Bereaved by Suicide: Kate’s story

September 2023

To mark Suicide Awareness Month, WAY member Kate shares how she is determined to turn the devastating loss of her partner Matt into a positive force to help people talk more openly about death and suicide. Here is Kate’s story…

Kate and her partner MAtt

I had absolutely no idea that Matt was struggling. There were no outward signs that anything was wrong. We met three and a half years ago. Friends commented on how our relationship was like a fairytale romance and I felt like we lived in our own bubble where we didn’t really need anyone else. We even embraced the lockdowns because it meant we got to spend so much time together. He moved in and we had plans to sell my house. We had an appointment with an estate agent lined up for January, and we were excited about a fresh start in the Peak District. Matt was seemingly happy with our relationship and with his job…

Everything seemed perfectly normal on Christmas Day. Matt had given me a beautiful photo album with 300 pictures and the words: “Matt and Kate: The journey so far”. He bought us dancing lessons for January, knowing how much I loved Strictly Come Dancing. That evening, he mentioned having a headache, went to bed early, and I joined him later. We talked about the photo album, and he promised to make me one every three years…

I woke up that night to find Matt snoring beside me. I went downstairs to sleep on the couch to get some rest, and when I returned, he was breathing normally. It was only when I woke up on Boxing Day morning that I realised something was wrong. It was extremely traumatic. My three grown up boys were home because it was Christmas, so they witnessed the trauma as well. I can’t even imagine what they went through and I am so incredibly proud of them. They tried to perform CPR. After that it was a just a massive blur of police and paramedics.

I thought Matt had had a heart attack. We didn’t know it was suicide. We didn’t find out until three days later, when he sent a delayed email to his Mum and one of his sisters. His sister rang me and I didn’t believe it. I was completely in denial. It was a double trauma – first finding him, then finding out the truth.

Your world implodes

Everything just explodes – your whole world just implodes in a split second.

I questioned myself constantly in the first months, wondering why I didn’t see it, why he didn’t talk to me. He mentioned in his note that the last three years were the happiest in his life, but it wasn’t enough. I was haunted by thoughts of why I wasn’t enough for him. 

"It took a lot of therapy and conversations with others to make me realise it wasn’t me. It wasn’t my fault."

Being bereaved to suicide is torturous and there are so many conflicting emotions. One moment, I felt profound sadness for Matt, that he didn’t feel he could ask for help, and the next, I felt anger. How could you do this to me? How could you leave me and your children behind? 

I don’t think it’s a logical decision. I don’t think it can be because he was the kindest, most helpful and most lovely person who would do anything for anybody. Why would he make the choice to cause such devastation to so many people? Some people say it’s a selfish decision but I don’t think it’s selfish at all because the person who took their own life is not the person who loved you. It’s an illness. Matt and I talked all the time and I didn’t see that side of him. I loved him. He could have told me anything. I would have done anything for him.

It’s challenging to explain the depth of emotions to those who haven’t experienced it. I’m not trying to say my grief is worse than others’. It’s not grief wars. My therapist would say it’s a whole different level of grief. 

One of the most difficult aspects is the persistent questioning of why he didn’t tell me. Did he not trust me? Did he not love me? I kept replaying our memories, wondering if he truly meant the things he said. But even if Matt was sitting here, he probably wouldn’t be able to give me answers. Obviously, a lot was going on in his head that he didn’t understand either.

One of the other challenges of losing a partner to suicide is that it’s still seen as a stigma by some people. Some people just find it really difficult to know how to talk about it. They don’t know what to say.

Finding people who understand

In the early days, I was desperate to talk to anybody who had been bereaved. I got in touch with the peer support network WAY Widowed and Young quite early because I knew a lady who had been widowed after their husband had a heart attack. I joined a Zoom call for new WAY members and met a lady whose husband had died the day after Matt. We have been friends ever since.

Then gradually along the way, I’ve read people’s posts on the online groups and reached out to some other people. I’ve brought together a group of people and we support each through a WhatsApp group and monthly meet ups. Sometimes I dip into local events but I still find going out in the evenings quite difficult. I am much better during the day. It doesn’t matter to me that the people I’ve met through WAY haven’t been bereaved by suicide because, at the end of the day, we’ve all lost our person. And that’s the thing that has brought us together and I so grateful for their friendship and support and so happy that they are in my life.

"Navigating grief involves discovering your safe people and places, not being too hard on yourself, and recognising that grief doesn’t follow a set timeline." 

Some days will be better than others, and that’s OK. Sometimes it’s literally enough to put one foot in front of another. You need to remember to look after yourself, even when your instant reaction is to protect and care for others, especially if you have children.

Helping others

It was my 50th birthday in May and I knew I didn’t want to celebrate so I thought the next best thing was to help other people. I came up with the idea of walking 50km with four very good friends who have been there for me since day one to raise funds for three different charities: WAY Widowed and Young, the child bereavement charity Winston’s Wish and a local bereavement charity called CHUMS. We’ve raised nearly £1,000 for each of the three charities.

I feel so passionate about people getting support because I just don’t think we talk about death enough. I think people don’t want to face it. 

"People don’t want to talk about it – but we need to talk about it." 

I encourage everyone to talk to their children. Talk to your friends. I want people to know this is not the only choice they have. There’s got to be another way. I wish none of this had happened – but if I can help just one other person, I know Matt would be incredibly proud of me.

WAY Ambassador Diane has also shared her story to raise awareness of the support to those who have been bereaved by suicide and to anyone who has been widowed young.