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People reveal heartbreak of multiple suicides in families

A life lost to suicide devastates the lives of those left behind and, though it’s rare, mental illness can sometimes claim the lives of not just one but several members of the same family.   

Scientists say there is no genetic link that raises the risk of suicide in families but that people who are bereaved by suicide are more likely to attempt to take their own life. 

A report published last year by the University of Manchester found that 8 per cent of people affected by suicide had self-harmed, while 38 per cent had considered taking their own life. 

A complicated grief, people are often affected by not just sadness but frustration and anger when a loved one dies by suicide, and speaking to FEMAIL women who have experienced multiple losses reveal how they went through even more pain when relationships with other loved ones broke down. 

One woman describes how her relationship with her brother went downhill after the suicides of both their parents, leaving her without sibling support and her son without an uncle or cousins. 

Another suffered terrible loss when her widowed mother took her own life, followed by her niece. 

Six weeks later, her grieving sister who was devastated by the loss of her daughter, ‘took the decision to remove’ her sibling from her life.  

Here, FEMAIL reveals the heartbreaking stories of women who have endured unimaginably painful loss to suicide, and how it’s continued to shape their lives and relationships. 

A report by the University of Manchester in 2020 found 38 per cent of people who’ve lost a loved one to suicide say they’ve considered taking their own life

‘There is some anger, I’ve had to pick up the pieces, I grew up with their mental illness and I’m now living with the grief…’

Mother-of-one Gill Boiling, 49, who runs a cleaning business in Milton Keynes, lost her parents in a double suicide on April 14th 2008. After ‘locking in’ her grief she decided to seek help from the support group Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS), and now runs her own branch… 

Gill Boiling, 49, from Milton Keynes, lost her mother and father to suicide after they both endured decades of mental health problems

Gill Boiling, 49, from Milton Keynes, lost her mother and father to suicide after they both endured decades of mental health problems 

Gill's parents, Ronald and Sylvia, pictured on their wedding day; both had been hospitalised with their illnesses at different times during her childhood

Gill’s parents, Ronald and Sylvia, pictured on their wedding day; both had been hospitalised with their illnesses at different times during her childhood

A week before my parents died, it was my mum’s 61st birthday. My dad, Ronald, was just approaching his 64th. I hadn’t stayed with them since I left home at 18 but Mum was keen to celebrate and we spent the weekend at their home in Buckingham. 

My brother was there, with his two young daughters, and my son, Dane, too, who was seven at the time. I remember it was snowing and we had snowball fights and a lovely time together. 

My son was seven when they died and I was a single parent; I had to be strong and think about him – it felt like his family had been wiped out in a week…

I was a Daddy’s girl growing up – we lived on a farm and when I was little I’d go and milk the cows before school with him. 

When that weekend was over and it was time to go home, I told my Dad I loved him, something I hadn’t said since I was a kid. When I walked to the car, my mum just kept looking at me.

Both of my parents had mental health problems. Dad was bi-polar and mum, Sylvia, suffered with depression. They would be hospitalised when I was young but rarely at the same time, my dad would get sectioned and my mum would spend weeks in hospital. My brother and I would go and stay with our grandparents; I didn’t really know what was going on. 

They both tried to take their own lives on a few occasions when I was younger – I think I hoped as a child it was something that would just eventually get better. We had really good times too, I loved seeing the animals being born on the farm – not everyone experiences that. 

The Boiling family lived on a farm during Gill's childhood and she says she enjoyed many happy times despite her parents' individual illnesses

The Boiling family lived on a farm during Gill’s childhood and she says she enjoyed many happy times despite her parents’ individual illnesses

Both Ronald and Sylvia (pictured) had attempted to take their own lives on previous occasions before their deaths in 2008

Both Ronald and Sylvia (pictured) had attempted to take their own lives on previous occasions before their deaths in 2008

Days before they took their own lives, I spoke to Mum, she was agitated and I agreed we’d speak again later in the week. 

On the Saturday, I went with a friend and our children to the cinema, and emerged to find a voicemail from Mum. She said: “Your dad and I are packing up and we’re going.” Anyone else might have thought that meant away for a trip, but I just knew.

The policewoman at the door didn’t say straight away they’d found them, just that I needed to get to the hospital. That hesitation meant that for a moment, there was a feeling of relief that they might be okay. 

Mum was found dead at the scene and Dad passed away days later in hospital. I was 36 at the time. I’d always felt that ‘whatever life throws at you, just deal with it’. My son was so young when they died and I was a single parent; I had to be strong and think about him – it felt like his family had been wiped out in less than a week.

Single parent Gill says she felt some frustration at her parents' double suicide - and struggled with the fact that her young son had lost his only grandparents

Gill's son, Dane, now; she says she waited 11 years - until he had finished his GCSEs - to tell him the truth about his grandparents

Single parent Gill says she felt some frustration at her parents’ double suicide – and struggled with the fact that her young son had lost his only grandparents. Right: Gill’s son, Dane, now; she says she waited 11 years – until he had finished his GCSEs – to tell him the truth about his grandparents’ death

My relationship with my brother deteriorated after we lost Mum and Dad, and so my son lost contact with his cousins too. I sat him down at the time and told him they were ill and they’d died. How can you sit a seven-year-old down and explain the real reason? 

After his GCSEs, I decided to tell him the truth – I’d kept it a secret for 11 years. He was devastated. 

I’ve had my bad days, but I’ve never got low enough to consider suicide. There is some anger, I’ve had to pick up the pieces, I grew up with their mental illness and I’m now living with the grief. 

Eventually, I noticed I was starting to get irritated and angry, and I decided I needed help, I looked online and found Survivors of Bereavement (SOBS).  

It’s been a positive experience for me, SOBS don’t make you talk, but they always listen when you do. After attending monthly meetings, I set up a SOBS group where I live in Milton Keynes. 

This year, I’m hoping to perform a charity song with local schoolchildren to raise money and I took part in a charity walk to mark the 10th anniversary of their deaths. I’m hoping that my experiences will help others who’ve experienced similar losses.      

To contact Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS), visit uksobs.org or call 0300 111 5065 

‘On the final night of Mum’s life, I was rude to her about a quiche she’d baked. It took me decades to forgive the grumpy teenager I was…’ 

Karen Cox, who recently left a career in commercial banking, lost her niece Leah to suicide aged just 16 in 2017. In 1984, her mother, Sylvia, consumed by the loss of Karen’s father, Mav, in a car accident, took her own life…  

Karen Cox's mother Sylvia took her own life in February 1984 after losing her husband, Karen's father, Mav, in a car crash two years earlier. In 2017, Karen's teenage niece, Leah, also died by suicide after two years of mental health problems

Karen Cox’s mother Sylvia took her own life in February 1984 after losing her husband, Karen’s father, Mav, in a car crash two years earlier. In 2017, Karen’s teenage niece, Leah, also died by suicide after two years of mental health problems

Tragedy: Karen's mother, Sylvia, consumed by grief ended her life in 1984, leaving Karen, then 18, and her younger sister, Annette, then 15, living alone in the family home

Tragedy: Karen’s mother, Sylvia, consumed by grief ended her life in 1984, leaving Karen, then 18, and her younger sister, Annette, then 15, living alone in the family home 

‘If it was possible to rename suicide, I’d choose the words ‘loss of hope’, it feels like an accurate description of the way both my mother, Sylvia, and my niece, Leah, felt before ending their lives.

Karen, pictured, says losing family members to suicide means 'true peace forever eludes their loved ones'

Karen, pictured, says losing family members to suicide means ‘true peace forever eludes their loved ones’

By the time my teenage years were over, my sister and I had lost our parents. Both were in their thirties. My Dad died in a car crash in 1982 and my mother, Sylvia, took her own life on February 9th 1984.

The grief at losing her husband sparked a deep and dark depression; she was never officially diagnosed with ADHD but I suspect she would be if she were alive today. 

She was prone to fearlessness and impulsiveness, which proved a fatal combination for someone who is grieving and has lost hope.

The night she died, it was a cold winter’s day. I’d been to my day job and was getting ready to go to the pub where I worked a few nights a week. 

A typical 18-year-old – mostly happy but sometimes stroppy! – I was, to my shame rude to her when she told me she’d baked me a quiche with onion in it. 

She had forgotten I didn’t like onion and, even now, tears well up as I recall that memory. It would take me many decades to forgive the teenager I was for the grumpiness that night.

My lovely 15-year-old sister, Annette, stayed home with mum, and I began my shift. 

‘People who are bereaved by suicide are 1.7 times more likely to try and take their own life…’ 

Sarah Bates, Executive Lead at Support After Suicide Partnership, discussed with FEMAIL how multiple suicides can affect families…  

HOW COMMON IS IT FOR FAMILIES TO ENDURE MORE THAN ONE BEREAVEMENT TO SUICIDE? 

Says Sarah: ‘Suicide is complex and rarely caused by one thing, as such it’s very difficult to say. There is no genetic link, but we know that people who are bereaved by suicide are 1.7 times more likely to try, with around 1 in 10 of those impacted making an attempt.

‘We do hear reports of families who have lost more than one person to suicide, possibly in part because the experience of being bereaved by suicide can be so traumatic, but there’s still more we’re yet to understand.’

HOW IS GRIEF MADE MORE COMPLEX BY SUICIDE? 

Complicated grief: feelings of confusion and anger are common in those bereaved by suicide

Complicated grief: feelings of confusion and anger are common in those bereaved by suicide 

‘Losing someone you love in any circumstance is hard, and when it’s by suicide it can be devastating’, Sarah explains.

‘Anger is a normal response, as are many other thoughts and feelings including shame, distress, guilt, rejection and isolation. 

‘These may be complicated, confusing, and upsetting, so it’s important to remember however you’re feeling is normal, valid, and that you’re not alone in experiencing these thoughts – others are too.’

HOW MIGHT THOSE AFFECTED COME TO TERMS WITH THE DEATH OF MULTIPLE FAMILY MEMBERS TO MENTAL HEALTH STRUGGLES? 

‘Often when a person is suicidal,’ says Sarah, ‘They can lose sight of life ever feeling OK again, and can’t see a way through things, however it’s important to know that these feelings are temporary, and they will pass. It’s also important to remember that help and support is available.

‘There are so many resources out there, including our free Help Is At Hand booklet, but everyone has different needs and people cope in many different ways. 

‘We always encourage people to open up and talk about how you are feeling. This may initially seem difficult, but we know this can have a massively positive impact, which can be life-changing – and in some instances lifesaving.’ 

For anyone who has been bereaved by suicide, there are dedicated Suicide Bereavement Support Services across the country.  

To help find your local service, visit supportaftersuicide.org.uk

 

Around 10pm, two police officers arrived at the pub and I was taken into a back office; I was seized by fear that a false allegation was about to be made against me. 

When they told me Mum had died at home in our garage, time momentarily froze.

My sister and I, then aged 15 and 18, lived together alone in the house for another two years. We couldn’t bear to go into the garage ever again. 

We threw a lot of parties and our friends were sometimes jealous of our independence but we would have 100 per cent traded that in to have our parents back.

The loss of someone in the family to suicide impacted my adored niece, Leah, but not in the way that most people would think. Not having a maternal granny, or indeed a maternal grandad, Leah was missing key people in her ‘support team’.

When the going got tough, there were less people for Leah to turn to although those closest; her parents (divorced), paternal grandparents, and close friends dearly wish she had turned to us rather than to suicide.

Leah’s death, due to loss of hope, in May 2017, devastated family, friends and her fellow students. Suffering from chronic anxiety, the reason for which she never revealed to her CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service) counsellor, Leah suffered psychologically for two years before death. 

The impact of both losses on my sister’s and my life has been horrendous; it feels like the worst nightmare one could possibly have. 

Through the love of wonderful friends, support from my church and the pastoral care of my employer, I’ve emerged from difficult and dark times and I am now passionate about helping those that are suicidal, supporting people that have been bereaved by suicide and working with higher risk groups such as the homeless. 

Sadly, six weeks after Leah died, my sister and her husband took the decision to remove me from their lives – but I do know that my dear sister continues to suffer terribly. 

As a way forward I undertook Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) – and have helped to stop two potential bridge suicides since. Last year I was appointed a Mental Health First Aider at work, as part of a new initiative for my employer.

I relive the suicides and the lead up over, and over again. When someone dies by suicide, those left behind never stop asking themselves “If I had done something differently would they still be here?” 

The person who has gone is finally free from their torment but true peace forever eludes their loved ones. A fate the person who lost hope would never ever have wanted for them. 

Some names have been changed to protect identities 

If you have been bereaved by suicide, supportaftersuicide.org.uk offers help and support. Anyone can contact Samaritans free any time from any phone on 116 123. Or you can email jo@samaritans.org or visit samaritans.org for more information.

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