In a moving blog, Anna explains how she and her husband Roger are raising money for Mind as a tribute to the beautiful daughter they lost.
Anna is raising money for Mind following the death of her daughter Ellen. She has created a calendar of mermen because Ellen loved mermaids.
Follow Anna on her blog at mermenformind.wordpress.com
Ellen was our beautiful daughter. She took her own life on 25 June 2017, two days after her 23rd birthday.
After she died Roger and I decided to raise money for Mind, the charity she had often talked about supporting. This was a way of channelling our need to do something positive after her death. In the end we raised £6,000.
"Ellen had hoped to dedicate her life to helping people experiencing mental health problems."
Ellen had hoped to dedicate her life to helping people experiencing mental health problems, and we wanted to do something with the money we raised that she would have appreciated. So we waited until we had the right idea. Then it came: a mermen calendar. Ellen adored mermaids. When she was five years old I made her a mermaid outfit, which she wore with such pride. Years later she got her dream job for a weekend – working at the Lost Carnival dressed as a mermaid. Ellen was my little mermaid.
The Newfoundland and Labrador Beard and Moustache Society made a Merb’ys calendar – a Merb'y is a bearded man with a mermaid tail. My lovely friend Claire bought it for me for my 50th birthday. The first thing we thought was ‘what would Ellen think about this?’ If only Ellen had waited to see it. So, there it was – Mermen for Mind. We were going to make our own UK version of the calendar – with permission from the amazing Merb’ys of course.
First we set about choosing the 12 locations, one place for each month. These were all places that Ellen held very dear. Our Mermen For Mind team included some of Ellen’s closest friends and we spent many an evening sewing and creating props made out of shells and driftwood. These evenings often involved wine and food too as Ellen’s friends put to work their creative imaginations. Our mermen were made up of family, friends and even our vicar. It’s amazing how much, after the initial fear, they all enjoyed the makeup and glitter.It isn’t every day you get asked to be a merman.
The calendar has brought us all closer and we have made new friends along the way. Most of all it has given us purpose knowing that the money we will raise will help other people just like Ellen.
On the day of Ellen’s funeral her tutor Julia handed us something. It was the last piece of work she did. Ellen didn’t know it but she got a fantastic mark for it. She knew she was clever, she knew she could ‘boss this’. And she did. She got a 2:1 honours degree from Leeds Beckett in Events Management. She was always going to be brilliant.
Ellen was so creative, so enthusiastic. Every ounce of her went into a project when she started to think about it. I used to say when she was little ‘Why do you always have to turn even the simplest of things into a west end show?’ It’s just how it was with Ellen, all or nothing.
"Our amazing vicar said everyone who has lost someone to suicide always feels responsible for what has happened. And it's so true."
Ellen’s graduation ceremony was a bittersweet occasion. Her brother and sister in law were there, her grandma, her fiancé, and one of her best friends. So many of us were there for Ellen. But, of course, she wasn't. We were all nervous about how we would feel. I watched the other parents and grandparents beaming with pride as the graduands became graduates. When Roger and I walked together to collect Ellen’s degree certificate it felt so wrong, but so right that we should collect it for her. She should have been there.
Our amazing vicar said something to me after Ellen died that I will never forget – everyone who has lost someone to suicide always feels responsible for what has happened. And it's true. The night Ellen took her life she was due to go on holiday to Toulouse. She rang me, upset. We were frantic with worry. We tried and tried to ring the hotel, we left messages, but they didn’t even pick up the phone or ring us back.
What could we have done? Did we do enough? But the truth is we never stopped supporting her and trying to help. We do what we can. We can do no more.
"At the church service, there was barely even any standing room left. We knew Ellen had touched so many lives in such a positive way."
We have a Muslim friend who knows Ellen's story blow by blow – everything she had to endure, all the highs and lows she went through. Our friend talked about everyone having their life, and the will of god or Allah. They leave their mark. Well Ellen certainly did. She was amazing. This showed at the church service, there was barely even any standing room left. We knew Ellen had touched so many lives in such a positive way.
"We are coping, we are surviving, we are putting up a front. Our mental health has taken a huge sideways blow."
When someone you love takes their own life and you carry on everyone thinks ‘you are amazing’, ‘you are strong’, ‘you are inspirational’. No we are not. We are coping, we are surviving, we are putting up a front. Our mental health has taken a huge sideways blow. There are tears, frustration, regrets and so, so much sadness. It never goes away. Everyday it’s there. But funnily enough we are ok. We really are ok.
Ellen wanted to start a soap company. She was going to call is ‘Scents of Grace’. The soap company was to include healing gems and calming scents. Everything was about helping people with mental health problems, people like her. She understood it, she got it.
We hope our ‘Mermen for Mind’ calendar will be a huge success – raising money to support people with mental health problems. You would be so proud of us all for this my darling Ellen, just as we are of you.
Blogs and stories can show that people with mental health problems are cared about, understood and listened to. We can use it to challenge the status quo and change attitudes.