'The man who died, that wasn't my Chris': Losing veteran husband to suicide
- Credit: Supplied by family
A veteran and mother has paid tribute to her "charming" and "cheeky" husband who took his own life after he left the Forces - and hopes telling her story will help others.
Mandy Small from Rendlesham has shared her experiences of being bereaved by suicide in a book that she hopes will lessen the stigma of mental health.
Through the pages of 'Living Our Lives: Bereaved by Suicide', her son Jamie, 13, a student at Farlingaye High School in Woodbridge, also tells the story of his journey since the loss of his dad.
Mandy, 43, met Chris in Iraq in 2004 when she was working for the RAF Police and they got married at RAF Marham in 2006.
She said: "He charmed me from the first moment I met him. He had the gift of the gab and a cheeky grin. I was straight under his spell.
"He was life and soul of the party and always had a cheeky comment. I think that was the biggest change I noticed in him. He was always happy and laughing and joking and that all went."
She added: "I will always love the Chris I married. He's Jamie's dad whatever happened. The man who died, that wasn't my Chris. Jamie talks about him every single day and misses him desperately."
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Having served 21 years in the Royal Logistics Corps as a chef, Chris had found himself posted to many major conflicts during that time, including Afghanistan and Iraq.
But after his second tour of Afghanistan, Mandy claims he returned home a different man.
He struggled to adapt to life outside the military, and just two years after he left the Forces, Chris took his own life on November 29, 2016, aged 44.
Mandy said her husband, a massive Liverpool FC fan, had been battling with his mental health, but she believes he struggled to open up for fear of appearing weak.
Following his death, she reached out to the Armed Forces charity SSAFA, and also had tremendous support from her parents.
She said: "It's very much a rollercoaster road. I think some days things are looking up, I'm thinking about him and smiling and laughing, and another day you are driving along and hear a song and you pull over because you are sobbing your heart out."
She said she knew she had to be there for Jamie, adding "we cope by supporting each other".
Writing the book began as therapy for herself, but she hopes it can be an inspiration to others who are experiencing similar tragedies.
"I hope the book will raise awareness around suicide and mental health and lessen the stigma," she said. "SSAFA has its own chapter in the book because they played such a big part in helping me and J get through this.
"I would also like to thank Sue Cross, the SSAFA caseworker who helped me throughout my grieving process.”
At its core, Living Our Lives: Bereaved by Suicide is about showing others that it is possible to live again, and to even excel.
Jamie, who was eight when his father died, continues to be an inspiration to others through his fundraising endeavours and even won the Family Values category at the Soldiering On Awards in 2019.
Mandy, who had served 12 years in the RAF Police, now works for All Call Signs, a peer support network for veterans, serving military personnel and their families.
Living Our Lives: Bereaved by Suicide was released on February 6 and is available through Amazon.
To find out more about SSAFA, visit the website.