Grief after the suicide of my son - Catherine’s story

05 Dec 2023
Daniel as a teenager stands in front of Catherine. They smile toward the camera.

When Catherine’s son Daniel died suddenly at the age of 27 she was devastated. But when she later found out he had taken his own life, she said “it was like he’d died all over again, only a million times worse”.

Daniel was diagnosed with a heart condition at the age of 11, hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy with the risk of sudden death. He had an internal defibrillator fitted when he was 15 and had to take medication daily. Daniel spent a lot of time in hospitals, but was able to stay positive.

Our world turned upside down

In July 2022, we decided to have a family holiday to Tenerife to celebrate our daughter’s 21st birthday. In the end, Daniel decided not to come but said he would look after the house and our dog Roxy while we were away. He hugged and kissed us at the door before we left. We spoke to Daniel every evening to make sure he was okay and he assured us he was. 

Five days into our two-week holiday we got a phone call to let us know that he was dead. My dad, his grandad, had found him unresponsive in his bed. In that instant, our whole world turned upside down. We flew home that night. 

Because it was a sudden death, he had to have an autopsy. Of course, we thought it was because of his heart, but the results were inconclusive and we were given an interim certificate so that his funeral could go ahead. Four months later, in November, we found out he had taken his own life. It was like he’d died all over again, only a million times worse. 

I cried for days, wondering what was going on in his head, what state was he in to take such a drastic decision? The ‘whys’, ‘if onlys’, the guilt because I wasn’t there. He left no note, so there are no answers, no closure and a sadness we will have to carry for the rest of our lives. Three days before our first Christmas without him, we attended his inquest where the coroner ruled his death was by suicide. 

A year on, the shock has worn off and the reality is now setting in that he is never coming back. I exist and keep going for my husband and daughter, but I will never be the person I was before. 

Only now, as a suicide survivor*, have I come to realise that it is the biggest killer of men under 45. I never thought this would be my life story. I am sad to my very core. Nothing will ever be the same but I’m trying my hardest to move forward with Daniel in my heart

*Suicide survivor is the term given to the family member/s left behind following a suicide.

Connecting with others who have also experienced suicide

I think I was in a kind of fog for the first year. You do feel very alone with this kind of grief which is why I reached out to as many suicide platforms as I could find. 

I have joined a choir called Sing Their Name and as a result I got to carry the Baton of Hope for Daniel in Manchester. Everyone in the choir has been bereaved by suicide so sometimes you don’t even need to say anything for people to know how you’re feeling.  

To start with I was nervous about going anywhere because it feels like your whole world has been pulled from under your feet. You lose your confidence and I sort of thought, who am I any more? I have always liked singing and we are singing for the people we have lost. The songs that are chosen are songs that raise you up and give you strength so it’s quite empowering.

It has really helped just to be with people who understand. You don’t realise what it’s like until it hits you.

Moving forward and honouring Daniel

I lost my brother suddenly when I was 30. He had heart failure and I remember trying to be strong for my mum and dad at the time but I ended up in a really dark place emotionally. I have made up my mind not to do that again. I talk about Daniel. 

I signed up to Sue Ryder’s Grief Coach service and I get the text messages which have been really helpful. I have kept all of them so I can go back and read them again. They are always very timely as to how you are feeling at that stage. I use the Sue Ryder Online Bereavement Community too. I tend to read other people’s experiences rather than post. Sometimes you want to talk and sometimes you are just in your own head. I have also bought loads of books about suicide, just trying to understand it. 

Siblings often get forgotten I think, but all my daughter has ever known is a life with Daniel in it so it’s a big loss for her too. Everybody’s grief journey is different but I think we have pulled together as a family, we are standing together. We are all back at work. I’m a teaching assistant at a primary school which I enjoy and the school have been so supportive. My daughter has just qualified as a dental nurse and I’m very proud of her.

I think the greatest teacher for me in my life will be Daniel - I have learned so much from him. Not to take things for granted, to live each day like it’s your last.

Years ago, people were too scared to talk about suicide and kept it a secret but I’m very proud of the son Daniel was. Initially all you can think about is that they are gone but now I’m starting to remember the good things. You can’t change what has happened and that’s the hardest thing. You can’t fix it. There’s no solution. I will carry it forever but it’s important to find ways to move forward and live and honour Daniel.

If, like Catherine, you feel you need more information or support around suicide, the following links might be helpful: 

This blog is also posted on Grief Guide, our place for expert information, advice and support. 

A black woman sits on a double bed next to a younger black male whilst they both look thoughtfully at a laptop. The son leans his head against his mother's.

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