother) which did help in one aspect as I got to talk about my dad to my uncle. He told me countless stories about him which I did not know about. I was able to share my feelings of my dad to my uncle and every now and again I was able to smash a cupboard with a hammer and release any anger. During these three weeks the funeral had to be sorted and I always remember my dad telling me a couple of months before his death that for his funeral he wanted two songs played, someone to say something about him and then everyone have a drink. And this is what we did. The Ending from the film ‘Man on Fire’ was played as his coffin was taken into the crematorium and ‘Holding Back the Years’ by Simply Red was played as everyone left. I said a few words which made people laugh (my coping mechanism was still in full flow to pretend nothing had happened) and then we went back to a local bar and had a few drinks and shared some memories. I will say that funerals should be a ‘celebration of someone’s life’ and not a sad time remembering their death however because I was angry with my dad I seemed it fitting that I embarrass him one last time and share some photos of him which showed him in some compromising positions. To me I was having the last laugh.
I went back to work a few days after the funeral and the old cliché of ‘time is a good healer’ is very true as when I went back to work I was a mess. I had time to myself and time to think about what happened and this is why I said earlier that working and spending the time off doing things only helped in a small way. I did not have time to think about finding my dad or the ‘how’ and ‘why’ he did it but when I went back to work I remember the drive in was horrendous and I broke down in tears for three days, cried at work and then continued to cry at home. Eventually I went to the doctors and got signed off for another week and it was this extra week that helped me. I saw friends, I thought about what had happened and talked about it to some people at length. With time gone by when I went back to work I was no longer a horrendous mess.
I found that the stigma with suicide deaths stays hanging over your head for the rest of your life. When I went back to work my colleagues did not know how to react or how to talk to me and I could tell that there was ‘awkwardness’ around me and my situation. I felt anger towards my colleagues at first because of this as they didn’t acknowledge what had happened and at the time I thought they were being rude. All they kept talking about was work, work and more work and I was sitting there thinking my dad has just killed himself. so the last thing I can think about is work. This may occurr in some cases with other people who have lost a family member to suicide and it is not everyone else’s fault, it is the fault of society. If there was more out there in regards to understanding suicide or preparing people for should the case arise, then friends or work colleagues would know what to say. Id imagine in most people’s cases they would want people to be the same.
I wanted my friends to stay the same towards me and not ‘mother me’ and after my boss spoke to me to explain about the stigma and how my work colleagues did not know what to say, I confronted it and said to them if they have any questions then please ask if you want to, and that they should ask how I am then ask. They confirmed as I believed, which is most people find the latter question a stupid question to ask. Sometimes that stupid question is the one we want to hear. After this brief but intense situation, I only wanted people to be normal around me. I feel this was a way I dealt with my dad’s suicide as by people acting normal I managed to talk about my dad when I wanted to and at the same time I was able to deal with the situation at my own speed.
My belief to what was key to me, was that in the end I was very open about what happened to my dad, when people would ask me about him. I would openly say he died through suicide ( the cause of death was hanging himself) and that I found him. People’s reaction is obviously shock but at the same time if they are a stranger (an example is when I would go on dates) they would ask questions and again I was able to talk about my dad and him and the process of how he got to suicidal thoughts. At the time I thought this is helping me, I need to be open about it but now I look back and maybe I shouldn’t have been so open, maybe I should have kept it to myself for a little longer as when I was talking about it I seemed to over think everything and wonder was it my fault? I understand now that talking to the right people is key. Could I have saved him? Could I have identified the situation earlier? These thoughts have been with me from the night my dad take his life and have never gone away.
Ongoing conversations with my friend that would give me time helped me massively. People are willing to give you there time, which is massively grateful. They mean well, and they help, however if I had understood what ‘Mental Health’ effects would have on me at an earlier age, and if people had known how to help those affected by it at a younger age, then I truly believe people would not struggle as they do.
Over thinking is a curse and it is something that I unfortunately do all of the time. My family and I believe that my dad suffered with some form of mental health (paranoid schizophrenia we believe) due to his behaviour in the weeks leading up to his death. Over thinking has led me to believe on many occasions that it was my fault what happened to him. Over and over in my head I kept on thinking that I should have known, I should have picked up the signs or that I should have been there instead of leaving to go out the evening he died. No matter how many times I thought logically I kept sinking back down the hole and believed it was my fault. Most people can relate to this situation but very few can relate to me ‘seeing’ the rope and the noose before he died and very few people can relate to their Dad asking ‘if his own son would let anyone hurt him’ or ‘would he himself hurt his own Dad’. I remember feeling sick when my Dad was asking me these questions, I knew deep down why he was asking them and at the time I assumed he was talking logically. It took me a while to realise he wasn’t.
After the suicide it has taken me a few years to get back on track with regards to my emotional well-being. I’m lucky as I have good friends that have helped me however what about those that don’t? As a community we should be doing more to raise the flag for the different types of ‘mental health’ that affect so many. I was lucky to be able to talk to Macca from the weeks it happened till today. He listens, he understands and he never judges. He’s explained various things to me and it helped. Schools, work places and various employments should do more to educate those that don’t fully understand it. Let’s hope we can progress as a society.