Gabrielle’s Story

I wanted to reach out to someone at SOBs with the intention of sharing my own story of being effected by suicide.

Gabrielle’s story:
1st June, 2017
Gabrielle Minkley

In May 2010 my world turned upside down and my life changed forever. My husband, of just 18months (but we’d been together for 11yrs as a couple) hung himself after an on-off battle with depression for most of the time I had known him. I was also three months pregnant at the time, with our only child. The future was meant to be bright – a newly married couple, a baby on the way – isn’t that what everyone is meant to be searching for to achieve ultimate happiness and contentment? No, not when you’re suffering from depression it isn’t. When you’re depressed, as Oliver was, nothing really seemed to matter or lift him then – he had gone into a dark hole that was claustrophobic, full of self-loathing and pain – a place he simply wanted to escape from.

Oliver had been touched by suicide himself, having lost his own mother to depression and suicide many years before. It is something he never really recovered from, losing her so suddenly and tragically. He always seemed lost without her, having a sense of ‘being left’. It had a huge impact on his own mental health. Suicide can leave lasting scars and have such a ripple effect on so many lives.

The last two months of Oliver’s life felt like a rollercoaster – the plummet to the bottom seemed to come from nowhere. One minute we were planning a family and two months later he had gone. We knew he was ill, that he had gone into a crisis period and sort help where we could – the GP, the Samaritans, Mind, and finally the local mental health crisis team. Oliver spent two days at our local mental health hospital, both him and me needing some respite, support and care. Sadly this is where he finally died. He wasn’t at home, I didn’t find him dead, as many people have asked me, but I will still never forget the trauma of that day when he went missing for hours and the crazy thoughts running through my
mind, but still never believing he would actually be dead. I will always remember the police finally coming to my house that evening to tell me he’d been found, and had hung himself.

Even though I knew how ill Oliver was and that he was having suicidal thoughts, I was still in a complete state of shock when I heard that he had died – I never really believed he would do it. The weeks and months after he died are still mainly a grey blur, but I remember all of the ‘administration’ you have to deal with alongside the grief and pain – funerals to organise, solicitors to speak to, coroners and an inquest to deal with. All in amongst the pain, the disbelief, the questions, the anger and the tears.

The first year was like an endurance test, mountains to climb and all the firsts – the funeral, my first birthday (my 30th) without Oliver, giving birth to my first child, becoming a parent for the first time on my own, my first Christmas without him, the week-long inquest and of course the first “anniversary” – the annual reminder of the most traumatic day of my life (there must be a better word for it than ‘anniversary’?!).

I remember that period, walking around feeling like I had a huge open-wound that everyone should be able to see – I wanted them to see it and know I was in pain. I was suffering and I needed them to be gentle with me, to take care of me. Everything became very black and white in my life – it felt like I had absolute clarity on what was important and what wasn’t. The other half of me had died, and I felt like I had died with him, so I didn’t have the energy to sweat the small stuff anymore. Simply getting through each day and trying to rebuild my life with my child was what was important. In those early dark days I really couldn’t imagine a future without him, or know if I would ever be truly happy again.

Slowly though, with amazing support and love from some very special people, I did find a way through it all. I began to heal, the open wound I was walking around with slowly became a scar. I wasn’t just surviving any more; I began to live again, breathe again, and to thrive.

Learning who I was again, after feeling so vulnerable and raw for so long was daunting, and exciting. I have learnt a lot about myself these past years, discovering how fiercely independent I am, how strong I am, how I love to travel and try new things, and that I love life – losing Oliver made me really know how precious life is, and that I want to make every second of my life count.

Everyone’s experience of suicide and grief is unique to them. I can never really understand how you feel, nor you me, but to experience the traumatic loss of a loved one through a mental health illness and suicide does leave special scars. Sometimes I look back (and still look at myself now on some days) and wonder how I survived it all. There were a few things that I know helped me to navigate those dark days to the light again (and was very lucky to have access to):
• Love and support of friends and family: I am, and was, very blessed
to have incredible people in my life who were always there for me, cooking me dinners, holding my hand at midwife appointments, standing with me at the inquest and simply being there to listen.
• Learning to accept and ask for help: learning to be on my own again was hard, and I had to learn to accept and ask for people’s help, especially when I became a parent. I sometimes had to learn to ‘lean into’ the love and support offered, but thank goodness I did (point above didn’t always come easily to embrace 🙂 )
• Openness and honesty: I’ve always been honest and open about
how Oliver died, with everyone including my son, which I’ve felt empowering and important for myself to process the loss. And being honest about how I’m feeling has helped me, allowing myself to feel what I needed to feel when I felt it – if I didn’t feel like going to someone’s wedding I didn’t go, or if I was having a low patch again even though it was five years after he died. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, you guide yourself as to what you need and when.
• Suicide/grief support groups: I was desperate to find other people ‘like me’. Finding organisations such as SOBS, Samaritans, and WAY
(Widowed and Young) helped me to connect with other people I could relate to, somewhere I could talk and feel supported.
• Counselling: I attended counselling sessions most weeks for some time after Oliver died – this was a precious space to share all my very difficult and painful emotions that I didn’t always want to share with my friends or family, and to process everything that had happened and I continued to deal with.
• Journaling: I also used a journal regularly as another outlet for all those thoughts and emotions that I didn’t know what to do with. It was a safe space just for me, and also gave me a useful record of how my grief changed – each year on the anniversary I would feel slightly different to the year before. It gave me hope that things would change – I could see my scars slowly healing.
• Exercise: an obvious one, and not always the what you feel like doing when you’re at your lowest ebb, but I think I literally ran my anger out! I had always enjoyed running, and used to love running with Oliver. We always wanted to run a marathon together, so in 2014 I ran the London Marathon for the Samaritans. It felt monumental, and a significant part of my grieving process to complete – I felt alive and in control again crossing that finish line after 26 miles. I still love to run now, it keeps me mentally and physically well.
7yrs on, and life feels good again. I do feel happiness, joy and contentment – which is something I often questioned would come again. My beautiful little boy is growing, learning and has an exciting journey ahead of him. I’ve found myself in a new loving relationship that reminds me of the fun of having a partner in crime again, and that love is worth taking a few risks for.

Loving and losing Oliver has taught me so much – taught me the depth of strength i have within myself and the storms i can weather, taught me the power of love from family and friends, and most of all has taught me to embrace life, so that one tragic life lost doesn’t have to mean others are lost too.
My journey continues, the scar is still there and the grief can still sting at times, but it also reminds how precious life is and that mine is worth living.