The Day My Son Took His Own Life Part 2:
This is about the experience of suicide loss, the 'must do something' syndrome felt by those bereaved, then the practical aspects of actually doing something. First published on LinkedIn by Steve Phillip on August 17th 2020.
Well that was surreal – I’ve just delivered an online LinkedIn training session for the Senior Management Team at a global company. Everything about this training session echoed the old me – I was prepared and delivered the training with my usual direct and enthusiastic style, even throwing in a few of my best Dad jokes for good measure.
Judging by the feedback, the training was well received. So, why did I feel like shit afterwards?
Why did I have this huge surge of guilt immediately following the training and why did I feel that I shouldn’t be able to do what I just did and I certainly shouldn’t be laughing and joking? After all, these people have seen my LinkedIn profile, they know I lost my son to suicide just 8 months ago – what must they think; “Maybe he’s doing alright, perhaps he’s got over it?”
If you’re reading this and you don’t know my story, then my original article; The Day My Son Took His Own Life, will provide some context. For now, let me summarise by sharing an excerpt from that article:
“In the days since Jordan took his own life, we’ve all tried to imagine how he could have reached such a point. How could he have seen no other option but to leave us? Perhaps I’ve been able to better understand, having spoken with a couple of people who experienced severe ‘depression’ and not just felt depressed (there’s a difference). They describe a feeling as if they’re being sucked down into a spiralling black hole – “you’re reaching up with your arms to prevent yourself been totally consumed but realise that is futile and you simply let go.”
When someone takes their own life, especially someone who was loved by so many, as Jordan was, they don’t mean to hurt us but hurt we do. I sometimes think that if we could have shown Jordan a movie of the aftermath of what he did, maybe he would have stepped back and not gone through with it. Sensibly, I understand that severe depression is not something you can reason with.
The reality is that when you take your own life, someone and most likely someone dear to you, will be the first to find you and they’ll live with that image for the rest of their lives. Your family will have to come to your house (if the death takes place at your home) afterwards and they will have to clear away your unfinished bowl of porridge, the last glass of water you half drank.
They might be faced with the smiling gas engineer turning up at your house to service your boiler but instead he’ll be asked to show your stunned family members how to set the boiler to low for now.
From the MIND leaflet we found, to the Doctors appointment card for 2 days time, to the shopping list, all laying on the kitchen table, it was as if we’d walked into a movie, where the action had stopped – all those simple things he was still planning to do.
In the days since, we’ve huddled together as a family, sitting mainly in silence for the first few days and we’ve cried a lot. We’ve had to make visits to the funeral directors and discuss our son’s funeral and then, due to the nature of Jordan’s death, we got to go see Jordan in the mortuary chapel in Leeds General Infirmary, a day prior to his post mortem. As I’m writing this, I have just received a call from the Coroner’s office, to let me know that they are releasing Jordan to the funeral directors today.”
Jordan once explained to his sister that he often felt detached from himself – it was as if what was happening wasn’t actually happening to him, instead he was watching it happening to someone else. Is that what he experienced when he took those final actions on December 4th, we’ll never know of course?”
That original article was published just 3 weeks following Jordan’s death. I knew I had to get everything off my chest and write it down. Not that I would ever forget the immediate impact of Jordan’s suicide on our lives but with time, I knew that some of the detail would fade from my mind
You Don’t Recover, You Simply Learn To Work Around It
There is no rule book for how to behave when your child dies suddenly and there’s certainly no road map for when that death is by suicide. People will give you plenty of well-meaning advice, some of which is helpful but, in every case, it’s always someone else’s perspective and not yours.
‘Time is a healer’, is probably the most frequent message I’ve received but it’s not. Perhaps, what they mean is that, with time, you learn how to function – I won’t heal, how can I heal?
Just like someone who’s had a limb amputated, that limb will never grow back and with that, Jordan will never be alive again – I won’t hear my phone ring with his tone, we won’t exchange WhatsApp messages, as we jointly despair, when our beloved Arsenal fail (just), again, to achieve the season they continually promise to. And finally, in 2020, they actually win the FA Cup Final and I go to message Jordan and suddenly, I’m reminded that my WhatsApp message will be ‘send only’.
I won’t ever welcome Jordan with a hug as he walks in through our front door and I won’t feel the stubble of his beard or smell his aftershave as father and son embrace.
No, time isn’t a healer
The best piece of advice I did receive, came from a close friend of Jordan’s, who’s wife had died of a brain tumour just a couple of years previously – another, sadly, taken from us when she was too young. Chris sent me the image above and told me how grief had once been explained to him; ‘Grief is with you always but in time, a new life expands around it.’ In effect, you learn to grow around grief.
That image makes more sense to me now than it did in December, when Chris sent it to me, not long after Jordan died, because this how a typical day goes for me:
I wake up and within a few seconds it registers that Jordan is no longer here
I go downstairs to make my wife and I a pot of tea and our morning ritual of breakfast in bed. Whilst the kettle’s boiling, I head into my office and spend a few quiet moments talking to Jordan or more accurately, a photo of him on my bookcase.
We eat breakfast, whilst the TV news provides a welcome distraction.
I go the bathroom to shave and have a shower and it’s while shaving that thoughts of Jordan start to really enter my mind.
I return to the bedroom to get dressed, chat with my wife and act and probably look like it’s any other regular day.
At around 8am, I head into my office downstairs and begin work – the days are often busy and these days, involve time spent on projects relating to mental wellbeing and suicide prevention, whilst continuing to look after a handful of clients who still approach me for LinkedIn training.
During work time, I lose track of how often Jordan’s name appears on my laptop screen, or is mentioned while I’m being interviewed on another podcast or radio show and yet, it’s like it’s not Jordan I’m discussing-somehow I manage to (almost, not always) detach myself from the emotion of what it is I’m actually working on. Even I’m not sure how this works, perhaps, if you’re a psychologist you can answer that one for me?
But then there are the occasional quiet moments, during the day, when my mind inevitably goes to thoughts of Jordan. Sometimes, these are happy memories, often they’re sad and then occasionally there are those traumatic thoughts, as my mind relives the full horror of that day in December 2019 and the weeks of trauma which followed and then suddenly my torso jerks in shock, just as it did so often in those early days following Jordan’s death.
As the day continues, it’s time for our evening meal and afterwards, we’ll settle down to watch TV and catch-up with the latest Netflix series – another distraction. But in this more relaxed state, it’s not long before thoughts of Jordan return and with it the overwhelming sense of sadness and loss.
Finally bedtime beckons and before we go to bed, my wife can sense my urgency, as I stand by my office door, waiting for her to go upstairs ahead of me and leave me to have a few more moments of quiet time with my boy or the photo of him.
There is rarely a moment, in any day, when Jordan and what happened to him doesn’t takeover my thoughts and yet, I’m ready for my next Zoom call, with my cheery disposition and positive attitude displayed for all to see and just for a while, even I am unaware of what is lurking beneath the surface.
Sometimes, In Life, You Get What You Ask For
A few weeks before Jordan’s suicide, I’d agreed terms with a business consultant and coach to help me work toward a 5-year exit strategy for my training business – my life was going to be mapped out toward retirement or at least, an easing back of work.
It turns out I didn’t need a consultant, as life’s events were about to direct me in a way I would never have imagined or asked for. There was no Genie in a magic lamp who was about to grant me 3 wishes, one of which, I know, would have been to turn back the clock. Instead, I was given one of two options; sit on the sofa with a bottle – a good friend told me that a bottle will never ask you to put it down – or create something from this horrific event. I think I was somehow always destined to do the latter.
‘Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be..
Some of you will be familiar with a UK Saturday night TV show, from the 90’s, called ‘Stars in their eyes’, hosted by Matthew Kelly. If you’re not familiar with the show, then the concept is simple – an ordinary member of the public explains to Matthew who their all time pop idol is and that when they appear from behind the screen in a few seconds (actually, more like 2 hours, real-time, after hair and makeup) they will be transformed into Cher or Elvis or Elton John – you get the idea.
There was no Matthew Kelly waiting to interview me the day Jordan took his own life. Neither were there any voices, visions or sudden moments of inspiration. But there was anger, frustration and a huge bucket-full of angst and trauma – “this cannot be allowed to happen to another family, not on my watch, at least!”
The Jordan Legacy CIC had to happen, there would be no debate – in Jordan’s memory we will help those I know he would have helped if he was still here.
Since Jordan left us, I’ve learnt far more about my son than I ever knew before, as his many friends and work colleagues talk of a young man, who was not only good looking, polite and charming (which his family, including me, knew) – he was also an incredibly kind soul and someone who would go out of his way, to not only help his friends but total strangers too. Story, after tearful story, kept re-enforcing the fact that the world had lost a quite remarkable young man. Few knew how deep the hole was he had gradually fallen into or how desperately he had fought and for so long, to climb out of. However, the weight of anxiety and depression continually pulled him back and closer to the abys.
So, tonight Matthew, I’m going to be that Dad, who will do whatever he can to ensure that no other dad, mum, step-parent, nana, grandad, sister, brother, partner, nephew, niece, has to experience what our family has had to endure.
What Is The Jordan Legacy?
The Jordan Legacy has a clear mission;
To do everything we can to help people who don’t want to die but are feeling they can’t bear the pain of living in their current circumstances. Our mission is to improve people’s mental wellbeing and the support available; to reduce people’s sense of social isolation; to encourage the development of a kinder society; and help people feel a sense of achievement and contentment because of who they are not what they have or don’t have.
We can envisage an achievable desired state where deaths by suicide are rare events. It’s a huge challenge and a big goal but achievable through prioritised, focused, practical actions:
- practical actions to make our communities and workplaces mentally healthy and psychologically safe places;
- practical actions to use human intelligence and digital technology for earlier identification and intervention;
- practical actions for suicide prevention such as ‘designing out suicide’ in our built environment, education systems, health systems, and support systems for those known to be at risk or in danger (including restricting access to the means of suicide – known to be the most effective practical action to save lives);
- practical actions to encourage every hospital, university, council, employer, industry association, professional society, etc to make practical plans for suicide prevention within their spheres of influence.
The act of suicide is a practical act – it needs practical actions to prevent it.
What Would You Do If You Won The Lottery?
I learnt something new (again) about my son a few days ago. Jordan’s girlfriend, Charlotte, told me that she’d once asked Jordan what he would do if he ever won the Lottery? She was surprised by his answer.
You see, although Jordan was a generous person, like many young people these days, he also had materialistic aspirations. He wanted to be seen as someone who had achieved things, such as owning a nice house, regularly going on overseas holidays, owning a nice sports car and having a successful career. So, when Charlotte asked Jordan the lottery question, she fully expected him to say ‘I’d buy a new Porsche’. Instead, he surprised her by saying he’d build a retreat, somewhere quiet, in the countryside, where people, who are struggling with their mental health can come to get well again.
Jordan’s lottery vision is now mine. The Jordan Legacy will build that retreat and we will save lives by doing so much more in the years to come.
Listen here to hear Steve being interviewed on the Thought & Leaders podcast by Jonathan Gaby