A YEAR ago today, Helen Holbrook received a phone call that changed her life forever.
She was told that her 21-year-old daughter Jennifer Kilgallon had been found dead in an apparent suicide.
It could have destroyed her but instead 51-year-old Miss Holbrook is using the experience to try to help others with suicidal feelings by training as a psychotherapeutic counsellor.
Jennifer, a student nurse, took a fatal insulin overdose while suffering from depression. She had left a note for her family.
Miss Holbrook, of Ancastle Green, Henley, said: “There is a big issue here about suicide and how prevalent it is.
“There is help out there but often people don’t know about it. There are charities for people who feel suicidal and those who are worried about someone else who feels suicidal.
“With Christmas and New Year coming up there will be a spike. There will be people who may not currently feel suicidal or only feel that way slightly and all the people around them may not realise.
“By the end of the Christmas period there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of people affected. I want to get the word out there and help those in distress and those affected by the ripple effect of these terrible, traumatic events.”
Jennifer, who was known as Jeni, lived in France and Belgium for four years as a youngster. She moved with her mother and younger brother, Jonny, to Henley in 2007 and studied at The Henley College for two years before attending London South Bank University.
She graduated in August last year with an advanced diploma in adult nursing and started work at University College London Hospital a month later.
On December 6, she was found dead in her bedroom at John Astor House, which is hospital accommodation.
Miss Holbrook said Jennifer’s suicide had been hard to understand at first, especially as she had only just joined the caring profession.
She said: “For someone who is suicidal, they go into a black hole where the rest of us haven’t been because if you had then you would also be dead.
“The thing about distress is it’s very personal and is very often invisible to others even though it’s close. We can’t begin to imagine what’s going on inside someone’s head.
“It’s way more than depressed and sad. Jennifer is the last person who would want to upset us or give us a life sentence [of having to cope] but her action has. I don’t think she, the person, did.”
Her understanding was helped when a suicide note was found in a document on Jennifer’s laptop, along with a will. It contained a series of messages addressed to her parents, 20-year-old brother, grandparents and boyfriend.
Miss Holbrook said the letter was “lucid” and comprehensive and had helped console the family.
“Jonny and I held hands and read it together,” she said. “It was great comfort to us because it read as she spoke and said the nicest things to us.
“She looked after us. She answered a few questions and confirmed it was her decision to do what she did. She did apologise for doing it.” Miss Holbrook, who used to run an art gallery in Montpellier, has been working as a carer for the elderly and professional nanny in Henley.
In May last year, she qualified as a hypnotherapist and, after researching suicide following her daughter’s death, began her counsellor training and is due to qualify early next year.
She wants to focus eventually on helping young people who feel suicidal and the bereaved but must wait two years before she can specialise.
Miss Holbrook said friends and family had provided support for her and her son.
“I’ve got quite a big network of colleagues and friends from the counselling world. These are the people you need around you,” she said.
“What you actually need is people who will ring up and keep ringing up and keep coming round. People say ‘call me if you need anything’ but you don’t want to pick up the phone if you feel rotten.
“There’s a feeling that you might not be good company. It goes against human nature to pick up the phone at your lowest sense. The importance of good friends can’t be underestimated.” Miss Holbrook attends the Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide support group in Henley as well as counselling.
“I got in touch at the beginning of January,” she said. “I knew there was a waiting list of six to eight weeks to see a counsellor and I’m still seeing mine now every week or fortnight.
“It’s free and my counsellor specialises in people bereaved by suicide. It’s a very good service. Bereavement from a suicide is a particularly shocking and horrible event. Even now, in 2013, there’s still a stigma attached to it. There’s an element of guilt and shame for survivors.
“You feel like you can freefall in space after a suicide. You don’t even know what the questions are, let alone what the answers might be. One of the worst bereavements is for a mother to lose her child because it goes against nature.”
Miss Holbrook has also learned Buddhist relaxation techniques, including how to meditate.
“The lovely thing about Buddhism is you can just dip in and pick whatever makes sense to you,” she said.
“It teaches you to exist in the moment. Thinking about the past can lead to depression.
“If we dwell too much on the future we can have anxious thoughts but if we concentrate on the present it can be very empowering and liberating because it frees you from that busy cycle of negative thoughts.”
Miss Holbrook said her own studies had given her a better understanding of how to approach young people who are at their lowest ebb.
She said: “I would say to someone in that situation that although things may seem bleak and hopeless, sometimes waiting another day can make all the difference. Picking up the phone and speaking to someone and getting another perspective can help enormously.”
Miss Holbrook believes the new year will help release a new sense of life for her.
She said: “I’m a people person and I’m quite excited about this next phase for me professionally.
“I really think 2014 will be the one when I move into my next vocation.
“I’m really keen to get into that field and make a difference as soon as I can.”