4:22 pm, Wednesday December 4th 2019, I receive a call to my mobile, a call that will change my life forever. The call is from Charlotte, the girlfriend of my son Jordan.
Me: “Hi Charlotte?”
Charlotte: “Hi Steve, I’m so sorry, I’m so, so sorry, it’s Jordan…………….. he’s killed himself”
The call duration is logged at 2 minutes, I can’t tell you what I said or what Charlotte said for the remaining 1 minute and 45 seconds.
On December the 4th, my beautiful 34 year old son took his own life – Charlotte found him, with the help of a neighbour who smashed the front window of Jordan’s house to help her get in. The doors had been locked from within – he had planned the final moments of his life and completed what he set out to do some hours earlier.
Why share this here on LinkedIn?
I still struggle to believe this is happening. One moment I’m publishing posts and updates on how you can be more successful using LinkedIn, the next, I’m sharing the most personal and traumatic news possible – why?
Various help guides suggest that talking or even writing and sharing publicly what has happened can be therapeutic – I’ll let you know if that’s true. The second reason is that this tragic event could easily come knocking at your door or the door of someone close to you. When it does, you will be totally unprepared – you will receive the harshest of punches to the mid-rift you’ve ever experienced, your heart will be torn out viciously and from that moment, you will never be the same again.
And the 3rd reason is that part of me believes that Jordan’s death could possibly have been prevented.
Jordan had depression, he’d battled with it for several years that we knew of. In truth, he’d probably experienced this illness for many years – no one though was prepared for what happened that day.
Why were we not prepared? The Celebrant who will conduct Jordan’s funeral ceremony told me that this is the 12th such funeral he will have conducted this year. The 12th funeral, where someone in their mid-30’s, to mid-40’s has taken their own life and most of these are men. Overall, men account for three quarters of all suicides in the UK.
Suicide (let’s not hide from the elephant in the room) has seen an increase year on year, with one report suggesting it increased by almost 12% in 2018. Depression is also the predominant mental health problem worldwide, followed by anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
In the days since Jordan took his own life, we’ve all tried to imagine how he could have reached such a point. How could he have seen no other option but to leave us? Perhaps I’ve been able to better understand, having spoken with a couple of people who experienced severe ‘depression’ and not just felt depressed (there’s a difference). They describe a feeling as if they’re being sucked down into a spiralling black hole – “you’re reaching up with your arms to prevent yourself been totally consumed but realise that is futile and you simply let go.”
Jordan once explained to his sister that he often felt detached from himself – it was as if what was happening wasn’t actually happening to him, instead he was watching it happening to someone else. Is that what he experienced when he took those final actions on December 4th, we’ll never know of course?
When someone takes their own life, especially someone who was loved by so many, as Jordan was, they don’t mean to hurt us but hurt we do. I sometimes, think that if we could have shown Jordan a movie of the aftermath of what he did, maybe he would have stepped back and not gone through with it. Sensibly, I understand that severe depression is not something you can reason with.
The reality is that when you take your own life, someone and most likely someone dear to you, will be the first to find you and they’ll live with that image for the rest of their lives. Your family will have to come to your house (if the death takes place at your home) afterwards and they will have to clear away your unfinished bowl of porridge, the last glass of water you half drank.
They might be faced with the smiling gas engineer turning up at your house to service your boiler but instead he’ll be asked to show your stunned family members how to set the boiler to low for now.
From the MIND leaflet we found, to the Doctors appointment card for 2 days time, to the shopping list, all laying on the kitchen table, it was as if we’d walked into a movie, where the action had stopped – all those simple things he was still planning to do.
In the days since, we’ve huddled together as a family, sitting mainly in silence for the first few days and we’ve cried a lot. We’ve had to make visits to the funeral directors and discuss our son’s funeral and then, due to the nature of Jordan’s death, we got to go see Jordan in the mortuary chapel in Leeds General Infirmary, a day prior to his post mortem. As I’m writing this, I have just received a call from the Coroner’s office, to let me know that they are releasing Jordan to the funeral directors today.
24 hours before he left us, Jordan and I were texting each other. A week before we’d been to a whisky tasting event and before that a concert together to watch one of our favourite bands, Hootie and the Blowfish.
In the hours leading up to him taking his own life, I was delivering a social media training workshop in Solihull (a 3-hour drive home in heavy traffic). The night before, I’d arrived at my Solihull hotel room later in the evening. Jordan and I suggested, earlier in the day, that we’d speak that evening, here is part of my final text message with him:
I could have done better, I could have been less busy, I could have insisted we speak or just simply called him…….I didn’t. These are my torments but inside, part of me knows he knew we cared, we did do as much as Jordan would let us do. What I mean is, Jordan chose to protect us from his worst torments and we felt that if we pushed too much he would pull further away. Hindsight is a wonderful thing they say.
What Can We Do Better?
The point of sharing this with you is to recognise that mental health affects us all and we’re approaching that time of year, when many folk will be enjoying Christmas (we have a fireplace surrounded by sympathy cards) while others, like us, will be dreading it.
If people you know are struggling, they might tell you they’re alright – they’re probably not. Make time, listen, ask them the difficult question, “How low is low?” Ultimately, you may not be able to save them from taking that final step of the precipice but if this message helps save just one person and avoids the pain their friends and family will have to endure for the rest of their lives, then my decision to publish this article was worth it.
What Have I Learnt…….So Far?
- People grieve differently, there’s no right way to mourn
- Website contact pages, specifically set up to provide support for mental health issues, don’t respond that day or the next or the next
- The least likely people are hugely generous of spirit and others, you’d maybe expect to hear more from, you don’t
- The police and paramedics may be efficient, quiet and possibly show little sympathy or obvious kindness to those who have just found the body – except if you’re like the one female paramedic who felt Charlotte’s pain and shed a tear also
- When someone takes their own life, the police and the Coroner’s office take many of their close personal effects, including the Note they left for you and 2 weeks later you still won’t be able to see their final thoughts written down
- The sudden and traumatic manner of suicide increases the volume of hurt you feel ten-fold.
- I’m still learning this new rule book for life as the days go by
The final word
Possibly like you, I’ve always been touched by the mental health awareness posts I’ve read, the annual Children in Need event or the appeal adverts showing starving children on TV and sometimes I’ve donated and always thought how awful it is, before lapsing back into normal life.
You always think these things won’t come knocking on your door, “It happens to other people” and then one day your world is shattered into a million pieces!
Look after those around you, listen to them more, be there, don’t be scared to question the signs you see and ask the difficult questions, you might just make a difference by doing so.
Bless you all this Christmas and to those who have been in touch with me personally, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
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Originally published on LinkedIn.com