Suicide and it's Aftermath: Widowed Mother of 3 Shares Candid Account
Wednesday 4th December 1991, is a day that is forever etched in my memory. It is the day that my husband’s life support machine was switched off and the date of his death. It is a day that I still find hard to forget after all these years…
But how did we end up in the intensive care unit? Well that is an everyday story of a man who people thought had it all. A happily married man with a constant smile on his face. He was a successful businessman too, but underneath the façade was a man struggling with everyday living.
First of all I’ll let you have a bit of background to my story. My husband was Chinese, the eldest child and he ran the local chippy/takeaway, which was a family business. In Chinese culture, the eldest son in the family is looked to for support and to help take care of the family.
I married my husband back in 1979, this wasn’t easy as my husband had been expected to return to Hong Kong for an arranged marriage. However, he was adamant and was having none of that and went against the family tradition and married me! I can tell you it’s not easy going into a family as an outsider, having to break down barriers and traditions to show that you are a worthy partner. But through sheer hard work and determination I managed to gain his parent’s respect.
I quickly learnt the ropes of running a chippy! Not easy work to tell you the truth, lifting sacks of spuds, rumbling and chipping them. Standing serving customers from 4pm to Midnight with a very short break to grab a bite to eat and a cuppa.
We quickly fell into a routine and the years raced by, running a business takes its toll on anyone and all work and no play is not healthy!
In 1991, I finally persuaded my husband we needed a break away and a well-earned family holiday.
By this time, we had 3 wonderful children, but they didn’t come without issues. My eldest was a son, the one meant to carry on the family name, the one to support the family when he was older, but unfortunately not in this case.
Our eldest son had been diagnosed with autism and learning disabilities.
I remember going on my own to see a paediatrician for the results of some assessments my son had completed. The doctor didn’t beat about the bush in telling me my son would more or less be as thick as two short planks! I walked out of that meeting in tears, but determined to fight for everything for my son, which I am still doing to this day.
My husband’s family found it difficult to comprehend my son’s disabilities at first and slowly (very, very slowly!) they learnt to accept my son. I also had a daughter, a bright little thing she was, my in-laws literally doted on her. My second daughter was an unplanned pregnancy and for the first time in my marriage I saw a different side to my husband. He wanted me to terminate the pregnancy. Unfortunately, I told him I just couldn’t do that. I worked right up to her birth date in the shop and she arrived in 1990, like a breath of fresh air into what I can only describe as a merry go round. The constant squabbles of a tight knit Chinese family, working day in and day out took it’s toll on all of us.
So in July 1991, we closed the business and travelled down to Somerset, for a week’s holiday. A break away from everyone. It was bliss, to spend some family time together, which we rarely got chance to do! But all too soon that week passed by and we returned home to a major family upheaval in the business.
My husband’s younger brother who was the cook in the takeaway had announced that he was leaving and going into business with his wife and a family cousin. I remember there was lots of shouting and heated discussions about this but he refused to stay. So my husband had to contact his father who was back home in Hong Kong and tell him to return. He was now required to work back in the kitchen as there was no one else.
It was a very fraught few months and you could cut the atmosphere with a knife, I was walking around on eggshells trying to keep the peace between my husband and his parents, it really was not healthy!
August, September, October and most of November was a blur.
Towards the end of November my brother in law and his wife returned to the business as things hadn’t worked out as well as they had hoped with the cousin. I was very angry about this. He walked back in as though nothing had happened, no apologies to anyone, yet he had been the cause of some major worries and sleepless nights for my husband.
At this time, I saw the shift in my husband. He had told my Dad he was having problems sleeping so my Dad who had some sleeping pills gave him a bottle he had in the cupboard. My Dad didn’t give them out willy-nilly, I know my husband could sweet talk anyone! I wasn’t aware of this at the time.
I had returned home from an outing and the kids were at my mum’s.
I went upstairs and found my husband slumped in bed and the empty pill bottle on the bed.
I quickly dialled 999 and in a flash we were in A&E having my husband’s stomach pumped out. My husband was placed on a ward for a few hours to be monitored and we were both interrogated to put it bluntly!
I asked if he could be kept in due to me having 3 children under 10, but was told that unless my husband consented to stay, then they would have to release him and suggested I take him to see his GP the next day.
Whilst at the hospital, I called a family friend, someone my husband played badminton with. I explained the situation and asked if he would call round later and take my husband out and have a chat to see if he could find out if there were any underlying reasons for my husband taking the sleeping pills.
We returned home and my parents had agreed to look after the children for me for a while longer. My husband was adamant the shop was going to open so I changed and got ready for work. We opened as normal, as though nothing had happened that day, it was like my husband had put a lid on it. Luckily, the family friend arrived at 6pm and suggested they go out for a ride. My husband was unsure about going but I stressed I was OK to manage the shop for a few hours.
3.5 hours flew and before I knew it they had returned. Our friend went and so it was just the two of us in the counter area. I was on edge not wanting to cause any more upset, so said I need to go because of the children. I asked my husband if he was OK and he said he was fine and would see me later. I collected my children from my parent’s. My dad was beside himself and I told him not to go there. It was a silly mistake and my husband had been adamant he just needed the odd one now and again to help him sleep! I told him there was no blame and to not fret over this incident.
I managed to quickly get the children off into bed and settled down for the night. I then called my husband's friend and asked if he could shed any light on the situation, but he just said my husband had been worrying about the business as we hadn’t been as busy as normal plus the upheaval with his brother and his dad had been playing on his mind, and that was it!
I had decided to stay up and wait for my husband coming home. The events of the day has left me with this funny feeling in the pit of my stomach, I felt really uneasy. At 12.30 am my husband walked through the door, he looked shattered. That happy go lucky face had disappeared and I had no reason why. I asked him if he was OK and he said he was fine, just tired and was going to have a drink and then go to bed.
I remember saying night to him and said I would go up to bed then as it had been a long day.
I must have dozed off as I never heard him get into bed. Next thing I know is my 7am alarm is going off! I quietly dragged myself out of bed so has not to disturb my husband. I thought I would let him rest and get him up later as we had a GP appointment.
That morning flew by, I got the children up as normal, gave them breakfast and then got my eldest ready for his taxi to his school out past Matlock. Once he had gone I then got my eldest daughter ready for school and put the youngest one in her pushchair and off we went.
When I returned, I placed my youngest daughter in her playpen and thought I would just check in on my husband. I opened our bedroom door to an empty bed, there was no one in our bathroom as I had just been in there.
Then it hit me like a punch to the stomach, I felt sick and nauseous as the first thing I saw was the broken glass on the bedside cabinet, his watch which he never took off and the blood on the bed.
The fear that surged through my body was alarming, I ran through my house from top to bottom bearing in mind I have a cellar and an attic, so 4 floors.
He was nowhere to be found. My mother in law who slept at our house was fast on in the attic. He was for sure not up there.
I desperately ran back into the kitchen and stood to collect myself as I really was not thinking straight, then it hit me, for some peculiar reason that morning I had not lifted the kitchen blind!
Any other morning that would have been the first thing I did!
I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, I blinked and blinked again, but it was real for sure, there was my husband’s body in a foetal position on my patio with blood coming out of his head. I ran outside, he was freezing so I ran upstairs and grabbed our quilt and quickly placed it round him and then dialled 999.
The ambulance arrived so fast, I was in a blur, I remember grabbing my youngest from the playpen and running round the corner to my parents. I literally chucked her in my dad’s arms and said I can’t talk, I’ll ring you later.
Then we were whisked away with those sirens blaring out to the place we had only visited 24 hours ago.
I was in shock, nodding and saying I understood what was going on when in reality everything was going through one ear and out the other! I sat there mesmerized by the drama unfolding in front of me . The police arrived and of course I was questioned and could feel my whole world shifting to the point of no return and to never ever be the same.
My husband was placed on the intensive care ward, the one with all the scary machines doing everything for him. He was in a coma. The week that followed I was on autopilot, my son’s school were so supportive, and arranged for him to stay as a residential boarder for as long as needed. My mum and dad looked after my girls.
I sat in the hospital at the side of my husband’s bed day in, day out, praying for a bloody miracle, that I knew deep down would never ever happen.
Friends and relatives would come and go and yet I would still sit in hope of some heaven-sent recovery. Where was it when you needed it? I’d had the police visit me at home, taking my fingerprints, questioning me, had I a motive for pushing him out of the attic window as apparently that’s where it has happened.
He had quietly gone upstairs into the attic, his mum had been dead to the world and not heard him open the Velux window. He’d climbed onto the roof and shut it back and jumped! What had he been thinking, what had been going through his head at that that time?
And so we’re back to 4th December 1991, the day the consultant had a very serious talk to me and my husband’s brother, one who rarely came home as he couldn’t cope with the family drama. My husband was a wilting cauliflower, no amount of care would bring him back to his former glory. He was literally brain dead. I had been expecting this, I wasn’t daft, I knew where it was heading, but still there it was, another low punch to the gut. I winced, waiting for the information about turning his life support machine off. The soft dulcet matter of fact tone, left hanging in the air. Would I sign please?
I was being made responsible for those bloody noisy machines being turned off. It was one of the most difficult and emotional situations that I’ve found myself in.
I was signing myself up to be a widow in a few hours at the tender age of 29 with 3 children aged 10, 7 and 18 months.
Time waits for no one and so the hour had come and I was sat on my own, I had decided I wanted it that way. I had had very little emotional support from my husband’s family but was extremely grateful for my mum, dad and brother who had carried me through this. So now one by one those expensive machines were being switched off. Finally the ventilator for his breathing, beep…beep………beep……..beep……..beep…………beep…………..beep…………….beep……………
I whisper I love you, beep………………………beep………………………………………………beep…………………………………………………….
That’s it, so quick, so sudden, gone forever, it’s over, I can’t bring you back, there is no miracle today but the end of a chapter. No turning the page back now. I sat for I don’t know how long just staring into space, staring at that face that I would no longer see everyday, a life ended just like that!
I returned home in a daze, it hadn’t really hit me for sure sat in that bloody vinyl chair in the hospital. A cup of tea was what I needed and to find the strength of how and what I was going to tell our children. well not all of them as the youngest was only 18 months.
So that’s my story, it definitely wasn’t an easy life for me but it was what I had wanted. I thought I had the perfect family unit but the mind plays tricks and also people take advantage of those with a good nature. I for one know that my husband’s younger brother’s actions had some bearing on my husband’s state of mind, but he was thick skinned and thought he knew best and could do no wrong. The fact that he never apologised for causing some major issues within the family speaks for itself. To this day he’s never spoken to me!
So what can I tell you lovely people.
My husband took his own life because he couldn’t cope, I’m not sure why, what thoughts were running his head but he was determined to end it all from the moment he took those sleeping pills. I often wonder what would have happened if he had just sat down and talked to anyone, especially if the hospital had actually taken time to listen. Unfortunately, the daily pressures from his own family and the incident with his younger brother were a main factor I know that for sure.
But what I don’t know or ever will know is if I was a factor too.
It’s never easy, for those left behind. My husband never left any note at all. I upturned everything in my home to hopefully find that snippet of information that could give me sound reasoning for his actions and some closure, but it was not there.
At the start his death consumed me. I felt like the ground had disappeared from under my feet and I had fallen into a deep hole, unable to get out! My grief was immense and I felt like I was getting by on auto-pilot to deal with the many formalities that occur following a death by suicide, letting people know, post mortem, investigations by police and coroner, arranging a funeral, attending an inquest and so on!
I experienced a wide range of emotions, I had a period of self loathing and questioning myself.
One of the hardest things being bereaved by suicide is the guilt over your own actions, Where had I gone wrong? Where had I failed my husband?
Why hadn’t they kept him in hospital, should I have fought more for this? and lots of what ifs. What if I had given him more attention, did he need more space? Should I have said more, said less? I tried to pin point when it all started. I felt unsure about what I was thinking or doing. The questioning became extreme and self punishing. Why hadn’t I been able to stop this. I struggled to come to terms with his death, doubting what had happened.
I felt anger with my husband dying this way and leaving me in so much pain! Also angry at him leaving me with 3 children!
I felt rejected as though I wasn’t enough for him to want to stay alive? I felt numb and ill-prepared for all of this. But somewhere deep down I knew somehow I had to keep going for my children’s sakes even though I was still finding it hard to accept that my husband had died and would no longer be a part of our lives.
We had gone through so much together, I had given up quite a lot to support him and his family in the business. Had I not given enough? I was blinded and found it difficult to remember the good parts of our lives together. I can hold my hand up and say I struggled. I really did, 29 and a bloody widow!
With a suicide and no note you try to apportion the blame, but it’s so difficult and yet such a common response! It can leave you feeling hurt. At least with a final message there can be some insight and those final words may bring comfort to those left behind.
Everyone deals with grief differently, we all have different coping mechanisms.
It’s important to listen to yourself and find your own way. I found it easy to carry on as normal as possible, having 3 children meant I couldn’t just stop. It was in the evening when I was on my own and my children in bed, when I would crack and cry and replay things over and over in my head. I spent a large amount of time trying to come up with an answer for it all. This made me feel worse than ever and there were times when I just wanted to curl up in a ball and let everything just float on by.
I kept telling everyone I was fine! But it can drive you crazy if you let it! Lucky for me, a close family friend became a shoulder to cry on, someone I could talk to. Now that I look back I realise how important that was for me. The support she gave me was immeasurable. She listened without making any judgements and helped me on my darkest days! At the same time as I was trying to cope with the daily battle of emotions, my husband’s family who were also grieving, turned on me, accusing me of stealing money from the business, as if I hadn’t got enough to contend with.
My mother in law refused to move out of the attic, I felt uncomfortable with her having a key to our home, this resulted in a very messy situation for me, but one I survived!
What did I tell my oldest two? I told them that their dad had had a serious fall and banged his head and unfortunately he couldn’t be made better. It was so hard to tell them that their dad had killed himself. I thought I would tell them when they were a little older and it would be easier to explain and for them to understand. I couldn’t even understand it and I was an adult! However, our local paper got a whiff of the situation and put two and two together and made five. Reporting on family issues and that my husband had money problems! Not nice, but I turned the other cheek and disregarded this.
Of course there were lots of questions from friends, neighbours, customers I would see. This was really difficult for me and I tried not be offended by their reactions to some glorified newspaper write up. Some of their questions were inappropriate though and I refused to answer them. When I felt the time was right I told my two daughters the truth, each separately. It wasn’t easy but it needed to be done. My youngest daughter had little recollection of her dad, being only a baby when he left us.
I have never told my eldest son, with his autism and learning disabilities, what good would I get out of it with his lack of understanding?
I know that I have become a stronger person because of what I went through. Nothing can compare to the roller coaster wave of the many emotions I experienced in the 6 months following my husband’s death. Anger, fear, disbelief, blame, guilt, sadness, despair, bitterness and shock to name but a few. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
The questioning I put myself through searching for answers is beyond belief and to this day I still don’t have them. Instead, I focus on the good times we had as a family for just over 12 years, because that’s all I can do.
The other sadness for me is that myself and my 3 children were cast aside by my husband’s family, like we were tainted. They have had nothing to do with me or my children since his death , but that’s their loss!
Back in 1991 there wasn’t the support there is now for Mental Health.
So how can you get through and face the future? First you must take care of yourself, it’s OK keeping busy but not to the extent of becoming exhausted. Yes it may blot out some of the pain you’re feeling but not to the extent of you become poorly yourself. Take time out with friends and family or you may just want to be by yourself and do something different. Your needs are just as important and you need to recognise them and make sure you take care of them.
Secondly find someone to listen. If you feel uncomfortable talking to family or friends, find an organisation that can help. You may find it useful to speak with like minded people who have experienced suicide, sharing feelings and coping strategies. That’s if a support group is available in your area.
Then there is professional support, your GP who may point you in the direction of a counsellor.
Remember no one can tell you how you should grieve, everyone grieves differently. There is no right or wrong way!
You'll have good days and bad days were you feel totally consumed by grief. It will pass and as with the suicide you will begin to forget about how they died and start to focus on how they lived.
Yes I survived, but it wasn’t easy. I realised the grief was taking me over and consuming me day by day. I needed to start reclaiming myself and get my life back on track. So I focused my energy on new things, getting back into the workforce, which wasn’t easy and secondly starting to socialise again as I had become a bit of a recluse!
Time heals they say, and yes it does but you also have to help yourself!
So as one chapter closed another new one began and I slowly transformed over the years into the independent woman I am today. I learnt to love again, but that was difficult to begin with as I struggled with trust issues. But I eventually, remarried and had another son. My second husband taking on my first 3 children as if they were his own. That in itself is no mean feat.
The other thing I learnt from this is that life is extremely fragile and you never know what’s hidden round that bend. I take each day as it comes and deal with whatever is thrown at me and I can tell you I have had lots thrown at me! I realise that there will always be people in worse off situations than I am in.
I never take things for granted and am grateful for each new day that I’m given because someone else might not have that guaranteed. I know that first-hand, having to deal with yet a second tragedy in my life, the death of my Dad in 2013 in one of the most unfortunate accidents ever. But that’s another story for another day.
Life is short,
Time is fast.
So enjoy every moment as it comes.
Written by: Ann Edited by: Laura Forbes
If you or someone you know has been effected by the topics in this post, please see the following resources for support:
Samaritans - 116 123
C.A.L.M 0800 58 58 58