Losing someone to suicide
This video looks at coping with grief, answering difficult questions and caring for yourself following the suicide of a loved one.
This video is part of a series, also available on DVD from the Mental Health Foundation shop
This video discusses the subject of suicide in some depth. If you think you may be distressed by this material, please have someone with you as a support while you watch this video.
If you're concerned about yourself or a loved one, here are some support numbers you can call:
Lifeline: 0800 543 354
Tautoko: 0508 82 88 65
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Samaritans: 0800 726 666
TRICIA HENDRY - SKYLIGHT: I understood suicide always as a tragedy, but I'd never had to personally own it or personally really look it in the eye. I'd known people who'd died by suicide, but no one really close to me.
I remember when I got my husband's note. I remember it falling out of my hands like I was in this weird sort of movie - picking up the note, reading it again - thinking this has happened, this is real.
My next thought was I could tell everyone it was a heart attack.
JUDY BAILEY: It's nearly 14 years since Tricia Hendry lost her husband to suicide. Her three children were all under 10 at the time; her youngest daughter just two years old.
TRICIA HENDRY: I knew that I had to call key people, but after calling three or four people I actually went into this weird kind of emotionless, automatic mode, where I knew I had to call this person, this person, this person, but after that... and I mean their reactions at the end of the phone were dreadful, but I didn't feel anything. I was in this numb cotton-wool land, but I knew it wouldn't always be like that.
JUDY BAILEY: When grief finally came to Tricia, the intensity astonished her.
TRICIA HENDRY: For me I remember lots of shaking - lots of physical shaking - for many weeks, even months after it had happened. I remember having a bowl of soup in front of me and hardly even being able to get the spoon down from the soup up to my mouth. I have memories of just lying there aching from head to toe, thinking, 'can grief do this?' And yes, it jolly well can.
JUDY BAILEY: As Tricia worked through her own grief, she also had to help her children make sense of what they were going through.
TRICIA HENDRY: Children might ask the most unnerving questions and details that adults feel uncomfortable about telling them, and they do it with seemingly no emotion.
One of my children cried a lot, for a very long period of time - years - fretting and being incredibly sad and expressing that. Another child didn't, and said to me, 'does that mean I love my dad less?' And I said 'no, it just means you're wired differently, and you're grieving differently. We're all hurting, but we just show it in different ways'.
JUDY BAILEY: In those early days, Tricia learned to reach out for help, and found it in many places: from friends, family, counsellors and other bereaved people.
TRICIA HENDRY: I think I intuitively just moved towards people that I could be myself most with, and who I could trust, and the kids did the same. They, you know, they used to go to the homes of families where they were just ordinary old kids, and they weren't special, they were just who they were before their father died.
JUDY BAILEY: Tricia took solace in music, writing, and taking time out for herself. Eventually her mind turned to the unanswered questions.
TRICIA HENDRY: I did whatever I could to understand the nature of suicide, to learn a lot, to come to terms with the fact that in fact he had been depressed but we'd called it 'burn-out', and 'being tired'. And looking back it's so obvious I'm stunned that we missed it, but we did.
JUDY BAILEY: Like many left behind after a suicide, Tricia started to blame herself.
TRICIA HENDRY: But as time went on and I got more perspective, you realise there's no one thing that caused this; this was a mixed bag of life experiences that impacted his life and made him incredibly unwell, and distorted his thinking.
JUDY BAILEY: While Tricia had many people in her life who were understanding and helpful, she found the stigma attached to suicide affected the way some people treated her.
TRICIA HENDRY: I know over the years that I've been 'the woman whose husband, you know [head movement]', and I know that I've been labelled like that.
Somehow, because he'd died, I was... well my whole social situation changed; things were different - really different - I was spoken to differently, I was invited to different sorts of things and everything changed. And I didn't deserve that; it wasn't me that did anything.
Some people said really stupid and irritating, thoughtless, careless, even mean things. I think, on the whole, they were never intentional.
With the children I remember my youngest son saying, 'Is it all right to tell people dad died of cancer?' And I said to him 'yeah, if you want to do that, you do that'. But as the boys got older they realised that not only would they want to know, when you said suicide, they'd all want to know exactly how and the circumstances.
So as a family we had to decide that people didn't need to know that; we didn't want to have other people starting to think about suicide because that wasn't helpful to them. And we just would say it was really tragic, he died by suicide, and it was very sad, very, very sad. And if people start digging, we just repeated the same sentence, and people get the message.
JUDY BAILEY: After a while, life began to return to normal, but grief still had some surprises in store for Tricia.
TRICIA HENDRY: It was around 13 or 14 months that I felt the worst, and in my head I was thinking 'hang on, I've done my first year, aren't I mean to be better by now?'
I remember going to arrange to see a counsellor, and said that I wasn't managing, and she said, 'How did you get here?' And I said, 'Well, I rang a friend to drive me here'. She said, 'So you rang a friend', and I said, 'Yes'. She said, 'Well that's coping'.
JUDY BAILEY: And little by little, Tricia discovered her own ways of coping.
TRICIA HENDRY: I actually had to put the photos of my husband away, because I found what they triggered in me was so full-on that I just couldn't manage it for a long time. And then the photos, you know, gradually came out again and I realised that the sad memories were... they're just part of the territory; and it took a long time.
But we made memory books, and I think the most important thing was that we were allowed to talk about him; and friends and family allowed us to talk about him, and they talked about him.
JUDY BAILEY: Tricia now works for Skylight - an agency that helps people work through grief and loss. She knows only too well, that after a suicide it can be quite common to have suicidal feelings yourself.
TRICIA HENDRY: Seeking good moments in the middle of the horror, giving someone a hug, or doing something with my children that was special - I just knew that life had to be more than tragedy, and I had to do more than just survive.
So when I have been in the situation of supporting someone bereaved by suicide, I guess I've tried to give them the things that matter to me. So for example, I've given movie vouchers before, because I knew how neat it was to take a holiday from grief sometimes. I've given book vouchers before, offered to go take them for a drive, just be there, go for a walk, listen, listen again, listen to the same story again... and maybe again... and maybe again.
And when I realised that all I had to worry about was my kids and me, and getting through every day, and building relationships with the people I've trusted the most - some of the sense of responsibility for making it better for everyone else, or for changing how they thought about it all, just went off my shoulders and it felt a lot, lot better. Look, I'm talking, I can feel it going over my shoulders just talking about it - but it was a big burden.
There was this place where I had last seen my husband - it was just a piece of asphalt on the ground - it was just that he'd been at the side of the road, and it used to distress me when I came near it, and I thought it's just a piece of asphalt, it's just a side of a road, what can I do?
And I thought well what should I do? And so I got out of the car, grabbed a flower off someone's bush nearby and went and put a flower on that piece of road. And that's all it took. That's what I needed to do - make peace with a piece of asphalt. And from then on I just never hardly noticed it.
But I don't want to focus on how he died. I've tried to raise the kids and move on based on how he lived, if that makes sense. I know it can sound cheesy, but it's really true for us.
Life's moved on and... yeah; it just moves on. Life just is, and keeps going.