Shock read: They both did the unthinkable
Dionne Cropper, 52, has been through every mother’s worst nightmare – twice…
Chatting away to my sons Damien and Dominik, I tell them about my day. How beautifully sunny and mild it’s been recently, how their little sister is doing at school, how I could really do with a holiday. But they never reply, they just smile and stare. You see, all I have left of my sons are photos and memories.
With just three years between them, Damien and Dominik were best friends as well as brothers. As young boys, I’d always find them running around the garden with a football. Damien was 10 and Dominik seven when their sister Lauren was born. They assumed the roles of protective big brothers, always checking on her and giving her cuddles.
A single mum, I relied on them to help me around the house, making their beds and doing the washing-up. They were good boys, but of course they had their moments. I’ll never forget when I found naughty magazines under their beds!
Both boys excelled at school and were hugely popular – they were hardly ever home and always out with friends. By 16, Dominik was desperate for independence and managed to get his own flat by using money from odd jobs – and I helped him make it homely. He soon found a job at a supermarket, where his brother once worked.
It was a proud moment seeing my boys making their own way and when Dominik told me about a girl, Annie*, who he was seeing, I could see that she was special. It came as no surprise when he proposed after eight months.
A few weeks later Dominik told me he was thinking of moving out of his flat and buying a new-build house with Annie. I was so pleased for him, as was Damien. The boys were still close and often spent time playing video games together.
But around June 2008, I saw Dominik after work and he looked dreadful, like he’d been crying. ‘Annie and I are over,’ he whispered. I didn’t want to ask too much as he looked distraught. I tried to be there for him, but I struggled as I was heavily pregnant, and it fell to Damien to pick his brother up. He tried his best, visiting Dominik and trying to cheer him up. But a week on and Dominik was still miserable, he was unshaven and unwashed, which wasn’t like him. Then he stopped going to work, so he lost his job.
‘You need to snap out of this,’ I warned him. But instead, Dominik became even more depressed and started drinking. In August 2008 I gave birth to my daughter Morgan. By now,
‘dominik became depressed and started drinking’
Lauren was 15 and loved being a big sister and, like before, the boys revelled in the joys of having a baby to dote on.
But of course I was still worried about Dominik. I tried to encourage him to get help, get medication or therapy, but he didn’t listen. Which is why when Morgan was seven months, I phoned Dominik and told him I was taking him for breakfast.
We chatted and he confided in me about the dark turn his life had taken. ‘You can get through this, it’s just a rough spell,’ I reassured him. He seemed a bit more upbeat by the time we left and to make sure he was looking after himself, I took him shopping for food. ‘Go home, have a bath and a shave and you’ll feel better.’ I told him. ‘I will, thanks Mum,’ he replied.
The next week, I met Dominik at his grandad Peter's house. He’d ironed his clothes, was clean shaven and had that sweet, gentle smile again.
My son was finally back. ‘Give Damien that £20 I owe him,’ he said, before handing me the cash and darting off.
Two days later, on Sunday 5 April 2009, as I came home from shopping with Lauren, my partner Richard, then 31, was waving his arms outside our house. His eyes were red and puffy and he looked like he was shaking. ‘It’s Dominik,’ he said, ‘He’s killed himself.’ I think the whole village must have heard me scream, but I couldn’t control it. I was hysterical and while Lauren and Richard held me, I felt the numbness set in.
When the Transport Police visited that day, they told us they’d found Dominik’s body on the railway line at 1.30am. When they’d looked in his flat, the shopping I’d bought him the week before was still bagged on the floor. He hadn’t turned a corner when I saw him, he was saying his goodbyes. He must have made his mind up about ending his life. He was only 23.
Hundreds came to Dominik’s funeral and as a choir sang Amazing Grace, sobs seemed to echo through the church. Lauren, then 16, was devastated but I worried the most about Damien, 26. He’d lost his little brother and best friend and I knew he was struggling. He’d never been a drinker, but he was downing alcohol.
I recognised the pattern, the lack of cleanliness, the self-deprecation. I was worried he’d do something awful like his brother, so I told him to get help but again it fell on deaf ears.
Over the next few years, while the pain of losing Dominik never got easier, I somehow learnt to live with it, but the same couldn’t be said for Damien. His drinking got worse and his relationship with his girlfriend, Aimee*, was on and off. He eventually lost his job and I was terrified for him. ‘I can’t lose you too,’ I begged him. He insisted he was fine. ‘I wouldn't be stupid enough to do what Dominik did,’ he said, stony-faced.
On 25 February 2015, Richard left for work at 6am while I stayed at home with Morgan. But within an hour, Richard was back and his eyes looked puffy. The look on his face was eerily familiar and somehow, I just knew what he was going to say. ‘It’s Damien,’ he said, as tears were streaming down my face. Richard worked with Aimee’s dad who told him Damien’s body had been found the night before at the exact same spot that Dominik’s had. He’d killed himself to be with his brother. I collapsed. I’d lost my two beautiful boys, how could this be happening to me?
I couldn’t see Damien's body – he was just identified by his fingerprints. As the horror of what had unfolded hit me, I had a mental breakdown and was later diagnosed with PTSD.
But while it would have been easy to let the grief destroy me, I had Lauren, then 22, and Morgan, seven, to think about.
So, I focused my energy into fundraising for the mental-health charity Mind. I truly believe that if my boys had been given the help they needed, they’d still be alive. Instead, all I have are memories of their kind, gentle natures, how they’d always greet me with a hug and how they always teased their baby sister Lauren, but thought the world of her. When I see their smiling faces from their pictures, those are the things I think about. At least, in my memories, my boys are always smiling.
‘he’d killed himself to be with his brother’
Samaritans offers a safe place to talk. Call their free helpline on 116 123, or go to samaritans.org for more information.
Dionne was a proud mother of her loving boys
The brothers as teens, with younger sister Lauren and their mum
Dominik, left, and his older brother, Damien
Damien with Lauren, Dionne (left) and little sis, Morgan (front)