Scarlett's story

***Trigger warning: this blog mentions suicide***

“Would you mind if we don’t go to the circus tonight?” said my Dad with tears streaming down his face, as he hugged me tightly.

I had just arrived home from school. It was November 1966 and I was 11 years old. I did not realize that my world had just changed forever.

The telegram said “So sorry. Annabella died. Will phone 10am tomorrow. Bet”

We were in New Zealand.  Aunty Bet and Annabella were in England.  That evening was spent in shock, grief and wondering – what accident had taken her from us?

It was not until the next morning that we learned that it was not an accident, it was of Annabee’s choosing. It was suicide.

The aftermath of suicide

I don’t remember a lot of what happened for the next few months…  The emotional tsunami that overwhelmed our lives wiped out the small things, leaving only the vignettes: the memorial service, the first Christmas, the woman telling my mother ‘That was a stupid thing your daughter did”, the neighbors bringing food, the sadness and pain that was in every corner of the house threaded with the love in the family that still shone through, the constant ‘whys?’ and ‘if onlys’ that hung in the air, the feeling of isolation and the need to blame. 

There was no counseling in those days and definitely no support systems especially for something such as suicide.  We had to muddle along in our own isolated little worlds, coping the best we could.  I soon learned that I had to be careful as to who I told, as apparently, as I learned from the outside world and the way that I was treated, this was a shameful act and something to be kept as a sordid secret.  I had difficulty with this as I loved my sister and it was not possible for her to do something shameful. Even then I was aware that she must have been in horrendous pain to have made such a final choice.

The effect on an 11 year old

I was aware of how much I was like Annabella and desperately wanted to follow in her footsteps and as an 11 year old the decision that I made, that changed my life, was that I would prove to my bereaved parents that I would not do this too.– I had to prove to them that I was not like her…….and I had to save anyone else from dying too.  This slipped down into my subconscious, subtly running my life. 

How I dealt with this traumatic event

I started my training as a listener, a people pleaser, a carer and a ‘fixer’, analyzing people for their pain and at the same time battling the demons that were raging within.  I could not do enough for people.  Like a mother hen gathering her chicks, I was attracted to every broken person I found, often bringing them home to stay with me while they came out of the darkness.

Eventually this weighed me down.  I was young, I needed to break out.  When I met a jester and puppeteer, I saw a way of bringing light and joy to peoples lives.  This worked well for me for quite some time, however 10 years later I was very aware that in the comedy and theatre world, under the laughter was often much unprocessed sadness – including my own. I had personal work to do.

27 years after Annabella, another family member died by his own hand – my lovely gentle 15 year old nephew, Jeremy.  Another emotional tsunami. 

The following year I attended no less than 9 funerals, some but not all, were suicides.  I was able to sit easily with the families of the bereaved, it did not frighten me, it felt familiar.  There I learned that sometimes there is no ‘fixing’.  Some things cannot be fixed.  Sometimes all we can do for each other is to be there, to be present.

Another family member became at risk, though after an attempt, we were blessed by her choosing to stay with us. We are still blessed with her today.

What I did to help myself

How do you counteract death?  One way is to balance it with life.  I became a midwife.  Followed by training as a counselor, followed by many personal development and trauma recovery courses and trainings. I counseled, coached, mentored, stayed with and companioned people through their big life changing events.  I developed and facilitated workshops in conscious connection and group therapy.

Living in London – one morning, our flatmate of 3 weeks took his own life – there were no signs, no signals that this was a possibility.  Again, I sat with his family, listening, answering their questions as best as I could, just being with them.  Another emotional tsunami for another family.

For those who are bereaved

For those who are left, suicide is not a shameful act, there is nothing to be guilty of, there is no blame, there is only overwhelming, excruciating, often numbing, grief.  There are many reasons why and we may never know the full story of what is happening in someone else’s head at the point they decide to leave. What we, the bereaved, need, is to move through our grief, intertwine it into our lives and make a new life as best as we can, remembering our loved ones with love. We need kindness and support.

There is not enough help and assistance for the bereaved of suicide.  I have made it my mission to do whatever I need to, to change this.

Scarlett Wallingford

October 2019, London

Seek help for yourself

If you yourself are feeling like ending your life, please call 999 or go to A&E and ask for the contact of the nearest crisis resolution team. These are teams of mental health care professionals who work with people in severe distress.

Other sources of help include:

  • Samaritans offer a 24-hours a day, 7 days a week support service. Call them FREE on 116 123. You can also email [email protected]
  • Papyrus is a dedicated service for people up to the age of 35 who are worried about how they are feeling or anyone concerned about a young person. You can call the HOPElineUK number on 0800 068 4141, text 07786 209697 or email [email protected]
  • NHS Choices: 24-hour national helpline providing health advice and information. Call them free on 111.
  • C.A.L.M.: National helpline for men to talk about any troubles they are feeling. Call 0800 58 58 58.
  • Support After Suicide Partnership offers practical and emotional support on their website for people bereaved and affected by suicide

Suicide prevention: how you can make a difference

Read about why the need for suicide prevention is as great as ever. In this blog there are also practical suggestions about how you can support others and get help for yourself.

Read the blog now