Dear Virginia, My partner committed suicide a month ago, by poisoning himself in our car. I have no idea why he did it. He seemed his normal self that morning and had no worries. My son and I are finding it very difficult to come to terms with, as you can imagine. But to make it worse, we live in a small village and people are starting to talk, spreading rumours that it was somehow my fault. Some of my son's school friends' parents have stopped speaking to him, as well. I don't know how I can cope. Life simply seems too difficult to continue. Yours sincerely, Clare
Virginia says... As it must be agonising for you to begin to come to terms with your partner's death without having any idea at all of why he might have done it, try to understand that other people are also shocked by a death like this in their small community. Often, when there seems no reason to explain what appears to be a cruel act of God, rather than accept that it was just one of those terrible things that could happen to any one of us, people start inventing reasons, to reassure themselves there was some kind of logic to the dreadful act. It makes them feel better.
I don't know if this knowledge might help you a bit, but even if it does, I would imagine you would find it impossible to continue to live in a small village like this, surrounded by rumour and suspicion, without, eventually, having a breakdown.
What you need is support. So the first thing I would do is to go to see the head teacher at your son’s school and explain the situation clearly. Tell them how upset you feel about the gossip, and ask if they could have a word with the ignorant parents who are behaving so unfairly to your son. Once people realise what a terrible effect what they may see as harmless gossip is having on a young boy, they may well stop their behaviour.
Then, whether you're religious or not, I'd go to see the vicar of your local church. You need to get powerful figures in your community on your side, and if there's a head of a resident's association or some kind of full-time, well-meaning busybody you can confide in, so much the better.
I would also use a tactic that's been used successfully by the parents of victims of bullying. They'll find the bully in the playground, confide that their child is being bullied and ask them to look after them. Similarly, if you know there's someone in your village who's being particularly cruel with her rumours, seek her out, confide in her, and ask her to help you squash the rumours spread by 'other people'. She'll be so flattered to be picked out as your special friend that I've no doubt she'll do just as good a job exonerating you as she was in blackening your name.
If none of these tactics works, and getting in touch with one of the many self-help groups set up particularly for the friends and families left behind by suicide, then there's nothing you can do but move. But do try these ideas out before taking any drastic measures, for your son's sake as well as your own.
Grasp the nettle
Here's a bold idea. Invite them all round for a party. When everyone is settled in one place, make a speech about your partner and thank them all for being so understanding since the tragedy. You could even hint that there have been one or two nasty rumours but that you are keen to lay these to rest and move on. There's no saying that this will do the trick, but it will help you to test the waters and to decide whether your moving on needs to include a geographical element.
Don Manley By email
Take it slowly
One month since losing a partner is not long. You will go through many layers of pain and shock, judgement and thought. Allow it all to happen. Know that there are many souls who will empathise with you lovingly. Eventually you will come to understand what made your partner take his own life. With or without some friendly help to do it, it will happen and it will liberate you. Be patient and kind to yourselves. And the rumours will cease by themselves.
Derek Cunningham By email
Next week's dilemma
Dear Virginia, I was recently bicycling along past a neighbour's house when his dog came out and bit me. It wasn't just a nip. Eventually, as it became infected, I had to get hospital treatment. I feel angry because the dog's owner, an elderly man who's lived there for years, didn't seem to appreciate the severity of the attack, and rather brushed it off. I didn't go to the police because I didn't want the dog put down, but still feel resentful. Was there anything I could have done - or should do now - to make this man feel more responsible? Yours sincerely, Ed
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