In the early hours on a bitterly cold February morning my beautiful daughter of 32 years walked out of the house she had grown up in and into the murky depths of the River. At 6am the phone rang beside my bed and her partner told me she had gone. Even as he spoke the words I knew from that very moment that my daughter was dead. She had been severely depressed for some months and had spent the last 3 months in the local mental hospital growing progressively worse. She kept saying that she no longer wished to live and had made spasmodic attempts to harm herself. She had increasingly alienated herself from all those who loved her, including her lovely 2 year old daughter. Nothing seemed to help her and we were all at our wits end, exhausted and distressed to see her in such a state.
I remember feeling compelled to search for her whether she was dead or alive and after informing the police and the hospital my partner and I set off to search all the places we thought she might be. We did not find her of course. The police came and interviewed us all, searched the house and took statements. They spoke to the neighbours and the phone became manic as people heard the news of her disappearance. Her younger sister came home from London and I can remember being in a total state of panic and fear. People were kind and they tried to reassure me but throughout it all I felt in my heart that all the searching was useless as she was dead and the thought of her lying somewhere alone, cold and wretched was too much to bear.
At first I did not cry then the tears started and I simply could not control where and when they came. Torrents fell from my eyes. I could be in the street and just start to cry, not caring who was there or what they thought about me. My partner was amazing he just sat and held me until the moment passed, not speaking just letting me howl. As the weeks passed and despite extensive investigations by the police there was no sign of my daughter anywhere. The Police were very supportive and kept us informed of everything, but the pain and uncertainty of not knowing where she was or if she was alive or dead was unbearable. At the start of each day I would open my eyes and for a second the pain was not there and then the realisation that she was still missing dawned and the tears would flow and the awful reality would set in. A terrible compulsion to see her, to touch her, to hold her flooded my senses and a great hole opened up inside me as tremendous feelings of loss and desolation swept over me. During these dark days I found it best to keep busy, to rise quickly and to structure my day. To involve myself with other peoples needs to try to drown out the pain. It did not work of course and as the weeks wore on and on I began to wonder if she would ever be found which was even worse because then we would be in a state of limbo for the rest of our lives.
I couldn’t work at this time. I work for a charity that provides care for people with enduring mental health conditions and they were very supportive giving me as much time off as I needed. My GP was wonderful and he listened to me a good deal never rushing me out of the surgery no matter how busy he was. He saw me on a regular basis but I refused his offer of anti-depressants as I felt this was a pain I had to feel not mask.
One of the most devastating feelings at this time was linked to the reports in the press. The Police and the Missing Persons Agency had circulated my daughter’s details and picture to help in the search for her. The local papers printed the story and from that moment my private pain became public. Not all the reports were accurate and I felt invaded and violated by the media coverage. People I hardly knew would stop me in the street and commiserate with me and I found this awful. It was like they were enjoying my private pain although I am sure this was not the case and they only meant well. Thankfully most of the reports were intercepted by my partner but still word got back to me via well-meaning friends and it was devastating to see how my suffering had been sensationalised. I remember thinking; this must be how celebrities feel all the time.
Six weeks later and no word or sightings, it was Easter week-end I remember and as always I went to Church on Good Friday morning with my friend. I sat quietly at the back and felt an overwhelming feeling that my daughter was near to being found. My friend must have noticed something and leant towards me and whispered “You feel she may be found soon don’t you” and I replied “Yes.” All that day I felt uneasy, expectant almost and couldn’t settle to anything. The day was spent quietly and in the evening I went to see a film in the Church showing the Crucifixion from the eyes of Jesus’ mother Mary. All the way through I identified with the feelings of Mary and a great urgency came over me to go home straight away when the film was finished. I arrived home at about 10.30pm and had just sat down besides my partner and we were thinking of going to bed when a knock came at the door. I was not surprised to see two police officers come into the room and I knew what they were here for. One of these was the Senior Police Officer that had been so kind to us throughout the investigation. They did not stay long and I don’t remember the words they said but they had come to inform me that the body of a young woman had been found in the river earlier that day. She could not be formerly identified as yet for obvious reasons and when he knew for certain whether it was my daughter or not he would inform me but it could take a few days, maybe a week. The police officer was very kind and said that he didn’t call earlier as he had wanted to be the one to break the news to me himself. I found this touching especially as he had come off duty a while ago.
Days past and I can’t remember anything about them. I was in a daze, relieved almost that if it was my daughter, at least I would know for certain and know where she was. My younger daughter and I went to Birmingham to be with my grand-daughter and her daddy. It seemed the natural place to be when we heard the news all of us together supporting each other. A week went by and still no news. I came home to still no news. Feelings of wretchedness, disorientation almost swept over me. I missed my daughter so much at this time and a feeling of strangeness came over me. I became disconnected from everything and everyone. Extreme tiredness afflicted me in droves and the uncertainty of everything was almost too much to bear. I almost stopped functioning and I could not see how I could ever pick up the pieces of my shattered life and put them together again. At 10.30am on Monday 4th April 2005 I received a phone call. I was informed that there had been a positive ID using dental records and I knew beyond any further doubt that my beautiful daughter of 32 years was dead.
The next couple of weeks were busy, franticly so as the funeral arrangements were made. I asked if I could see the body but was advised not to. She had been in the water 6 weeks and I was told that the experience would not be pleasant. Even so I feel with hindsight that I should have insisted but I didn’t and instead I opted to sit with a closed coffin, which was infinitely worse as my imagination wreaked havoc with my thoughts. My younger daughter and I went together and I can remember sitting draped over the coffin desperately needing to see her, to touch her, to kiss her and caress her face. The longing was so immense and I was so close to her, only the wood of the coffin between us. The tears flowed in profusion, uncontrollably. My younger daughter was the same and we cried and cried and cried, hugging each other for comfort. It was truly awful.
I finally said “Goodbye” to my beautiful daughter on Friday 15th April 2005. It was just as I had envisaged I would have to do way back on 12th February when she disappeared. It may seem a strange thing to say but the day was a good day, a lovely service of celebration for the life of my beautiful daughter. The church was packed, bulging with friends and relations, who all had their own special memories of her. Her friends had come from all over the world to be there and this was a comfort to me in itself. There were pictures of her all over the church and most of the people that came, dressed in bright colours as I had asked them to. There was a carnival atmosphere. Her 2 year old daughter was with us and even now she refers to the day as Mummy’s going away party. I read out a poem that I had written about my beautiful daughter although a friend was waiting in the wings to take over should I not be able to do this on the day. I managed it just! To describe your daughter’s funeral as a lovely day may seem a little weird but that is exactly what it was – a lovely day and so it will remain.
It was to be nine long months before the inquest into my daughter’s death. We assembled at the Coroner’s Office on 5th October 2005 to hear an Open Verdict pronounced, although the Coroner did say that he was 90% certain that she took her own life. The Coroner was a lovely man and was extremely kind to us all. To be honest I don’t remember a lot about it all. All I can say is that it didn’t matter to me at that time what verdict was given. My daughter is still not here, she still took her own life on that awful February day, alone and wretched, believing that it was her only option, leaving me here adrift, at times unable to believe she has gone, finding it so inconceivable that such a great tragedy should enter my life. I remember thinking at that time how hard it was to understand why someone who was so treasured and loved by us all decided that she was such an ugly horrendous person that she needed to die. I believed then as now that in time she would have recovered if only she had hung on a little longer, if she could have found that extra bit of courage to see her through.
It has now been 4 years since my daughter took her own life and when I look back over that time a lot of things have happened and I am no longer the person I was before she died. The journey has been slow and painful, long and lonely and I still have much travelling yet to do. I have been looking over the diary I kept during the dark days after the funeral and I can see how much I have survived and how far I have come in those 4 years. A couple of weeks after the funeral I remember walking by the river that took her life and as I looked at the water I tried to imagine her last moments of life – how bizarre. It seemed so awful that she spent the last few weeks of her life on earth in that dirty muddy river. I wondered whether the rats nibbled at her face – what a gruesome thought. How did she die? I also thought a lot about her birth and flashes of memories from the past were with me most days. I still found it hard to make any sense of it, still do and I felt so much had been wasted. She had two degrees, she was an excellent teacher, she was gifted both artistically and musically, she was a wonderful mum and she was such a decent human being. We as a family had been through so much together and survived. We had travelled through the difficult years of childhood and adolescence and our relationship was a good one. We had developed a real bond, we had become friends. Now all that was shattered. I felt up and down most days. Sleep was hard to come by – but life went on – painfully but it did.
During this time the monthly SOBS meetings were my lifeline. I felt amongst friends and they made me feel so very safe. I felt that I could speak my innermost thoughts and no-one would bat an eyelid because they too had felt these feelings and had travelled this road, had made this lonely journey before me. I also embarked on a course of counselling sessions. This did not last long because it soon became apparent that the counsellor was completely out of her depth. She did the usual things that bereavement counsellors do – took me through the stages of grief – no she whizzed me through them. She really had no idea of what she was doing so before long I stopped going and concentrated on going to the SOBS meetings and keeping in touch with my friends there. I went back to work eventually and colleagues were very good with me as I slowly got back into “normal” life again. As I said before life went on and outwardly I did all those physical things that life expected of me. Inside however was quite a different story, there was a feeling of real searing physical pain inside my heart and grief became full-blown, overwhelming over the months ahead. At these times SOBS became my little oasis in a sea of suffering, keeping me afloat. There was sometimes uncontrollable anger and I ranted and shouted at the injustice of it all. It was a constant daily battle not to give in to self-pity and bitterness and then there was the exhaustion, mind numbing tiredness that seemed to be with me all the time. Noise affected me badly, especially very loud noise and loud boisterous people were hard to be with. Decisions were extremely difficult and if my day was not organised I simply fell apart. I was so depressed most days, eating, drinking, sleeping and functioning normally – not an illness depression, quite a natural sort of feeling but a bloody painful one.
Relationships were difficult at this time, still are, and they will never be the same again, I know this to be true. My younger daughter became so precious to me and I needed to know that she was OK all the time. If I couldn’t get hold of her for a few days I would panic big time. I had to stop myself from restricting her in this way as I know it was wrong. She in turn, felt responsible for me and needed to know that I was OK. We did become much closer as a result of our shared experience but in a strange way our journeys were separate, different. She had lost her big sister and friend and I had lost my daughter. It was as if we were travelling along the same road but not touching, not meeting. In many ways we were incapable of helping each other and we found it hard to talk about my daughter at times. This is the only way I can describe it. There were also times when I feared that I would no longer have a part in my lovely grand-daughter’s life as the relationship between her daddy and I became difficult. Thankfully this did not happen but my relationship with her is not the same as if her mum was still alive and I feel I have been robbed of that special relationship that mother, daughter and grand-daughter share. There are so many things we could have shared and done and now they will never happen. My partner, now my husband, has been my rock throughout these past 4 years. Without his constant love and support I would not be where I am today – a marvellous man in every way. He has seen me in some awful states and has just held me until the moment has passed. Certain friends both within my church family and beyond were also a constant support to me at this time. I quickly learnt which friends could handle my loss and which couldn’t and adjusted my conversation accordingly. It was not their fault. My loss was so far removed from their understanding they could not get their heads around it. I do not condemn them for this. I would probably have been the same before my experience. One particular friend who I worked with at that time was especially good. I had been back at work about a week and quite out of the blue she told me that her mum had killed herself in the canal many years ago. She told me to let me know that she sort of understood how I felt. This made me feel less of a freak and I knew from that moment that I was not alone at my work-place. One of the things to come out of all this is the surprising numbers of people that know someone who have taken their own life. My hairdresser’s father died in this way. Looking back I shall always be amazed at the sheer kindness and goodness of people around me at this time. One of my main sources of strength throughout all this has been my deep Christian faith and the certain belief that one day I will see my beautiful daughter once again. I also believe and it is some sort of comfort that her suffering and pain are now over and she happy.
Life continued relentlessly, I coped – just – I had no choice did I. My days were grey, dark, joyless, I was so vulnerable and alone, carrying the heavy burden of pain with me day after day. I functioned in a physical sense but nothing was real to me anymore. I still participated in the practical things but I existed in a sort of bubble, not touching others and they not touching me. I could not give like I used to, I had nothing inside to give. After a while those around me expected me to perk up and most of the time I obliged but deep down inside things were much worse and there was no respite. I awoke to pain, it travelled through the day with me and I took it to bed with me at night, ad infinitum. At times I felt completely fearless, able to do anything without fear. Surely the worst possible thing had now happened to me so after this nothing will ever be able to come close to hurting me again. This felt like the ultimate in suffering, any physical pain is peanuts after this. Shortly before we scattered my daughter’s ashes in the crematorium’s woodland walk I remember going to the undertakers to arrange things. I remember thinking you were so beautiful and now you are just a pile of ashes in a jar. Although I know this is not the real you but it sort of symbolises the whole futility and impossibility of the situation you have left us in. I did used to talk to her a lot at that time and in a way it was a good thing to be doing. I remember I would chat to her as I walked into town. When it was a dark day and my thoughts were so morose that I could not raise my game I would walk across the road not caring if a car hit me and killed me. I just wanted to die.
As I write this and I look back over the past 4 years, I can see things more clearly now. There is much more I could say but I have maybe said enough for now. You may ask where I am now and how am I today. Well I still feel the pain of losing my lovely daughter in this way and I probably always will. However that pain no longer rules my life and I have found a way to live, carrying the pain with me, reaching the acceptance that it may always be with me and I may never completely get over the death of my child. I have gained a certain strength from all this suffering and I have learnt to live a day at a time. Since my daughter died, I take nothing for granted, there are no certainties in this life anymore for me – anything can happen. I am grateful for every scrap of happiness that comes my way. My beautiful daughter is always with me, in my thoughts all the time and I still talk to her often. Yes I am surviving and will continue to do so. Her birthday continues to be the worst day of year for me, so I have developed a strategy to get me through. My younger daughter and I climb a mountain to celebrate the day of her birth – it works for us. Family gatherings are difficult. My family is so small now and to see mums, daughters and grand-children together is especially painful. And yet I am surviving and although I may at times wobble a little bit my journey continues day by day. I know that I will never be the person I was before my daughter took her own life, I have changed beyond recognition and will continue to do so. I travel on with the expectation that one day I will make some sort of sense of this tragedy. Until then I live my life as best I can and as fully as I am able, keeping busy, grateful for the kindness and love of friends and family who have been my ever present help and support.
Jean Bennett July 2009