‘What Remains’ is a workshop project that raises the questions of why it’s so hard to talk about suicide and what can be done to support the people most affected by it’s legacy. 

“When I was 12 my Dad died by suicide, and given the nature of his method, my Mum decided it was better not to tell us children what had happened. She kept the truth a secret because, not only did she want to protect us from our own imaginations, but also she did not want any of us to be seen as, or to feel like, victims. My Mum felt that suicide was an ultimate taboo in our society and she didn’t want any one to judge her husband.” MARY BROOKS

The suicide rate in Calderdale is higher than the national average. Suicide remains the most common cause of death amongst men under 35. There is a national and regional drive to invest time and money into suicide ‘prevention’, but the shame, guilt and stigma associated with suicide often means that those living with its legacy are excluded (or exclude themselves) from care and support. There are very few specific services available locally to assist in rebuilding of lives and ‘recovery’ – particularly for younger family members.

In the Summer of 2017 we met with mother and daughter Gillian and Mary Brooks, who had worked together previously to devise a piece of performance which sought to question why it is so hard to talk about suicide and what can be done to support the people most affected by its aftermath. Gillian’s husband, Mary’s father, had died by suicide a number of years ago and Gillian has worked for some time as a bereavement counsellor. We wanted to see if we could develop their piece into an open workshop format which could be used to stimulate conversation and debate about some of the issues. We also wanted to use this ‘intergenerational’ relationship to show how parents and children can work together to explore more sensitive and complex themes and concerns.

Working closely with the family, Sharon from verd de gris began to shape the performance element with Mary – sharing creative workshop time at Square Chapel Arts over the Summer and into the Autumn of 2017. At the same time Gillian and Mary spent time working together to collate thoughts, recollections, and Gillian’s own writings – her conversations with family and friends and support group members.

To build an audience for the performance workshop we reached out to local mental health support organisations, local people affected by suicide using third sector networks. We also targeted local press contacts and produced posters and fliers circulated through libraries, cafes and other public spaces. The performance workshop event was staged at Hebden Bridge Town Hall in November 2018 with a Q&A and gathering of thoughts and feedback. A follow-up workshop was held for young adults at Calderdale College later the same month.

“Very effective. Very powerful writing. Very powerful performance. I empathised greatly with the play as I am recently bereaved because of suicide. I took comfort in discussion afterwards too!” AUDIENCE MEMBER

This project is now being taken forward thanks to the help of the Community Foundation for Calderdale – they have given us a grant towards the development of a workshop package that uses creative activities and film to support local people experiencing loss through suicide.

Reaching out to local families and support agencies we propose to develop a resource package that supports both therapeutic engagement and stimulates open conversation and dialogue in a bid to understand more about the emotional legacy of suicide bereavement and what can be done to break down the stigma families often live with as part of its ‘legacy’.

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