A loss like no other

When Collette Quertier's 21-year-old son happily headed off for a night out with friends last September, she had no idea that her world was about to fall apart. Not only would she never get to see him again, but she would have to come to terms with the fact he had inexplicably taken his own life. She explains how the shocking news changed her life forever and the devastating impact it has had on all who knew and loved him.

ALL mothers know that when your baby is born the love that you feel is unconditional and so strong that nothing can compare. That was how I felt at the birth of my three sons, Daniel, Jacob and William.

When my beautiful, kind, loving and popular son took his own life on 8 September 2019, my whole world fell apart as well as the lives of people around me. The shock and disbelief, the paralysing pain in my heart, the wish to be with him, to hold him, to kiss him, to smell him, to talk to him was overwhelming, indescribable and crushing. That pain still engulfs me each and every day.

My eldest sister said to me on one really terrible day, ‘Coll, tomorrow will be a better day’. Those words have stayed in my head and helped me survive many dark days. Tomorrow is usually a better, a less painful day. There is still an abundance of really dark days, but I now look to tomorrow for hope.

I feel so very passionate about getting the message out there that whatever has happened, however you feel, there is a way forward and tomorrow will be a better day. Talking to someone who you trust, whomever they may be, is so important, there is always someone who will listen and this may be a stranger, a friend, a family member or a colleague. Our family has been totally ripped apart in an indescribable way and I hate the thought of this happening to others.

When someone takes their own life, it’s a tragedy that a life has been lost but the tragedy doesn’t stop there – many lives are changed forever by those who loved that person and who will never ever be the same again. Outsiders will have no idea just how far-reaching the devastation is when someone makes this choice.

There is a constant grief amongst those left behind, nobody can possibly appreciate the ripple effect which this causes unless they are amongst those affected, a far-reaching devastation which wrecks many many lives forever.

I hope that my story can go some way to making people who feel they have no option but to end their life realise the absolute devastation left behind and that there is always something to live for if they seek help and talk about their mental health.

Although all genders and ages take their own lives every year, during 2018 in the UK alone 6,507 people took their own lives, and of these 4,903 were men.

Jacob with the family dog, whom he adored.

Attempting to make people understand the aftermath of this tragedy is important to me as I try and move on with my life. It’s something that I would never have realised had I not been through this trauma myself. Even though Jacob had no visible signs of depression or mental health issues, he was clearly in a dark place that night. I know, however, that if he had chosen to come home we could’ve talked and he would have realised that his life was precious to so many people and that he had a bright and promising future. Instead my family and I, my friends, and Jacob’s friends as well as many others are living in this constant bubble of sadness.

Over the last year I have wrestled with all kinds of feelings, desperation, devastation, guilt, fear, immense loss, disbelief and the end of my life as I knew it. My family is no longer complete. Family get-togethers feel so painful when there is one of my children missing, I’m jealous of families who have good happy lives and I wake up every morning with a pain in my heart which cannot be described but can only be understood by any other mother who has lost a child. It’s the realisation of another day which I will get through by pretending I’m OK when actually, I’m far from ok. I may look the same but I’m not the same person.

Shortly after Jacob died, I was desperate to make contact with other mothers who had been through the loss of a child. Two lovely caring ladies were kind enough to meet with me, mothers who had lost their beautiful children. They were so supportive and it was really comforting to meet people who really did know that feeling which cannot be explained. Whilst I could never see myself getting to this place, they were living their lives, they had never recovered from their loss but they assured me that I would one day feel better. Two inspirational strong ladies who gave me some hope. I pray that one day I will be this strong and that I may be able to help others.

As a mother, the realisation that Jacob felt so low that he could see no way out breaks my heart. It torments me every moment.

I search for things which may have occurred in his 21-year life that could have contributed to this tragedy and, no matter how many people tell me I’m wrong, I feel like I have failed as a mother and that in some way I must be responsible for what has happened. I often have dreams of him crying and calling for me that night. Other dreams and disturbing images have made sleep unwelcome. I hate going to bed and I hate waking up.

I understand that at that moment in time Jacob was not thinking of how we would cope without him. If he had known beforehand how this would affect us as a family, he would have made that one call for help which would have saved his life.

I have no doubt that he knew how much we loved him and I also know he truly loved his family. I take some comfort from knowing that there is no way he was thinking logically that night, it was a split-second decision which took his life, which was highly likely to be the result of something specific that had happened that night.

To try and get the tragic consequences out there, I decided to make known what my family and I have endured since losing Jacob and the true pain that some outsiders don’t see, our constant struggle to accept what’s happened. The ripple effect which suicide (I hate that word) has on so many people.

'I am so scared I will forget his face'

Jacob was born in 1997, a beautiful baby who turned into a beautiful little boy, a beautiful teenager and a truly amazing young man.

He never appeared depressed, had so much going for him, had plans for the very week of his death as his brother Dan was due to arrive from Spain and the prospect of seeing him was always a real highlight for Jacob. He also had plans for his brother Will’s 18th in January 2020 and plans for holidays that year. He had a massive friendship group whom he loved spending time with.

This was not a person who was planning to end his life.

When he left the house that day to go out with his friends, he smiled, waved and told me he loved me, as usual. There was absolutely no difference in his demeanour. He subsequently sent a video to our family WhatsApp group telling us what a fab time he was having at a gig in Town.

Later on, I texted him to ask if he wanted tea, to which he responded simply ‘No thanks’. I wasn’t at all fazed by this as he often had takeout with his friends at the weekend.

Little did I know that that would be my last ever communication with him and that I would never see him again.

When I was told Jacob had died, I remember a sound coming out of me like a wild animal. It was like being in another world. I initially protested that the police were wrong, it wasn’t Jacob, they didn’t even know what he looked like and, if it was him, he had not taken his own life, somebody had murdered him, my son would simply not do that. I still wrestle with that thought every day.

In the days that followed, I was supported by my family and friends who rallied around to ensure that I was safe 24 hours a day. People provided us with meals, my friends visited just to sit with me and let me talk. Jacob’s friends visited me with gifts and support but my desire to die was so strong, I wasn’t thinking straight and I know if I had been left to my own devices in those first few weeks I wouldn’t be here now.

My eldest son, Dan, was living in Spain and somebody had to call him to advise him that his brother had died. He was so close to Jacob. I wasn’t strong enough to call him, so my brother-in-law made that terrible call – he said it was one of the worst things he had ever had to do and I’m sure that will stay with him forever. He also identified Jacob, another life-changing horrendous experience for him.

Jacob with his cousin Oliver, who he grew up with. (28644755)

Dan was absolutely and utterly devastated. He was so desperate to be with me and Will, my family were worried that he was so far away from home without support and that he wouldn’t cope, but his girlfriend was with him and she took care of him and accompanied him on his journey home. This was our first meeting and Dan was so distraught that his girlfriend would never get to meet Jacob – he had been so excited for her to meet our whole family.

He couldn’t process what had happened. His young amazing, happy brother had gone – he went through several phases of grief, including a desperate desire to found out why.

My younger son, Will, had been at home when the police arrived.

He knew that I had spent the morning looking for Jacob and had eventually gone off to work, waiting for a call to confirm he was OK.

When the policeman arrived, he wouldn’t tell Will anything other than to get me to come home immediately. Will was 17 years old – he knew something was terribly wrong and just stood on the stairs waiting for me to get back.

I cannot begin to imagine how that poor young man must have felt. I couldn’t comfort him as I was too shocked. I think the sight of me in such a state of shock haunted him for a long, long time.

My sister who lives in Guernsey, was also in a state of disbelief. When she found out that Jacob had died she, like me, was adamant he had not taken his own life. She came to me as soon as she found out and I remember the utter pain and desperation in her face. I felt her pain when she held me.

My siblings who live in the UK came over as soon as possible to support the family. My sister who lives in Canada was already in Guernsey on holiday. Each one of them held me tight and cried with me, which cemented the realisation that this was not a dream, it was reality. Feeling their arms around me was some comfort and I knew how lucky I was to have these amazing people in my life, but it did not alleviate the pain.

Over the next few weeks leading up to Jacob’s funeral, people came and went. I was never left alone. I felt so grateful to have such wonderful people around me but none of them could bring Jacob back and that was all I wanted.

The funeral was a turning point – it was a lovely service but so very, very painful. I cannot describe my desire to just run away and pretend it wasn’t happening. I was actually saying goodbye to this little boy whom I had given birth to and nurtured for 21 years. The sight of his coffin was truly horrendous – a sight which stays with me and haunts me. I just couldn’t process what was happening and this made everything too real.

Days turned to weeks, weeks to months, I felt numb, depressed, desperate and so very, very scared – scared at the thought of living with this paralysing pain for the rest of my life. That still scares me.

I became gravely ill and was in hospital for several weeks. My family were desperately worried about me, but I felt like there was no reason for me to get better. I had lost so much, what was the point? I was so ill my thinking was distorted and I wanted people to leave me alone. I felt that if I died of natural causes it would be less painful for my other children and that I would be with Jacob. I was so blessed to have the support of wonderful doctors, mental health workers and nursing staff who saved my life and helped to nurse me back to health. On my discharge from hospital, I realised that whilst I was physically much better, I was still emotionally crippled.

Jacob’s bedroom remains as it was the day he left us and when I got home from hospital I felt like I had to go through those early days all over again. I often open his wardrobe to just smell his clothes – it tortures me but I need to remember. I am so scared I will forget his face, his smile, his hug, his voice.

As his mother I am always aware of his absence, his smile, his laugh, his hugs. I spend time each day with him, in his bedroom, talking to him. I open his blinds every morning, put the radio on for him during the day and close his blinds every night. I go to bed holding his favourite shirt. In my heart I know it’s irrational, but it gives me a sense of comfort. I want him to know that he is still very much part of my life and a part of me still expects him to come home. I will never stop wanting him.

Jacob with his Nan at a family wedding. (28644759)

When I eventually started going out after Jacob had died, I looked unwell, people could see I was suffering and I didn’t have to ‘pretend’.

Since my physical health has improved, I have felt an immense sense of guilt at doing anything normal. I worry that if people see me smile or laugh, they will think I’m OK, that I am not thinking of Jacob and that I have moved on.

The truth is that I think of him constantly but with the help of amazing therapists I have realised that if I’m to ever get my life back to any form of normality I have to start to do ‘normal’ things.

My partner has been by my side from day one. He was part of Jacob’s life for many years and was devastated when we lost him, but he has been so strong and has encouraged me every step of the way on my road to recovery. It has been a painful journey for him, watching me self-destruct but he has always been there for me and continues to support me 100% but our lives are not as they were.

The effect on my mother has been very difficult to see. I know I am her priority. She has watched me become so ill that she thought she may lose me, she has watched me cry and scream, she has held me close when I saw the only way out was to end my life. In the midst of all this she has been grieving for her grandson and I know she still struggles to accept that Jacob has gone. She loves her grandchildren dearly and for her grandson to die so young has devastated her. On that most horrendous day of my life I still remember my mother’s love as she held me tight, but I knew that this was the one thing that she couldn’t make better.

My two sons continue to be strong for me, but I know their pain. Dan calls me constantly, we have cried together, reminisced together and supported each other on those dark, dark days. For him the fact that he cannot visit us has torn him apart. He has self-isolated in Spain and this has resulted in him thinking about Jacob endlessly as he has had no distraction. He listens to voice messages as he likes to hear Jacob’s voice, it makes him feel close to his little brother. Amidst all this heartache, this beautiful young man has been a rock to me. I am so proud of how he has coped and I long to give him a hug.

I know he has really bad days but I also know he is stronger than he ever realised and as long as Will and I are OK he’ll be OK.

Will has often witnessed my total lack of control. It was a truly painful time for him, but he was so mature and strong – he would sit on my bed when I was distraught and comfort me, telling me everything would be OK. He chooses to do his grieving alone and it worried me initially that he had been visiting the place where Jacob spent his last moments, but I now understand this is what he does to be close to his brother and I think that is important for him.

When he goes out with his friends, I feel physically sick until he gets home. I text him constantly to check he’s OK, ask who he is with, where he is, when he’s coming home. He never complains, even though I’m sure it must be embarrassing for him. Luckily, he has the most amazing friends who are really understanding. If he doesn’t come home when expected I totally panic and do whatever I have to do to locate him. I become overcome with irrational thoughts that one day he may not come home. I can’t help this feeling. It affects me every day but mostly at weekends when I don’t ever go to sleep until he’s home.

Despite all he has been through and continues to go through, Will has managed to secure a good job and continues to get through each day, but I think he will suffer the consequences for a long time, and definitely until I become strong enough to properly let him go.

He has made me so proud in the way he has handled things, but his life has changed forever in so many ways. I believe Will has been through more in his 18 years than most people go through in all their lives.

'Jacob is never a taboo subject'

ONCE a week I meet up with my mum, my sister and my nieces and their young babies.

I sit and join in the conversation but I’m remembering Jacob as a baby and yearning for him. I never let it out because I don’t want to ruin our time together. The effect on my nieces has been hard. At a time when they should have been excited for me to meet their little boys, they felt guilty that they were experiencing the best moment of their lives and I was experiencing the worst. They have continued to involve me in all the excitement of the arrival of their babies – they are truly inspirational young ladies and I try my very best to be positive when I’m with them.

My siblings who live overseas are also hugely affected. When they call and I’m having a bad day they feel so helpless that they cannot be with me to give me a hug. I have now taken to telling them I’m OK when they call because I don’t want them to worry. Stopping myself from breaking down is very hard but I need to make sure they know I am being well cared for.

My sister and her husband who live in Guernsey have been the most amazing support to me. My sister and I are very close – she feels my pain and I know she would do anything to take it away. She was close to Jacob and was instrumental in his upbringing. She has just welcomed her first two grandchildren into the family and is so, so proud, as indeed she should be, but she has not felt able to share her excitement with me as she would’ve done as she knows how much I’m hurting. If I’m honest, I’m envious of her life, four beautiful children and two amazing grandchildren. When I see photographs of her whole family together, I become confused with mixed emotions, joy at their happiness and complete devastation that I will never get to see Jacob grow up, get married, become a dad and my family will never be complete again.

Jacob had many cousins, five of whom live in Guernsey. They struggle to accept what’s happened.

Family gatherings are not the same as Jacob was such a vibrant presence, his sense of humour, fun and kindness are greatly missed by everyone. Everyone feels his absence and Jacob is never, ever a taboo subject. I know they also hurt for me and I hate the thought of them feeling sad when I’m around. We are a very close family and spend a lot of time together.

I try to be positive when I’m with my nieces and nephews but, with one of my nephews being Jacob’s age, it’s a constant reminder. He goes out, has fun, is such a fantastic young man – I want this for Jacob, he had such a future.

I am a very lucky person to have the most amazing friends. I’ve always felt very blessed to have so many friends and I have been truly touched by their love. They have been hugely affected by what’s happened. When I go out with them now, there’s not as much laughter, banter or fun – they are so caring and just want me to be OK. They go out of their way to make sure the whole outing is positive for me. They understand that sometimes I cry, sometimes I smile but always I hurt and in turn they hurt. I have witnessed my friends cry for me and tell me they wish they could take my pain away.

Jacob Mahy. (28644753)

Our friendships, whilst still as strong, have changed. I now feel different and as much as I still enjoy their company, I feel like a burden. They promise me I’m not and encourage me to be open with my feelings. I do try and join in with other conversations and this has proved a good distraction, but Jacob is always in my thoughts.

My two stepchildren and their partners have had to witness my devastation and watch their dad trying to cope as I felt there was no way forward. I know they feel for me and I’m sad that their two young children, whom Jacob met, will not remember him when they grow up – that hurts.

Jacob’s work bosses and colleagues were also very fond of him and absolutely shocked and devastated at his loss. They were the most amazing support to me, in constant contact, asking if there was anything I needed, offers of support, meeting with me and allowing me to meet with those who worked closest with him. They made me feel very proud to be his mother with their positive comments about how lovely Jacob was and they proved themselves to be the most caring supportive and genuine employers. I truly believe they will always remember Jacob in a positive way.

The effect on the people who found Jacob on that terrible morning must be life-changing. I have not met them, but they are always in my thoughts. I feel so sad and even guilty that they have been through this trauma. I wish they knew how lovely Jacob was and that this was in no way a reflection of him as a person. He would never have wanted anyone to suffer like this.

I can’t remember my old life. I’m determined to try and learn to live with what has happened and if I could stop this happening to even one family, I would feel I had done something for Jacob.

We’re trying to find a new normal, but this falls far short of our old lives.

I have become very close to ending my life on at least three occasions since losing Jacob, but each time I have closed my eyes and pictured those I love and in particular my two beautiful children who have lost their brother and cannot lose their mum. I will survive for them and the rest of my family and friends, if not for me.

I still have times, usually when I’m alone, when I feel totally panicked, and afraid of my feelings. Dark thoughts are very real. I know there are many people who would come to me if I needed them but I never ask – I feel I need to let others move on.

A year on, I still feel guilt at doing anything ‘normal’ for fear of being judged, but I have been assured that people who judge me are not important and obviously don’t know me well. Those who matter know I’m not OK but I’m getting up each day and continuing to live. Jacob is always in my heart and my mind, as he is for many.

A big part of me died on 8 September 2019 – that will never change and I’m a different person, but I have to learn to live an acceptable life and make my beautiful boy proud of me.

I know most people mean well and I always forgive people for saying the wrong thing. I have had people ignore me, leave a shop when they see me or scurry into a doorway. I don’t expect people to talk to me about what has happened and I can usually tell if people are uncomfortable talking about Jacob, but I am capable of holding conversations about other things, even if I don’t want to.

It’s human nature to feel awkward in the presence of someone who has experienced a trauma and I totally appreciate this.

Jacob is all around us, not just in our hearts but in many things which remind us of him, things he did, his humour, his laughter, his kindness and the joy he brought us. We will always love him and he will never be forgotten.

I know Jacob is in heaven with his papa and sometimes when I close my eyes I see them together, happy and laughing – that warms my heart.

Life is precious, unpredictable and sometimes unfair but I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor, and one day I hope to wake up in less pain, happy to be alive and with only happy thoughts of my beautiful son.

Always believe ‘tomorrow will be a better day’, strength comes from within and there is always hope.

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