About Dr. Sue Egan
Dr Sue Egan,
Suicide-loss survivor, Psychologist, EMDR Therapist and
suicide grief specialist
6 years ago I heard the news no-one ever thinks they will hear.
I knew something wasn’t right. I had heard my eldest brother, Andrew, was missing but I consoled myself with thoughts of him ‘just needing space.’
And then the phone call came, which I often re-live in slow motion. I had just got back from picking the children up from school when my phone rang. I looked and could see it was Andrew’s business partner ringing. My stomach jumped in fear as words came through the phone…
“They have found Andrew – he has passed away” – Bomb number 1 exploded.
“He killed himself” – Bomb number 2 exploded everything I knew about life.
I had to tell my family next – another memory ingrained into my psyche.
That day I got home at 2am, exhausted, and ferociously scrubbed the kitchen walls – what else could I do? In the following, hours, weeks, months and years; more events unfolded in front of me as if they were happening to someone else.
There was no note and no easy explanations. On the outside, Andrew had been a successful businessman, had a family and just entered a bodybuilding competition. Nothing made sense.
I got through those days with my usual strength and compassion for others whilst trying to make sense of why Andrew did what he did. As a single mum, I focussed on caring for my 4 young children, doing the usual household chores whist I spoke at Andrew’s funeral, started campaigning for mental health awareness and continued studying.
I was the little sister and my brother was the strong one – how could I live life if he couldn’t?
I read books on life after death, binged on Snicker bars and cups of tea – coping the only way I knew how.
It felt as if those memories were invisible to everyone else and they couldn’t possibly understand what I had gone through. I felt alone, scared and unsure where to go next. The memories and feelings were so big – so unthinkable. Inside I didn’t know what to do with them – I felt that if I ‘went there’ I would drown.
I avoided friends, celebrations, anniversaries, birthdays – anything that would remind me of what had happened. Yet sometimes I found myself listening to songs that reminded me of him – it felt as if I was ‘indulging’ in the grief. The confusion and enormity of my pain prompted me to do something.
I began to campaign for mental health and met other people who had lost to suicide. I began talking about Andrew and his suicide in public. As I faced my grief, my strength became my breakthrough and I seeked professional support.
I found a therapist and remember sitting in her office saying, “it feels like my belief system is in shatters all over the floor and I have no idea which part to pick up first.”
As I talked through the memories in a safe space, I began to pick up pieces of my belief system again – one step at a time. Eventually I realised the memories were losing their power. I slowly realised that I do have purpose and life does still has meaning – that I could live my life even though Andrew couldn’t. I realised that in a safe, supportive environment, I could handle the pain in small doses.
Now I can: speak about Andrew’s life and death in public, experience big anniversaries without them knocking me sideways, have genuine fun again, think about him without crying, remember him dearly with love and respect and most importantly come to peace with what he had to do.
I now realise that grief is simply a way of expressing my love for Andrew.
Part of my healing journey was conducting research on sucide bereavement within my psychological doctoral programme in order to educate professionals on the differences of suicide grief compared to other types of loss. I am also hosting a podcast about suicide loss and by speaking to many others bereaved by suicide, have found a safe place to talk – to share what seems to be unthinkable thoughts and to hear those unthinkable stories from those who ‘just get it.’
I have learnt that we often have to rebuild not only our own lives but how we feel about our lost loved one.
I may never be fully healed or be able to fully accept my brother’s suicide, but I am in a stronger position than I ever have been. So although life will never be the same again, it is the best it will ever be – knowing I cannot rewind time and stop my brother doing what he felt he had to.
I have trained in psychotherapy and EMDR and have just completed my doctoral training in counselling psychology. With over 15 years of experience in private and public healthcare practice and 4 years of researching suicide and suicide grief, I am now devoted to advocating publicy for suicide-loss survivors and providing positive coaching and community programmes for suicide-loss survivors. Knowing first-hand that we CAN live-on in a meaningful way after suicide loss.