In Memory of My Son, Colin: Lyn's story

By Lyn Walton-McPhee,
updated on Jan 8, 2020

In Memory of My Son, Colin: Lyn's story

Losing someone to suicide can be a pain like no other, and for Lyn, she was left with so many unanswered questions. But through her grief, Lyn is striving to be a voice for change

Up until 26 October 2014, my life was going swimmingly. I had three grown up children, and a grandson. I had worked for 20 years in mental health and challenging behaviour as a carer, and then deputy manager. I’d recently gone into a business partnership and became self-employed, opening a new domiciliary care company.

My son Colin was proud of what I was doing, and he regularly told me that. He would visit when he could, as he was married and he worked hard. We’d often chat about this and that going on in both our lives, but nothing came up that I could identify a major concern – yet I did have some concerns as a mother. I felt that he always looked fatigued, and never smiled the way he used to. He put it down to work and tiredness and, I now believe for my benefit, would perk up so that mother wouldn’t ask more questions.

However, something didn’t sit right with me, and I began to worry. He got himself into scrapes he would never have been involved with before and, although encouraged, he refused to talk about what was going on. He admitted his home life wasn’t great, and I told him if he ever wanted to come home to get away from some of his marriage difficulties the door was always open.

He loved spending time once a week with his nephew, who has autism and challenging behaviour. He helped pensioners with their gardens and fencing, which he enjoyed, so nothing alerted me to any specific mental health issues.

Colin and his sister smiling

Colin with his sister, Emma

The police knocked on our door at 4.20am on 26 October 2014. I hadn’t heard the knock, so my husband answered. I heard male voices, so got up, grabbed my dressing gown, and headed out of the bedroom. My husband met me and told me it was the police. Colin had passed away. He had killed himself. He had just celebrated his 34th birthday.

I ran downstairs and begged the police to tell me it was a mistake. After that, everything was a blur, and I’ve had to rely on my family to fill in the missing pieces. I tried to be strong, but I found it impossible. My grief was all-consuming, as was the guilt I felt at not being able to prevent my son taking his life. I told people I was fine when I wasn’t. The emotional turmoil was tremendous.

There were so many questions I wanted answers to, but the biggest one was why? And the only person who could answer the question truthfully was now dead.

Trying to put on a brave face and be strong for my family took its toll on my own mental health without me realising. I refused to see the GP, assuring those worried about me that I was fine. Then, two months after my son’s death, a comment triggered a total meltdown. My eldest daughter frog-marched me to see the GP, who diagnosed me with depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, which I managed with medication, and continue to do so.

My life, my mental and physical health, were all affected, and I felt like I was drowning in my grief, because I had no closure. I agreed to counselling, but didn’t feel it helped me as it seemed that the counsellor was completely disassociated throughout the session.

I hope that sharing my experience will help educate people about the consequences of not listening when someone is struggling

Moving forwards, I set up a Facebook page in Colin’s memory, called Greenbows and Butterflies. Greenbows because we wore them at his funeral, as green was his favourite colour, and butterflies because during the service a butterfly emerged from on top of his coffin, flew in front of us, then disappeared down the aisle.

After his funeral, we realised we had to do more in his memory, and through the page we organised fundraisers for the National Autistic Society, because of his close relationship with his nephew. I hope people find supportive posts on Greenbows and Butterflies, get to know my son, and see our journey since he died.

To keep the discussion around mental health and suicide prevention going, I also created the Facebook page Colin’s Corner, as a space for people to come together to share their stories. The message throughout is: “You are not alone.” I couldn’t help my son, but that won’t stop my fight to try to help others.

I clung on to memories, but it wasn’t enough – some were too tender and others too distant. I was living a life sentence of heartbreak and failure. I treasured the photos I had of him, each and every one invaluable as they made up the story of his life.

My family found it difficult to understand my pain, as we were all grieving differently, and I found it hard to articulate my thoughts and feelings. I believed I wasn’t stepping up enough as a mother and a wife, and felt guilty that I couldn’t be who they wanted me to be. I was drifting into isolation. My depression was feeding the thoughts that made me feel like a self-proclaimed failure – for not being able to help my son, and the fear of letting my other two children down.

Flowers at Colin's memorial

Colin passed away in 2014

At first it wasn’t easy to gather my thoughts in a logical way, but I knew I needed to keep my mind active. I reverted to a previous passion of writing poetry to express myself and keep communication active. I want to publish my poems in the hope of reaching out to someone before it’s too late.

I am passionate about raising awareness of the need for change surrounding mental health and suicide prevention. I hope that sharing my personal experience will help educate people about the stigma and consequences of not talking and, more importantly, not listening when someone is struggling.

The stigma about mental health issues and suicide is born out of ignorance and shame, people with no understanding or empathy bearing judgement, distancing themselves, as if mental health was contagious.

I cannot speak for Colin, but I have found that when you mention you’re depressed, often you are spoken to in a condescending manner, or avoided in the street. Men particularly feel ashamed or embarrassed to discuss their mental health when it’s declining, choosing to suppress their difficulties for fear of being judged as weak by others. In memory of my son Colin, who I miss every second of every day, I promise to be a voice for change.

Graeme Orr | MBACP (Accred) UKRCP, says:

Lyn was devastated when her son took his own life. She felt she had to be strong for others and push through it, not asking for help. As events overwhelmed her, she found she couldn’t cope. But creating the Facebook pages in Colin’s memory gave her a way back, allowing her to express feelings and connect with others. People experience grief and pain in different ways, and Lyn found a release through poetry, using her passion to reach out to others and educate them. Often finding ways of expressing our feelings helps us to get through loss and reconnect with the world

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