Things Jon Didn’t Know About – book review about one person’s experience of suicide

Cover image of Things Jon Didn't Know About

Things Jon didn’t know about: our life after my husband’s suicide

by Sue Henderson (2018) London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.  ISBN 978 1 78592 400

This is a powerful, honest and beautifully written account of one mother’s experience of life bringing up two children in the shadow of her husband, their father’s suicide. The author is a gifted writer who shares in detail the emotional and practical moments that make up daily living with her children, and no longer husband. This is not a chronological version of this family’s life. It is an eloquent chronicle covering a wide range of bereavement issues, detailing personal moments and experiences, and supportive and awkward responses and interventions of others.

While the book is very much about living without Jon, it is much more than just a book about life following suicide. It is a worthy read for many who are bereaved and for all counsellors who may support someone who grieves.

Sue Henderson was a social worker for 25 years. Her particular story focuses on what followed that eventful day, 15th August 2001. Her husband left for work as usual at 7.30 but went for a walk to Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh – and never came back. All details relate to that moment and Henderson shares vivid details of the experiences, feelings, thoughts, children’s questions, and reactions of friends.

Each chapter carries a theme, such as “A crash course in widowed single parenting”, “Talking to the children” and “New relationships”. Each offers up reflections and understandings of how life changes for those continuing to live after the death of someone significant.

Things Jon Didn’t Know About also offers much to counsellors. Early in the narrative, the author politely suggests that theories of grief are not as meaningful as we might propose them to be; they are “fairly irrelevant in the face of reality…” though they “can inform and lend a helpful skeleton”.

The writing is forthright and direct but in a gentle way. Heartache and wonderings of what might have been, is painfully present. But Sue Henderson offers a skilful rhythm to her writing, allowing readers to swing high and low without falling. She includes an appendix detailing helpful information about services, getting help and things to do to support grieving.

The last words, before the appendix, are from her teenage daughter, who was 27 months old at the start of the book. Her essay is a powerful reminder of the resilience of youth and maturely expresses the importance of continuing bonds with a father who died by suicide.

There is a uniqueness to grief by suicide which is evocatively shared, but to pigeon hole this book into one that is only about suicide, is to lose a lot of learning for a wider audience. The author also addresses much that affects those whose grief is may not be defined by suicide.

Petition Asking Government to Invest in More Relationship Support

If you are interested in counselling, you may be interested in the following petition.

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (to which I am a member) have linked with Relate, a couples counselling service. They are calling on the Government to invest more in relationship support.

We believe support should be available to all those who need it.

Evidence shows relationship support can make a world of difference in times of difficulty, but relationship counselling isn’t generally commissioned as a public service or available on the NHS – we think this needs to change.

If you you want the Government to take notice, please help by signing our petition and sharing it with your peers. If you’d like to read more, check out the campaign page on our website.

If you and your partner/spouse are interested in having therapy together, then you might want to contact Relate directly: I do not offer couple’s counselling at this time. If you are interested in having counselling just for yourself or want to discuss counselling for someone you know, please do contact me.

Gratitude Day

World Gratitude Day started way back in 1965.
A group of people from different places in the world were gathered at a Thanksgiving meal, honouring special people among them. The host was Sri Chinmoy, a meditation guru, also director of the United Nations Meditation Group. He suggested the idea of a global unifying holiday. Each of the people attending the meal pledged to hold a gratitude gathering on 21st September every year, in their own country.

Now maybe it’s not a holiday with time off work or school for everyone. But since Sri Chinmoy’s suggestion, World Gratitude Day has been marked in many countries around the world.

So, how might you mark World Gratitude Day?

Something simple

It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. It might just be a moment to think about what you are grateful in your life. Maybe do it now. Or maybe take a moment before or after a meal, or before you go to bed to think about your day. What are you grateful in this day?

Like candles?

Or if you are someone who likes a bit of ritual, you might light a candle and think about or say what you are grateful for.

If you are social

Or if you are a social person, you might meet up with a few friends and let them know it’s World Gratitude Day. What are you each grateful for?

Benefits to being grateful…

Thinking about and listing a few things you are grateful for each day, can help improve how you feel about yourself. It’s a simple exercise. But like any exercise it takes practice to make a difference.

More suggestions

Here are some further suggestions, thanks to Globoforce, Work Human (adapted from the work of Robert Emmons:

Keep a Gratitude Journal

Spend a few minutes every day to write down what you’re grateful for.

Remember the challenges

Remember the hard times that you have experienced. This contrast is fertile ground for gratefulness.

Ask Yourself Three Questions.

Ask yourself and reflect on three questions:
“What have I received from ?”, 
“What have I given to ?”, and 
“What troubles and difficulty have I caused?”


Go through grateful motions like smiling, saying thank you, and writing letters of gratitude to trigger gratitude.

So, what are you grateful for?

If you are not sure and want some idea, check out: YouTube: Gratitude in Britain Jubilee Centre.

Thank you for reading! Thank you for visiting my blog!

Suicide prevention: not just in hospitals

I’ve counselled children and young people for 15 years. While I also counsel adults, my energy regarding suicide goes out to young people and children. Visiting schools and speaking with parents, some of them clients, I’m often asked how to support children and young people when a parent or other key relative attempts or dies by suicide, and how to prevent young people and children from attempting suicide. While the government’s attention is now on hospitals (and yes, government needs to focus some where specific) what about support for front line people who are with young people every day: teachers and parents or other carers? 

What ever the statistics on young people and young people – and the Samaritans has a useful report on how to understand the many complex statistics surrounding suicide [ref]Samaritans Suicide Statistics Report 2014[/ref] – the best way to minimize the risk of suicide is to know the myths and risk factors and to recognize the warning signs of suicide. 

Take these signs seriously.

Know how to respond to them. 

By taking a few moments to read this article, YOU could save someone’s life. 

Common Misconceptions about Suicide 1

The following statements are false, followed by a truthful statement. 

People who talk about suicide won’t really do it.

Almost everyone who commits or attempts suicide has given some clue or warning. We need to take suicide threats seriously. Statements like “you’ll be sorry when I’m dead,” “I can’t see any way out,” — no matter how casually or jokingly said may indicate serious suicidal feelings. The feelings may, or maynot, turn into an attempt.

Anyone who tries to kill him/herself must be crazy. 

Most suicidal people are not psychotic or insane. They are upset, grief-stricken, depressed or despairing. Extreme distress and emotional pain are not necessarily signs of mental illness.

If a person is determined to kill him/herself, nothing is going to stop them. 

Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, wavering until the very last moment between wanting to live and wanting to die. Most suicidal people do not want death; they want the pain to stop. The impulse to end it all, however overpowering, does not last forever.

People who commit suicide are people who were unwilling to seek help. 

Studies of suicide victims have shown that more than half had sought medical help in the six months prior to their deaths.

Talking about suicide may give someone the idea. 

You don’t give a suicidal person morbid ideas by talking about suicide. The opposite is true—bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do.

Risk factors for suicide

The teenage years can be emotionally turbulent and stressful in themselves. Teenagers face pressures to succeed and fit in. They may struggle with self-esteem issues, self-doubt, and feelings of alienation. For some, this leads to suicide. Depression is also a major risk factor for teen suicide.

Some possible risk factors for teenage suicide include a combination of the following:

  • has a mental illness
  • been a victim of violence, bullying or sexual abuse 
  • recently experienced or is going through a traumatic event
  • going through a major life change
  • is being judged or shamed
  • has no sense of their own identity
  • friends or family don’t support their sexuality or identity.
  • has a serious physical illness
  • lacks a support network, no connection with family, friends or community 
  • has an intimidating, unsettling social or school environment 
  • bereaved of a friend or relative to suicide 
  • feeling lack of control in their life
  • has attempted suicide before

Suicide warnings among teenagers

We’re told someone who is going to attempt suicide gives warning signs but they’re often missed. If we know a friend or relative who is living out some of these risk factors described above, what are the warning signs? 

It’s usually a combination of some of the following signs, but any one of these could be an indication that the young person needs extra support with something going on in their lives. Offering support sooner rather than later may even help prevent a suicide attempt. 

Be aware of any of the following in a young person or child: 

  • Change in eating and sleeping habits 
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and regular activities 
  • Violent or rebellious behaviour, running away 
  • Drug and alcohol use 
  • Unusual neglect of personal appearance 
  • Persistent boredom, difficulty concentrating, or a decline in their ususal quality of school work 
  • Frequent complaints about physical symptoms, often related to emotions, such as stomach aches, headaches, fatigue, etc. 
  • Not tolerating praise or rewards 

What to do to prevent a suicide attempt

Having observed one or more of the behaviours listed above in a friend or relative whose experienced falls within in the risk factors, what do we do?  As the last myth above clarifies: talk with the young person and take that person seriously

Don’t be afraid to approach a friend or relative who you think isn’t coping. Just showing that you care will be a positive step towards supporting them.  You don’t have to be able to solve their problems but if you feel you can, offer support and encourage them to talk about how they’re feeling. Actively listen to what they are saying, even if it really difficult for you to hear their pain, let them say what they need to say. Ask direct questions and don’t be afraid of frank discussions. Don’t attempt to argue him or her out of committing suicide. Rather, let the person know that you care and are listening. Avoid statements like: “You have so much to live for.” Even if you think that, they don’t feel it at that moment. 

Know that many people do want a chance to talk but worry they may be a burden to those around them.

Look after yourself, too

Supporting a friend or relative in distress can be distressing in itself. If you’re helping someone who feels suicidal, make sure you take care of yourself as well. If you need to talk about how you are feeling, or you need further support to help the suicidal person and don’t have someone you feel safe speaking with, contact:

Childline: 0800 1111 or visit their website for online chat and lots of other support

Samaritans: Email 
Do note it costs to call them on 08457 90 90 90 * (UK)

The tiny but mighty springs: snakes & children

On a visit to Canada, my older brother and I were walking through my favourite park. On shaded tarmac, we  doddled along. Suddenly my brother stopped and put an arm out to stop me. "Look," he whispered, as he gazed down. There in front of us was a thin, small snake, about 8 inches long. It's what I knew as a "gardener" snake, yellow line down it's back. We watched it curl itself one way, then the other as it made it's way, heading in the same direction as us. My shadow caught it, and the snake froze. My brother moved closer. The snake tightened into a coil. It was a tiny,, thin, maybe eight inches long, thing. We must have been towering giants. My brother leaned over, still watching a few feet from above. Suddenly the head sprang up from it's coil and the snake hissed with wide open mouth. I actually jumped. This tiny skinny snake had scared me for a moment. It held it's position, stretched and hissing.
My brother and I backed off. Not that we were scared, now. I don't think my brother had even been shocked. He's a cool, laid back soul. We didn't want the snake to feel threatened. With my shadow no longer over the snake, and my brother and me a couple more feet away, the snake eased itself down and swayed, coiling one way, then the other; one way, then the other; moving until it was lost to us in the grass.
The image of that tiny snake pulling itself up to its fully, few inch, height and baring it's mouth at us towering beings, remains vivid. This happened years ago.
A tiny being, not cowering against strong, huge beings, but straightening up and holding position. Ready to attack in a situation where it had no chance of fighting us off. (It's not a poisonous snake). What a strength. What a power.
Working with children who appear timid and definitely emotionally scarred, I have often experienced their mighty strength rear up at me. Sometimes they frighten me for that instant moment — like the tiny gardner snake — sometimes they inspire joy: their development and ability to overcoming pain, difficulties or hurts is inspiring.
This is one of the many reasons I love counselling children. This unexpected strength rears up frequently when the outterly timid feels safe to express their inner power.

British Sign Language 11 year anniversary today

British Sign Language was only recognised as an official language in its own right in this country, 11 years ago: 18 March 2003. May it continue to be welcomed and used in all walks of life.

British Sign Language is a vibrant language in its own right with its own grammar, vocabulary, structure and syntax.. British Sign Language is not simply about replacing a spoken word with a hand gesture. Like other languages (e.g. French and English), there cannot be an exact word for word translation.

Sign language has been around for a long time this changed suddenly in 1889. Back in the 18 century Thomas Braidwood brought sign language into the educational system in the United Kingdom. Sign Language remained in schools for a good fifty years until the fateful Second International Congress of Education of the Deaf was held in Milan. There the 1889 Royal Commission of the Blind and Deaf & Dumb was issued. This commission decreed the end of sign language in schools in preference to the Oral Method, a method that punished those who dare use sign language and promoted the difficult, often impossible task, of teaching children who were born deaf, had never heard, to speak. One of the consequences was that more than 70% of UK Deaf children left school with a reading age of 7 and with few qualifications and social skills.

The British Deaf and Dumb Association (BDDA) was formed in 1890 by Francis Maginn to fight the Oral Method and to protect the rights of the Deaf people. In 1971, the "Dumb" was dropped to create the British Deaf Association which continues to exist today. What a long time it has taken in this country for British Sign Language to once again accepted and recognized: from 1890 to 2003!

Apparently, with the combination of Deaf and hearing people who use BSL, this language is now more common than Welsh and Gaelic!

Happy 11 years anniversary BSL!!!







Celebrate British Sign Language week 2014, 16th – 23rd March

Why a BSL week?

The British Deaf Association has deemed 16th – 23rd March 2014 as Sign Language Week. In previous years they had a one day event to mark the recongition of British Sign Language as an official language — now 11 years ago — on 18th March 2003. To find out more about what's happening that week, check out the BDA listing

Learn 11 BSL signs

Signature, a national charity and the UK’s leading awarding body in deaf communication qualifications, is marking the 11th anniversary of British Sign Lanuage day by calling for school teachers to take fifteen minutes out of their day to teach students 11 basic BSL signs. The charity has created a short video demonstrating 11 key words and phrases and has freely distributed it to schools across the UK. You can visit Signature’s website to stream Signature’s 11 BSL phrases


Misleading Media: Mark Duggan photo cropped

Mark Duggan, uncropped here to show him holding a memorial plaque for his stillborn childShocking or just another manipulative and misleading act of some media?

It now comes to light that a photo of Mark Duggan was cropped to create a 'ganster' image of this father of six. The photo was taken when he was grieving. As the full image shows, he was at the grave site of his daughter who was still born.

Mark Duggan is the 29-year-old Tottenham (London, England) resident, who was shot and killed by police in Tottenham, North London, England, on 4 August 2011. The inquest jury found that Duggan's killing was "lawful". Duggan was unarmed when he was shot dead by police.

Deeply personal moments of grief are frequently shown in newspapers, magazines and on television. Now, grief has been hidden and twisted to proliferate a particular view of a family man: that he was a gangster too.

How sad is that?

Six steps to improve support in bereavement

Three major organizations who work on the issue of bereavement have come together and identified six crucial steps to address bereavement as a major public policy issue.

The National Bereavement Alliance has a vision that all people have awareness of and access to support and services throughout their bereavement experience. Working with the National Council for Palliative Care and the Dying Matters Coalition, its members have now published these six steps in an easy to read document. To download a copy, go to:

The well referenced 12 page document is a combination of personal experiences/case studies, many statistics and the steps that could be taken to make bereavement a less isolating, difficult experience. Alison Penny, Project Coordinator for the National Bereavement Alliance and Coordinator of the Childhood Bereavement Network has yet again researched and written a paper that says a lot in simple words. She did this with support from National Bereavement Alliance members, Simon Chapman, Director of Policy and Parliamentary Affairs and Joe Levenson, Director of Communications, NCPC and Dying Matters

It's well worth reading and sharing with others.



Infant and child death awareness month

I was drawn to an article about infant and child awareness month. A quote announced that there was a long tradition of October and November being a time when different faith and culture groups remember their dead. The article only mentioned three such days:

  • All-Saints Day (Christian)
  • Day of the Little Angels (Día de los Angelitos) and Day of the Dead (Dios de los Muertos)
  • Jizo Remembrance Ceremonies (Zen)

As I work in a bereavement service, I'm wondering about other annual death rituals and would welcome hearing about them. If you know of an annual festival or ritual or celebration to remember those who have died, please do let me know.

By the way, I discovered the Awareness month was last month, October, and it was in the United States. But the article by Rev. Sue Wintz, an American board certified health care chaplain, is still worth a read. It's basic but informative about the implications for those who know and care for bereaved parents.

Read the article.