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What I learned from my Dad’s suicide

Paul McGregor and Tim Harvey both lost their dads to suicide. Here they reflect on how the loss has shaped their lives and influenced their approach to fatherhood.

“Dad’s suicide was a wake up call to do more of what I enjoyed.”
Paul McGregor

My childhood life was good, I came from a loving household of four. I was always close with my Brother, my Mum did everything she could for us and my Dad was really loving too. There were of course a few downs along the way, but overall my childhood was a really happy experience.

That was until my Dad took his own life when I was 18. It was a huge shock. On paper, he had ‘everything’ – a full time job, a part time business, a wife and two sons. He was a runner who trained once if not twice a day and even had a psychology degree. If you would’ve told me my Dad would end up dying from suicide, I wouldn’t have believed it. But losing him changed everything. It was really hard to take in at first. My Dad was definitely someone I liked to impress, he guided me on what to do. So losing him at an age when I had a big ego and a lot of insecurities made it hard for me to grieve.

Losing him at an age when I had a big ego and a lot of insecurities made it hard for me to grieve.

When Dad first went to the Doctors seeking help, we didn’t really know how to deal with it. Three days later he attempted to take his own life for the first time. He was lucky to survive that incident, and we as a family always say that if we had lost him then it would’ve been more of a shock. He never really recovered, he was in and out of the mental health unit and the took his own life six months after.

At first, I personally buried the pain and grief. I saw it as my Dad choosing to die, so I struggled to grieve. I went clubbing six days later, I put on a brave face, I started a business and chased short term fulfilment. But a year or two later I found myself in a bad place.

Talking helped me massively. I tried a counsellor through my doctor, I tried a paid counsellor too, but what helped me was a 68 year old lady who would class herself as an Holistic therapist. She got me to open up after a few weeks, and it felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I then started to read more, write down my thoughts, speak more openly and more importantly forgive my Dad. At first I didn’t like talking about his suicide, but now I think it’s so important that we do.

I then started to read more, write down my thoughts, speak more openly and more importantly forgive my Dad.

Losing my Dad made me grow up a lot quicker and it also made me become more open with how I feel. I’ve seen it happen to my Dad, and I try to do all I can to not let it happen to me. I think without it happening I also wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today with my business, I was on the path to work a job and climb the corporate ladder which I don’t think would’ve made me happy. Dad’s suicide was a wake up call to do more of what I enjoyed.

No I have my own kids I try to be there for them. I do the school run a few times a week, go to Parents evening, School plays, and try to be present with them as much as I can. My Dad was a very loving Dad but he worked a lot, so holidays and the odd weekends were really when we’d spend quality time together. I did find it hard at first being a Dad though, as I wanted him to be here to be a Grandad and to show me the way. But I try to use the lessons he taught me and pass them down to my sons.

I try to use the lessons he taught me and pass them down to my sons.

To anyone going through similar situation I’d say don’t be afraid to talk. Grief is different for everyone, when I thought I was ‘dealing with it’. I quickly found out I was simply distracting myself. Don’t bury the emotions of how you feel, instead try to deal with them. Take your time with your grief as well, it has a funny way of creeping up on you when you least expect it. It’s been 9 years since my Dad died and I still find myself tearing up if I hear the song played at his funeral. But other times, I talk openly about him and how it all happened to large groups of people and it doesn’t phase me.

I wish every day that my Dad was here, but at least now he’s at peace and hopefully his legacy will live on through me, my brother, and my children too.

Read more of Paul’s writing on his website, including how he coped with suicide grief.

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“As I grew into a man I found myself wanting to emulate him”
Tim Harvey

My biggest frustration is the lack of memory I have for my father.

I split my childhood into two stages, before and after January 1979, when my father took his own life.

I remember a normal family life before he died, a happy daily life, going on holidays. But after his death it was much more of a blur.

My father went through some very difficult times before his death. He lost his best friend and business partner about 18 months prior and in the summer of 1978 a Spanish student on an exchange programme died while staying with us. These events must have had a significant effect on him.

I split my childhood into two stages, before and after January 1979, when my father took his own life.

The last recollection I have of him was in 1979, seeing him rocking on a living room chair. My Mum tried to get me and my brother to go and give him a cuddle. My feelings at the time were to resist for some reason. At the end of January he went for a walk in some woods and we never saw him again.  I remember crying when I was told he was dead, but not at the funeral, I think I was in shock.

The four years after I think I was in denial for the most part, feeling different to other kids. There were a lot of what ifs and ‘is he really still alive somewhere else?’, but I never spoke about him.

My Mum tried to get me and my brother to go and give him a cuddle. My feelings at the time were to resist for some reason.

Life was financially much more of a struggle and parent time was very limited. Mum was working so I spent a lot of time with my grandmother. My father was an architect, and well paid, my mother had to go from being a house wife to working as a full-time secretary, not so well paid.

As I grew into a man I found myself wanting to emulate him. I chose a career in property, because he was an architect and I felt it was following in his footsteps. My father was put on a pedestal. In my mind, he was perfect. When my mother got a new partner, it was very difficult for me to bond with him.

My twenties were spent living life to the full, but strangely I was maybe too care free, because in the back of my mind I remember thinking, ‘I’m like my father, I’ll only live as long as he did’. I was a bit oversensitive to illness, always thinking ‘this is it!’. But there were no feelings of depression or sadness. In fact it was difficult for me to express any feelings to anyone. I disliked my own company. I also had some minor anger issues, which I only show to loved ones, never professionally.

It was difficult for me to express any feelings to anyone but I disliked my own company.

My first son was born when I was 35, the second at 39. The fact I had two boys like my Dad compounded my feelings of following him. My 40th birthday was a very difficult age to reach, because my father died at 42. I decided I needed counselling, and that’s when the feelings I didn’t know I had gushed out… anger, frustration, regret and confusion. I felt like I came to terms with myself through this counselling, being my own man.

Becoming 42 (and feeling so young!) and having both my children pass the age of 9 (my age when my father died) was probably the hardest part. And now being the other side of 42 and continually seeing what he missed, especially my children’s achievements in and out of school – it makes me have regret for him, but also jealousy towards my children. I didn’t get the chance to do these things with my dad. Might I have achieved different things with him around?

Being the other side of 42 and continually seeing what he missed, especially my children’s achievements in and out of school – it makes me have regret for him, but also jealousy towards my children.

When I reflect on how my father’s death has affected me as a person, it definitely hasn’t been positive overall. I do reflect on how different my life would’ve been if he hadn’t done what he did. I wonder if I could have done something to stop him and if I was in anyway responsible. The fact that he just disappeared one day has manifested in separation anxiety when one of my loved ones doesn’t respond or goes off on a walk.

When my sons were very young I would always be very keen to be there at bedtime and special events and would arrange work around them. I’m passionate about living for the moment and spending time with loved ones and friends as much as possible, because I have very little real memory about my father and I think that knowing your roots and history is so important in life.

I’m passionate about living for the moment and spending time with loved ones and friends as much as possible.

Ironically it probably made me more driven from a career point of view as I was trying to prove something to him even though I never could.  If there’s one message I want to send to people by sharing my story, it’s this: you have so much value, you matter, you are worth it!

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