Living for my girl

A portrait of Victoria McLeod taken by her father Malcolm.

After their 17-year-old daughter took her own life last April, Ms Linda Collins, 55, and Mr Malcolm McLeod, 60, decided to get married.

To the New Zealanders, who have been together for more than 20 years, their union was a tribute to Miss Victoria McLeod's life.

"I wanted to have the name 'McLeod', just like my daughter," says Ms Collins, a copy editor at The Straits Times.

"People often say that couples split up when a child dies but I wanted to send a signal that that wasn't going to happen to us."

Last October, they tied the knot in a low-key ceremony, witnessed by two colleagues who also doubled up as photographers.

Miss McLeod, affectionately known as Vic, was gifted in writing, poetry and art but struggled academically. Her mother describes her as a perfectionist who compared herself to others and put great pressure on herself to get a spot in university.

Ms Collins said: "I showed her a course overseas where she didn't need qualifications to get into. But she said, 'That's not university, Mum. People won't respect me.'"

The day before she ended her life, Miss McLeod had seemed quiet and detached, but Ms Collins dismissed it as just "her being a teenager".

The teen had spent the afternoon filming for a school project on acrophobia (fear of heights).

Ms Collins recalled a clip showing her daughter blowing a piece of tissue off a high ledge. "It was a very alarming image, quite disturbing for some reason. I asked her, 'You would never think of doing this would you?' and she said, 'No, mum. No.'"

She chides herself for failing to pick up what she thinks was a clue to her daughter's state of mind. "She was trying to tell us she was the tissue, she was fragile. It wasn't the tissue going off the edge. It was her."

Miss McLeod had accumulated numerous diaries over the past years.

After her death, it was particularly harrowing for Ms Collins to read through every entry, "hearing Vic's voice in the writing".

From her diaries, Ms Collins learnt that her daughter had entertained suicidal thoughts on two previous occasions - when she was 14 and the day before she killed herself.

"You keep kicking yourself because you're stupid not to have seen these signs," says Ms Collins.

"You see your kid as special and you want them to be happy, so you don't ask the hard questions."

Such feelings of guilt or regret are common among survivors but for parents of children who commit suicide, the feelings are even more intense and complicated, said Ms Valerie Lim, founder of Child Bereavement Support Singapore.

GUILT

Ms Lim said that parents typically assume the role to protect and care for the child. So even if the child choose to die or the death is beyond the control of the parents, the guilt of being unable to prevent it can be extremely difficult to bear.

"When a parent dies, you lose your past. But when your child dies, you lose your future. You lose what you hoped for," she adds.

For Ms Collins, living for her daughter keeps her going each day.

She keeps busy with her job, goes for grief and trauma counselling, and attends bible study classes. She also volunteers at a children's home and teaches English at a homework club in Little India.

Mr McLeod, a deputy picture editor with The Straits Times, often keeps odd hours at his job.

Ms Collins finds enormous comfort in meeting fellow survivors about once a month. Hearing their stories and sharing their grief have helped her know that she is not alone in the struggle.

"You know that they understand and there's a weird kind of support. There's stuff you don't need to speak about," she says.

Keeping a busy schedule has helped Ms Collins focus on life ahead but she admits that there is not a moment in a day that she doesn't think of her daughter.

"I see her stuff, I remember and feel her, so I don't want to throw her things away," she says.

"I don't want to create a shrine to her either but I yearn to store or capture some moments."

HEALING

The couple are exploring options to become foster parents as they feel that parenthood can help them in their journey of healing. They also hope to adopt a child in future.

"We're really praying that we can adopt a child because we miss being parents. We can see where we missed our own daughter's clear signs but we loved being parents to her," says Ms Collins.

"We'll be better parents now if we get the chance."

Ms Collins also finds solace in knowing that Miss McLeod would have wanted her and her husband to help people through her death, so she keeps the memory of her daughter alive by sharing her daughter's story with others.

She has worked with the Association Of Women For Action And Research to hold self-help and career-planning workshops at the Australian International School Singapore. Her daughter had attended that school.

The parents' association at the school has also introduced an "I'm OK" day, where students are taught to check on one another and to look out for suicidal tendencies.

Ms Collins says: "I think Victoria would be really pleased that I'm sharing her story and if anything, it can help other kids. She'd really like that."


This article was first published on May 10, 2015.
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