A few years ago, whilst in the midst of Samuel's challenges, I said to my daughters "One day I'm going to write a book about all of this. But I doubt anyone would believe our story!”
Fast forward five years, and I am starting to write that book, albeit under different circumstances. The boy I spent my life trying to protect is no longer here. Samuel died by suicide on 2nd September 2020, aged just 17, having lost all hope in a future.
In the depths of grief after his death, my daughters and I reached out to read about others’ experiences of loss. Between us, we amassed a bookcase full of grief books. We were desperate to understand what was happening to us and to identify with others’ stories.
Although many books provided a great resource and valuable insight into grief and loss, we struggled to find anything specific to our circumstances. The books on suicide loss were often outdated, with lots of the awful ‘C’ word used, highly academic or were American (apologies, but our legal system is different).
I fully admit our circumstances were very niche. Namely, a child who was in emotional turmoil, who often talked of suicide, who had a dedicated professional network and who encountered emergency services frequently.
In addition, it was near impossible to find books related to the inquest system after a suicide loss. We faced a hugely complex inquest process lasting nearly 3 years. The circumstances surrounding Samuel’s death involved four state organisations and needed a jury. The Coroner’s system is brutal. We faced The Metropolitan Police, the British Transport Police, the Mental Health Trust and Social Services. Each organisation was tooled up with top lawyers, and expert advice, funded by the taxpayer. As a bereaved parent, you are cast adrift, left to navigate this alone whilst in the pits of grief.
If this wasn’t enough, as a family, we suffered multiple losses, both my parents died shortly after Samuel. Again, another inquest ensued, for my mum this time. You just couldn’t make it up!
So why write about such a horrific event, a tragic story and all the horrors that we encountered? What exactly is ‘My Why?’
As I sat in Samuel’s bedroom 2 days after his death, with my living children, we made a pact that this wouldn’t break us. We had to use our experiences and make a difference in his name. When delivering his eulogy, I promised I would strive to work in this space. I had seen how vulnerable young people were disadvantaged at every turn. I vowed that I would use my insight to bring about positive change, as my legacy to Samuel.
Each suicide loss happens in a unique set of circumstances. I’m fed up with hearing that we just need to reach out, check in on our friends and the signs to look for. Samuel had every sign, every single day and still, we couldn’t save him. Suicide is multi-layered, complex and terrifying.
I want to break the taboos of teen mental health issues and suicide loss, OCD, anorexia, self-harm, and substance use. I want to convey that this can happen to anyone. Samuel was my child, but he could have been anyone’s son, brother, nephew, cousin, or grandson. He had so many protective factors but still, this happened to him, and us. Hideous things can happen to good people. Functional families can find themselves in a world of trauma.
As an NHS professional, I have always worked from a place of compassion and collaboration. I was part of Samuel’s professional network, supporting and holding others to account. I have continued this approach in his loss. I reached out to the mental health trust who cared for him, sharing my story for their education packages. I have started to work on NHS national policy, and regional crisis support whilst also contributing to national reviews on child suicide.
There are lots of dads doing great work in this space. I feel it’s time for one of the mums to step up. Many people have reached out to me in their grief to say they share my narrative. However, being vulnerable and sharing experiences comes at an emotional cost. I know I won’t be in this space long term as it’s not sustainable. I need to seize the day.
Whenever faced with a major decision since Samuel’s loss I have considered what advice he would give me. I know that he would want his story to be told and to hold to account organisations that should have safeguarded him.
Ultimately, this will be a story of hope after adversity, and Samuel will be my guiding light every step of the way.