I lost my youngest son Samuel to suicide on 2 September 2020. As I approached his first anniversary, I found it hard to grasp that a whole year had gone by. There was a strange sense of guilt that I’d somehow survived a whole year without him. There were so many mixed feelings. Here are some of my reflections in the hope it might help others on this journey, especially those approaching those first milestones.
The build up
I had been told by others that the build-up was the worst part, but how long is the build-up? I hadn’t appreciated that it would be the whole month of August. I decided to take 2 weeks off work as I didn’t know how I would be. I distracted myself by going to visit my daughter in Gateshead and then we both went away on a short break. It only helped a little. I couldn’t escape the nausea, restlessness and broken sleep as my anxiety kicked in.
The date loomed over and teased me. The last time I saw him, the last call, our final conversation. Each day brought a painful reminder of a year ago.
How do you spend the day? Who do you spend it with? Where do you go? I had been thinking about this for a while and knew that I wanted to keep it simple. Samuel was cremated so there wasn’t a grave or shrine to visit. In an online support group a bereaved mum described going on a long walk on the anniversary and this felt right for me. Doing something pragmatic, expelling my pent up energies and providing a focus for the day. My older son Harry and younger daughter Daisy joined me for the day.
So where do I walk was my next decision? I’d been considering whether I associated with where Samuel died? I had visited twice before, once a week after he died with the police family liaison officer and a month or so later with my daughter. I have found the location surprisingly peaceful and the sun has always shone. I am not fearful of the place but also not drawn to it either.
I decided that I wanted to follow Samuel’s final journey and retrace his steps. I don’t think I had considered how profound this would feel. As I travelled from East Croydon station to South Croydon station my heart was pounding and I felt so nervous. So many questions. What was he thinking, feeling, did he know what he was going to do? What was going through his head?
The station was quiet, no one else was around. I took white roses, as we did when we first paid our respects and then at his funeral. The symbolism of innocence, serenity and delicate gentleness is not lost on me. It wasn’t exactly our Samuel.
I felt a certain sense of relief after we left the station. The hardest part of the day was over. We then undertook a walking tour of Samuel’s childhood favourite places. We shared funny stories and poignant memories, sprinkling his ashes as we went.
We visited his nursery and primary school, the church where he was baptised and made his first holy communion, the playgrounds he loved and the local alley where he smoked sneaky cigarettes.
We had a pit-stop at the Toby Carvery and laughed when we remembered how Samuel always chose this place for his birthday treat. He loved to pile his plate high. The boy originally raised a vegetarian just adored his meat!
It was a cathartic and poignant journey. It felt like I was saying goodbye to these places, maybe even bidding farewell to his childhood. I’m planning to move away from the area soon. It felt like the right thing to do.
When someone dies by suicide it impacts not just family and friends but the whole community. The outpouring of support when Samuel died was immense and many have continued to reach out over the year. I knew people would be thinking of us all and would want to support us. Samuel died at 9.15am but I didn’t find out until 6.45pm when the police came to my door. I asked people to light a candle at 7pm to show solidarity with us.
The Instagram grief community have been an incredible support, the sense of understanding, acceptance and unity is something that I never thought possible with strangers on social media. You don’t have to temper your thoughts, make anyone else comfortable, there is no judgement.
It was an emotional moment as we lit our candle at 7pm and knew that many were thinking of us and remembering Samuel. The pictures of candles shared afterwards were mesmerising.
I recall how earlier in the grief journey I had naively thought that once I’d got past the first year I’d be on the journey to recovery. How naïve was I? In reality I actually spent most of the first year numb with shock.
How do you go into year two? I found I had a huge hangover effect. I was back into the lethargy, sluggishness and aimlessness of heavy grief. Going back to work felt awful, disloyal even, that I was just carrying on with life. People asking if I’d had a nice holiday. I was upfront about what happened rather than hiding it away and I found my colleagues kind and thoughtful.
Samuel’s anniversary comes during Suicide Prevention Month so there have been triggers at every turn. You cannot escape the varying messages at every corner. I was careful to keep to trusted sources.
I am repurposing my life. I am changing my career, selling my house and moving 300 miles. I know this is a huge change when I am at the start of my grief journey. They feel like the right decisions.