Hannah's story | Cruse Bereavement Care

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Hannah came to Cruse for support following the death of her mother by suicide in 2018. She had only given birth to her second child just six months before, and was also looking after her son who was just three years old. Here, Hannah tells us about her experiences and the support she received from Cruse.

In 2018 I lost my mum to suicide. It never really gets less surreal summing it up in a little sentence like that. I was on maternity leave at the time. My baby was six months old. My son was ten days from his fourth birthday. 
 
The day after, we asked the police how we should go about seeking psychological support. They advised speaking to the coroner’s office who would be able to direct us to counselling services. We did this, but the coroner’s office said the police were mistaken, they couldn't help. They suggested we try our GP. My conversations with other bereaved people since suggests that this lack of signposting isn't uncommon. I think just a leaflet or a phone number would made the world of difference. And without anything, people are left really vulnerable. 

How did you first hear about Cruse?

It’s difficult to explain the state of my cognitive functioning in the immediate aftermath. I couldn’t write a shopping list. I couldn’t recall what I had done the previous day. I have never been so reliant on a calendar. I couldn’t process, remember, plan, organise, order. To try and navigate counselling services in this state was like wading through treacle. Despite this, I managed to find Cruse reasonably quickly, firstly through my own internet searches, and then through a handful of information leaflets given to me by a friend. This included the Cruse booklet Bereaved by Suicide which was simple enough for my foggy mind to process, but significant in terms of providing me with my first steps into this new world.
 
I telephoned my local branch and spoke to a woman named Margaret, who I'll always remember as being so gentle and calm. I referred myself easily over the phone and she told me there was a drop in session on Monday afternoons if I needed it whilst I was waiting for support. It turned out I definitely did need it, and I was there the following Monday with my Dad and my baby, both of us muddling numbly through details of the situation to Margaret. It was an invaluable stop-gap. 

In every day life my grief and the circumstances of the bereavement could feel like a huge anvil I carried round on my shoulders and tried not to drop clumsily into conversation.

What were your initial feelings about getting support from Cruse?

I had my first counselling session with Alan, a few weeks later. I had never had counselling before and didn't know what to expect. With two young children, all the normal admin that a death generates, as well as the additional contact with the police, coroner's office and media that comes with a suicide, there were a lot of plates to keep spinning. The sessions felt like timetabled respite. A protected window in the diary to pause, debrief, take stock. They quickly became a safe and necessary space to try and make sense of what was happening. 

How did Cruse support you? And what did you learn about grief?

The first thing I learnt is that it’s complicated. There are whole bodies of research, theories, and models around grief, bereavement and suicide. I found this new learning healing. I know this is largely due to Alan, my volunteer, and his phenomenal skill in being able to take this scary and complex subject matter and bring it into the room in a way that was accessible, manageable, and safe. It enabled me to gain insight and understanding about the enormity of what I was going through. I was able to recognise, and acknowledge the emotional and physical impact of grief, in myself and those around me. I am grateful for Alan’s integrity that ensured that the process remained flexible, with more support provided when needed (for example around the time of the inquest) and more space when I was stronger and more able to independently reflect and develop coping mechanisms for “the real world”.

What was the impact on your family and how did Cruse support with that?

One of the things I was most anxious about was how to manage my children’s needs in the midst of grief. My baby, breastfed and awake half the night, needed me to be present and keep functioning. My son needed his routine, he needed me to guide him through his own loss, he needed help to understand. I felt very keenly the pressure on me to “get it right” and do everything I could to limit the damage to them. Support from Cruse helped enable me to do this in several ways. Firstly, it hugely contributed to meeting my own needs. I recognised early on that I could only care for my children if I cared for myself. Secondly, Alan was able to teach me about grief at different stages of development. This helped me understand how the bereavement was likely to affect each of my children, to what degree they would be capable of understanding, how this might change over time, how their grief might manifest in different behaviours. If I had been reliant of gaining this information from a book or my own research, I would still be trying to gather and understand the information now, long after the knowledge needed to be applied.
 
About a year ago I attended a Facing the Future group, which is a support group developed by Cruse and the Samaritans for people bereaved by suicide. It was six sessions over six weeks with the same small group of people who had each experienced a loss by suicide. I remember feeling quite overwhelmed in the first session, because the level of grief in room was so intense. But over the weeks, it became more comfortable to acknowledge that. I always felt exhausted after the group, but in a strange way, a little lighter too. In every day life my grief and the circumstances of the bereavement could feel like a huge anvil I carried round on my shoulders and tried not to drop clumsily into conversation. In the group, we could be honest about the scale of the devastation we felt. Our experiences were all different but there was a commonality that made me feel less isolated, less unusual compared to the rest of the world. 

What has the longer term impact been?

Over the last couple of years I've become more aware of the negative life outcomes people can be at risk of following a traumatic bereavement (PTSD, social isolation, poor physical health, difficulties returning to employment etc.). For me, my engagement with Cruse was an attempt to arm myself with as many tools as possible. To give myself the best chance of being able to achieve some reasonable quality of life after this trauma. 
 
It's a work in progress. These days I feel like I move less chaotically between the different aspects of my grief. I am grateful to have had such a wonderful mum. I'm comforted every day by the legacy of all the love and nurturing she put into our family. I will always be devastated by the circumstances of her death. Our lives are filled with many many moments of joy, but our loss continues to be profound, debilitating at times. I think what Cruse has helped me to do is acknowledge that. To try and make room for it all. Balance all these things as best I can. And for that, I am very thankful.