As the pandemic takes its toll on mental health, one woman who lost her son to suicide shares her ordeal and encourages others to seek help.
It has been two years since Josephine Zammit’s son died just before turning 25, and people still ask her why she allowed him to leave the house on that fateful day.
“To this day, people ask me whether he suffered when he died, or how come I did not see it coming,” she told Times of Malta.
“Some actually wonder out loud how I could have already come to terms with his death.
“Truth be told, you never get over it, and there are days when I don’t even have the energy to eat. You just learn to live with the pain,” she said.
Josephine explains that most often, the best way to show support to bereaving relatives is to “just not say anything or let them know that you are there for them”.
“The phrase ‘you have an angel in heaven praying for you’ shatters me from the inside. No one wants their son in the sky – they’d rather have him with them on earth.”
Josephine decided to speak to Times of Malta about her late son Charlie to address misconceptions about the taboo subject.
“I have nothing to be ashamed of. What happened to me can happen to anyone. The first few months were very tough and I lost the will to live. Had it not been for the support I found in Victim Support Malta, I would not be here to tell the story,” she said.
I decided to enjoy life, which I believe is what he would have wanted me to do
Josephine and Charlie had a healthy mother-and-son relationship which grew stronger when she lost her husband at a young age.
She recalls how she would even accompany Charlie to bike exhibitions where she would listen to all he had to say about his plans to grow his collection.
Ten years from the loss of his father, Charlie was diagnosed with an incurable rapid chronic illness. He died by suicide soon after being given the news.
The months following his death are a blur for Josephine. Apart from attempting suicide multiple times, she started suffering blackouts as a result of a chronic sleep disorder. She describes it as finding herself in a “nightmare halfway through a conversation with someone”.
Josephine was inconsolable because she knew that nothing would bring her son back, and she believes that she managed to pull through because she sought help.
“In VSM, I found the people I could trust with anything that was going through my mind. I could express myself knowing that they would not judge me, downplay the issue or worry about me.
“There were times when I was alone at home with my darkest thoughts knowing that I would not make it through the day alive. My feet would carry me to VSM’s offices. I didn’t need to say anything. As soon as I entered the door, they knew.”
Josephine grew to accept to live with the loss of her son and is adamant on keeping his memory alive. She now tells other collectors and whoever is willing to listen, all about Charlie’s own bike collection.
“I realised there is nothing I can do to bring Charlie back – otherwise I would have already done so. So, I decided to enjoy life, which I believe is what he would have wanted me to do.”
Someone to lean on
Victim Support Malta offers a service for people who lose friends or relatives to suicide and for those contemplating suicide. And the number seeking its support has doubled in the last six months compared to the same period last year.
VSM started its SPOT (Suicide Prevention Outreach and Therapeutic) services in 2019, when it realised there was nowhere it could refer cases related to suicide bereavement.
When the pandemic reached Malta’s shores last year, VSM saw an increase in the number of people who, having previously experienced chronic suicidal ideation, were starting to contemplate suicide again.
According to police data, the number of attempts in 2020 rose to 128, when compared to 71, 81 and 94 in 2017, 2018 and 2019 respectively.
Through SPOT, VSM provides individual therapy, counselling, psychotherapy, family therapy and psychiatric sessions.
“Seeking help to understand your thoughts and feelings following the loss of a loved one to suicide, or even when you yourself have suicidal ideation, and discussing ways forward that work for you, can be of tremendous help,” head of SPOT, Karl Grech, told this newspaper.
People are more likely to act on their ideation when they feel they are a burden on their loved ones, or when they feel they do not belong to any group.
“If someone mentions that they are burdening others or you see them distancing themselves from their social groups, and you are comfortable enough to do so, ask whether they are thinking about hurting themselves or ending their life.
“This should be done in a compassionate manner rather than judgement. If you direct someone to seek professional help, follow up, make sure they keep their appointment and check how the session went. These small gestures go a long way.”
Seek help on 2122 8333 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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