Grief As a Catalyst For Change After Suicide Loss
You deserve a future filled with meaning and hope that brings your loved one with you.
When I lost my 17-year-old son Samuel to suicide on 2nd September 2020 my world was turned upside down and life changed forever. It was a tragedy I had been dreading for many years, as my son had suffered from acute mental health issues. However, nothing could have prepared me for the police knocking on my door to deliver the news.
Little did I know that within seven months of Samuel’s death I would have lost both of my parents too. My mum died from a varicose vein bleed. Again, police came to deliver the shocking news. Two weeks after my mum’s funeral, my dad collapsed following a stroke, on Mother’s Day, and died 10 days later.
Grief, loss, funerals, probates, inquests and investigations became my life. I lived a surreal existence that I, let alone anyone close to me, could not comprehend.
When I think back to August 2020 – pre bereavements – I was juggling the reality that my son would be a troubled young adult needing specialist support and my ageing parents were becoming increasingly frail. Suddenly my whole life changed.
My daily routine, thought processes, roles and identity evaporated. Looking back, I was caught in the grip of grief and the practical enormity following these losses. The realisation that my life had completely changed slowly crept up on me.
Following the death of a loved one, people often describe a surreal existence, like you are watching your life play out in a drama. Mine continued in this vein for some time. I returned to work in between bereavements, took the kind platitudes and astonished gasps when people heard of my latest loss, and went through the motions.
I knew something was changing deep inside me but only now do I recognise I was starting to question my life path, purpose and future. There were two main triggers that were the catalyst for the change.
Firstly, I suspected early in the grieving process that my relationship with my partner of six years was not going to survive. Samuel and he did not get on, fuelled by Samuel’s deteriorating behaviour, which had resulted in huge tensions. I managed Samuel’s complex situation independently, which was an extremely lonely and isolating place.
The support I received from my partner following my bereavements fell short of what I needed and deserved. Empathy was in short supply. It was a ticking time bomb, but I didn’t want to make any drastic decisions, there was enough going on in my life.
The second trigger happened at work where, as an NHS development manager, my role was put at risk in a consultation. The timing was unbelievable. I was forced to fight for my job and go through panel interviews while juggling sitting at my dad’s death bed.
It was during conversations with my manager and HR, who were as kind as they could be, that I realised that I didn’t want the job. I’d spent over 30 years of my life in this system, and I’d had enough. I’d lost my passion, empathy and ambition. I couldn’t continue down this path, my integrity wouldn’t let me.
I now realise I was provoked to fast-track these huge life changes. I had suffered four years of trauma in caring for my son, which had impacted me greatly. Supporting my parents during Covid and their deteriorating health was an additional worry. Suddenly I was set free from my caring responsibilities in the saddest way possible and left in a strange limbo, questioning my future on many levels.
I didn’t make drastic changes as I knew my decision making was flawed in my grief haze. Grief can leave you at your least resourceful, as sleep, memory, concentration, and energy are hugely impacted. I needed to escape the house, which was now bordering on toxic.
I used bike rides as a reflective space and took a solo trip away to re-evaluate. Spending time in nature was therapeutic, it seemed to release barriers and encourage possibilities. I took a trip to a safari park, and it put a smile back on my face. I was starting to plan my future.
Suicide loss is hugely devastating and puts life into perspective. You start to appreciate what is important as you understand how life can change in the blink of an eye. I found I lost a certain sense of fear as the worst in the world had already happened. The future no longer scared me; I was ready to embrace it.
I started to incrementally put life changes into motion – putting the house on the market to test the waters. It was housing boom time, and we almost immediately had a buyer which rapidly swung my next steps into action.
I had been planning to stay in my job for another two years before making a move up to Newcastle to be nearer my youngest daughter. I decided I wasn’t going to wait; life is too short to be putting off decisions. I wanted the freedom to live a rich and fulfilling life, to use my experiences to support others and share my story.
I allowed myself time to bid farewell to the life I had lived, understanding that endings are important rites of passage. I undertook the ritual of spreading my dad’s and Samuel’s ashes in poignant places, saying goodbye to our life in London.
I started to lay the foundations for my coaching practice and for my role in supporting adolescent mental health. I knew my unique experience and insight could have an impact, so I have set out to use my voice and Samuel’s story to make a difference. He would definitely approve, he loved to be in the limelight!
I am at the start of this new journey, and I know I need to have patience as it evolves. I have made huge life changes in response to my losses – in my career, home, family, relationship, community and with a move of 300 miles.
I’ve ticked off more life events in the past 16 months than some do in decades. I already know I’m in a better place emotionally. Now I have the space to grieve, reflect and plan what lies ahead.
I do not suggest that others make such drastic changes. My situation is unique and pretty extreme. But my advice to others would be to value yourself and your needs, seek support externally if you need it and, if your loss does feel like a catalyst for life changes, be brave and take baby steps. You deserve a future filled with meaning and hope that brings your loved one with you.
As a starting point I would encourage you to journal, capture your thoughts, go for long walks, clear your head, reconnect with nature, smile again, take your loved one with you and let them be your inspiration.
If you would like to hear more about my story or reach out for a virtual coffee please get in touch from my website here.
Suzanne Howes is the founder of Coaching After Loss, one-to-one coaching support to help bereaved people regain purpose, meaning and focus after loss. After over 30 years in the NHS, firstly as a nurse and then in development roles, she combines her passion for caring and her coaching experience to support others.