In exactly one month’s time, Tim Owen will be walking 300 miles from Cumbria to Norfolk along with two other ‘ordinary dads’. What links them? All three have lost their beloved daughters to suicide within the last three years. This is Tim and Emily’s story
I have lived in Norfolk for years, and that is where Emily was born and brought up, in a small village to the west of the county. Here she lived with her family, going to the local school, playing football in the village and working in the village community pub. She was so well known locally.
My family’s world turned upside down when, on March 18, 2020, Emily decided she couldn’t cope with life under lockdown and attempted to take her own life. This was the culmination of years of struggles and a late diagnosis of autism, which was hidden to all but her closest friends and family. She died, five days later, in the hospital where she had been born 19 years earlier.
The events of March 2020, as the nation started to realise the extent of the pandemic, changed our lives forever. From Emily’s funeral attended by just six people, to the roads in the village lined with hundreds of people from the village and beyond, to the impact on her siblings which will last for decades as will the impact on her wider family and friends. Emily just had no idea how many lives she touched and continues to impact.
I strongly believe that in a moment of darkness Emily made a wrong decision. Two minutes earlier or later it would have been different. Had she just taken time to think or to speak to someone, her decision and my family’s lives would be on another path. Instead, she decided she could no longer go on leaving behind a devasting ripple effect on her family and friends.
In the following weeks, Mike and I got to know and support each other whilst we and our families were on a similar path following the tragic loss of Mike’s daughter, Beth, in very similar circumstances. Mike and I spoke often about doing something to try and pull something from the devasting and dark circumstances we were in. Mike became involved with Papyrus and eventually, along with Andy, an absolute stalwart supporter of the charity, came up with this idea of walking between our homes to try and raise awareness of suicide in young people, a topic which is often brushed under the carpet as it is just too disturbing to face up to or discuss.
If our walk does one thing, I hope it helps open up that discussion and makes people realise that it needs to be put on the national agenda. Losing our young people in these numbers is unacceptable and has such far reaching consequences for so many people for decades afterwards.
Perhaps if Emily had known about Papyrus, I would not be doing this walk.
Emily lived life at a million miles an hour, a free-spirit with no limits, charging around in her beloved Mini and travelling to Cornwall as often as possible – a place she so loved. Most people saw Emily as this ‘beautiful, funny, talented but slight crazy young lady’ as one of her friends described her. She was the life and soul of an event and our house. As her dad I often watched her behind the bar of the village pub talking to the customers and bringing laughter and joy to those who she spoke to. She was an incredibly talented artist who just couldn’t see how brilliant she was. The image is a self-portrait she painted for her final GCSE piece, but she couldn’t see her own talent.
What many didn’t see was the struggle Emily had to fit into society and be that girl everyone all saw. This was down to her autism which she wanted to hide. Emily would often come into the house from the big world and go straight to bed to chill out or use all the hot water in the house to have the longest, deepest and hottest bath ever.
Emily just couldn’t understand the world. She couldn’t understand why people were so nasty, and that would make her very angry. When we went into isolation two days before our lives changed forever, her first thought was about our family, and on her way home she did a weekly shop for us, with lots of sweets and chocolate as would be expected of Emily. During this act of kindness, she was challenged by an older couple in the supermarket as to why she, a young girl, needed to buy so much food. She never had chance to explain she was buying a week’s worth of food for her family. They just judged her and that really hurt – she wanted everyone to be kind.
She was the most caring person. Whenever she saw injustice or hurt, she wanted to help. She had started to make great plans and, after leaving school and gaining some more qualifications, had made her mind up to help others by working towards becoming a nurse. She had said that she would volunteer to help in the NHS during the pandemic before the volunteer scheme had been announced. She saw that as a pathway into a caring career, something she would have been so, so good at.
In her last note to me and her mum, she said ‘The last thing I’d like to ask of you is don’t be ashamed of what I have done. I don’t mind people knowing about what happened to me if it will help them before it’s too late.’
So, with that in mind, in walking for Papyrus I am following Emily’s last wishes by raising awareness of suicide. I will never be ashamed of Emily – just devastated that she is no longer with us.
Visit 3 Dads Walking. From October 9, Andy, ‘Manchester Mike’ and Tim will set off from Andy’s home near Penrith in Cumbria and walk on average 20 miles a day, via Manchester. The plan is to reach Tim’s home near King’s Lynn 15 days later on October 23 – that’s a total of 300 miles. Click here to donate.
PAPYRUS believes that many young suicides are preventable. They operate HOPELINEUK, a confidential call, text, and email helpline for young people with thoughts of suicide or those concerned about a young person who may have thoughts of suicide. Every £5 raised can help pay for a potentially lifesaving contact to HOPELINEUK from a young person wanting to stay safe from their thoughts of suicide. For practical, confidential suicide prevention help and advice please contact PAPYRUS HOPELINEUK on 0800 068 4141, text 07860 039967 or email email@example.com