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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Thu 04-Feb-16 15:14:45

Guest post: "In our reality, your sister can be gone overnight"

Nearly 18 months after her step-daughter's suicide, Jenny Leonard says her family is still broken, but slowly getting back on track

Jenny Leonard

The Brick Castle

Posted on: Thu 04-Feb-16 15:14:45

(5 comments )

Lead photo

"She left a huge note, and when I think of her writing it my heart aches."

My children can't settle in the dark. Neither can I. I check them all as soon as I wake, in case one didn't make it this far. I know my partner does the same. I lie awake silently listening to him sneak from room to room, recognising the pattern of his footsteps and dreading hearing anything different.

One night in August 2014, my popular, witty, academic, artistic and beautiful 16-year-old step-daughter took her own life. I really don't believe that we could have seen it coming. Seventeen months of over-thinking has yet to do anything but confirm that.

She thought she knew how much this would hurt us - so she must have been hurting so much to actually do it. She left a huge note, and when I think of her writing it my heart aches. She must have felt beyond despair.

Elspeth had been angry and sometimes aggressive since she was tiny. She had little control over her mood swings and she hated that loss of self-restraint much more as she got older. She really struggled to accept a diagnosis of Asperger's, to understand that it was only a label.

She said it would be easier for us now, but it gives me no comfort to know that I'll never deal with her frustrations and anger again. Those were a part of Elspeth, and you take everything that your child offers, good or bad.

We now live in a world where children die. In our reality your sister can be gone overnight. A member of your family can secretly be that unhappy, even as they laugh and make jokes at the dinner table.

She said it would be easier for us now, but it gives me no comfort to know that I'll never deal with her frustrations and anger again. Those were a part of Elspeth, and you take everything that your child offers, good or bad.


It's nearly 18 months since Elspeth took her own life, but we're still very broken people. We've had two major meltdowns to deal with today. There's been screaming, shouting and crying - and no one can find any real explanation as to why.

The only one who doesn't regularly have emotional outbursts is our five-year-old. He's finally started going to the toilet by himself, though he will rarely enter an empty room alone and never without absolute necessity. My seven-year-old wakes his brother and they carry a torch with them for night time toilet trips.

My seven-year-old needs several minutes to say goodbye or goodnight. He does it sometimes with tears in his eyes, because he knows he may never see you again. It's not paranoia if it's a real possibility. If it already happened then it's not something you can change to make it go away.

Recently one of our teenagers was very ill and spent four months in hospital, only recently returning home; my partner reached his personal limit back in November, earning his own stay in hospital by trying (and thankfully failing) to have a heart attack.

When you lose a child to suicide you become unable to trust your own judgement. I question my ability to parent, to give any advice, to make decisions, to say the right thing. I give up immediately when a task becomes even a little difficult. I have become a person to whom life happens.

We all lost our way a little after Elspeth's death, and although everyone seems to be getting slowly back on track, it's uncertain where we're going to end up. Still, we keep walking.

We keep walking because we have our lives to live. We have a new life, and it's much harder at times, but we can't waste it. We can't let the rest of forever for our children be defined by what happened to their sister.

I collect our smiles each month on my blog using #tbcsmiles so I can see the distance we've already travelled. I measure it in smiles. They are the the reason and the reminder why we keep going. I can look back and see it was never all bad, and I know it never will be. I wish that Elspeth had collected her own smiles, that she had been able to see them.

Child Bereavement UK support families and professionals with the loss of a child of any age, or when a child is facing bereavement.

Winston's Wish are the UK's leading charity for bereaved children. They offer advice and support for anyone who will find it helpful, including children who have lost a loved one to suicide.

Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS) offers support for anyone over 18 who has been bereaved or affected by a suicide.

By Jenny Leonard

Twitter: @TheBrickCastle

Thanks for writing this Jenny - such wise and helpful words
My sister lost her dear boy to a similarly out of the blue tragedy just a few months before you lost your darling Elspeth sad
God, I know what you mean about the nearly two years of over-thinking of why, and what could we or anyone have done differently.

The devastating ripples of family tragedy and loss go out so far and continue for so long don't they - I think the trace of them at least will be with so many of us forever.

At the same time I've seen a lot of resilience, especially in how my teenage DC have coped with the loss of their much loved cousin. My DS continues to wear the T-shirts that DNephew passed on to him the last Christmas they spent together. My DSis carries on, looking after my little DNeice and proud of all that her elder DD is doing, settling into her first job after graduating last summer. My DSis has met a new man who I hope will bring her happiness, companionship, and support. It is good to hear about the summer holiday they have planned.

Nevertheless I also feel that living with one another in the aftermath of this tragedy will affect every relationship in our family. Almost every meeting and conversation is affected by what happened nearly two years ago now. It is a new chapter for us all, a new act perhaps after a particularly dark and tragic scene. I hope that the rest of the play/opera can still have some brighter and joyful arias. Maybe some new characters will make an appearance, perhaps there will be love, new adventure, fortuitous meetings, new generations, and when we get to the closing scene there will be a sense of good times shared together, even through it all.

ThreeBecomeFour Fri 05-Feb-16 22:31:27

Reading your original blog post after this guest post my heart breaks for all you've been through as a family. The fear that your little ones feel now and the reason why is heartbreaking. I'm sure you've turned events over and over in your mind searching for answers that cannot be given. Grief never gets easier and the waves crash in when you expect them least. Sending love to you and your family and hoping that there is healing for you all so the fear subsides a little at least. Xxx

ffscatmove Sat 06-Feb-16 20:49:17

I don't know what to say. My heart aches for you and your family. My sister attempted suicide several times as a teenager/young woman, I recall clearly the terror at the end of the late night phone calls (when she felt strong enough to tell someone), having talked her away from the edge of despair from halfway across the country. After each one the following nights of no call were worse because what if she just wasn't far enough from the edge to call?
I know there will always be a hole in your lives where Elspeth should be but I wish you many future happinesses as a family, to surround that hole with light and knock the sharp edges from the pain.

missusjen Mon 15-Feb-16 12:25:01

I just wanted to thank you @JugglingFromHereToThere @ThreeBecomeFour @ffscatmove for your kind words. I don't have an actual log in under my real name, so this is me.
I'm so sorry for your personal experiences of suicide, I hope your sister is in a much better place.
I hope that your family can come through this and recover, and rebuild their lives successfully.
Thank you for your sensitive and caring comments, it's really appreciated. My best to you all xx

Thanks missusjen

It is such a challenge for families to go on after suffering such tragedy isn't it?

I thought the closing scene of last week's "War and Peace" captured something of what I was trying to express in my post (you might of seen it or be able to catch it on iplayer?) .... where all the surviving characters are seen enjoying a summer's day picnic, enjoying being together, in spite of, and to some extent because of, the dreadfully hard times they've been through together.

I must find the book and see how it was written in the original ... but I thought it was a most beautiful and moving scene.

ffscatmove expressed it beautifully in her best wishes for future times of happiness for your family. My thanks to her too flowers

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