I lost my brother Sam last summer to suicide and as I write this, I still find myself numb to my core and in total disbelief.
I know everyone who knew him also feels this way. Because he was one of the happiest, most fun-loving people we knew, who lived a dozen lives in his short life.
He was just 33 when he died and to the outside world, he had it all: a successful business, his own home, good looks, popularity, great friends and a loving family.
Sam was the baby of our family. Together with my older brother, William, we grew up on Mersea Island – just off the North Essex coast. Even though William and I were older, we were best known as ‘Sam’s sister’ or ‘Sam’s brother’, because he was the star of our family and loved by so many.
He could engage with anyone and made an instant impact. Nobody we knew struck so fine a balance between the fun and the seriousness of life. Sam was a brilliant joker, entrepreneur, brother, son, uncle, and friend.
As a baby, he was always very determined, a quality he never lost. And he was physically strong. He could often pick things up double his body weight. He had the brightest of blue eyes. Aquamarine in colour, which he inherited from our mother. Those eyes, teamed with his long lashes and blonde curly locks as a toddler, meant he was often mistaken for a little girl.
As an adult, Sam was incredibly sociable. He had a wicked sense of humour. On a good day, no one was funnier. On a bad day, nobody was more deliberately or delightfully infuriating. He was known for his world-class pranks, like the time he once squeezed a combine harvester on to our drive just to watch the horror on our mum’s face.
He was a man for a little boy to look up to. He studied at university and had a degree in building. In his twenties, after two years of travelling, he set up his own successful property service business. And he was the boy with all the toys – quad bikes, motorbikes, diggers, go karts, a collection of motor and sailing boats, boards, cars, trucks, DJ decks – he had more toys than my three-year-old, Henry, who affectionately called him ‘Uncle Man’.
Last summer, I was driving back from my elder brother’s wedding when my parents phoned. They told me to come over to them immediately.
I knew by my father’s tone it was serious. Sam had left a day earlier than the rest of us to get back and organise his busy working week, which he did indeed do on his return. I thought Sam had been injured or been in a car accident. When I arrived at our family home and there was no sign of a police car or ambulance, I was so relieved.
I walked out onto the drive to meet my parents. They held me and told me they were so desperately sorry and they didn’t want to have to ever say these words…. I looked at them and said ‘No, please not Sam.’ I began to scream hysterically.
It was then that they told me he had taken his own life.
Something no parent should ever have to endure.
I heard what they were saying but I just couldn’t truly absorb it. I felt like I was in a washing machine. The shock, the disbelief.
From that moment sipping water felt wrong, breathing felt wrong. Living without my gorgeous little brother felt wrong.
Just 36 hours earlier he was lifting my son up and helping me keep him entertained on the lawn at our brother’s wedding. Now I found myself wailing and kneeling on my parents’ drive, my stomach pulled out, my heart stabbed and all life drained from me.
He was gone forever.
The people I love most in the world stand broken before me. My loving supportive parents, they didn’t deserve this. My older brother and his beautiful wife don’t. We’ll never be the same again. There’ll always be an empty chair, an empty place. The loudest voice in the room and the light in our family is now always missing. That void will never be filled.
Every day that passes you question that day, that night, the week before.
You scroll endlessly through your messages, trying to piece things together. What you would do to change those last 24 hours. To save him. To bring Sam back.
Mental health problems can become an invisible killer. Self-harm is killing more men in their mid 30s to late 40s than anything else. Suicide is so cruel. It harms not just the life lost but all those who loved that life.
Losing Sam has affected hundreds of people. More than 500 people came to his funeral. The stories shared about Sam’s pranks were genius, the entertainment he provided, the love, his presence could still light up any room.
It was at Sam’s funeral, via a friend, that I first heard of Dan Baldwin and his swallow print ‘Love and Light’ in aid of men’s mental health for CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably). As soon as I looked at his art, I wanted to work with him.
Dan had lost close friends the way I had lost Sam and the swallow in his art has come to represent hope as well as souls gone to heaven. With my fashion business Mercy Delta, we created a unisex fashion collection called #LifeAndSoul after the people we have loved and lost, featuring Dan’s swallow to help raise funds and awareness for CALM, in the hope of perhaps helping to save another person’s life. It felt like the right thing to do.
We want to help raise awareness and get men talking, removing the stigma attached to mental health by identifying and removing stereotypes of mental health and depression. Sometimes the person wearing the largest smile in a room might be the person suffering the most.
What we really want to say through #LifeAndSoul is: no one is immune.
Anyone can suffer from mental health from any background. It can evolve from a combination of stress, lack of sleep, expectations or pressure and, in a matter of days or weeks, that person you love – that everyone loves – may find themselves in a dark place, unable to connect to you.
If you aren’t aware of the key signs, and if men like Sam who feel they have to be the life and soul don’t talk and open up, I’m afraid my story will be told by another sister.
It can be excuses that don’t add up, withdrawing from social events, insomnia, weight loss, a sudden change in appearance.
It can happen in a matter of days or weeks, but if people are aware and can look out for these things we can help prevent the biggest killer in men between the ages of 35 and 48 years-old and help to save lives like Sam’s.
The ripple effects of losing that infectious, lovable soul who has left the world so desperately and needlessly leaves a sea of pain for all those he loved forever.
Let’s change this.
#LifeAndSoul shirts retail at £190 and 20% of every sale will go to CALM. You can buy the shirts from the Mercy Delta site here.
NHS Warning Signs For Suicide
A person may also be at risk of attempting suicide if they:
• complain of feelings of hopelessness, saying things such as, “What’s the point of even trying? I know things are never going to get better”
• have episodes of sudden rage and anger
• act recklessly and engage in risky activities with an apparent lack of concern about the consequences
• talk about feeling trapped, such as saying they cannot see any way out of their current situation
• start to abuse drugs or alcohol, or use more than they usually do
• become increasingly withdrawn from friends, family and society in general
• appear anxious and agitated
• are unable to sleep or sleep all the time
• have sudden mood swings – a sudden lift in mood after a period of depression could indicate they have made the decision to attempt suicide
• talk and act in a way that suggests their life has no sense of purpose
• lose interest in their appearance, such as dressing badly, no longer wearing make-up or not washing regularly
• put their affairs in order
For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.