In this month’s ‘Real Life’, we speak to Ellen whose son died by suicide last year. She explains the impact of losing him, dealing with the grief and how she has found a way to cope and continue to live life without him.

I don’t think many people realise this about grief – even after years it lives within you, every day of the rest of your life. 

A few experiences I’ve had recently relate to telling people I have just met that my son has died and them ignoring me, this happens a lot. I don’t believe I should not talk about Craig just to avoid having an uncomfortable conversation.

When a person dies, they cease to exist in the physical world but their lives up to that point still matter and their memory shouldn’t have to be erased to prevent conversations about death and dying and in my case, suicide.

If I’m with my friends and they are all talking about their adult children and grandchildren, should I not join in and share memories of my child? I really appreciated a friend who, recently, was willing to engage in a proper grown-up conversation about Craig and his death. We were just chatting over coffee, and she asked me something interesting which most people never ask, ‘It must be very hard not knowing why he did it’.

I’m quite comfortable responding to these kind of questions as I really encourage more people to have open and honest conversations about suicide rather than shying away from it as if it is a huge taboo or contagious. It shows empathy and a willingness to try and understand more about suicide.

It is hard to get your head around the fact that a person would choose to take actions to end their life. I still find it hard to comprehend, and there is no simple answer as to why someone not just thinks about it, but who makes a plan, then carries it out.

All Craig’s friends thought he was carefree and happy-go-lucky. He didn’t demonstrate any signs of being severely depressed or suicidal. I would have given him money and gone to the ends of the earth to help him but for some reason he decided he no longer wanted to live in this world. Even though he didn’t leave a note he had written some notes in a notebook the day before saying ‘today is the most satisfying day of my life’. That hit me hard.

Everyone wants reasons as that would make it easier to accept. ‘His wife left him, he was made redundant, in debt, in poor health etc but millions of people go through hard times but don’t take their own lives. There is no one reason. I do believe that any one of those events can be a catalyst – the straw that broke the camel’s back, but that it is much more complicated than just having a bad day then deciding to end it all.

Quite early on in my journey I recognised that they were 2 critical things I had to address and make peace with if I was going to survive and not drive myself crazy and go down a destructive path. The first thing was to realise that I was not responsible for my child deciding to kill himself. It wasn’t anything I did or didn’t do or should have done. It wasn’t my fault. When I truly acknowledged this, it was life changing.

The second thing was making peace with knowing I would never truly know why Craig killed himself or what was going through his mind that weekend. I can speculate based on what I knew about him and his life at the time, but I had to accept I would never know why.

Craig was a free spirit, incredibly sensitive and intelligent. If I ever asked him how he felt about anything he could never tell me. I have a few notes and thoughts he wrote a few months before his death, and it seems he was lost and confused and couldn’t find a place in this world. Death is complicated, suicide is even more complicated and for those of us left behind a survivor of bereavement by suicide, our grief is very complicated, and even more so if it is our child.