For most runners, crossing the finish line in a marathon is a mixture of joy and relief.
But it will be bittersweet for Tracey Edge and her daughter Melissa Rawlings. Because the two people who would have been most proud when they run the London Marathon this Sunday won’t be there to cheer them on or give them a hug at the end.
First Andrew, 44, husband to Tracey and dad to Melissa, killed himself on a railway line in January, 2009.
Then four years later Marcus, Melissa’s younger brother, committed suicide the same way at 19.
They are the reason mum and daughter will be running this weekend.
According to the Samaritans, there were 6,213 suicides in the UK and Republic of Ireland in 2017. Of these, 4,694 were male – more than 75%.
And the most recent figures from the Office of National Statistics revealed that the number of teenage suicides in the UK has doubled in the past eight years.
“Every week I go to their grave with fresh flowers,” says accountant Tracey, 52. Melissa, 27, a financial analyst who lives in London, adds: “I prefer to remember them by thinking of happy memories.”
And by all accounts there were lots. Life was good for the family of four as Melissa and Marcus grew up.
Andrew managed a successful petrol station in Chinnor, Oxfordshire – but in 2002 he sold the business because he wanted a career change and to spend more time with the family.
“He worked as a sales rep but it was lonely,” says Tracey. Andrew spent hours at his computer, disconnected from the family.
It was a world away from the man who Tracey had fallen in love with.
“He used to be so full of energy and fun,” she remembers.
Melissa has nothing but good memories of her father, who concealed his inner turmoil from the children.
“He was a great dad – good fun and didn’t take life too seriously,” she says.
But Tracey saw behind the mask. “Once I found him in the garage crying, but he would never talk about how he felt.”
By Christmas 2008, Andrew was incredibly withdrawn. And on Friday January 16 he didn’t return to their home as planned to take the children swimming.
Then Tracey received a devastating text. “It was heartbreaking,” says Tracey. “Andrew said that he loved me and goodbye.”
The rest of that day is a blur. Two police officers went to the house in Drayton Parslow, Bucks, and told Tracey there had been “an incident on the railway line”.
Melissa, then 17, remembers the immediate aftermath wasn’t tears, but more a stunned shock.
Tracey admits that after the shock came fury. “I was angry he’d left me to deal with it,” she says. “And angry for the children.”
Remarkably, by Monday morning the children went back to school and Tracey to work. They were still in shock, but felt they had to carry on.
Tracey started counselling, but she doesn’t feel the children received the right support. Melissa had a few sessions, but Marcus, then 15, initially didn’t appear to show any reaction to what had happened, so he didn’t see anyone.
But by September he was skipping school. A year after Andrew’s death he was referred to a counsellor, but he didn’t find the sessions helpful.
A few months later, he posted a message on Facebook saying how unhappy he was. Distraught, Tracey raced home in tears. “We hugged and Marcus reassured me he was OK,” says Tracey.
And as time went on, he did seem to be doing better. The children supported Tracey when she met Chris, 42, online and in March 2013 they moved to Bicester in Oxfordshire to live with him.
Marcus had a girlfriend, a good group of friends and seemed happy. But not long after moving, in April 2013, he broke his arm and couldn’t go skiing or try out for the Army.
“It started a downward spiral,” explains Tracey. “I drove him to a party one night and we talked. He told me, ‘you don’t know how I feel mum’.”
Tracey thought he was referring to the skiing trip and reassured him things would soon be back to normal.
The following Monday, Marcus was still asleep when Tracey left for work, so she decided to speak to him that evening about going to the doctor’s.
Later that day Tracey received a call from a friend of Marcus’s mum, telling her he had sent a goodbye text.
“When the police confirmed Marcus’s death I felt overwhelming despair,” recalls Tracey.
“Then I realised I had to tell Melissa. I was so scared what impact a second tragedy would have on her.”
As Melissa was at work an hour’s drive away, police went to break the bad news and bring her home.
“I felt like I’d been winded,” recalls Melissa. “I couldn’t speak.”
It emerged that Marcus had phoned two different doctors that day but they hadn’t been able to fit him in. “That was his last cry for help,” says Tracey.
“Had he been given an appointment, he might be here today.”
Marcus was buried with his dad, and Tracey and Melissa tried to rebuild their lives.
“We tried to maintain as much of a normal life as possible – it’s what Andrew and Marcus would have wanted,” says Tracey.
Now, 10 years on, the mum and daughter are on a mission to reduce the stigma around mental health. They are running the London Marathon to raise money for the mental health charity Mind.
“Marcus was so gentle and deep, I wish he could have got help in time,” says Tracey. “I can’t change what happened, but I can change the future. And I think there should be more help available.
“I have no doubt that Andrew and Marcus were suffering from depression, and because they didn’t feel they could talk about it, they took their lives.”
If you need to speak to someone, Samaritans are available 24/7 by calling 116 123 or by emailing [email protected]
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