Charlie (23) was supported by Child Bereavement UK in Buckinghamshire after his father died by suicide.

I felt disbelief and couldn’t understand any of it; basically, my entire life had been flipped in less than a week and it really floored me.

My father died by suicide in July 2017 when I was 20 and in my second year at university. I was in the middle of the exam period when I got a phone call from my uncle saying, ‘I’m at your house, can I talk to you?’. It felt very strange as he was someone I didn’t normally talk to on the phone; I got a shiver down my spine – I knew it wasn’t going to be a happy conversation. He told me to sit down and said, ‘There’s no easy way to say this, but your Dad’s died’, which was not the easiest thing to hear.

I packed up to go home immediately; I didn’t care about my exam in a few days’ time as there were bigger issues I had to deal with. A couple of days later my mum sat my siblings and me down and told us that our Dad had not had a heart attack or just died, but that he had killed himself. I felt disbelief and couldn’t understand any of it; basically, my entire life had been flipped in less than a week and it really floored me. Looking back now, I can see that my Dad had been depressed or struggling with depression for about six years, and basically it beat him. I know now there are signs associated with depression, but at the time it was out of the blue and a massive shock.

My university was very accommodating about my not returning immediately. I emailed my tutor the day it happened saying my dad has just died and that I wouldn’t be around for the exams and he said, ‘No problem, I completely understand’. Then when I explained the rest of the situation, he wanted to know what I needed from the university. I asked if I could defer the year as the new term was due to begin two months after my dad’s death, which I didn’t feel ready for. It was extremely easy on my part, I had to sign a couple of forms and my tutor handled the rest, for which I was very grateful.

I spent what would have been my third year of a four-year course at home, where I processed everything. Initially, I didn’t deal with my bereavement very well; I distracted myself rather than dealing with everything. I had to be busy between waking and going to sleep as otherwise I’d crash, and everything would hit me all at once. Now I understand what I was doing, but at the time I thought it was good to keep busy to keep my mind off things.

After a couple of months, my mum said she felt I needed to seek support. We have family friends who have been supported by Child Bereavement UK, so they put me in touch with the charity and I went to my first session with a bereavement support practitioner. I didn’t have any expectations, but I thought that it was probably going to suck and be really hard – and it was. Afterwards  I went home and fell asleep on the sofa for four hours.

At the time I’d  buried everything, deep far down. I was afraid that talking about it would open everything back up and I’d have to live it again, which unfortunately you do have to to deal with it; it’s not an easy process at all, but I am very happy I did it.

At the time I’d  buried everything, deep far down. I was afraid that talking about it would open everything back up and I’d have to live it again, which unfortunately you do have to to deal with it; it’s not an easy process at all, but I am very happy I did it.

Once I started having support at Child Bereavement UK, I became less erratic and had fewer breakdowns. Prior to this I’d have two weeks of being completely fine and then one thing would happen, and my day would be ruined as everything came rushing back all at once. I wasn’t talking to anyone about and I’d basically bottle it up and pretend everything was OK, which obviously it wasn’t. The support from Child Bereavement UK was so helpful as it was tailored towards young people, so I felt I was taken seriously and not patronised.

I saw my friends for the first time a month after my Dad died. Everyone knew what had happened but it’s strange, you walk into the room and there’s this weird presence. No one is going to say ‘How are you after your Dad killed himself?, so it’s ‘Are you OK?’ and you can’t really say ‘No, I’m really struggling’ when you’re in a room of ten people.

There are these unasked questions that you can feel people want to say and you can feel everyone treating you with mittens and being careful. No one had any experience with this kind of thing; none of their parents had died, let alone in the way my Dad had. I think nobody knew what to ask or what to do. They all wanted to help but how? There’s no book called  ‘Your friend is suffering from a bereavement. Here’s what you can do to help’.

At the time I think I wouldn’t have wanted them to ask me the questions directly, but it probably would have helped in the long run. Being forced to confront what has happened is sometimes what you need in order to deal with it. Sometimes you don’t  need to go at your own pace, you need to be forced to make these great leaps and bounds.

I was in a slightly better headspace when I returned to university after being supported by Child Bereavement UK for a year. It was so overwhelming returning to academic studies that  I didn’t have much time to reflect on the emotional aspect of it. I was returning from not doing anything for a year to a really intense engineering degree, and then a couple of weeks in I had to write my dissertation, so I’d spend all day in the library if I wasn’t at lectures and tutorials. I definitely reverted to bottling it up whilst I wasn’t having support, and it definitely affected me in terms of having more private breakdowns.

The university offered support but at the time I told myself I was OK and didn’t need it. However, looking back I should have used the support network that was there. The idea of  opening up the wounds was difficult, and I chose to ignore it, bottle it up and be distracted by the degree, exercise, and friends.

My advice to other bereaved students is to definitely use the support available. The sooner you confront it and you start talking about it,  the easier it gets and the better it will be in the long run.

My advice to other bereaved students is to definitely use the support available. The sooner you confront it and you start talking about it,  the easier it gets and the better it will be in the long run. You can put it off, but it will just get worse and worse and it will eat you from the inside because that’s what happened with me. But once I did start talking about it, things got a lot better. Talking about it can feel like a huge, terrifying thing and it might hurt you, but it can’t damage you anymore than it already has.

Life is definitely more positive now. I am able to handle what happened and can talk about it without breaking down; I don’t have to pretend it didn’t happen and it’s nice to be able to remember the person my Dad was before, and the happy times, not the event of his death, which I couldn’t do before having support.

One positive out of this crappy situation is the resilience I have gained. Having to deal with bereavement by suicide within your family, and processing it  afterwards, makes you stronger as an individual. I know that I can face pretty much anything now, the worst day of my life is behind me. It’s only up from here and that’s a reassuring thing.