MIND THE GAP - "How did Daddy stop himself from breathing"
By Caroline Roodhouse
If I could go back in time, I would ask him how he intends this question to be answered.
And the hundreds of other equally heartbreaking questions our little girl has asked since he chose to go.
"Why didn’t he tell us he was going to do that?"
"Why did he fall asleep in his car?"
"Why didn’t he leave us a letter?"
"Why didn’t he say goodbye to me?"
"What should I tell my friends about Daddy?"
When we bring a new life into this world, we do it together, a lifelong commitment to nurture and love them forever. To work as a team to shape our babies into brilliant little people.
So when our daughter asks questions like this, questions brought about by his actions, and he isn’t there to help answer them, what do I do? What do I say? How do I stop crying long enough to speak? And how do I know if I’m saying the right thing?
When Steve and I met, he was easy-going, patient, calm-natured and chilled out. He was a happy-go-lucky kind of guy. He was a natural, hands-on dad, and he thrived on it. At work, he was a well-respected and inspiring leader and mentor.
We had to deal with a lot of difficult stuff over the years, and we had low points, but Steve always bounced back, and never spoke about the effect things had on him.
Things had started looking better for Steve at work, after a period of not really enjoying his job, and I didn't have any inkling, when he left on the first day of his new role, of what was to come.
During the morning, I had a call from his office to say he hadn’t turned up. I assumed the car had broken down or he’d had an accident. Even though it hadn’t happened before – we’d always messaged each other – I wasn’t panicking, but his colleague in HR seemed keen to phone the police. She contacted them at lunchtime, and it was then I began to worry.
Steve never came home that night and the police treated it as a low priority case. Having checked the shed and the loft they weren’t doing much more to find him. I put a post on Facebook, and my company, Alive With Ideas, reached out to its social community for help. I was told by the police that in the majority of cases, the person is found. They just need some time away.
On the Wednesday, the police arrived outside. Something was different. There were two officers, not one. They were wearing hats and looked more official.
They told me they had found Steve in his car, ten minutes down the road in a wooded area. It was clear he’d taken his own life. The shock was devastating.
I was told by the charities and professionals to be open and honest with the girls about what had happened to avoid breaking their trust if they later found out the truth.
I told Evie and Ada that Daddy’s brain wasn’t working, he wasn’t well and he died – and that was OK until they began to ask questions like the ones above. Evie was 8 and Ada was 2, so they were naturally curious. About six weeks later, Evie asked how he’d taken his own life. Explaining the method he used was excruciatingly painful for both of us, she was upset enough for me to know she understood – but she bravely carried on. She had no other option.
That brutal honesty was important in making sure there was no confusion or unanswered questions. They cannot be left to fill in their own gaps and sugar coating stuff is not an option.
So, for four years I’ve been an exhausted solo parent; cooking, cleaning, working, healing, covid-ing, frantically worrying and endlessly loving them alone. But the hardest part by far is managing the moment the questions come that stop my heart from beating. And the acceptance that I can never answer any of them.
We need to make people more aware that suicide is a permanent thing – not just a moment in time for the person suffering or their loved ones. There’s no going back, and there is a lifelong impact on the people left behind. I didn’t sign up to be a single mum. It’s lonely and it’s hard work. When I redid my will, I realised that, if I die, my girls are left as orphans. The pressure to love them, provide a home and keep them safe is never-ending.