After watching 'Life after Suicide', part of a BBC 1 series about mental health, I have to say this incredible documentary has changed something inside me irrevocably. Although suicidal ideation is habitual and I try to shield those around me from such dark thoughts, seeing this documentary was very healing and profoundly moving.
Self portrait (pencil on paper, date unknown) part of an ongoing series that tries to depict chronic internal mental pain.
It deals with the aftermath: the 'tsunami of grief' that others find themselves drowning in. Angela Samata, a mother of two boys, has come to terms with her loss, but it is self-evident that she has to deal with her pain day-to-day. Another mother spoke of how she felt that her children would be better off without her, something that I often firmly believe of my own children.
She referred to her depression as 'like being in treacle' such a powerful metaphor because it sticks to everything and leaves you trapped in the pit. But what moved me the most and reduced me to tears was the story of one father who lost his wife to suicide three years ago.
The mother took her life and left five girls behind, including a small baby. Of course I wondered if she had been going through PND (postnatal depression) or PPP (postpartum psychosis), but this was not touched upon. I could imagine this mother's fatigue and confusion in the days leading up to her death as the days and nights merged into blackness. The pressure and responsibility of being a good mother can leave you crippled with guilt that you are failing your children every day. Her five girls were so intelligent and beautiful and dignified, it was heart wrenching to see the pain etched on their faces at the loss of their dear mother.
One daughter tried to be stoic, but you could see she was keeping an ocean of pain locked deep inside and suddenly, she was crying and I cried, too. I thought of my two children, if I ever yielded to Fred's sly death wish, and the image of their innocent little faces bewildered and lost was a wake up call. I vowed to myself - however unbearable the pain - I must endure it.
And then your worst nightmare, a woman who lost her husband to suicide, spoke of how her son committed suicide six years later. Angela was crying because this was her greatest fear, too - that one her son's might emulate their father's tragic end. I thought of my own sons, if I did commit suicide, what would be the impact on their mental health? Would they end up suffering suicidal ideation, as I have done for over 20 years, if I did take my own life?
You might think that the pain ends with death, but then the cycle of pain continues in life. Pain is an intrinsic part of life and once you can stare pain right in the eye and are no longer afraid of it your soul is emancipated.
The final scene is that of a wife who has lost her husband to suicide only ten weeks ago, her grief, anger, and bewilderment still so very raw. She said, 'Yes, my husband is out of pain, but my pain has started now'. Her final words again impacted on me profoundly, 'They always say that the things that happen in a child's life effect them when they get older don't they and that's what worries me.' Angela concurred saying, '... that is the most difficult part of the legacy of this... we share the same fear.' The strength of both of these women was staggering. This woman, still aching with grief, like the sting of an open cut wound, conducted this interview a day after the inquest. And in spite of all this, was still able to crack a joke which made Angela laugh.
And then Angela spoke to her amazing, beautiful son, he was so serene; it was incredible to watch and listen to him. He was still in pain, but he was smiling, the maternal/filial bond was unbreakable and Angela asked, 'If you were struggling, would you be able to talk to me?' and he said with a beautiful smile, 'I can talk to you about it, I would always tell you of course before I felt the need to do something.'
'Do you think we are ok?' her mother asked.
'Absolutely, Positively,' her son replied.
'You are welcome,' and then she tenderly stroked her angel son's face.
She said despite the devastation to her family, 'I think we are ok' and that the most important thing is to talk about it.
We must all talk about it, however dark and morbid.
I am so thankful for this documentary, it has taught me so much and I vow, however suicidal I might feel, I must, without a shadow of a doubt stay alive for my boys, my husband, my family, my friends and all those whom I hold dear because if I succumbed too many people that I care deeply for would be in pain and I just couldn't stand that.
Thank you to all those that helped me gravitate towards the light out of the darkness.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41