Suicide bereavement: Couple speak about their complicated grief after losing two sons to suicide

Advisory: This article mentions suicide and may be distressing to some readers.

“My God, it hurts.”

These are the words Heather Powell reaches for when trying to describe a family tragedy so devastating it defies description.

In 2009, Heather and her husband, David, lost their 15-year-old son, Michael, to suicide.

He was their third-born, loved art, drama and music and shared a room with his younger brother, Christopher, in their Waihī Beach home.

It took a long time for the couple and their surviving three children to come to terms with Michael’s death. They had money to send their children to counselling but there wasn’t any leftover for David and Heather.

“When we lost Michael, God it was lonely. And that was the time when the marriage could have gone wrong,” Heather said.

The family moved to Australia for six years in an attempt to move through their pain. The move also provided an opportunity for their youngest son, Christopher, to study architecture in Tasmania.

In 2019, Christopher was focusing his attention on a masters degree in naval architecture. His parents described him as insightful and enjoying his youth with friends and hisgirlfriend in Tasmania.

However, not long after the 10-year anniversary of Michael’s passing22-year-old Christopher took his own life.

“As a mum – I gave him life and he took that away and it bloody hurts.”

Christopher was aware of his “mental frailty”, David said. He is desperately sad his boys were in pain and he couldn’t help.

“I don’t feel angry with either of the boys I’m just desperately sad that they were in that space at that particular moment.”

The couple was so devastated after Christoper died about 18 months ago, they couldn’t face having a service again. It was their Waihī Beach community that stepped in and pulled it together, Heather says.

They say that in the 10 years between their boys’ passing there was a significant increase in support services but it was their love for each other that also helped their pain.

“We’re so grateful we’ve got each other,” Heather says, leaning her head to rest on David’s shoulder.

“I’m so grateful we like each other so much. We lean on each other. I mean when I’m down you’re up and it’s the other way around.”

There was also immense pride for their other children, Kate and David.

“All of us have realised we’ll never get over it,” Heather said.

“We’ve all realised, hey we’re alive and we’ve got to live. We’re trying to do the best we can, and we’re doing well.

“But my God, it hurts.”

Some days are hard. The couple have found many people don’t want to talk about suicide, which only causes isolation in the complicated grief. It was Heather’s sister creating Socks Against Suicide that allowed them to find their purpose again.

“In some ways, it’s as dangerous not talking about it and not highlighting it. That’s why we are trying to do support for people that have been touched by suicide, but maybe getting the message out there will hopefully show the people beforehand that there is help,” David said.

The hand-knitted socks are gifted to anyone who’s affected through suicide as a sign of connection and warmth – a physical representation that those suffering from suicide bereavement are not alone.

Heather and David will never get over losing their boys but say they are trying to get on with a different “normal” life and earlier this month received a large donation of knitted socks by the Bay of Plenty Creative Fibre group.

The socks will then be gifted with the help of Grief Support Services.

Suicide bereavement support co-ordinator Amy Colonna says suicide bereavement is different for everyone, yet usually complicated and traumatic.

“It can be hard to understand and the ‘why’ may never have a satisfactory answer. The blame of others or oneself can sometimes be used in trying to make sense of this tragedy and can add to the complication.”

Social attitudes towards suicide and mental unwellness could also have an impact on the bereaved, Colonna says, and encouraged people connected to those bereaved by suicide that support would be needed for some time.

“Being there and checking in can be more helpful than feeling like you have to say the ‘right thing’.”

The annual provisional suicide figures released by the chief coroner in August last year showed that 36 people died by suicide in the year to June in the Bay of Plenty DHB area, and 14 people died in the Lakes DHB area.

This translated to a suicide rate of 15.1 deaths per 100,000 for the Bay of Plenty and a 12.7 suicide rate for the Lakes DHB area.

The year before, 23 people died in the Lakes area. The figure did not change this year for the Bay of Plenty DHB.

There is no “normal” grief process but there are patterns of emotions and physical responses that could occur.

Colonna says to think of grief in terms of waves, and learning to ride the waves instead of being overwhelmed by them could be helpful.

“This wave riding can take months, even years on and off. It is important to be patient with yourself and not be afraid to seek help if you are struggling.”

Stigma, past experiences, not wanting to acknowledge the difficulty or not feeling strong enough to go into details with anyone were some reasons why people find it difficult to seek help, she says.

But Colonna says sometimes there are signs those bereaved needed help.

“Our fight, flight, freeze responses are meant to aid our survival but when there has been trauma the systems that trigger these responses can hit the ‘start button’ too often and we can suffer from panic or anxious moments. Learning ways to calm this system down can be really helpful.”

It is important to remember a loss to suicide may leave people with lots of questions that are difficult or impossible to answer, Colonna says.

Often people have a strong need to understand exactly what happened and why which is simply part of making sense and taking the tragedy in.

“The range of physical, spiritual, emotional and cognitive reactions can impact all aspects of life and adjusting to this may take longer than you think.

“Everyonehas their own pace and own readiness so it can cause complications within families or relationships if this important difference in timing is not acknowledged.”

While it may not seem like it, healing is possible, she says.

“Connecting with someone who has also suffered loss to suicide or has a working knowledge of this can help hold this as possible.”

WHERE TO GET HELP
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• Helpline: 1737
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111

Source: Read Full Article