Two ‘Very Different’ Experiences
By Annette Covey
In less than eighteen months I experienced two suicide loses. One was a close friend whilst the other was my cousin who was the same age as me.
The first loss of my friend was kept very private and initially only shared with a very few close friends outside the family. At the time this seemed like a good and sensible decision but as time went on it contributed to increasing feelings of isolation. I also experienced immense feelings of protection to the friend I’d lost, his family and myself and initially thought it was the correct decision. Over time I’ve questioned this and can never really know how different the experience would have been if we were more open about the suicide death from the beginning.
The decisions made at the time were made with the best of intentions and I accepted and supported them. They were also made from a place of deep shock and trauma.
With my cousin, her death by suicide was never withheld and I experienced seeing the impact and shock of telling people she had taken her own life. It wasn’t that I was telling that many people but it was the openness about her taking her own life that seemed to cause the impact.
When people learnt my cousin had been suffering from mental ill health (she had been diagnosed with schizophrenia some years ago) it was like that explained why the suicide had occurred. Worse than that it seemed to make those people think her suicide was somehow ‘acceptable, even expected’. “Oh that explains it”, was one such comment. Really?!
I was initially shocked and then so angry in a way I never had been over my friend. Why should mental illness make suicide acceptable and be an explanation? I think the strength of my emotion was influenced by living with a family member with a long term mental illness and feeling how wrong it would be if people felt that way about him.
Thinking back and knowing what I know now and not then I realize this explanation people strive for is a form of protection for themselves, a sort of safeguard that it would not or could not happen to them. However as I have discovered in attending FOSL support groups, suicide cannot be and should not be so easily explained or dismissed. As those of us closely impacted by suicide loss know there are so many different facets to each individual lost to suicide.
The other big shock was being asked how she did it. The honest reply was I didn’t know, I didn’t need to know and didn’t want to know. Fortunately this means I don’t have any distressing images of what she went through. I am in the fortunate position of being able to keep and access happy images from our childhood in the foremost of my mind. Sadly that is not the case with my friend where I know first-hand what his actions were and will always have terrible images as well as the good memories.
“She’s got what she wished for”, “she’s at peace” and words to that effect were amongst the other comments that struck me. I know these words were said to offer comfort to me and maybe also to the person speaking them but they just left me numb and unable to respond.
Amongst the questions it raised in my mind was did she get the right care and support for her mental health requirements or were these lacking especially in the light of covid? It is well known that mental health is woefully underfunded and lacking compared to physical health within the NHS in England. Lockdown and the inevitable isolation from everyday life, friends and family, social distancing and avoiding physical contact impacted on all of us in 2020/21. Face to face health care support was suspended in various settings, including mental health care, especially in the first year of the pandemic.
My friend’s funeral was public, with everyone who knew him attending; hugs could be exchanged freely and groups gathered close together. My cousin’s funeral took place with strict covid limits on the numbers allowed to attend and social distancing in place, so hugs and gathering were not allowed. It was streamed online to her wider family and friends who were prohibited from attending due to covid restrictions.
My own previous experience made me only too aware of what my cousin’s family and close friends were likely to be going through in their loss of a loved one to suicide.