What was your experience in the initial 24 hours after discovering your loved one's suicide?

My advice to people in the field of first responders (Police, ambulance) is that this is a critical time for a bereaved person. If care is not taken in these initial 24 hours, I think it can mess with your brain … difficult images are often seen and remain with you which means making sense of things gets that much harder.

The police phoned me because they found my number on his phone and assumed that I was family: I was the first to get the call. I was given no details: just that he had been found dead. They sent the police to my door. There was no answer to my questions: it was just mechanical.
I felt I had been left sitting there with nothing. I was left without any support: not knowing what to do, how to get his body back. No suggestions of who I could contact or who might have suggestions.

It was like road kill. No-one said, ‘What would you like to do for your brother? What do you feel about it?’ There was no time to grieve: to say, ‘I love you, I miss you’. It was six months until I had the chance to think about that.

The first 24 hours I felt very alone. I had to fly across the country and cried all the way. In hearing the initial news, I wanted to understand how he could take these very difficult actions. I wanted to understand how his body stopped working, what would he have felt. What would he have been looking at, when he took his last breath? Many different thoughts, many of what others would never dare to think about let alone talk about. Many would have called me morbid or weird.

In the initial 24 hours there was an intrusive social worker in my parent’s home who asked way too many questions and I think this contributed to my matter-of-fact attitude in my responses. I have gleaned over the years that there seems to be a sacred space, a frozen block of time, where the family needs privacy. The other unhelpful action was the police holding me back from viewing my brother’s body.

It was a totally unacceptable scene for most of the day after my son’s suicide. The house was filled with (invaded by) curious and inquisitive policemen, strolling around and whispering to each other. I just wanted to be left alone.

Here are some of things we found helpful:

Having a close friend that I could talk to was helpful.

Going to a counsellor with my mom and dad

I had a friend. I don’t remember today what she told me, I think it wasn’t what she said, but that she understood what I thought and felt, and she was ready to be there with me. She didn’t run away, she stayed.

My friend put me in a warm bath and fed me water with a spoon. This is all I remember.

My friends made a roster and took turns sleeping over and being with me during the day so I was never alone in the beginning weeks.

My children’s school sent meals every night; this was the most useful practical thing.

The most helpful thing at the time were three friends who asked me over to dinner – two in one house, one in another – and who were unobtrusive in their questions about my dad, yet gave me the sense that it was alright to talk about it. They weren’t friends I normally saw on my own; they were people I saw as part of a group and I didn’t see them on their own again, but I remember those dinners with relief and gratitude. I am very glad of their kindness in inviting me over.

Was there anybody with you when you found out? Were there things that they said or did that settled you in any way at all?

My sister

My sister was with me and she held me and made all the important calls. There were so many phone calls to make to family, and it was very late at night.

As the days or weeks went on were you able to talk about your loved one’s suicide freely?

I would not lie

Yes and no. Two days after his death, my Nan, my mum, and my dad were gathered at the kitchen table having our usual tea (being Welsh). When my Nan pipes up and says, ‘What are we going to tell everyone?’ It was unclear as to what she was referring to so I asked, ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Well, what do I tell everyone back home, how he committed suicide?’ What came next was me spewing my tea. My Mom announced, ‘What about brain aneurism?’ I told my family I would not lie.

Did you detect any ideas about the importance of protecting others, especially children, from the news or details of the death? If so, what was that like for you and have there been any long-term effects of this secrecy or this notion of protection?

Complex truths

– I was encouraged not to tell my children by their school teachers and certain friends how their Dad died. I decided to tell my older children what happened and a softer version to my younger children. They all know the truth now, and I can’t imagine where we would be today if we lived in the shadows of secrecy instead of complex truths.

– I don’t believe in telling children lies: you need to look at the fact that the person is dead.

When you found out about the news, was the trauma so powerful that you felt like joining your loved one, or did it have you wanting to cling onto life even more tightly, or something quite different again?

Some of us talked about how there is not a lot of space to talk about how your loved one’s loss of hope can affect your loss of hope:

    • There were times when I felt that I could just ‘slip away’ to join her. Especially in the week or two following the funeral.
    • I did not want to live after that. I thought, ‘Nobody loves: nobody cares’.

Many of us had to reconnect with purpose and meaning in our lives:

    • I started volunteering at beyond blue to help others after losing my partner.
    • After our mother suicided I remember telling myself I couldn’t leave this world. I couldn’t do it to my siblings. And the world felt safe for the first time. I remember thinking, I wonder what might life be like if it felt safe. These thoughts kept me here.
    • I had to get up in the morning and work out how my children were going to eat and start school again.

If you are need of assistance:

If you are currently struggling with suicidal thoughts, please seek assistance. If you are within Australia, please refer to the following support services. If you or someone near you is in immediate danger Call Emergency Services on 000; or Go to a hospital emergency department.

If you are outside Australia, you can find helplines in different countries here: findahelpline.com