Please note: this piece references suicide.
It’s been so long, that I cannot remember your voice. I don’t even remember your face, nor your laugh, scent or warmth. I cannot reach you by my own memory. I know you only by photograph. That and the sadness that swells in mum’s eyes when she speaks of you, how her shoulders tighten and she heavily sighs.
I have one lasting memory from your funeral.
My sister’s red hair and the redness of her eyes. I was hip-high and held her hand as she shook from weeping. I remember the grown-ups, dressed in black, being so unreachable that day, so locked in grief, gripped by their rituals and tradition.
I have your gappy teeth! We have the same big smile. We also share the same illness.
You were a wonderful man I’m told; a professor of Chemistry, intelligent, gentle, full of fun. I wonder if your mania inspired your academic brilliance? Would you have settled for an average IQ if it meant you could lose the depression?
I wonder if your demons are the same shape as mine.
Nana kept so many of your books and trinkets the spare room became shrine-like with your certificates and degrees proudly hung on the wall. When she moved into her tiny bungalow in later years, she kept your paperwork in boxes. I understand her wanting to keep a piece of you, proof of your existence, a reminder that for the time you were here, you were Great.
It’s funny how we cling onto things, the last proof of you having been a real physical being. I still have a wooden badge of yours. It lives in a shoe box with photos of now deceased pets, love letters and a giant glass marble. I wish I had more of you, that I had known more of you.
When you died it broke mum’s heart. She explained to me that you were very sad and decided that you didn’t want to live anymore, so you took some poison and died. In my childlike mind I knew that was your choice and that it would have made you happy. Of course I didn’t fully understand the tragedy of it all.
The friend who found you dead didn’t come to the funeral. I wonder if he was too angry? I don’t mean to judge you. I just want you to know that your life mattered! You had an impact on all of us, for better or worse. No one gets to fade away quietly, without it leaving shock and anguish in the ether.
Sometimes I am scared we are made of the same stuff. That I won’t make it.
Would you think badly of me to know that even though I saw the devastation your suicide caused that I have tried to commit suicide before? Or would you be the only person in the family who truly understands?
I wonder if you’d got ill nowadays, would CBT have helped? The right pills? Would an NHS crisis team have prevented it? Would the anti-stigma campaigns and the emotional literacy of today’s male culture have prevented this?
I would so like to see your face, a photo I’ve never seen, a recording of your voice, or for a lost memory to pop up! I’m sad there is nothing left of you but the few tokens we have, and the grief. I cannot ever hold your hand, laugh by your side, there’s no taking in the view together; there’s a whole world of lost opportunities in the years I’ve lived without you.
My paternal uncle taught me the names of trees. Perhaps your profound life’s teaching for me is to never give up, nor value success over life, lest I become scraps of paper and someone else’s sadness.
When I was small, we’d post letters to Santa up the chimney; watch the embers twinkle on the flume and pretend it was the far away windows of the elves workshops. I should burn this on a Bunsen burner (how apt, Professor).
If I could, I’d send this back in time, to arrive on your doormat at 8am on April the 4th 1991, the day you took your own life, so you can read it, and phone us. Maybe 7 year old Me will make you laugh and mum will invite you for a holiday and you’ll pack a bag and decide you’ll hold on for a few more days, because there’s always time to heal.
Your ever-loving niece.
x X x
This award winning letter was published in a booklet called ‘Time’, alongside other shortlisted pieces from the International Writing Competition as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. You can see the rest of the shortlisted entries Here.
*Details have been changed to protect identities*