Lawrence died by suicide when he was eighteen years old. His cousin Melissa and her son Theo talk about how his death affected them and how they’ve been supported by Child Bereavement UK.

Melissa

Child Bereavement UK has given Theo the words to use about how he feels because, being young, he didn’t really have the words. They encouraged him to talk about it and being given the opportunity to talk to other children about it has been really healing.

My cousin Lawrence died by suicide when he was only 18 years old. He was mature but also quite young because he wasn’t affected, as in trying to be cool or anything like that. He was a gentle person who was very in touch with nature, philosophy and idealism about how the world should be. He thought that we needed to all be kinder to each other, to protect each other and the world that we lived in - that was a big focus for Lawrence.

Lawrence hadn’t been well for a while, but I never thought that it would end the way it did. We are not sure what the problem was, I think his diagnosis was severe and complex OCD. He wanted to live, he was quite pragmatic and even the night before he died he was telling his mum that he might be interested in getting into antiques. We don’t know what triggered the flashpoint that day, but he felt that he needed to carry out a mission and it was to save the world. He thought he would get superpowers when he was 18 but they didn’t come, so he thought that if he killed himself he would rise again in three days and he would then save the world. 

When we talked about Lawrence, it never felt that there would be anything final about his situation. On the day I was told that he had died it was surreal, it was shocking. I managed to hold it together for a while but then I had to pick up Theo and his older brother and I knew that I would have to tell them what had happened. I felt that I couldn’t do it at all so my sister came to my house and she told them.  How it affected them when they were told he had died is one of my most painful memories, because they had no idea that he might die.

Initially, after he first died, it was more about helping my aunty and my mum. Neither my aunt or my mum drive, I wanted to help so I became the person who drove them. I organised the funeral with my aunty and tried to find somewhere where we wanted Lawrence to be buried.

In a way, it was quite a nice time because we were all connected and we all had the same thing in mind. But it was also difficult because were choosing a grave. We went to different graveyards and chose one near to where Lawrence went to college, because that was a place that he loved.  At one point, when we were looking at the different plots, we lay down to see what the view was like lying down. It all seems a bit surreal now but at the time it was quite nice, quite healing.

What was difficult was going to view the body. I didn’t know whether I wanted to do that, it was useful but difficult. The next day it was the actual funeral. Theo was only five at the time when he walked in and he saw the coffin he fell apart. I couldn’t fall apart because I was doing a eulogy and part of me cut myself off. I can remember the priest saying: ‘Who is looking after this boy?”. That’s quite a painful memory for me, seeing Theo and my eldest son very heartbroken. It was a great celebration of a young person’s life, and that was what my aunty wanted the service to be. It was difficult but necessary.

Lawrence had been dead for a while - a couple of years - and Theo wasn’t coping so well. He had had great support from school. His teacher had recently lost her dad and so she was very empathetic towards his situation, but I just felt it would be useful for Theo to meet a professional person who knew exactly how to deal with the situation. I’m not qualified in dealing with grief or anything like that, so I thought it was important.

Theo saw Lawrence as ‘like a brother’ because he used to come to our house every half term, every Christmas was celebrated with him, every birthday celebration he was there, every occasion in our life Lawrence was there.  Then all of a sudden that’s gone. and you’ve got to learn to live without that person there; there is a gap, there is a void and it’s never going to be filled.

We were referred to Child Bereavement UK by CAMHS because Theo was feeling a lot of anxiety because I think it was the first time Theo realised that somebody might possibly think about taking their own life.

We were offered support sessions where Theo could be by himself or I could be with him. Theo chose that I was with him, that was really useful because I was watching with Theo and taking on board what she was asking him and how she was being with him.  I could take home what I’d learned and use it when I felt that Theo needed it.

We also got invited to the charity's Family Support Groups where children meet other children who have been bereaved. Theo has told me meeting other children that were also bereaved was the most useful thing for him.

Child Bereavement UK taught me to keep the communication open and not just at specific times. Whenever we think about Lawrence, we talk about Lawrence to each other. It’s not a secret and it’s not something that we hide from. We know that sometimes when we talk we’ll cry and that’s ok. It’s about the talking and not keeping quiet. It is about keeping it there because Lawrence was in our lives, he’s not here physically but his memory is with us. Honouring that memory is good. Meeting other people and talking to other people about their bereavement put everything in perspective.

Working with Child Bereavement UK helped us to focus on the happy times and the memories of how Lawrence affected our lives in a good way, like with his philosophy on the world.  Child Bereavement UK has given the confidence to talk openly about Lawrence’s death, to have Lawrence in our everyday conversation, to recognise the importance of celebrating Lawrence’s life and not focus on him dying but to celebrate the times we did have with him.  The charity has also given Theo the words to use about how he feels because, being young, he didn’t really have the words. They encouraged him to talk about it and being given the opportunity to talk to other children about it has been really healing. 

We do things in memory of Lawrence all the time, but we don’t live our lives around the misery of it, we celebrate the happiness we had with Lawrence. There was a ferret named after Lawrence, there’s a tree planted for Lawrence, there’s lots of happy things.  We’ll never forget him and there will always be a sadness but it’s trying to focus more on the positive rather than negative situation and I think we’ve been helped to do that with Child Bereavement UK.

Theo

The Family Support Group helped me feel like I wasn’t alone.   It helped me feel like I could talk to people without anyone laughing about how he died.  I knew that the other people felt the same way about someone. 

Lawrence was my great-cousin.  Well, he wasn’t really like a cousin to me, he was more like a brother.   It felt like he was a child in a teenager’s body – it was quite confusing at times, but fun.

We liked to do things like go on the trampoline, play on his PlayStation and things like that. I learnt quite a lot about nature and things like that from him because he felt quite strongly about that. It was just quite fun to be able to learn something but not feel like you are being fed information.

I didn’t feel like he was older than me, it felt like he was the same age, but he looked older than me. I liked being able to feel like I didn’t have to act differently around him than I did with my friends.

When Lawrence died, it didn’t feel real at all - it just felt like it was not true, I wanted it to not be true.

When I came to the Family Support Group with Child Bereavement UK, we did activities such as using colours that reminded us and brought back memories.  It helped me think about all the bright colours I associated with him,

The Family Support Group helped me feel like I wasn’t alone.  It helped me feel like I could talk to people without anyone laughing about how he died.  I knew that the others felt the same way about someone.  I think that helped because it helped me realise how many people feel the same way.

Sometimes it was difficult to talk with friends about the grief because it just felt like I couldn’t really connect with them; they might look at me in a different way, they might feel that they couldn’t speak to me in the same way because they’re scared they would upset me. Sometimes I didn’t want to speak to them because I wanted us to have a normal relationship where they didn’t feel restricted saying certain things. I always tried to keep it under wraps because not many people really needed to know what I was going through.

I think it is hard for people to understand because they haven’t really felt like that before.  All they know is maybe their nan died of natural causes but, for me, it was like my brother had just killed himself out of the blue. I don’t think many people would have experienced how I felt or really know how it feels.

It will never be the same without Lawrence because he was always someone that brightened up the conversations if we were having a bad day or something. He would always make the day a bit brighter, he would always make us see the bright side of things in a way that not many other people could.

Child Bereavement UK has helped by helping us see the bright side of it and helping us see how resilient we can be. We don’t just forget it, we deal with it, but we keep the memories alive.  Like we visit places where Lawrence liked to be. We’ve done so many different things to try and help keep his memory alive.