Gemma King’s Guest List: What it Feels Like to Lose A Parent to Suicide

Gemma King’s Guest List: What it Feels Like to Lose A Parent to Suicide

unnamedGuest Lists come to me in all sorts of ways, but this is the first time I have been recommended one by someone on behalf of their friend.

Sarah got in touch to tell me about her buddy Gemma who she described as: “having a knack for using sarcasm & honesty as a way of dealing with difficult things in life and so she talks openly about mental health, suicide & death in a funny, sometimes ‘on a knife edge’ kinda way. I love her for it & it’s certainly helped me when dealing with loss through suicide.”

Gemma sounded exactly like the kind of person I like and admire. I am honoured to share this brave piece about losing her Dad to suicide:


In the early morning of 9 June 2014, two police officers came to my flat to tell me that my father had taken his own life. This is a list highlighting my thoughts and experiences, and what I think we could all do to help our fellow human beings.

  • My dad was 46 years old when he died.

  • He had been diagnosed with depression 5 months earlier.

  • He had walked me down the aisle at my wedding 7 months earlier.

  • At my wedding, I had no idea of how he was already suffering.

  • His depression manifested itself in a few ways, one of them being severe hypochondria, which he also projected onto my mother. He was convinced she was going to die from sleep apnoea (she has never had sleep apnoea).

  • Before having depression, my dad was the kind of guy who would brush mental health off as a non-issue. Like many of us, he didn’t understand it.

  • Ironic really.

  • He was a funny guy before he got poorly. But I suppose there were always signs that he wasn’t as laid-back as first impressions might have suggested.

  • I try to be funny too. In fact, I use [often inappropriate] humour as a coping mechanism. I have to work hard to rein this in and limit it to my closest friends, or I risk coming across as horribly tasteless.

  • My dad liked taking the piss out of his mates, having a few drinks, and going on holiday.

  • But when he got poorly, my mum found it difficult to encourage him to even go to the local pub.

  • I can’t remember the last time I saw my dad but I know it was approximately 3 months before he died (he lived in Yorkshire, me in London).

  • I used to call my parents every Sunday night.

  • My dad killed himself on a Sunday night, and I hadn’t called that evening as I was going out.

  • I regret that choice a lot. Maybe it wouldn’t have made a different but I’ll never know.

  • There is no single word to describe how I felt when the police officers told me what had happened.

  • Well, “numb” is as good a word as any.

  • I was so numb I couldn’t even tell you what the police officers looked like or even what gender they both were.

  • I do remember feeling relieved too – because when the police officers first started talking I assumed both my parents were dead. Why else would the police come round instead of my family calling me?

  • (Because my phone was off).

  • I now have an irrational fear of my doorbell going after a certain time of night. I know most people probably feel a worried jolt when this happens, but whenever anyone mistakenly rings the bell to our flat (a common occurrence) my heart rate takes a LONG time to go back to normal.

  • When my dad died, I distinctly remember not crying, or at least not properly, for a while.

  • I’m still not sure I’ve really truly cried properly. Even writing this, I’m not feeling emotional. It’s only when I stop to think that I will literally never see him again that I get a buzzing in my head and I have to stop thinking.

  • I’m not great at talking about my feelings around my dad’s suicide which is why I started my blog.

  • Losing my dad made me wish I wasn’t an only child.

  • There are considerable administrative jobs you have to do when someone dies.

  • When someone takes their own life, there are even more. The police will get involved as it is a death from unnatural causes. We had to wait for the police to release my dad before we could plan his funeral. There has to be an inquest before you can even get a proper death certificate.

  • My dad’s death certificate made it really obvious that he’d took his own life, and how he’d done it. I had to send it to so many people and companies (service providers, solicitors, etc. Even my college wanted it as I had to ask for a deadline extension). Every time I sent it I wondered if they would read the details.

  • If someone asks how my dad died, I tell them the truth. It took me a while to work out how best to say it. There are semantic connotations with the phrase “he committed suicide” that a lot of people have problems with, so I stick with “he took his own life”. “He killed himself” is just that little bit too abrupt.

  • Although, often when I tell people, they have a similar story to share.

  • Losing a parent is horrific. Losing a parent when they’re still young is even more so. And losing a parent to suicide is unimaginable.

  • No matter how much you understand that it’s an illness that has made a person choose to end their life, you will always, always question what you could have done differently.

  • I will always wonder if my dad knew how much I loved him, how much I doted on him. Because if he did, surely he wouldn’t have taken his own life?

  • (That’s a rhetorical question. I just have to hope he did know.)

  • My grandparents both outlived their son. My mum lost her husband of 27 years.

  • Since my dad died I have become a mother, and it breaks my heart that my dad will never know his grandson.

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  • The year my dad died, he was one of 6,109 others in the UK who also took their own lives. 76% of those people were men.

  • Talking to others bereaved by suicide, it’s clear that it affects EVERYONE. Even if the person who died wasn’t your best friend or family member, you are left wondering how death became the only decision left to make.

  • I’m no expert on mental health. This is the closest experience I’ve had with it. I want to join the fight to address it but it is overwhelming thinking about what needs to be done when I couldn’t save one person who was so dear to me.

  • I have noticed a recent surge in efforts to raise awareness – particularly due to the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, who are “spearheading the Heads Together campaign to end stigma around mental health”.

  • One of their partners, and one of my favourite charities, CALM, focuses specifically on preventing male suicide. They suggest that there are “social and cultural barriers that prevent men from speaking out”.

  • My dad was a tough-looking, big-muscled burly guy. And I do think he felt expectations to be a ‘manly man’ not someone who discusses their feelings or takes action to address their mental health wellbeing.

  • This is the attitude that needs to change. I may not be a mental health expert but the voices speaking out at the moment make it clear that more conversations need to happen to reduce the stigma around mental health wellbeing and mental health illness.

  • We live in a nation which has a reputation for a “stiff upper lip” and, arguably, emotional repression.

  • OK, so you probably shouldn’t outpour your deepest darkest emotions in your next job interview, but I cannot fathom why our mental health isn’t given the same focus as other aspects of our health.

  • We understand that diseases like heart disease, cancer, stomach ulcers, ruptured appendices, etc. create physical damage so why is it so hard to accept that our mental health can become damaged in a similar way?

  • After having my son, I did notice a focus on my mental health as a new mother – health visitors would always address my own feelings in addition to my son’s fluctuating weight. Information on warning signs of postnatal depression was readily available. Wonderful mum and dad bloggers are out there, helping you understand that your feelings are normal.

  • We need more of this. Conversations around mental health wellbeing – and not just aimed at people who are already experiencing mental health issues but EVERYONE. Because my dad is proof that mental illness can affect ANYONE – like cancer, it is non-discriminatory.

  • Charities like Heads Together, CALM, Mind, etc. are addressing the big conversations; tackling fear, prejudice and stigma.

  • But we can help them. Little steps can make big differences.

  • Something we can all do is be kinder to one another. Yeah OK, it is easier said than done, but sometimes (and I’m guilty of this too) we humans are totally unreasonable even to total strangers.

  • I’ll use myself as an example (and I’m by no means the worst) – I’ve been passive-aggressive and unnecessarily rude to fellow commuters, call centre staff, professionals who happen to work for a company that has wronged me in some way, etc.

  • What if one of these people had been feeling like my dad was towards the end of his life? A jumped-up commuter / customer/ general dick isn’t going to help the situation.

  • So let’s be kinder to our fellow humans. I’m not saying be a push over but since losing my dad I try thinking twice before muttering that passive-aggressive comment. And if I don’t think twice in time, I apologise.

  • And talk to each other. When my dad was ill, I found it so hard to talk to him because he didn’t want to talk about how he was feeling. How can we help someone get better from an illness we often can’t begin to understand?

  • But we can only try.

  • Small actions from everyone could change the world.

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7 thoughts on “Gemma King’s Guest List: What it Feels Like to Lose A Parent to Suicide

  1. Im really moved Gemma – its really heartfelt and written so well. I totally relate to what you say, even though its not a parent I lost but a dear friend. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Gemma
    Thanks for talking about this my mum took her own life when I was 19 unfortunately I haven’t found other people that having this experience so although I am truly sorry you have lost your dad it is comforting to hear I’m not the only one if that makes sense
    S

    Like

  3. Hi Gemma. This is so well written. Thank you. My experience of suicide relates to my Grandfather who was 86 and took his own life. I quite naively didn’t even consider mental health as being any way related (I think I blocked the whole thing out really) but you have really helped me see things differently. Thank you x

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for this Gemma- I lost my dad to suicide and so many points resonate with me. There are so few things out (I’ve found) to help explain how I feel. Although I was much younger than you when it happened, so I didn’t have to deal with the admin side of the death, the impacts after have been the same. Thank you for being so brave and eloquent.

    Like

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