Emma Harford, whose son Cole, 15, took his own life a year ago today. Photo / Mike Scott
Emma Harford, whose son Cole, 15, took his own life a year ago today. Photo / Mike Scott

A mother's diary: the morning our lives changed forever

Warning: This article is about suicide and may be distressing for some readers.

Where to get help:

A year ago today, Emma Harford arrived home to find police and ambulance outside her house.

The youngest of her two sons, Cole Henry Isaac Harford, 15, had left the warmth of the weatherboard bungalow and taken his own life.

The outwardly happy, popular and talented boy - loved by all who knew him - left without explanation.

His mother, older brother Kobi, family and friends were left with unanswered questions and a painful void in their lives.

Harford had taken Cole to the doctor for cold feet in the month before he died. He had lost interest in food and had moments of anger. All are symptoms of depression.

Since his death, Harford has learned her son was suffering from insomnia, another symptom.

No one recognised them.

Now she is urging health leaders to introduce health screening surveys for teens - similar to a Plunket check.

Heartbroken, Harford started writing diary entries about her loss in the hope of breaking down misconceptions of suicide.

Over the next six days, New Zealand Herald will publish 12 of those entries, two a day.

Harford hopes sharing her words will provide insight into the pain caused by suicide and change attitudes around it.

Here are her words to her son, and to the wider world:

Sunday, October 16, 2016 - One morning

Three months ago in July, I drove home on a Wednesday morning from my boyfriend's house. I was late and I was stuck in a mound of traffic.

As I approached our house on the long stretch of road I could see ambulances, police cars and a fire appliance and mused that someone must have had a nose-to-tail in the often-busy morning traffic. Worse it appeared to be right on my drive. How annoying.

On that morning in July our lives changed forever when my youngest son Cole was found on the back porch. He had inexplicably taken his own life.

Cole Harford tragically took his own life.
Cole Harford tragically took his own life.

The police and ambulances were attending to my son, not a car accident. There was no warning, no signs, no indication he meant to do this terrible thing that would rob me of a beautiful child, his brother Kobi of a kindred friend, others of a grandson, a nephew, a mate, a student, a role model, a part of his community.

The ripple of his decision, I am told, has affected people he probably didn't even know. Friends in the teaching profession reported hearing from kids and colleagues across Auckland. My boy would be missed by hundreds and hundreds of people.

Three months on I spill fresh tears at the slightest memory of anything related to his death, the memory of my sisters singing at his funeral, a friend's embrace, the empty bed in his room.

I'm told I'm probably suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. For the first six weeks he was gone I couldn't sleep unmedicated while my brain constantly hijacked me into a spinning wheel of flashbacks that gave me panic attacks and made me cry.

Writing has long been a catharsis to which I turned in moments of difficulty. It was helpful to be expressive rather than internalise everything.

However, the experience of losing my child caused me to stop writing until now. I found I had no voice, no ability to say anything of worth. I stopped using social media, and have only posted on very rare occasions having once been quite prolific.

A fortnight after Cole died I met a man who had mentored me during a difficult period of life when I was trying to transition from mother to member of the workforce.

He told me I had a voice, and that I should use that gift to talk about this loss, about suicide, about one of the most misunderstood things that is happening to over 500 families a year in this country.

In the three months that have passed since Cole's death there have been three more suicides of people known to my circle. Something is terribly, terribly wrong out there.

At the time our loss began, expressing what this felt like seemed insurmountable. I decided I knew nothing, and wrote nothing, choosing to absorb this process until I was able to reflect upon it with distance and a shred of knowledge.

I still have no knowledge outside the mastery of my own grief, but I am ready to write again and do what my mentor said I should - share this experience and hope that good comes from it.

I am trying to be brave, I am trying to speak again.


Monday, October 17, 2016 - A worthy death


All deaths are not equal. Some are worth more to us than others, strangely enough.

Terrible accidents and illnesses produce social responses from the people left behind, a sense of unfairness, sadness, but ultimately a dignified answer of treating the dead person with honour and respect.

A worthy death.

This doesn't happen with suicide. There is a confusion and an anger attached to the method, the choosing of death instead of death choosing the person, that creates such a strong sense of cognitive dissonance that onlookers respond in ways I have found utterly breathtaking.

"What a waste."

"How did they do it?"

"Such a selfish thing."

"There's a reason for everything."

Wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong.

People have given themselves the licence and permission to utter things to me and around me concerning suicide that have no place in the context of a child's death, or indeed the suicide of any person of any age.

There was a ghoulishness attached to Cole's choice that I've never encountered in any death situation except that of a suicide.

An uncomfortable need by onlookers to "know" how he made his end, to speculate and even peddle rumours in the midst of our most horrific hour of loss.

Social media discussed, sometimes callously, among his peers what he had done, rather than focusing on what they had lost, their friend and classmate who had been so full of life only days earlier.

Why is suicide so different that we think it acceptable to be so crude?

 

Other questions surface. Was there a note? Was he bullied? Did he tell anyone? Was he depressed?

When we hear a person has died of cancer, we don't ask how many tumours, did they have chemo, were they genetically prone. We accept with sadness this news and we contemplate the grief of the loved ones left behind.

When we hear that a person has died in a car accident, we don't ask what seat were they in, were they thrown from the vehicle, were their limbs dismembered, did they bleed to death internally.

Such inquiries are abhorrent and invasive. So why is suicide so different?

My son was a most dignified and private person. He was the captain of his own ship and ultimately his own end.

It aggrieved me no end to have to take a momentary break from my heart ripping to pieces to kindly ask people to shut the f*** up and remember he was a person. A person who left us with no answers but who deserved better than this.

It's as if those who choose suicide are treated as if they are deliberately insulting those who choose life, or, who choose to suffer life at any cost.

So I ask people to reconsider their curiosity, to think again before responding as if the deceased did this deliberately to hurt your feelings. They did not.

Those who make this decision deserve kindness and love and dignity as much as those who die of age, sickness, or misfortune.

We need to remember this.


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