Meet three bereaved mothers running memorial quilt project in Yorkshire to open up conservations around suicide

Three mothers who lost their children to suicide have brought a memorial quilt project to Yorkshire to remember loved ones and support others. Laura Reid reports.

Karen Sykes, Anna Scott and Pat Sowa are, by their own words, ordinary people trying to create a legacy for their children.

United in their heartbreaking understanding of what it means to be mothers bereaved by suicide, they are working together on a powerful project that is already helping others who have suffered similar losses to find solace and support.

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The Yorkshire Speak Their Name Suicide Memorial Quilt project, which the women have brought to the region following the success of a similar initiative in Greater Manchester, involves creating a beautiful giant quilt, that is made up of squares sewn with love in memory of people who have taken their own lives.

Karen Sykes lost her husband and daughter to suicide.

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When the finished quilt is launched in September, and goes on tour across Yorkshire for a year, the women also hope it will open up conversations around suicide and grief.

“We’re not counsellors, we’re just ordinary people that want to support people to create something,” says 55-year-old Karen, who lives in Wakefield.

“The therapy of art and creating something helps your anxiety, your paranoia, helps you. We’re living a life now where we have lost part of our world.

Pat Sowa with her son Dom.

“People don’t know what to say to you. People don’t know how to respond.

“This quilt is about connecting people who are bereaved to suicide to create something beautiful, but it also gives a platform to raise awareness and open conversations.

“When it goes on tour, people will realise that behind each square is somebody so loved and missed forever and that will help open up conversations around suicide awareness, suicide prevention and about helping others really.”

Karen, a nurse in Leeds, lost her husband Ian, “a vibrant, clever, funny and kind man, who was a devoted father” to suicide in October 2015. Four years later, her youngest daughter Beth, who “lit up a room and wore her heart on her sleeve”, took her own life at the age of 26.

“When you lose a child, all your future memories with them are stolen away from you,” Karen says.

“You lose their legacy and all you are left with are the old memories.”

Karen, originally from Bolton, describes the turmoil and grief she felt after both of their deaths.

“You don’t know what to do. You want somebody to understand your loss and help you.”

She adds: “Being bereaved to suicide throws you into a complex level of grief; the emotions of blame and ‘what ifs’ resonate profoundly. You often feel so isolated and alone in your grief.”

Both Karen and Anna, whose daughter Ellen, “a sparkly bundle of joy and fun”, took her own life in 2017, were involved in the Manchester project.

“I will never forget walking into a room and first seeing that quilt,” Anna says.

“It’s a very powerful statement to have all those squares, made with love, in one place.

“We hope ours will have the same impact to get people to recognise the people behind the [suicide] statistics and also the people left behind.”

Ellen, who had spent some time living in Salford as a student, suffered from extreme anxiety, and had made previous suicide attempts.

“When somebody dies, you are expected to get over it but you don’t,” says Anna, who lives in Haworth.

“And I think with suicide it is very complicated because there is always an element of ‘could I have done this, should I have done that?’.

“For me knowing Ellen hadn’t been well, there’s thoughts in my head that maybe I should have known and I didn’t.

“It’s been five years now and if I had a pound for everybody who told me how strong I am, how well I’ve coped. We’re not strong, we’re just surviving.”

Anna says through the quilt projects, she had found a lifeline “when I feel as though I am drowning”.

She is not alone; out of incomprehensible pain and grief, those involved in the project have found some peace and comfort in the mindfulness of creating their squares and knowing they are forming part of something precious and beautiful for their loved ones.

Pat, from Harrogate, who lost her son Dom to suicide in October 2017, says: “It’s hard to find people who can understand the depth of pain or have the ability not to flinch.

“This quilt project helps us to bring people together in a positive way and share happy memories of our loved ones.”

More than 50 squares from bereaved adults across Yorkshire have already been submitted, but more contributors are welcome ahead of the deadline at the end of the month.

The quilt will then be unveiled at a special event at 11am on September 10 at Victoria Gardens in Leeds, before going on tour.

“It’s really important that we keep the conversation going about suicide and about the people who are left behind and their need for support,” says Anna, who is piecing the squares together into the quilt.

“It makes you realise that enabling and providing this opportunity for people is going to make a positive impact and help people.

“We can’t bring our loved ones back and this is a way of letting their legacies and futures continue forever and ever.”

the Speak Their Name: Yorkshire Suicide Memorial Quilt project is also seeking sponsorship for the launch event including a marquee, security, stage and PA system.

Anyone who can help can email: [email protected], and visit for more information.

The women are also inviting interest from community venues wanting to display the quilt on its tour.