Finding my way through grief after losing my son

February 2, 2022

Two years ago, Steve Phillip’s life was tragically rewritten when he lost his son, Jordan, to suicide. As he explains, the grief and heartache don’t go away. But he has learnt to carry on.

There are moments in your life that define you. Moments which will determine your destiny from that point on. A two-minute call with my son’s girlfriend on Wednesday 4th December 2019 was that moment for me.

It didn’t dawn on me during those 120 seconds, but in the hours, days and weeks that followed, I soon realised that my life would never be the same again.

This call was to tell me that my 34-year-old son, Jordan, had taken his own life.

More than two years on, looking back on that day, I barely recognise the person I am now.

Everything I thought I had planned for the latter stages of my life – I’m 62 – was obliterated. It was simply wiped off the map. I’d reached a fork in the road with no idea what route to take.

Moving in any direction seemed impossible under the weight of so much sadness, so much guilt and confusion.

But I knew that I had to keep moving, in some way or form.

A very different path

‘Moving forward’ is a term I’ve heard used by many people who have been bereaved by suicide – we don’t like the term ‘moving on’ because you never move on. The person you’ve lost never truly leaves you. The 34 years I spent with Jordan, and the events around his death, are still very much a part of me.

So instead of moving on, you move forward. You simply put one foot in front of the other and try not to look sideways – you often look back, though.

Nowadays, I’m like others I’ve met who have lost loved ones to suicide: I try to help prevent more people following in my son’s footsteps.

Within weeks of Jordan’s death, I already knew that I would wind up my consultancy practice and that my future lay in what, at the time, was a totally alien world to me – the world of mental health and suicide prevention.

Dealing with grief as a man

I’m often asked: ‘How do you do what you do? How have you managed to keep going?’

In the days following Jordan’s suicide, the first signs of trauma and grief were beginning to manifest themselves in me. They took the form of violent head-twitching and abdominal convulsions (my description, not a medical term). I felt like I had no choice but to keep moving.

Something inside told me: ‘You have to get up; you have to sort out all this mess that has been left behind.

‘There’s a funeral to arrange, there’s the coroner’s office to speak with, the police, the funeral directors, there’s Jordan’s financial affairs to look after, there are other family, friends and colleagues who need to know, there’s your family who need you. You’re the man, it’s what you’re supposed to do.’

Being the man…

It’s hard being the man, standing in line at a bank and approaching the smiling person behind the glass, when you’re there to bring your son’s death certificate as proof so that you can access his account.

It was something I had to do over and over with the various utility companies, mortgage provider, phone company and council.

It’s hard when you receive letters or messages from the friends of your son. Distraught, not only because of his death but the manner in which he died, asking: ‘Why didn’t I see this coming?’

It’s hard for your wife, too, when she arrives home from her mundane, life-goes-on routine of grocery-shopping to find this ‘man’ lying on the floor, sobbing uncontrollably.

And it’s equally hard when that initial flurry of busyness, and all the awful, soul-destroying practicalities of the aftermath of a death have been seen to. You come to a hard stop.

At that stage, still very early into my ‘new life’, I had no idea what I was supposed to do.

I remember a close friend telling me: ‘You have two choices now. You’re either going to sit on the sofa with a bottle or you’re going to get out there and make a difference.’ The first option did momentarily appeal but it was never going to be the route I would take.

Helping myself by helping others

Within three weeks of Jordan’s death, I decided to publish an article online. It shared what my family and I were going through.

I did that in the hope that someone who was considering a similar end to their life would read it. Maybe they would make a different choice: a decision to live.

I wanted what our family had been through to make a difference somewhere, somehow.

And it did. I began to receive hundreds of messages from around the world. What these messages told me was that I wasn’t alone. So many others were going through or had been through the loss of a loved one to suicide.

It was at that moment that the ‘self-pity party’ stopped for me and I began a new life, creating The Jordan Legacy to help prevent suicides.

Over the past two years, I have spoken with hundreds of people who are members of this club that none of us would have joined voluntarily.

I have met with government representatives, founders of charities, community groups, organisations and companies large and small from the UK and further afield. What I’ve learnt is this…

  • Talking and being open about Jordan’s suicide and how the grief has affected me, despite the many times when I have broken down during an interview and had to compose myself, has allowed me to keep moving forward.
  • I no longer feel awkward or embarrassed about expressing my emotions. I cry more these days than I have ever done before. It helps, and I never apologise for doing so.

Finding your path

If you’re reading this having been through a similar ordeal, I know that some words from a stranger will never truly address the depth of grief you are going through. But I would love for you to hear two things:

  • You are not alone. There are many others out there who are moving forward with you. Talking to them online, in support groups, over a coffee or however else makes you comfortable, will help.
  • Moving forward is a choice. Often it’s one we have to make anew each day, when the intensity of the grief and loss are threatening to smother us. It’s by no means easy.

For me, The Jordan Legacy was how I got my life moving again. For you, it will look very different. But I believe you’ll find your answer, too.

And slowly, with many false starts and stumbles, you’ll begin to move forward again.

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