Shocking, isn’t it?
Childhood, they say, are the best years of your life. Unfortunately, my childhood had two significant blows before I could celebrate my tenth birthday. It’s strange how a lot of people who may read this could feel like looking away or feel their stomach turn at the very first word.
For many, suicide is a very heavy and even taboo subject; one that’s not always talked about, masked from society to remove the dust from the picture that is the world. There are many prominent by-products of this avoided subject: shock, trauma, anger, guilt, fear, anxiety and sadness.
To this day I recall the treacherous drive to my cousin’s house. We raced to Inverness in a little car, like a cheetah on the hunt. I got out of the car and was quickly ushered past the cloud of people outside. I was confused, why was nobody going about their day-to-day life? Something isn’t right, flushed faces all around. Why are they all behaving like they are part of a military operation? I rushed inside and went to play with my little cousin. I instinctively knew it was time to stay out of the way.
My mum asked me to come and sit with her on the sofa, my entire family towering over us, like we were the main characters in a movie.
“Orlagh, your cousin Calum has passed away, he’s dead.” said mum. Those words pierced the silence in the room, it was as if time had stopped. Her words echoed through different parts of my mind, trying to find their way out of the maze, but they didn’t.
“Oh,” I whispered.
How was a nine-year-old supposed to feel? I didn’t know what to say or think, I was emotionless at the time. Whilst I was stuck in my own thoughts, everyone around me crumbled down in sadness, crying, deafening wailing, some pacing the floor or leaving the room. I thought I had to be like them. Am I supposed to cry?
I’m not sure how long it took but when it sunk in I felt sad, really really sad. My mind couldn’t understand what had happened to Calum, but I knew I’d never ever see him again.
Looking back, it must have taken a lot of courage to tell a little nine-year-old such awful news. I was so young and so innocent. Of course, I knew what death was, but Calum wasn’t old, he wasn’t visibly poorly, it wasn’t his time. As a family, we are very close, so it can’t have been easy for anyone to see me being told. I mean, come on, how do you even begin to tell a nine-year-old about suicide? While growing up, I have always been taught that it’s better to be upfront about things; especially to young children. There’s no point in trying to hide it because they find out one way or another. Whether that be from listening to conversations or finding things and reading them.
I asked over and over what had happened: how did Calum die? I was told I had to wait for the postmortem. There were so many new words that I didn’t understand: postmortem, undertaker, CID, toxicology, cremation. I was so confused.
Three days earlier I had been talking to Calum about my walk up Fyrish. Then the next thing I know, he's gone. My family thought it would be better for me to go back to school the next day; however, on the day I returned, an older boy in school told me Calum had killed himself. That really upset me. I couldn’t believe how stupid this boy was; people do not hurt themselves, not in my world they don’t.
I was wrong, the truth is that people do self-harm, people do actually kill themselves.
The day I found out the truth, I was in the doctor's surgery with mum. I was reading the posters on the wall. There was a mixture of things on the wall, parent groups, dementia care, and one on self-harm.
“Do people actually hurt themselves mum?” I asked. In that small moment, I somehow managed to create the perfect window for my mum to tell me the truth. She told me that people do self-harm, and that sometimes people get so unwell they kill themselves. It was just the two of us in the waiting room but it was there that day that the world of suicide met mine.
“This is how Cousin Calum died Orlagh, he took his own life.” Silence, before once again, all I could quietly mutter was ‘oh’.
Life has changed since that day, my family and especially my mum started educating themselves. They researched suicide and mental health issues further and tried to find ways they could help others. I feel I suddenly grew up, I had to. The surrounding sadness was difficult, watching my whole family in so much pain. Christmas’, birthdays and every family gathering will never be the same. I have so much more empathy now: when I hear other sad or tragic stories I can feel it. I have learned a lot about poor mental health and I am even more careful with words that I use in certain conversations.
Since the suicide, I have become more aware than some of my peers that things aren’t always as they appear and that being kind really can help someone out. Hopefully, I am now more welcoming to people that maybe my friends would ignore. I know how important it is to have a healthy mind and that because you can’t see a broken mind it doesn’t mean it's not there. I have witnessed situations where my family has helped others out, step by step being a support when tragedy hits. Losing Calum has made me want to be a better person. It has also given me hope that mental health services are slowly starting to get better.