Content Warning – This Post Discusses Suicide
It was with a palpable sense of relief that I crossed the finish line of the 2023 Stafford Half Marathon earlier this month. The town had offered up its customary dose of unseasonably hot weather for race-day, and the heat had taken its toll. Despite all my marathon training to date, pushing on to the end was a real challenge. As I crossed the finish line, dehydrated and gasping, I took a moment, took a deep breath and reminded myself of just how lucky I was to be there. My last event, in 2018, had seen a series of unfortunate events result in the Stafford Half Marathon being rescheduled to the day after a trail marathon I had entered. As I was committed to both, I completed them both, but was both physically and emotionally spent. The 2023 race echoed these sentiments, but for very different reasons.
The weekend prior Kerryann and I had taken a trip to the East of England to visit Sammie to talk about her late brother and my kidney donor, Chris. Chris was a paramedic for the NHS, and a genuine hero in the truest sense of the word. A kind, caring and gentle man, Chris had no history of mental health issues, however the pandemic and subsequent lockdown had taken away his coping mechanisms and everything he loved. The dad-of-two died in hospital on July 25th, 2020, leaving behind two children and a grieving family, having taken his own life aged just 35. Less than 36 hours after his closest family said goodbye, one of his donated kidneys was transplanted into me, and gave me the new life that I have today.
From day zero, I knew that my incredibly good fortune in receiving a donated organ was countered somewhere by an unseen tragedy. I have always tried to keep this knowledge in sharp focus, as a reminder to myself to take nothing for granted. Every day is a blessing. Having conversed by letter with Sammie and her Mum, Barbara, for several months, we decided it was time to meet. Sammie spoke with great love and affection about her brother. Chris worked for South Central Ambulance Service, loved his job, and loved helping other people. He was a budding amateur athlete like me, he worked-out, took part in Triathlons, loved to ride his motorbike, and to raise money for charity. As a registered Jedi, he absolutely ADORED Star Wars. As you would expect, he is deeply missed by everyone who loved him.
It is a terrible but unspoken fact that Suicide is the leading cause of death for people aged between 15 and 49. These are not just figures, they represent real lives lost, real people and real families devastated. Sammie told us that there were no signs her brother wanted to die by suicide, a situation that is far from unique. Suicide is complex and rarely linked to only one factor, and Sammie told us that she didn’t think what he did was premeditated, but was associated to several things he was going through at the time. However, suicide is still a taboo subject which is difficult to talk about. One of the critical ways of preventing death by suicide is by normalising the discourse, and encouraging people who are struggling to talk about their feelings. The picture Sammie painted of her brother along with the pictures she gave me of Chris, shows that he was not dissimilar to the image I had formed in my minds-eye. He was just like you or me.
I wrote to Chris’s family for several reasons. I knew that most donor recipients never reach out to the donors’ bereaved families, but that it can make a real difference to those families in coping with their loss. This I wanted to do. I also wanted to express my gratitude for the donation of the organ, and to reassure them that it was cherished and most importantly, was being looked after and working well. Meeting Sammie and her husband has allowed me to learn more about the person whom I am so indebted. Their pain is still very real, and I sincerely hope that meeting me and Kerry, and hearing about our life together and how utterly transformative their brothers’ gift has been, goes some way to easing their pain.
It has been tricky deciding what to say about the circumstances surrounding Chris’s death, as it is not my story to tell, but I feel that there are important lessons for us all. I feel honoured that Sammie was able to meet us and to share so much about her brothers’ life. Her brother continues to bring love and happiness to the world, almost three-years after his passing. The tragic circumstances surrounding his death brings with it a very real sadness, but knowing more about Chris and the person he was, has also given me a new appreciation of the life that he has enabled me to enjoy.
Once again, I need to express how lucky I am, not only to have received a donor organ and to have made a successful recovery, but to have recovered to a point where I can run half marathons and train for the 2023 London Marathon in four weeks’ time. Stafford half was an emotional ride, and it is only thanks to people like Chris who have registered their desire to be organ donors on the National Donor Register, that I am here to tell this tale. I would encourage you all to click the link above and register yourselves as potential donors.
Chris’ death has also highlighted the broader tragedy that every week approximately 125 people in the UK take their own lives. Approximately 75 per cent of all UK suicides are male. Anyone can feel suicidal, but every one of us can also help save a life. Talking about suicide can seem awkward and uncomfortable – but it could also be the most important conversation you ever have. More advice is available on The Samaritans Website, and I would encourage you all to look. For more links relevant to this post and to read more about Chris, click HERE.
Rest in peace my Friend.