Lizzie Connick, university student
When I was fourteen my mum killed herself. In my eyes this means she had a spout of incredibly painful depression and it took her life away. Nothing more, nothing less. I have never had a problem with telling people how my mum died (other than maybe the day after it happened – I couldn’t decide which phrase would make people feel more comfortable or at least less uncomfortable: ‘She took her own life’, ‘She killed herself’, ‘She committed suicide’). I don’t understand why the manner of one’s death should inform the degree of reaction or sympathy it receives. Surely death is tragic and that is that?
My secondary school was relatively small and my siblings both attended as well so most people in the school knew what happened and I didn’t have to explain my situation all the time. Going to university I came face to face with conversations like this for the first time:
‘What do your parents do?’
‘My dad’s a lawyer’
‘And your mum?’ (just a side note but I don’t know why people ask this follow up question, if I have actively left her out of my first answer, surely I don’t want to talk about it?)
‘Oh she died a few years ago actually’
‘Oh shit I’m so sorry. How?’
‘She had bad depression and so she killed herself’
‘Oh god. Wow. I’m so sorry. That’s awful.’
This is usually followed by incredibly sympathetic looks for the rest of the quite awkward conversation and then a comment like ‘you are so strong. That’s an incredible story’. I am all for receiving compliments but I really don’t think I deserve or want this one. My mum had cancer before she died and sometimes I just say she died of cancer for ease. People seem to understand how to react to this. A simple ‘I’m really sorry’ is sufficient and then we can move on. Suicide on the other hand means the death was an event, it has a backstory and it must have been dramatic.
I am not trying to attack anyone who has given me love or support. I do recognise that, although sometimes off-beat, the sentiment is there. I also mess it up sometimes. Having realised that my mum’s death makes people feel uncomfortable I now often try to joke about it. The other day my boyfriend’s mate asked me where my mum lives and I said, very bluntly, loudly and matter-of-factly, ‘Oh she’s dead’ and then we all burst into laughter – the mate looking slightly less sure of whether she should be laughing or not. It felt better. Not perfect but better.
Death is always going to be an awkward conversation – I think especially when you are young and have lost someone ‘before their time’ so to speak. However, I am really beyond feeling as though I have to justify my mum’s happiness, her brilliance and her love because of the way she died. Death and suicide do not need to be different conversations.