Coping with bereavement: ‘I’m learning to accept it and carry on with my life’
In 2011 Nell’s brother Oscar committed suicide, she talks to George Arnett a year on from his death and dealing with the loss of a loved one.
“We just had the anniversary and it was really hard. You’ve done the inquest, you’ve done the immediate aftermath, life is really difficult. Coming up to the anniversary is really terrible – you relive it all, you ask all the same questions.”
Nell, 26, a legal professional from London, was one of the thousands of relatives who had to endure the suicide of a loved one in 2011. Her older brother Oscar killed himself just before Christmas that year.
Figures released this week by the Office for National Statistics showed that the number of suicides had risen significantly in 2011. Around 6,045 people took their own lives – a rise of 437 from 2010 – with male suicides at their highest rate in a decade.
Although many media depictions often reduce suicide to being caused by one simple factor, the reality is far more complex – as Oscar’s case shows.
“We knew that he had experienced depression in his lifetime but at the time he died he had a great job, he was doing really well, he seemed very happy, so it came very much as an awful shock,” Nell said.
“My younger brother and I had seen him a week before at a party and he was on great form. We were planning to drive down to our parents’ house for Christmas and we had booked various things for January. And so your first question is why? What’s happened? What don’t we know?”
An eloquent and confident individual, Nell speaks openly about the trauma that followed her brother’s death. She found the administrative hurdles that relatives need to go through particularly difficult.
“The police came with the ambulance and they’re not always the easiest people to deal with [...] they need to interview you when you’re slightly demented and not really sure what’s going on.”
“You then have the inquest [...] and that’s awful. You have no control over what’s going on. You’re reliant on institutions and coroner’s clerks [...] they’re very, very reluctant to give you any information beforehand.
“It’s not easy hearing your family talked about in court. It’s not easy when you feel like it’s your life or your loved one being dissected.”
Before the inquest, Nell’s younger brother sent her a link to an episode of BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind. It included information on support groups for the bereaved set up in a partnership between Central London Samaritans and Cruse Bereavement Care. Both siblings decided to attend the sessions one day each week for six weeks.
“For the first half an hour I thought ‘this is going to be awful’,” Nell said. “Very quickly I saw how it became easier – it was good to talk to other people.”
“Also, you talking about it is helping other people, which is quite a positive experience.”
“In my group there were people who were parents, there were people who were siblings like me and there were people who were children of people who had killed themselves. And that gives you some insight into how other members of your family are feeling.”
“I remember one time we were talking about it and I said “it feels enough of an achievement to get up and get dressed.”
“It’s nice to know that you can express yourself – whatever you’re feeling and other people are like “yeah, I get that”, rather than ‘that sounds quite dramatic, you should go your GP’.”
Central London Samaritans project leader Rosie Ellis said: “We know this is a group that can feel incredibly isolated and traumatised, but that there is very little out there in the way of specialist support.
“Within the last 18 months, we have run 13 groups and supported 85 people [...] Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, resulting in a commitment from both charities to a longer-term partnership in London that seeks to expand the number of groups offered.”
The support groups tend to still arrange meetings after the sessions finish and Nell is due to see hers next month. For the moment, she feels that life may slowly be getting easier: “I can’t paint this rosy picture where you suddenly get over it. You do realise the world will always be a bit of a worse place for me because Oscar is not here and because of the way he chose to end his life. But at the same time I’m learning to accept that and carry on with my life.”
To apply to join a future support group or to find out more about what is involved, ring 020 7758 0029 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Before individuals are accepted for group support they will be contacted by one of the group facilitators for an informal discussion about their situation and current needs.
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