What were the ways that members from your community responded? Are there any particular responses that stand out?

Could you tell a story about that?

What did others do that have made things a little lighter?

Others helping us remember

  • The best things that stand out are the times we sat around and told stories about my brother.

  • I have fortunately been able to correspond with an overseas very good friend of my son, who is a mental health practitioner (a psychiatrist) and who, through correspondence, has kept alive the fact that Peter loved me and respected me all his life. This has relieved the possibility of guilt, and thoughts of not being a ‘good enough’ father for Peter. He has also helped with many discussions about the suicide.

  • My other children have shown their love of their brother and that they miss him in their lives. This makes me feel that he is still in our lives.

  • My grandmother when she was alive talked with me about dad and that helped. She understood better than anyone and she would tell me stories about him from when he was little. She told me how once she had been sick and he was only nine years old and he came home from school and cooked rabbit stew. She told me what a lovely little boy he had been, how capable and helpful. I keep those memories about him.

  • Our friend wore colourful, interesting clothes and had a home filled with lovely things. Many of her women friends now have a treasured item or two of her clothes, and there have been a few occasions when I’ve commented on something someone is wearing only to be told, ‘It was our friend’s’. On the recent first anniversary of her death, her friends did a clothes swap sale and raised money for a mental health charity. We have recognised her in different ways.

We were not alone

  • What was helpful was that some friends came straight away to the hospital to sit with me and be with me. As soon as I told them the news they said ‘we’ll be there’. What was important was that they were there, they were offering support and care by being there. We didn’t talk, just to sit with me was good.

  • The hospital volunteers, the woman priest and counsellors come and sat with me too. I had a chance to talk through with them what had happened – that listening helped me get through that long night.

  • A man my husband worked with gathered money to put into my children’s college funds. The men in my husband’s community came together to try and take care of the future of my children’s education. At the time I couldn’t take in these responses, but on reflection these actions helped sustain me and I didn’t feel so alone.

  • In days and weeks and months afterwards, when people expressed their condolences and acknowledged that they knew I was going through a very difficult time, this made me feel less isolated. This was much more helpful than people avoiding me in the street or supermarket.

 

A plant and a cup of tea

My mother’s friends checked in with me after she died. One day, unexpectedly, her best friend turned up to my flat. I had been hibernating and she brought me a plant. This was symbolic. I held onto the plant and we had tender conversation over a cup of tea. My mum did a lot in the community and was well-respected. Hearing stories of how she had helped so many people gave me the strength on difficult days to keep going.

Were there particular conversations that stand out as more helpful? What was the tone of them?

Collage of love and protection

There was one conversation in particular that my sister and I had about how John had started to realise that his command hallucinations were getting out of control and that he loved his girlfriend and daughter so much and didn’t want to ever see them hurt. When I heard that, it immediately made sense to me what had happened. My sister told me this in the context of preparing for his funeral, and this developed into a discussion of a collage of his life that shows his love for, and protection of, those around him whom he loved.

‘Inappropriate’ humour

  • A very supportive workmate told me a personal story about her loss and how she and a close friend shared a joke, amongst tears, at the critical moment of viewing the body. This conversation confirmed, absolutely, the value of a shared sense of humour and private understanding.

  • My brothers and I made very inappropriate jokes. The day before the funeral we had been watching a TV show with a comedian called Goat Boy. We made an agreement that if we were about to lose it at the funeral, one of us would baaaaah, like a goat. And we did!

  • My aunt, mum’s sister, is very straightforward and she talked about it openly. She laughed and made jokes, we all made jokes. It was the best way for us to do it. My dad would have been making jokes himself.

Is it like you carry forever gratefulness for those who stood with you or those you love during your most anguished times?
How does this gratefulness contribute to those who responded to you or those you love in such a way?

Absolutely. And since it made us all closer, my older siblings now see me as someone who can also be there for them. I am the youngest of 13 but they no longer feel they have to take care of the ‘baby’.

What difference do you think it made to those members of your community who responded? How might it have contributed to their lives?

Hope

Many people were surprised at how my sister and I were able to talk things through in depth so early on and appreciated that permission to be open. We just decided that there was no secret about his life that was too dark or scary to talk about. Bringing those times to light helped us all look at his life with more clarity and hope.