Sister's powerful tribute to her brother David who took his own life - Wales Online
When her brother hugged her tightly and told her he would always love her, Fay Coles said she had thought the worst could happen. Two days later David Sheppard took his own life aged just 47. He had so much more to give - but he couldn’t see it.
Fay and her family members had been fighting for years to help younger brother David with his mental health struggles, but she always felt her family was fighting a losing battle. She wishes she’d have been aware of the support she now knows is on offer, and she is speaking out to help others.
“Life has always been hard for us,” Fay, a mother to three grown-up children who now lives in Fairwater in Cardiff, said. She is speaking to WalesOnline from a quiet corner of the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay where she works as an arts and creative project manager.
She has just finished having her head shaved to raise thousands of pounds for the Jacob Abraham Foundation - a charity which helped her and is still helping her and her family deal with the effects of a bereavement as a result of suicide.
After David's death Fay said there was no support or signposting to agencies to help her and her family. She came across the charity by chance and says their contribution to her positive outlook cannot be overstated.
“We lost my mum when I was two. David was just a year younger and my brother a year older,” she recalled of their early lives. “David was an extremely poorly infant and it was decided that he would be better placed with the paternal family, leaving myself and my older brother in care. We were only allowed to see each other once a year for a couple of hours. It had a lasting impact on all of us.
“When I was due to leave care I was transferred to Cardiff aged 16 - a city I had never lived in but it brought me and my brothers together for the very first time since we went into care. David and I soon built a close bond and spent a lot of time together.
“He was so, so funny. We were really naughty. The first time we hung around together as three siblings we were up in Llanishen and got a fire hose from one of the schools and we made a huge mud slide. We were out playing all day, it was an amazing feeling; the first time I remember feeling like I had two brothers and as though I was part of a unit.
"Within six months I found myself homeless. I had no way of contacting my brother as it was before the days of mobile phones and social media. I knew David hung around Llanishen with his mates, so I went searching for him.
"I just hung around waiting in areas I knew he may be and telling everyone I was looking for him. He was very well-known so I just waited for him, and I found him. Within six months he came to live with me and he’s been in my life ever since.
"We were so close I even named my son after him. He was a really special person. I was a single parent to two small children at the time and he was like the dad they never had. He was the kindest man.”
Fay says looking back she feels both her brothers had felt like they couldn’t speak openly about their grief after losing their mother at such a young age. David had only just turned one year old when she died.
"When I think of my brothers I do feel guilty," Fay said. "I feel that they have always had to pretend to be okay, had to pretend to be something they actually weren’t. They never felt they could tell people about my mother and I know from conversations with David that bottling it up had affected him in his later life.
"Two weeks before I lost David he visited me and gave me a book. He had started to write his life memoir and asked me to read it to understand how he had been struggling. He had told me writing it down had helped him, so I didn’t need to worry."
Fay says grieving for her brother during endless lockdowns was devastatingly difficult for her family. She worried for her children and how they were coping.
“I know I have had struggles and I also know that what enables me and keeps me going is doing fundraising events and raising awareness like the head shave we’ve done today,” she said. “It’s the anniversary of David’s death and I knew today was going to be really, really tough. I needed a plan that could help me get through it.
“It’s not about the massive void David has left in our lives, it’s about how we can change that void. For me the way to do that is to fill it with positive thoughts and memories of David.
"I wanted to manage by using today to support the Jacob Abraham Foundation in helping to prevent others from feeling the way I feel now. Even if I can help one family not have to go through what I’ve been through, then that’s something I really want to do. For me today is as much about raising much-needed funds to support the work the charity do but to also spread awareness about the support they provide, to those contemplating suicide and those bereaved by suicide."
David went missing from his home in Cardiff on Mother’s Day 2020 and was found beside his mother’s grave having taken an overdose. It had become apparent to Fay that her brother was struggling mentally five years earlier.
“He wouldn’t speak about it,” she said. “It was always there, you could tell it was there, but he would never open up on it. Then five years before his death he did start speaking. He’d only ever tell me what he’d tried to do to himself after the event because he didn’t want to worry me.
“He would ring me and tell me we didn’t need him anymore, which was completely untrue. He always said he’d got nothing more to give us, but all we needed was him. He was enough.
“It was on the Friday that week in March when David took his own life. He’d stayed at mine on the Monday night and then on the Tuesday. We were always with him doing daily checks on him and making sure everything was okay. Then on the Friday night he said he was going to his girlfriend’s house and he hugged me and said he’ll always love me.”
Father-of-two David was a hard-working and proud man, a delivery driver for Greggs who was loved by his family and friends as well as his colleagues. A number of his team fundraised for his funeral and have supported Fay in her charity work since in David’s memory.
“David would do anything for anyone,” Fay said. “That’s what he was like - he never stopped wanting to give more of himself. That’s why he kept saying that he had nothing more to give. Nobody went without when they were around David, ever.”
She says she can’t thank the Jacob Abraham Foundation enough for their help after she came across the charity in unique circumstances. “I was actually going on The Wheel [the BBC game show] in the hope I could raise money and awareness for a charity making real change towards the prevention of suicide,” she said.
“I didn’t find them thinking I wanted help for myself, but more thinking about who could help others. It was like I went through the back door, but when I got talking to them I realised I needed to talk to someone. They are the best people to talk to. It’s about when I want to pick up the phone, they are there.”
After Nicola Abraham’s son Jacob took his own life in 2015 aged 24, Nicola set up the foundation to help prevent suicide through direct intervention and to support families grieving as a result of suicide. You can visit the Jacob Abraham Foundation here , and you can donate to Fay’s fundraiser for the charity here .
“There are a lot of big charities that get a significant amount of publicity, but when we lost David we didn’t feel there was a lot of help for us,” Fay explained. “Finding the Jacob Abraham Foundation changed that.
“It’s quite personal. I can go to them and they talk to me like they’ve known me for donkey’s years, and I just feel secure and safe. Nicola has been through it. She gets me, the people at the foundation understand what I’m going through as they’ve experienced it.
“We had no help for a year after we lost David, and we were in and out of lockdowns. We had no-one to talk to and I was very worried about my children and their mental health. But that has all changed now we have this support. Some days I want to talk and some days I don’t, some days I just need a comforting space, and I have found that there.”
Looking after your mental health
The ongoing pandemic has been very challenging for almost everyone and unsurprisingly it's led to some people seeing an impact on their mental health and wellbeing. Tips for taking care of your mental health:
Making time for something you enjoy – whether it's settling down with your favourite film, heading to your local park, or taking part in one of your hobbies or interests
Taking a break from the news and social media to give yourself time away from screens and devices
Setting realistic goals for the day or week ahead and possibly breaking the things you need to do into a list of smaller tasks
Trying relaxation exercises like controlled breathing or muscle relaxation
Enjoying nature, whether that's by getting out of the house or opening curtains and blinds to let natural light in. Plants and flowers can also be helpful
Physical exercise can help reduce anxiety
Talk to a trusted friend or family member about how you're feeling
There's help available if you need it Mind Cymru infoline is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 6pm. To contact them call 0300 123 3393. Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (in the UK and Republic of Ireland this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill). C.A.L.L. (Community Advice & Listening Line) offers emotional support and information/literature on mental health and related matters to the people of Wales and can be contacted on 0800 132 737 or through the website. The NHS offers help and advice through its 111 service.
Fay says given significant pressures on the NHS across Wales it is now more important than ever to signpost people struggling with grief and mental illness to charities like the foundation. “When you’re in crisis you need immediate help and the NHS at the moment is struggling to provide that,” she said.
“The importance of charities like Jacob Abraham is huge now. If I’d known about the charity before David died I think things could have been different. That’s why I’m doing this today. I can’t stress enough - if you’re looking for help and struggling, keep looking, keep trying, and if it’s not there immediately, look elsewhere. Help is out there for you.”
For confidential support the Samaritans can be contacted for free around the clock 365 days a year on 116 123.
13:37, 31 MAR 2022