During the space of seven months I lost my son, my mum and my dad. Even writing that feels surreal. This is my story of the impact of multiple losses in a short space of time.
I lost my 17-year-old son Samuel to suicide in September 2020. This devastating loss had a huge impact on the whole family and we struggled to navigate our lives in the aftermath. Samuel’s 18th birthday was exactly one month after his death and, although we honoured it, with a trip to Go Ape followed by ‘celebrating’ his first legal drink in the pub, we were still in raw shock.
Christmas was a particularly difficult time, as we missed his presence so starkly and we were faced with the reality that he wasn’t just ‘out with friends’ or off partying. His lack of chaos at Christmas amplified our loss.
By the new year, I had slowly returned to my NHS job, transferring to the Covid vaccine project to benefit from non-emotive routine work. During a hectic training day I rushed through our ground floor reception and heard the words "Mum, Mum" being shouted. My brain didn’t connect, who calls you mum at work?
I looked up to see my daughter and my partner in reception. As I walked towards them I knew it was bad news. "It’s grandad isn’t it?" I said. My dad was fragile and had given us plenty of frights in the past few years. My daughter replied that it was actually my mum. She’d been found dead in her kitchen that morning by the plumber, her varicose vein had bled out.
Losing my mum propelled me back to the very early stages of grief but in a different way to Samuel. It was, again, a sudden death with shocking circumstances. I had spoken to her the night before and she had been relatively well of late.
There was a natural disbelief and sadness. It didn’t come with the horror and trauma of Samuel, the what ifs and of a life lost too young with so much potential. Losing a parent, as an adult, sent me back to my childhood and the relationships that shaped me. A looking back on my early self, in contrast to the loss of a future self with Samuel.
Practically, we were thrown into the chaos of arranging a funeral again, as a wider family this time. Fortunately, my brother took over most of the practical funeral planning – I just couldn't face it. Together, with my other brother in Florida, we had weekly Zoom calls to work through the arrangements.
Honouring Samuel at the funeral was important and was done beautifully by all who spoke and a picture of my mum and Samuel was central in the order of service. That meant a lot.
My frail dad attended my mum’s funeral. They had been divorced for 40 years but they interacted socially. He actually had a great time at the wake. Fuelled by too much whiskey, he showed us how he used to dance with my mum at the dance hall where they met. It nearly ended in a fall!
It was two weeks after this, on Mother’s Day, that he suffered a stroke and was admitted to hospital. Covid guidelines meant he could only have one visitor. I took on this lonely role. I felt the weight of responsibility as I was only allowed to visit in the evening and would ring family afterwards to update them. Instinct and my nursing experience told me he wasn’t going to get better this time.
My dad had a good death as they go. Visiting was relaxed and we mounted a bedside vigil, with all his family either visiting or on FaceTime from abroad. He had dignity, love and compassion all around him and he died holding my brother’s hand. Being able to say our goodbyes this time gave a sense of closure that sudden death does not.
Yet again we were thrust back into practical arrangements of funerals. We actually had both my parent’s funerals within six weeks of each other. We reflected that we had become semi-experts at orders of service, choosing music and readings.
I found telling people of our multiple losses one after the other strangely awkward. It felt like we had been careless to have lost so many people. So much happening to one family? How attention seeking were we?
As I logged on to my suicide bereavement support group each month, I could see the horror in people’s faces as I told them of another loss. People generally couldn’t keep up.
It also felt like there was a certain amount of grief fatigue around us. Cards, flowers and condolences that were initially abundant lessened each time. I think we’d well and truly used up our allocation of sympathy!
Multiple losses in such a short timeframe is a lonely place which few can understand. I can barely comprehend it myself. Looking at a family photograph of the Christmas dinner table from 18 months ago, three of those people are no longer here.
A family legacy of fear and anxiety has also been left behind. My children think that every call I make to them is going to be bad news. I now start conversations with "all is ok, just ringing to catch up". Every unexpected knock at the door can send a small terror through you.
Having this quick succession of deaths without time to comprehend each has left me not knowing who to grieve for. Samuel’s death has been all encompassing so losing my mum and then dad hasn’t sunk in. But I know that I have a lifetime to grieve for them all so I’m not rushing myself. One day at a time.