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Because family life matters

Our son Pete took his own life

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Michael and Shirley’s son Peter Michael James was born on 6 April 1982. He took his own life at the age of 28. This is their story.

We already had a beautiful daughter called Anna, who was 14. When we were expecting, Michael knew that we would have a son and that we should call him Peter. Shirley was not so sure. Anna was delighted!

Pete was a happy little chap and had many friends to play with. It soon became obvious that he would become a drummer because he knocked the living daylights out of Shirley’s saucepans and was always tapping out rhythms on the kitchen table, which drove us mad!

We took him on many holidays with friends who had a son the same age as Pete and they had lots of little adventures together. These included a trip to Disney World in Florida, where we discovered that Pete was a real ‘Scary Seeker’. He would go on the fastest, highest, longest, deepest, wettest ride that was available, much to the amazement of those watching.

Pete’s time at primary school was quite enjoyable, but things began to go wrong when he was in senior school. He began to mix with lads who were not a good influence and started to smoke, which he felt guilty about but was unable to stop. He became a very good drummer and eventually joined the church band, as well as playing in a heavy rock band.

We think this was probably around the time that he began to take cannabis. We noticed that his personality had begun to change, and he had relationships with a number of girlfriends which didn’t last long. He left school at 16 and had a variety of jobs including driving, painting and decorating (which he was very good at). He decided to leave home and share a flat with a friend, but soon things went wrong – they got into arrears and both sets of parents had to bail them out, so he came back home to live with us.

Holiday in the States and Canada

Things seemed to improve with him quite a bit. He had a lovely girlfriend who really thought a lot of him and he enrolled for painting and decorating college on a day-release basis. After a while he became self-employed and seemed to be doing quite well, so we decided to go to the States and Canada to visit our oldest granddaughter who was working as a chef in a very up-market hotel.

On the morning of our early departure to Heathrow, Pete came downstairs to see us off and said, “Don’t worry about me – I’ll be OK. You go and have a good time”. We arrived in the States, picked up our hire car and drove up to where our granddaughter was working. We spent the night at the hotel and then drove up to Niagara Falls where her uncle and aunt live.

The following day, April 11 2010, was our granddaughter’s birthday. We did more sightseeing, including getting soaked on the ‘Maid of the Mist’ (as you do!), and in the evening had a party. During the evening, the phone rang. It was our daughter Anna, who was very distressed. She said, “Pete’s dead”. Then our son-in-law told us that he and a friend had found Pete in our house after being alerted by Pete’s girlfriend, who could not get a reply either by phone or visiting the house. Peter had hung himself on the landing.

Our family made arrangements

It was such a good thing that we were with family. They began to make all the necessary arrangements to get us back home as soon as possible. A flight was organised and the hire car returned to its depot in the States. Our granddaughter came with us instead of returning to her job in the hotel. Shirley was so shocked and distressed that she had to be pushed round Toronto airport in a wheelchair. Our granddaughter explained the situation to British Airways, who upgraded us to first class.

On arrival at Heathrow we were met by our daughter and son-in-law along with some friends from our church. We went to Anna’s house rather than our home (where Peter had died). In fact we stayed with her for about six months. We could not face going back to our house so we sold it and moved to another.

We had good support

Our church friends were amazing – food was laid on for us and we were visited daily. Peter’s doctor also came to see us. We read Psalm 46 almost every day, and determined that we were not going to blame God.

That June we went to a Support Day for Bereaved Parents organised by Care for the Family, and also attended a Support Weekend in October. What we found most helpful was simply being among people who were further down the road of grieving than we were. These events opened up a different outlook for us. We weren’t on our own – we could be with people who empathised with us.

About three years later we trained to become befrienders, and now reach out to support parents who have more recently lost a son or daughter. We’re really not sure where we’d be if we hadn’t connected with Care for the Family. As we write this, it is almost ten years since we lost Pete. We will always miss him, but we are gradually finding our new normal life.


We found the prospect of writing down our story quite a daunting one. It’s been a hard thing to do – but we’re glad we have as we want to honour Pete’s memory and help others know that they’re not alone.