‘I thought the day we lost Hayden was the worst day of my life – but it’s the days you live for the rest of your life that are the worst.’
In January last year, Hayden McCarthy called his mum Kim and told her he was going to make a doctor’s appointment. When she asked what for, he told her: ‘I think I’m going to pretend I’ve got depression.’ He then changed the subject and they chatted about other things. He never went to see his GP.
Hayden was a popular soul who lived his life at a ‘million miles an hour’, Kim says. Funny and caring, he loved his job as a manager in a pub.
He was loud and loved to be busy, playing practical jokes on his team and buying them sweets, cakes and coffees. He enjoyed his evenings out, but his work ethic was strong and following a late night, he al-ways made his shift on time the next day.
Hayden had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 12, and with medication he managed the condition well, despite feeling embarrassed by the condition. But in February last year, Hayden went missing.
Kim tells Metro.co.uk: ‘I had spoken to Hayden at seven o’clock the night before. He told me he was out watching the rugby and I said, “Okay, I’ll call you later on”. He said: “If my phone dies, don’t worry.”’
Hayden’s friend who’d been out with him that night reported that he’d been his normal happy, loud self; singing, laughing and dancing.
When Kim, a 54-year-old passenger assistant, called him the next morning and found his phone off, alarm bells rang.
‘I knew something was wrong because Hayden lived for his phone and never let it go out of charge. That was at quarter to 12 and by 1 o’clock I said to my husband, “Hayden’s dead”. I just knew. Because he always called me and his phone was never off.’
Kim’s daughter Rachael contacted the police, but Kim says: ‘My gut instinct was telling me he was gone.’ Her worst fears were realised when it emerged that Hayden had taken his own life. He was just 21.
Hayden’s funeral was standing-room only, Kim says.
‘We just didn’t realise how many people knew and loved him – and the sad thing is, neither did Hayden. I thought the day we lost Hayden was the worst day of my life but it’s the days you live for the rest of your life that are the worst.’
Suicide had already overshadowed Kim’s family. When Hayden was five his father died by suicide, and Hayden had made an attempt on his own life at the age of 12.
Kim says: ‘Losing a child to suicide is something I can’t actually find the words for. I felt that a big part of me had died with him. I will never be the same person that I was before. The heaviness of it will never leave me.’
Stigma still surrounds death by suicide, and it is this shame that prevents people from seeking the help they so desperately need, Kim believes.
Which is why she decided to take part on the biggest journey of her life, along with two other mums who have been bereaved by suicide.
Over the last two weeks, Kim, Michelle Dore and Liz Hurlstone walked more than 200 miles in honour of the 200 school-age children who are heartbreakingly lost to suicide each year in the UK. The trio invited survivors, supporters and others to join them on their 17-day trek.
They follow in the footsteps of Mike, Andy and Tim, known as 3 Dads Walking, who carried out a similar journey in memory of their three daughters lost to suicide and who are hoping to join a stretch of the trek.
Known as Just 3 Mums Walking, the three began their journey in Liz’s hometown of Madeley, Cheshire, before walking to London to remember Hayden, and finishing at Sir Roger Manwood’s School, in Sandwich, Kent, where Michelle’s son Maxi studied.
Even before the walk, the mums had formed a strong bond already, laughing, crying and talking about a pain that most will never understand. Walking in memory of their sons, their aim was to raise awareness around suicide prevention and the viral work carried out by PAPYRUS, a charity which believes that most suicides can be prevented.
Kim believes breaking down the stigma can save lives: ‘This is about talking and asking someone a direct question if you are concerned about them. You know: “Are you having suicidal thoughts?” Because, that just opens up a whole new conversation and that one sentence can potentially save someone’s life.’
As they walked 17 miles a day, Liz took every step with her son Seb in her mind, after he took his life in November 2021.
17-year-old Seb was a member of the generation deeply affected by Covid restrictions. The sudden end to his secondary school career combined with a difficult beginning to his college education were hard to cope with and despite having meaningful friendships, he struggled socially.
By the time he’d found his feet in sixth form, Covid restrictions struck again. Then, in July 2021, four days after his 17th birthday, his nan passed away. He’d struggled to talk about her diagnosis and death and found the grief impossible to process.
At the time of his death, Seb was being assessed for autism, which made him feel isolated.
Liz explains: ‘What those who weren’t very close to him didn’t see, was Seb’s struggle to fit in…What others regarded as normal social interaction, Seb could find extremely difficult and draining.
‘Had Seb been able to open up and talk about the pain that he was obviously experiencing, had he known about and felt able to access Papyrus’ HOPELINE247, things may have been very different not only for him, but also for the very many people who still love, miss and remember him daily.
‘Seb could not possibly have had any “real” concept of the hugely devastating effect his loss would have on so many people, otherwise, he’d still be here.’
Suicides very rarely come about due to one single cause, and Seb struggled with the ‘layering affect’ of multiple issues, Liz says.
She adds: ‘HOPELINE247 enables young people to get in touch with trained professional advisors on a medium that suits them. It doesn’t have to be a call, it could be a text or direct messaging. It’s far more age-appropriate for young people who are struggling.
‘So we want to get the message out to young people, to parents, grandparents or carers who might be concerned, to say this is where they can talk and they can be completely open.
‘There will be a person on the other end of the call, who doesn’t know them, doesn’t know anything about the circumstances, and who is trained to signpost them to an appropriate intervention.’
Although the walk has provided some comfort to Liz, she admits you never move on. ‘What you do do, is you adapt. Despite the devastation, I’m extremely fortunate. I have had people that have carried me for the last 22 months. If I’ve needed to cry, I’ve cried. If I needed to talk, I can talk. There is support out there.
It’s not a linear kind of grief, which most people will have experienced. People say time is a great healer, but this is very different because the what-ifs, the should-I-haves and the could-I-haves which affect everybody involved with a person who has taken their own life,’ she says.
There is a prevailing assumption that suicide is always related to a mental health struggle but this was not the case for 17-year-old Maxi Dore, according to his mum.
Michelle would never have imagined she would be campaigning for suicide prevention under such heartbreaking circumstances. Her popular and loveable son Maxi was happy and had a future full of hope. When he took his life in January 2022, he had just passed his driving test and was the proud owner of an unconditional place at university to study politics.
He was taking good care of himself; ‘in the bathroom, showering more than I was’, Michelle remembers, and in his final days he had been to the hairdressers and had his teeth whitened.
When Michelle spoke to him just an hour before his death, he was laughing, happy, ‘euphoric’ even, and he told her he’d made a reservation for their dinner date the following week. But later that night, he received a text from his girlfriend saying she was leaving for Mexico and wouldn’t be able to see him again.
Michelle blames an episode of ‘sudden onset despair’ caused by the heartbreak that led him to ‘make a choice that I never ever thought someone like Maxi would make’.
When she received the call an hour later, she thought it was a sick joke. She remembers: ‘I thought “No. Not Max.” And then it became a little bit frightening. Then I thought – I know he’s dead.’
She describes the devastation as a knife in her heart, and warns that ‘If Maxi did what he did, then this can happen to anyone. But Michelle rallied, drew on her resilience and her love and respect for her son, which she says: ‘almost outweighs the grief’ and joined forces with Liz and Kim to prevent others from befalling the same heartbreak.
She adds: ‘From my tragedy, I want to spread the word far and wide. I will not let Maxi down. I will not let myself down. I’ve got to do something and I have to stay positive. I can’t lament someone who was so incredibly happy. We want to raise awareness and highlight that suicide shouldn’t be taboo. Just because you have talked about suicide to somebody doesn’t mean it’s going to put the idea in their head.
‘Suicide is out there as I very sadly and shockingly learned. But talk to your children. Communicate. There is hope, there is positivity out of what’s happened to Maxi. I am not ashamed in any way to talk about suicide because Maxi took his life. I can’t change that.
‘But what I can do is change it for other people.’
Help is here for you
• PAPYRUS is the national Charity for the Prevention of Young Suicide. To donate, go to: https://tinyurl.com/yc4bv4wb
• Open 24 hours, every single day of the year, HOPELINE247 provides a free, confi-dential call, text and email service. If you are struggling, call 0800 068 41 41, text 07860 039 967 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing Kirsten.Robertson@metro.co.uk
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