When Imogen Carn lost her mother Vanessa to suicide in February 2020, it took all of her to keep going.
The 35-year-old new mother was moving house when her sister called with the devastating news and remembers feeling like the “earth stopped turning.”
The mother, from Sydney, a former television producer, admitted that she stopped living for herself at the time, only getting out of bed every morning because her nine-month-old daughter Layla needed her.
“I couldn’t imagine a future without my mother, I was completely lost and not only that, but I felt like I was going crazy.
“The pain can make you feel like you’re losing your mind,” he said.
Imogen Carn, pictured on the right, thought she was losing her mind after her mother, Vanessa, pictured on the left, died aged 62.
Imogen describes her mother as “incredible, full of love” and obsessed with her three grandchildren.
Vanessa, who was 62, did not leave a note when she died, adding to her daughter’s despair.
“The shock carried me through the first year: she was the last person I would have expected to take her own life,” he said.
‘At the funeral I was just existing. Then, at ten months, I finally started to feel the reality and the permanence of his death,” she said.
The young mother found herself feeling completely alone, in denial, and suffocated with guilt that she was unable to save her mother.
She said her mother was her best friend and they spent hours on the phone, going on picnics together and always having some kind of mother-daughter date.
“I learned very quickly that suicide does not discriminate,” he said.
Vanessa didn’t leave a note before taking her own life, adding to her daughter’s despair.
When Vanessa died, Imogen felt her good days were over, for a year she endured each day, wondering how she was expected to exist without her.
“The fact that she was a new mom just added more layers to it. How could she be a good mother if my own mother didn’t even want to be alive, she said.
He leaned heavily on his partner, expecting him to take his mother’s place while he worked to support his young family.
“It was unfair that he was also grieving and working two jobs while I was on maternity leave,” she said, noting that they “survived” somehow.
Her other friends leaned in to help, but Imogen still felt isolated and alone.
Imogen said her daughter Layla, who was nine months old at the time, forced her out of bed and “existed” in the months after the death.
He has just written a book about grief, together with his good friend sally douglaswho lost her mother around the same time.
The two women met online four months after Vanessa’s death, after searching for some kind of connection, someone else who could recognize the pain they were going through.
They met in a Sydney pub, between lockdowns, and hit it off immediately.
“We bonded over that mutual feeling of loneliness and wondered how many other people were lonely too,” he said.
They quickly started the good mourning podcast, after running out of inspiration for bereavement resources.
Four months after losing her mother, Imogen, right, met Sally Douglas, another young woman dealing with the death of her mother.
Imogen reveals her top tips for supporting yourself during grief:
When someone dies, there can often be many practical tasks that they may not have been prepared for. Your to-do list may be growing, and simple tasks may seem overwhelming. It’s important to get everything back to basics. When it all feels like too much, just focus on putting one foot in front of the other and take things minute by minute, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Social support is crucial when dealing with loss, as no matter how well supported you are, grieving can still feel incredibly isolating and lonely. Reach out to someone close to you if you feel up to it, don’t hold back. Even spending a couple of minutes chatting or texting with a good friend can give you a much-needed boost. Talking with others about what’s on your mind can help you process some of your feelings and thoughts.
talk to a professional
It has helped both of us tremendously through difficult days and there is no shame in receiving help. In Australia you can call the Griefline on 13 11 14 for free phone support.
“And it turned out that there were a lot of people who were lonely and looking for something to identify with,” she said.
She described hearing other people’s experiences as cathartic and before long the women had been asked to write a book, a tool for others who were suffocating with feelings of pain.
Three years have passed since Vanessa’s death, and though Imogen admits she still has sad days, she cries less than laughs now.
You no longer ‘just survive’ and the good parts have begun to outweigh the intense feelings of hurt that manifest as anger and guilt.
Sally and Imogen became fast friends and began working on the Good Mourning podcast to help others with hurt feelings.
Imogen reveals how to help friends through grief:
If you’re supporting someone dealing with loss, it’s not always easy to know what to do or say, but you don’t have to feel uncomfortable. Good grief support starts with simply showing up and being there.
If you’re supporting someone, take a few minutes out of your day to send a text to let them know you’re thinking of them. This simple gesture can mean a lot to the person who is grieving. It may also be helpful to include “No answer necessary” at the end of the text. If the bereaved person is feeling overwhelmed or exhausted, this simple gesture can take the pressure off her of feeling that she has to respond.
say his name
Just because your loved one is no longer here doesn’t mean the grieving person doesn’t want to talk about them or hear their name. One of the best things he can do to support them is to show them that he is keeping their memory alive. Ask questions and share a favorite memory or quality you liked best about them.
Be present and really listen
One of the best ways to support someone who is grieving is to really be there. Even if you don’t understand what it feels like to suffer, try to practice active listening with compassion and nonjudgment. You don’t have to say anything or try to fix the sadness and upset, a listening ear, a cup of tea or a big hug can do the trick.
22.02.2020 is still the worst day in the life of the young mother, but it no longer marks the end of the good days.
She now recognizes that she can have good days, without feeling guilty, and she can have sad moments when she misses her mother, without losing herself completely in grief.
Imogen says that she is likely to use the Good Mourning book herself when going through difficult times, because she now recognizes the importance of good tools in difficult times.
“Pain is universal, death is universal, but they don’t give us the tools to get through it,” he said.
Eventually a publisher approached them and they wrote a book to help other people through difficult times.
Imogen said the most important lesson she learned as she navigated life after her mother died is the importance of living for something.
“In the beginning, when you have a trauma, you have to live for someone or something outside of yourself,” he said.
‘I had to survive for my daughter. I didn’t want her to go through what I was and lose her mother. Then, as it progressed, I started living for myself again and found things in my own life that helped counteract the darkness,” she said.
She said her mother’s death forced her to quit her reality production job, where she worked on shows like The Voice and Big Brother in order to “do something meaningful.”
Imogen believes her mother’s death catapulted her into her life’s purpose: to do work that would help other people.
The book It is already available in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
It will be available in the US and Canada starting May 9.
Call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 24 hours suicide prevention and crisis support.