The Death podcast: Sophie Hill

  • 10/06/2019

Death: A podcast about love, grief and hope is available on  Rova, iTunes, SpotifyOmny, Stitcher and all major podcast platforms.

Sophie Hill was 19 years old when her father committed suicide. When she was 34, her mother died suddenly of a brain aneurysm.

"My dad was incredibly outdoorsy. I remember long summer holidays at the beach, playing cricket with him and having barbecues - he was a lot of fun.

"As a child I remember him being very present, very involved in our school lives and our sporting lives, bike riding, all the kind of the dad stuff. I don't really like using the term daddy's girl, but I was a daddy's girl.

"His suicide was a complete and utter shock to us. It was financial pressures and it was business stuff and it was money. But the thing about a sudden and completely out of the blue suicide is that you actually don't really get the answers that you need. You don't really truly know why, and I still don't.


"I was staying with my boyfriend's mum in Wanganui. My brother called - it was late, but I didn't think much of it. I hadn't been programmed to worry about these things yet.

"And he said, 'Something really terrible happened today, and I said 'What?'. And he said, 'Dad died today'. And then he said he killed himself. And I think that's the point where I lost it and dropped the phone and got kind of whisked up by Val, my boyfriend's mum, and she took care of me. And then moments and the hours after that are a bit of a blur.

"Going back to university was hard. I certainly didn't feel like socialising for a long time and I didn't drink at all for about a year, a year and a half - I just wasn't interested. I didn't be out at a party having had a few wines and lose it in front of people. I didn't want to feel vulnerable like that. I wanted to grieve on my own and with the people I trusted most.

"My mum also died very suddenly - she had a brain aneurysm. I was living with her because my husband and I had just got back from the UK. I kissed her goodbye that morning. I went to work and at about 10 o'clock I got a phone call from my brother. After my dad died I was just programmed to think that the next phone call was round the corner. And then it happened. And my mind just instantly went to the worst.

"I got to the hospital and the doctors were very frank straight away. They just said, 'Look this looks really bad.' They were immediately very honest with us.

"I had only been in my job for four weeks, and I didn't have colleagues that I felt comfortable with to support me and to understand. I felt really overwhelmed. I got torn apart on an overseas conference call - no one knew what had happened and I was new and I hadn't delivered something because I'd been off for two weeks. They didn't know, but I felt like my world was kind of crashing down at that point.

"I think even just a formal HR conversation would have helped. Like, do you need help, can you manage the workload, how are you coping, do you need time off, do you need to leave early, do you need some counselling. I think those are the things that an employer should should offer and it would be helpful.

"What helped me was some advice that I was given to me later in life when I lost my mother as well, that you need to focus on short term things. And if you're thinking about all the other stuff that needs to get done - all the deadlines or the projects that can just feel overwhelming. That's when you don't get out of bed in the morning. By kind of compartmentalizing tasks or just dealing with things hour by hour, that makes things more manageable.

"After dad died, I remember feeling guilty the first time I laughed. I caught myself and thought that because he was obviously in such despair and that I was having a good time laughing, that was a betrayal. I felt guilty going to the movies, going up for coffee, doing things that brought me joy. Maybe a year or so after he died I stopped feeling that way. I knew that he wouldn't want me to feel that way.

"I can't think about my mum yet without getting sad. It's too soon.

"I can think about him and it can be just an abstract thought - I see someone that looks like him, or a memory pops into my head or whatever. But with my mum I'm still thinking about her much more and it's at a different level of intensity. It's more it's more of a tangible feeling for me stil. And when I think about it, I don't necessarily want it to go away, the amount I think about her.

"I have a three-year-old son now who doesn't know his grandfather, doesn't know his grandmother. I feel desperately, desperately sad about that. That's probably one of the things that I feel most sad about.

"Probably the biggest thing that I've learnt is a sense of perspective. And that comes and goes like it does for anybody. But I'm not someone to sweat the small stuff. I know what's important and it takes a lot to rattle me.

"I went to a funeral recently for a friend of mine whose mother just died, and I felt worried about saying the wrong thing. I still got nervous about it. I don't think you ever stop worrying because you know that someone's in turmoil. So you don't want to add to the grief by saying the wrong thing."