We don't move on from grief, we move forward with it as part of us. We are who we are today because they existed and they still exist within us. there will always be times, dates and events that are painful and they will always be painful, no matter how time passes and how long it has been and this is what people misunderstand. Once the first year is over, people expect you to also to forget, to move past the pain of loosing someone, but it just isn't like that. Their presence is in everything you do because it has moulded you into the person you are. Time makes it easier to handle on a daily basis, but it doesn't make it evaporate.
Mandy and her and Chris’ son J have raised a lot of money and awareness regarding military suicide and the impact it has on those left behind. J won a Soldering On award in 2019 at the age of 11because : Through his grief, young Jamie saw the value in helping others overcome theirs. Jamie also took part in a campaign by the Army, whereby a video was produced, to aid suicide prevention and to encourage people in the Armed Forces to reach out for help.
One important message that comes across in Chris’ story is the devastating effect his mh had on the family, and Mandy is not the only bereaved family member who had to make a stark choice between staying with their loved one, even though they loved them dearly, and protecting their child; in sometimes a very chaotic and dangerous situation. This has led to some people judging wives and partners for that decision, maybe using it as a way of saying they did not love their partners, that they have no right to grieve or that they failed them and these judgments have lasting effects on the mh of those left behind. This stigma and judgement is not helpful and is actually very damaging in highlighting the prevention aspects of suicide.
In some ways families are ‘damned if they do and damned if they don’t’, They are accused of putting their partner’s needs and Mh above their child’s, then they are judged for putting their child’s needs above their partners. This guilt stays with the partner’s, it infects their every thought, so when someone else says it, showing their total lack of understanding and empathy, this only reinforces the families guilt. Sometimes, living with someone with severe, untreated PTSD can be a dangerous situation. To live with someone in a mh crisis is very hard and sometimes stark, hard choices need to be made. This is not the families responsibility and is not the families failure.
Chris joined the Army a bit later in life than most people, before joining he attended a college in Colchester and did a catering course which he passed with flying colours. He passed out of trade training in 1993 and was so proud to be part of the last intake that came under the ACC cap badge before they transferred to the RLC. Before I met Chris he deployed all over the world to numerous conflicts including Bosnia, Kosovo, Northern Ireland and Sierra Leonne in fact by the time he ended his career he had been to every conflict that happened during his time served, sometimes numerous times.
I met Chris in Iraq in 2004 when we were both deployed, not the normal place you would expect a romance to start. In fact I would say that both of us thought it was just going to be a detachment romance but it turned out to be so much more than that. The first time I spoke to him properly he was on a full force charm offensive and I’ll happily admit I loved every second of it. He had a way of making you feel like you were the only person in the world and definitely had the gift of the gab. We married 2 years later and 2 years after that our wonderful son Jamie arrived. Chris deployed when he was only 8 days old and I don’t think he ever admitted just how hard it was leaving our bundle of joy.
Chris seemed to be popular wherever he went and people always came to him with their problems, I think this was because of his service history and people thought he’d have the answers; he never turned anyone away though. He had a cracking sense of humour, not always PC but he’d crack one of his cheeky smiles and all would be forgotten. Chris had 3 big loves in his life: myself and Jamie, the Army and Liverpool FC. I don’t think there was anything he didn’t know about that club and woe betide any one spoke whilst they were on the TV! He was probably the most passionate football fan I’ve ever met and I’ve met a few, I know he will have been celebrating big style when they won the premiership title.
Chris’s love for the Army was plain for everyone to see, it wasn’t just a job to him it was a lifestyle; he was the prime example of soldier first chef second. He had so many proud moments during his 21 years’ service, doing Public Duties with 9 Sqn(RE) and cooking in the royal palaces, flying to all the out bases in Afghan and cooking Christmas dinner for the troops in 2011, winning competitions and getting a commendation whilst serving with 2 Yorks in Munster to name but a few.
That was the Chris I fell in love with and the Chris that I still grieve to this day. He always had some demons but I still knew he loved me but that changed when he returned from Afghan in 2012. The man that got off the coach was not the man that I said goodbye to 7 months before. He smiled when he saw us but that smile didn’t reach his eyes, they looked dead. He was always a drinker but he was drinking more and most days, he was much more reckless with his behaviour and sleep was nearly non-existent some days, his anger was something I struggle to describe, we were constantly living on egg shells. Chris took voluntary redundancy in 2013 and we moved back to the UK to start a new life. Unfortunately in 2015 Chris’s behaviour was so unpredictable and sometimes violent it wasn’t safe for Jamie and I to stay so we moved back to Suffolk to be near my parents. I did everything I could to help Chris but he was pushing us further away with every day.
In Feb 2016 I thought we had had a break through and Chris admitted he needed help, although we were over I still loved him and wanted to see him get some of his spark back and his love for life. Unfortunately someone close to him told him that he would look weak if he admitted he was struggling. He sent me a text in the august saying that and that was the last time I ever heard from him. On the 27th November 2016 Chris sent a picture of a homemade noose in place on the stairs and a message saying he was going to kill himself to that same person. The reply he got said ‘do it then, the world will be better without you in it’.
On the 29th November 2016 I received the devastating phone call telling me that Chris had hung himself, I then had to tell our 8 year old that daddy was gone. Nothing is ever worth taking your own life over, there are always people that care and that will listen. Please I beg you that if someone reaches out to you then listen and do all you can to help. The police would rather do a welfare check and everything be ok then walk into a house and not be able to do anything. The day Chris died his problems ended but they began for us that day and our lives will never be the same again. I miss the man I fell in love with, the man that would do anything to protect us, the man whose laugh was always close to the surface and that cheeky smile. That man though is still in afghan and other places around the world, his body may have returned each time but he lost part of his soul in different conflicts.
We can’t change what has happened to us but we can help to change it for others.