ON Valentine’s Day 2021, my husband Matthew gave me beautiful red roses and cooked me a delicious meal.
We reminisced about happy memories, like restaurants we’d visited, holidays with the children and teaching Bella, our eldest, to ride a bike.
He seemed happy, and was being unusually affectionate all day, although by the evening he was quieter and subdued.
At bedtime, Matthew, an event horse rider who had competed for Britain, cuddled our children Bella, then eight, William, six, and Niamh, four, and I read to them in their bedroom downstairs, before tucking them in.
I went upstairs to our room at 6.30pm, and that’s when my world fell apart, because there I found Matthew dead.
He had taken his own life, aged 38.
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In shock, I desperately tried to help him, and called 999 with trembling hands.
I felt so hopeless as I told Matthew that I couldn’t believe he’d done this and pleaded with him to come back to me – but it was too late.
The paramedics arrived, followed by the police and both sets of our parents.
At 1am, the officers left, and I put on Matthew’s dressing gown, then lay on his side of the bed.
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I couldn’t help but think that if I’d gone upstairs earlier, I could have stopped him.
While Matthew had been open about his mental health struggles – writing about his bouts of depression for an equestrian magazine – nobody except me knew he’d attempted suicide on several occasions.
But I never thought he’d actually do it, as I was sure he wouldn’t leave me and the kids.
Telling the children was the worst thing I’ve ever had to do.
All three were huddled together, knowing something was terribly wrong.
Seeing their faces drop when I told them their daddy had died will haunt me forever.
Bella put her arms around the younger two who were sobbing, trying to be brave – that broke my heart even more.
Matthew and I had been together for 11 years, after meeting through our love of riding horses competitively.
He’d been competing since he was 12, and his problems began around 18, when he’d started to feel overwhelmed with the pressure of the sport.
I’d known about Matthew’s issues since we got together, but his mental health deteriorated from when he was 25, and things worsened after getting married and having children.
However, he was an amazing dad.
He loved cooking for our children, and teaching them to swim and ride bikes.
He insisted on doing the school run so he could chat to them every day.
Like many people who struggle, how he appeared outwardly was different from how he felt inside.
Matthew never wanted others to see a chink in his armour, which is common in sporting professionals.
All of his friends saw him as funny, and nobody knew the extent of his mental health problems, especially as he was so kind to others.
He’d be the first to offer help, but the last to ask for it.
In 2018, when Matthew was asked by the equestrian magazine to write blogs for them about professional events, he mentioned he was having a dark day and it had a ripple effect, as others contacted him saying they were also struggling.
Realising there was a problem, we decided to help by raising mental health awareness.
In May 2019 we launched Riders Minds, an online resource where people can access free counselling and support.
Matthew continued to struggle, and that year was given medication for depression, which he refused to take, as he said he didn’t want to appear weak.
I suggested he talk to a counsellor, but after two sessions he said he couldn’t open up to a stranger.
Looking back, I can see the toll Matthew’s problems took on me, too.
I never knew what mood he was going to be in and I was constantly stressed.
I never thought about leaving him, but I was in survival mode, getting through each day as best I could.
Still, in the two years before his death, he was the happiest I’d ever seen him.
I thought his troubles were behind him, which made his death even harder to understand.
When Matthew died everybody was in total shock.
Both sets of our parents said Matthew would never have ended his life. But he had, and I didn’t have the answers everybody wanted.
The days after his death passed in a blur; I was like a zombie, not knowing what day it was.
I kept going over our last day together, thinking how he’d made more of an effort than usual for Valentine’s, and wondering if that was his way of saying goodbye.
I thought about how he’d chopped enough firewood for a week, and how he’d tried on a suit he loved – was it his way of telling me to bury him in it?
There were so many unanswered questions.
Matthew’s funeral was held on March 26, 2021.
Due to Covid it was restricted to close family and friends, but so many people stood outside the church and crematorium to pay their respects.
Afterwards, I carried on the best I could, throwing myself into caring for the children and focusing on the charity Matthew and I had set up.
Over the following months, I found letters from Bella asking Daddy to please come back.
It upset me that she felt she had to hide them from me, so I began to talk about my memories of Matthew, encouraging them to do the same.
Valentine’s Day this year was immensely difficult, as I realised that Matthew was gone for good.
I felt angry that he had left our children and me.
Now I’m in a better place, but I still think about how I should have told my friends and family that Matthew wasn’t OK, instead of brushing it under the carpet and trying to deal with it all by myself.
We need to normalise conversations around people feeling suicidal so they are comfortable asking for help without being afraid of being stigmatised.
I’ll never get over losing Matthew, the love of my life and the greatest dad to our children, but I’m determined to help others struggling through our charity in his honour.
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If that can save even one person’s life, it will be worth everything.
- For help and support, call Samaritans free on 116 123, or visit Samaritans.org.
- Horse riders can contact Riders Minds (Ridersminds.org) by calling 0800 088 2073 or texting 07729 774117.
Signs of suicide contemplation
These are some key signs to watch out for in not just your loved ones, but yourself, too:
- A change in routine, such as sleeping or eating less than normal
- Struggling to sleep, lacking energy or appearing particularly tired
- Drinking, smoking or using drugs more than usual
- Finding it hard to cope with everyday things
- Not wanting to do things they usually enjoy
- Becoming withdrawn from friends and family – not wanting to talk or be with people
- Appearing more tearful
- Appearing restless, agitated, nervous, irritable
- Putting themselves down in a serious or jokey way, for example 'Oh, no one loves me', or 'I'm a waste of space'
- Losing interest in their appearance, not liking or taking care of themselves or feeling they don't matter
You’re Not Alone
EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost to suicide.
It doesn't discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.
It's the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes.
And men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.
Yet it's rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.
That is why The Sun launched the You're Not Alone campaign.
The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.
Let's all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others… You're Not Alone.
If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:
- CALM, www.thecalmzone.net, 0800 585 858
- Heads Together, www.headstogether.org.uk
- Mind, www.mind.org.uk, 0300 123 3393
- Papyrus, www.papyrus-uk.org, 0800 068 41 41
- Samaritans, www.samaritans.org, 116 123
- Movember, www.uk.movember.com
- Anxiety UK www.anxietyuk.org.uk, 03444 775 774 Monday-Friday 9.30am-10pm, Saturday/Sunday 10am-8pm
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