When Imogen Carn lost her mum Vanessa to suicide in February 2020 it took everything in her to keep going.
The 35-year-old first time mum was moving house when her sister called with the devastating news and remembers feeling like the ‘earth just stopped spinning’.
The mum, from Sydney, a former TV producer, admitted she stopped living for herself in that moment and only got out of bed every morning because her nine-month-old daughter Layla needed her.
‘I couldn’t envision a future without my mum, I was completely lost and not only that but I felt like I was going crazy.
‘Grief can make you feel like you are losing your mind,’ she said.
Imogen Carn, pictured right, thought she was losing her mind after her mum Vanessa, pictured left, died at 62
Imogen describes her mum as being ‘amazing, full of love’ and obsessed with her three grandchildren
Vanessa, who was 62, didn’t leave a note when she died, which added to her daughter’s despair.
‘Shock carried me through the first year – she was the last person I would have expected to take their own life,’ she said.
‘At the funeral I was just existing. Then at the ten month mark I finally started to feel the reality and permanence of her death,’ she said.
The young mother found herself feeling completely alone, in denial and suffocated by guilt because she couldn’t save her mum.
She said her mum was her best friend and they spent hours on the phone, going on picnics together and always had some kind of mother-daughter date lined up.
‘I learnt very quickly that suicide doesn’t discriminate,’ she said.
Vanessa didn’t leave a note before she took her own life – adding to her daughter’s despair
When Vanessa died Imogen felt like she had run out of good days, for a year she bore through each day, wondering how she was expected to exist without her.
‘The fact I was a new mum just added more layers to it. How could I be a good mum if my own mum didn’t even want to be alive,’ she said.
She leaned heavily on her partner, expecting him to fill her mother’s shoes, while he worked to support their young family.
‘It was unfair he was grieving too and he was working two jobs as I was on maternity leave,’ she said, noting that they ‘made it through’ somehow.
Her other friends leant in to help, but Imogen continued to feel isolated and alone.
Imogen said her daughter Layla, who was nine-months-old at the time, forced her to get out of bed and ‘exist’ in the months after the shock death
She has just written a book on grief, alongside her good friend Sally Douglas, who lost her mum at about the same time.
The two women met online four months after Vanessa’s death, after looking for some kind of connection, someone else who could recognise the grief 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 feeling lonely too,’ she said.
They quickly started the Good Mourning podcast, after being left uninspired by resources for people moving through grief.
Four months after losing her mum Imogen, right, met Sally Douglas, another young woman navigating the death of her mum
Imogen reveals her top tips to support yourself through grief:
When someone dies, there can often be a lot of practical tasks you may not have been prepared for. Your to-do list may be mounting, and simple tasks can feel overwhelming. It’s important to strip everything right back to basics. When everything feels too much, simply 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 you are coping with loss, as no matter how well-supported you may be, grief can still feel incredibly isolating and lonely. Reach out to someone close to you if you feel able to – don’t hold it in. Even spending a couple of minutes chatting or texting with a good friend can give you a much-needed lift. Talking to others about what’s on your mind can help you process some of your feelings and thoughts.
Speak to a professional
It’s helped us both massively on difficult days and there’s no shame in getting some help. In Australia, you can call Griefline on 13 11 14 for free telephone support.
‘And it turned out there were a lot of people feeling lonely, looking for something relatable,’ she said.
She described hearing other people’s experiences as cathartic and before long the women had been approached to write a book, a tool for others being suffocated by feelings of grief.
It has been three years since Vanessa’s death, and though Imogen admits she still has sad days, she now cries less than she laughs.
She is no longer ‘just surviving’ and the good parts have started to outweigh the intense feelings of grief which manifested as rage and guilt.
Sally and Imogen became friends immediately and started working on the Good Mourning podcast to help others with feelings of grief
Imogen reveals how to help friends navigate through grief:
If you’re supporting someone coping with loss, it’s not always easy to know what to do or say, but you don’t have to feel awkward. 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 and let them know you are thinking of them. This simple gesture can mean so much to the person who is grieving. It can also be helpful including, ‘No need to respond’, at the end of your text. If the person grieving is feeling overwhelmed or exhausted, this simple gesture can take the pressure off them feeling that they have to respond.
Say their name
Just because their loved one is no longer here, that doesn’t mean that the person grieving doesn’t want to talk about them or hear their name. One of the best things you can do to support them is to show that you’re keeping their memory alive. Ask questions, and share a favourite memory or a quality that you loved most about them.
Be present and really listen
One of the best ways you can support someone grieving is to be truly present. Even if you don’t understand what it feels like to grieve, try to practise active listening with compassion and without judgement. 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.
The 22.02.2020 remains the worst day of the young mum’s life, but it no longer marks the end of good days..
She now recognises she can have nice days, without feeling guilty, and can have sad moments where she misses her mum without completely losing herself to grief.
Imogen says she will likely use the Good Mourning book herself, when she goes through difficult periods – because she now recognises the importance of good tools in hard times.
‘Grief is universal, death is universal, but we don’t get given the tools to get through it,’ she said.
They were eventually approached by a publisher and wrote a book to help other people through difficult times
Imogen said the most important lesson she learned when she navigated through life after her mum’s death is the importance of living for something.
‘In the beginning, when you have trauma, you have to live for someone or something outside of yourself,’ she said.
‘I had to survive for my daughter. I didn’t want her to go through what I was, and lose her mum. Then as I moved forward I started to live for me again and found things in my own life which helped counteract the darkness,’ she said.
She said her mother’s death forced her to leave her job in reality television production, where she worked on shows like The Voice and Big Brother to ‘do something meaningful’.
Imogen believes her mum’s death catapulted her into her life’s purpose – doing work which helped other people.
The book is already available in Australia, New Zealand the UK and Ireland.
It will be available across the US and Canada from May 9.
Call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 for 24-hour suicide prevention and crisis support.