After three years of making do with a logo ‘cobbled together’ from a random image of tree branches, we have decided it is about time for Suicide Bereaved Network’s image to have a complete makeover. We have engaged a talented professional designer to work with us, but we need your input to make sure our final design is the best it can be, and that it represents as broad a range of experiences and perspectives as possible.
A huge Thank you to those of you who have already taken our three-minute mini-survey. Your input is so helpful and has given us so many great ideas. It will ensure that the final logo will truly resonate with people who have lost a loved one to suicide.
A very special thanks to those of you who have shared your thoughts in the comments section of the survey. These comments really get to the heart of the problems of designing our logo. Just as the stigma around suicide makes it difficult to talk about it, it seems the same stigma makes it difficult to represent our shared experience in visual form.
Your comments so far cover a wide range of opinions, some of them contradictory – but that is only to be expected! Some of you prefer images of flowers, butterflies or doves, while others say the logo needs to express the pain of loss. Some want an image that expresses hope or recovery, while others emphasise the idea of a community coming together to support each other. Some mention the importance of representing the idea of ‘the big Why’.
What do you think our logo should include? If you identify as having experienced a suicide bereavement, and if you can spare two or three minutes of your time, please complete our brief anonymous Logo survey now.
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day and to mark it we would like to present an everyday vignette showing how suicide can present in the workplace, and ask what would your advice be for the well-meaning supervisor at the centre of the story?
You are a new supervisor in an office-based job, in which you are still finding your feet and uncertain of your role. Your line manager is proving difficult and unsupportive and generally seems lacking in the ‘softer skills’.
You notice that a young staff member, Becky, aged about twenty, seems withdrawn and vulnerable and you want to offer help. Becky reports to someone else on the team, and your chances of interacting with her in the course of the working day are slight.
However, you run into Becky during a quiet moment at the coffee machine which gives you an opportunity to have a word with her. You ask ‘How’s everything going?’ and add ‘If you ever need to chat or have any problems, anything at all, just pop by my office’. She never does.
You’ve also noticed Sarah, late thirties, who carries a small yellow rucksack with a big smiley face and exudes an intensity that may hint at some inner turmoil. One afternoon Sarah comes into your office.
She’s clearly troubled but hesitates to speak. Then she blurts out her worries about Becky who has just disclosed that she attempted suicide the previous night. Sarah adds that Becky fortunately didn’t know how to cut her wrists ‘properly’ and so has not hurt herself badly.
You desperately try to recall what training you’ve had to deal with a situation like this and realise you’ve had none. You realise that you must deal with this immediate situation on your own…
Christmas always makes me think of Niall, my brilliant, quixotic, sensitive and troubled partner who died by suicide in the year 2001. He died in early February, traditionally the beginning of spring in the Celtic calendar, when memories of Christmas and New Year still linger in our minds. For me this time of year inevitably brings memories of our last Christmas, which we spent together in our rented London flat. I begged that we might visit my family for the holiday, but Niall insisted that he would not be able to cope with the travel and the hurly burly of my large, boisterous clan. I knew this was true, and to leave him on his own would have been unthinkable. So we two spent Christmas 2000 together but alone.
Niall had always hated Christmas. The questions from
colleagues and friends about where he would spend the holiday – the expectation
that we would go ‘home’ to Ireland. But that final Christmas, he did try to get
into the festive spirit. He bought a tiny tree and decorated it with two
strands of tinsel, one white, one red. He also bought a silly Santa toy, on an
elasticated cord, which went ‘ho ho ho’ when twirled around. We exchanged cards
and gifts and shopped for festive food. We had duck with all the trimmings, followed
by mince pies, pudding and cake.
After Niall died I gathered up everything he had, every letter, every note, every knick-knack, and stored it all in boxes. Every item, however trivial while he was alive, now took on a new and profound significance. The compass he used for our occasional hiking expeditions; his medication dispenser; his travel card. So it is that I still have the strand of red tinsel that he bought for his little Christmas tree. To me it forever means Christmas. I smile to think of him going to the Pound Shop to buy in the things that would make us a Happy Christmas.
In the past few days I’ve found myself remembering another
aspect of that last Christmas with Niall – the last Christmas card he had given
me. I remembered that it had a beautiful, but very lonely, image of a snowy
woodland path. Reflecting on this memory, I wondered how on earth anyone had
designed a festive card with such a lonely theme. Searching through my boxes of
Niall’s things today I found the card. The image was as lonely and as lovely as
I had remembered: a deserted snowy woodland path. But for the first time, I
noticed that it was not, in fact, a Christmas card. It was a blank-for-your-own-message
card that happened to feature a beautiful snow scene.
I remember the moment when Niall gave me the card. I opened
the envelope eagerly, but instead of feeling joyful, I was overwhelmed with
dismay and fear. I blurted “oh it’s lovely Niall thank you!”, as I hastily placed
it on the mantelpiece with the other cards. Perhaps strangely, I then
completely forgot about its existence. A couple of weeks after his death, it
occurred to me that he must have given me a Christmas card, and I searched for
it, to see what his final Christmas message might have been.
On re-reading the message, I understood why I had reacted with confusion and dismay on being given the card. The tone of the message was as bleak and alienated as the snowy image. Instead of the intimate or silly message that I’d expected, I found a formal, stiffly-worded note, like a letter from some distant uncle. Niall wrote “I wish you a year 2001 in which you consolidate your already impressive career achievements,…” He signs off with the awkward words “From the husband you didn’t think you would have, who is a lucky man himself. With much love”. When we first met, I was in my thirties and had told him I had been happily single and had decided I wasn’t “the marrying type”. This seems to be what Niall is referring to here, but it’s also possible to see a hint of what was to come.
Reading these words again, written in Niall’s familiar sprawling handwriting, I’m struck by the fact that nowhere in this brief message does Niall use the words “we” or “us” or our”. He hopes that “2001 is truly your year” instead of “our year” which is what he had said for every previous New Year we spent together. This card was almost certainly the last card Niall ever gave me, as his suicide happened some weeks before my birthday, and a couple of weeks before Valentine’s Day. I now see it as his farewell to me, the woman he remembered having once loved.
I think of Niall every day, and today is no different. He changed my life utterly, twice. And he left me some tinsel.
‘What Remains’ – thoughts on a creative peer support group
Among the inspirational presentations at our AGM 2018, held on 29th September in Manchester, was a showing of the remarkable and moving film, “What Remains”. Developed and co-written by Gillian Brooks and her children, the film is a courageous and deeply personal exploration of one family’s loss of a husband and father to suicide. The film now forms the basis of a creative six-week peer support group, held in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, and co-facilitated by Gillian, who is herself a bereavement counsellor, together with artist Sharon Marsden. Jeff Turner, of community arts company verd de gris writes: Continue reading “‘What Remains’ – thoughts on a creative peer support group”
A crisp early autumn day in Manchester, Saturday September 29th, saw a stalwart group of twenty members and others, undeterred by delays on the rail network, gather at the Friends’ Meeting House for the second Annual General Meeting of Suicide Bereaved Network.
What’s so wonderful at events for the suicide bereaved is the instant rapport that we all have with one another. Though some attendees were indeed old friends, within minutes of arriving everyone was drawn into a contented hum of conversation as people exchanged stories of their journeys, both to the day’s event and through the bereavement that brought us to tread this rocky, winding and sometimes lonely path.
Everyone seemed happy to talk as we presenters wrestled with setting up the technology for showing slides and videos. It had all worked perfectly when trialled at home, but there’s always an unforeseen glitch to grapple with on the day.
Following the introductions, our first speaker was Abbie Zenda (Mitchell), who is about to move on from her role as Trustee of Suicide Bereaved Network. Abbie is a mental health activist and blogger who specialises in mentoring young peer supporters, currently through her work with Fitzrovia Youth in Action. Abbie showed a short video Heart of the Matter: Suicide Taboo made by Bournemouth University students and included in a series of vlogs created with her friend Sophie. The video focused on their shared experience in losing close family members to suicide, Abbie having lost her mother when she was only fourteen, and Sophie having lost her brother more recently. Abbie went on to talk about how her personal experience and struggles inspired her to work with young people, mentoring and empowering them to support each other. She then took questions from the audience and the ensuing discussions well over-ran the allotted time, as many people were keen to learn more about how to communicate with young people about suicide loss and mental health. We thanked Abbie for her presentation and for her work for the charity in her role as trustee over the past year, and wished her well for the future.
Next to speak was Neelam Sharma who gave a very moving presentation about her son Akash, known to his friends as Sky, a very talented and caring young man who sadly took his own life at the age of twenty one. Akash was a very talented musician, even composing his own music. He was popular with everyone, and went out of his way to help his friends and neighbours. Neelam showed videos of Akash and recounted her personal experience of bereavement and how she and her husband Dinesh are coping. In response to their loss, they have set up the Sky Sharma Foundation which campaigns to raise awareness of mental health issues within the South Asian community, and works with local organisations in and around Ilford, Essex. The Sharmas work with local schools, using fun activities to help children develop awareness of their own and their friends’ mental health needs. Neelam’s story prompted great empathy and interest from the audience, and there were many questions and lively discussions of the issues raised.
After a buffet lunch, Gillian Brooks introduced the film “Let the Memory on the Vine Stay Sweet”, part of the ‘What Remains’ project by verd de gris, the community arts company from Hebden Bridge, North Yorkshire. Gillian gave a fascinating account of how this project evolved from a creative writing course she took some years after her husband’s suicide, through becoming the basis of her daughter’s performing arts course at university, to finally taking shape many years later as this wonderful film by Geoff Brokate. Each story of suicide bereavement is unique, but Gillian’s stands out as extraordinary, both in terms of the ‘story’ itself and of her response to the tragedy as it unfolded, and as she and her children seek to come to terms with the aftermath. The film is a profoundly authentic, searingly honest and ultimately transcendent exploration of Gillian’s relationship and the loss experienced by her and her children. Afterwards there were questions, and some tears, from the audience, though the work is so perfect and self-contained that questions and comment seemed almost superfluous. Gillian is protective of this very intimate piece of work, and for now only shows it at small local gatherings such as ours, where she can use it as a basis for promoting understanding of mental health and loss.
After a final round of refreshments, and a little more time to talk, reflect and network, we concluded our AGM 2018 event for another year. Huge thanks to our wonderful presenters, and also to the members and friends who attended.