I didn’t tell my dad about my brother’s suicide for 30 years – then a hidden story emerged | Edinburgh Festival 2022

In the summer of 1985, Philip, my only brother, committed suicide. He was 27 and I was 26. Very soon after the funeral, I realized that neither of my parents spoke to me about him. We were not a family that talked about our feelings and, not wanting to cause my parents more pain, I accepted this silence.

The immediate impact was, of course, devastating, but I was determined not to dwell on my brother’s suicide. I didn’t want to live in his shadow or carry the burden of anger, shame or sadness. Instead, I focused on creating a fulfilling life filled with exciting work initiatives, creative theater projects, adventures, and a happy marriage. With his absence from my life and for many years, the memory of Philip slowly faded, like an old photograph.

In 2017, after my mother died, my father turned to me and said, “Let’s talk about Philip. I felt a huge sense of liberation. As we began to talk, my father told me several things I had never known, facts that contradicted my long-standing accounts. At 94, my father’s memory was failing and we were letting 32 years slip by.

Gradually I became preoccupied with the issues surrounding Philip’s death and became motivated to begin a quest to uncover the hidden story.

As I talked with other people, read my old journals, studied photos, and traced timelines, I began to feel like a private detective, unable to rest until all angles were covered. . I was rediscovering my brother, gaining insight into my parents’ pain, and better understanding who I was. Did I give myself the chance to mourn? How different would my life have been if his suicide had never happened? Why have I never tried to break the silence?

During all these years of silence within the family, and to a lesser extent with my friends, it was the world of theater that sometimes gave me the opportunity to talk about Philip. In a theater workshop, just a few years after his death, I was asked to dramatize a turning point in my life and I immediately knew the occasion I would choose. With the support of my fellow theater students, we vividly recreated the moment my parents arrived at my workplace, a primary school in London, to tell me the news of Philip’s death. I would look forward to similar dramatic and cathartic opportunities where I could relive my memories.

Work for the play Parlons de Philip. Photography: Rebecca Pitt

It was above all the world of theater that took me in other directions. In my theatrical writing, I was drawn to comedy in all its forms. Suicide just didn’t seem like the right topic. The comedy shows I created covered quirky and painless topics, from the world of cinema ushers to Ordnance Survey maps and the National Trust.

It was while playing The National Trust Fan Club at the Edinburgh Festival in 2019, taking the audience into imaginary stately homes, that I first had the idea of ​​making Philip and his suicide the subject of a film. ‘a play. Maybe I could take an audience on my detective quest to uncover the mysteries of Philip’s suicide?

The death of my father and the start of the Covid put a stop to the idea. Then, in the fall of 2020, I signed up for a writing class and was discussing potential themes with the tutor, theater maker Tim Crouch. I had reverted to the idea that my next show should be another light comedy, but Tim didn’t hesitate to encourage me to write about my brother. “It’s your story, it’s your play.” It was the incentive I needed and I left the course with renewed motivation to bring Philip out of the shadows.

My detective work has taken on new impetus. I spoke with other friends of Philip via email, Zoom and in person and was extremely moved by what I heard. He left fond memories and was greatly missed by many. By asking direct questions, I discovered startling information. As I passed this information on to others, my old stories began to unravel and a new picture of my brother’s troubled life began to emerge. I had asked Birmingham Coroner’s Records for the inquest notes and after two years I got all the paperwork including details of other suicide attempts and the support he got for his mental health . I was also able to see his final grade. “I’m sorry for not being a better person” is the sentence that haunts me the most.

I worked with a great team to direct Let’s Talk About Philip and despite the subject matter, we all agreed that the production should be warm and witty, hopeful and optimistic.

Being able to talk easily about Philip after decades of silence has been really powerful and comforting to me. Unfortunately, many people have been affected by suicide and mental illness. Indeed, almost everyone has something they find difficult to talk about. But talking and sharing with others is a way out of the pain. By sharing Philip’s story, I hope it helps others speak out and helps break the cultural conspiracy of silence.

If Let’s Talk About Philip can help, then Philip Wood, born 1958, died 1985, won’t just be a faded photograph. He will continue to do good in the world after his short but intensely lived life.

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