By Verity Bramwell
Monday 27th August 2018. Bank Holiday Monday. Typically spent lazing in bed. I’d only gotten up to go to the toilet and to get drinks. My parents were away so the dog and I were making the most of having no interruptions to our TV regime. It was about twenty to 6 in the evening. I was sitting in bed and my phone rang.
It was my cousin. She was away in Dorset, so I was slightly perplexed as to why she was calling. I answered. It was her 17-year-old daughter. She simply managed to say, “Nanny’s had a call from Tom saying Matt’s committed suicide in the shed and now we can’t get hold of him”.
It was one of those moments where time slows down and you somehow settle on the conclusion that somewhere down the line someone has got their wires crossed. I simply replied, “Okay, I’ll go now and I’ll find out what’s going on.” In those slow moments of madness all I think is “I haven’t brushed my teeth yet and I can’t pop round without having brushed them”.
Time slowed excessively. It felt like forever. I shoved clothes on and then ironically spent about 20 seconds brushing my teeth; hardly enough time to make a difference. Then I ran. It is 0.2 miles from my house to my cousins. I got to the top of their road when my cousin rang again, this time she was on the line.
I could see down to their house and all I processed was the three police cars and an ambulance. I had no idea what I was going to walk into, so I told her I would call her back as soon as I knew what was going on. I had no idea what my reaction would be to what I’d find and I didn’t want her hearing that.
I let myself in the back gate, hesitant about what would greet me. All in all, it took eight minutes from that first phone call to asking my aunt’s neighbour to call her back. They were some of the longest minutes of my life. It felt like I’d been at least 20. That was the start of the last nine weeks of my life. It has been the hardest, longest, saddest and most testing period I’ve ever gone through.
Despite the best efforts of my cousins, the paramedics and the air ambulance, Matt was pronounced dead not long after 6pm. At that point my only concern was for his brother, who had found him. In my world, he is my brother and asides from my parents has been the most consistent person by my side in my life. All I remember thinking is ‘why couldn’t it have been me that found Matt’.
That thought was completely illogical as I have no reason why I would have been there. I run a charity that delivers suicide prevention skills training. I deal with, confront and talk about suicide on a daily basis. Nothing prepares you for it being your family, your cousin, your blood. At the same time, I would have given my left arm to swap places with Tom, so I was the one to bear those images and memories.
The rest of that evening turned into a blur and consisted on waiting for my Aunt, Uncle, cousin and kids to arrive back from Dorset and sit in the wake of grief; ‘what ifs’, ‘but whys?’ ‘how come?’ ‘if only’, ‘I should have’, ‘I could have’, ‘if I had’ all ran through my head. Anger. Sadness. Guilt. Grief. Hurt. Numbness.
I left at around 03.30am, got to sleep at about 05.00am and woke just before 07.00am. I got up, got dressed and returned to repeat the same feelings, thoughts and questions again. Then the practicalities came into play.
All of a sudden, we’re now responsible for calling the nearest hospital, to speak to the mortuary and arrange a visit. We have a big family. We might be crap at showing we love each other during the good times but boy do we pull together during the worst times. The next week was really sleep, wake, drink, repeat. We laughed a lot which may seem perverse but you have to replace those horrid images with the good ones and replace the silence with laughter. Whatever face you put on for everyone around you, at the end of the day, when you are on your own, in the night in the dark and quiet, you are broken.
Why you may ask? Because this one man, who was loved beyond measurability, did not talk. He did not share his feelings, his problems, his struggles or the darkness that haunted him at night.
What did that darkness amount to? £30k worth of debt, a diagnosis of depression a few years prior, medication that didn’t suit him, services he felt couldn’t help him, deep loneliness and a hatred of “what” he’d become in his eyes; a failure. He probably felt that was true in many different ways although I cannot say that for sure. The only person with the answers isn’t here anymore to answer the questions.
What I am myself is a suicide attempt survivor four times over so by no means am I belittling those problems.
When you are already tired of treading water, they seem insurmountable. At a guess, in his mind he believed he had failed financially, romantically and in his health but to us, to all the people that loved him and valued him, found his humour hilarious and his sharp tongue always worth listening to, he hadn’t failed in any of those things.
The only thing he didn’t do was talk to anyone about it. It didn’t have to be me, his brothers, sister or parents. It could have been any of the many people who cared about him.
When we said goodbye to him a month later, we met so many people who came and shared their own stories and memories of him to cherish and treasure.
Why am I telling you this? Why am I writing this long and sad article with no happy ending? Because when you are suicidal, when you are in that dark hole, you are akin to someone with dementia.
Someone with dementia is unwell. When they wake up on a Monday, they might believe it’s 1950 even though everything around them is telling them it isn’t. Their brain tells them that and that’s all they can see and believe. Given time, support and medication, they might be able to come back to reality and see that it isn’t 1950 but in fact 2018.
The hardest part of suicide is that they didn’t give us the chance to get them back to the common reality. Instead, they took the only solution to their problems they could see. However, it meant that no other solution could ever be found.
Their solution brought about a permanent problem; they are now gone, along with any chance of helping them find a better solution to their problems which 99.9% of the time, do exist.
I beg, plead and cry to you, if you ever find yourself in the place where suicide is the only solution you can think of, give the people that love you a chance. Let them show you the true reality of your value to them and the world.
Don’t abandon the chance of better solutions and a better life because your brain is telling you there are no alternatives. No great feats are done alone and managing trauma, mental illness or just the general shittiness of life are not done on your own.
Don’t stay silent. Just speak. Just talk. Just ask.
Verity Bramwell is Operations Manager at the OLLIE Foundation.
The OLLIE Foundation is a charity delivering suicide alertness and prevention skills training.
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