Double rape hell – I couldn’t save my son
I understood my son’s agony but couldn’t save him from it...
I knew something terrible must have happened
My son Ryan reached for a takeaway menu and slung his other arm around my shoulders.
‘Let’s have a girls’ night, Mum,’ he winked.
‘Only if I can pick the film,’ I giggled.
It was Saturday night in June 2011, and his mates were all out.
But my boy wanted to stay in with his mum, a pizza and DVD.
Ryan was great company, had started making people laugh as a beaming toddler and never stopped.
He’d been born on Christmas Day 1994 – my best present ever – and we’d had girls’ nights together since he was tiny.
Now 16, he loved fishing and watching England football matches with his dad Wayne, then 38.
He was ambitious, too, wanted to be an artist. I was so proud of him.
But by the time Ryan was 17, our nights in were a distant memory.
He’d go out partying, reappearing at dawn with glassy eyes.
‘What’s going on?’ I demanded one morning.
And he admitted taking drugs.
Wayne and I were angry, then scared. But Ryan promised to give it up and knuckle down at school.
At 18, he went to Canterbury Christ Church University, to study Fine Art. His dream.
At first, he seemed happy. But, one night, as we watched TV, Ryan called Wayne, drunk.
As Wayne listened, his face dropped.
‘Just come home, son,’ he stuttered.
I knew something terrible must have happened.
‘Ryan was abused,’ Wayne said, hanging up. ‘It started when he was 7. He was raped at 11.’ The room spun. When Ryan eventually stumbled through the door, we wrapped our arms around him as he told us everything.
The name of his abuser: someone we’d both trusted.
‘Why didn’t you tell us, love?’ I sobbed.
‘It was too painful,’ Ryan whispered.
He couldn’t face reporting it to the police either.
Over the next weeks, Ryan went downhill – he quit uni, refused to have counselling.
So I saw a counsellor instead.
‘How can I help him?’ I asked.
But as we talked, it resurrected dark memories I’d tried to forget.
You see, I’d been raped, too.
Aged 14, I’d been attacked at a caravan park in broad daylight.
Traumatised, ashamed, I’d kept it secret, only ever confiding in Wayne.
I’d never seen my rapist again, but the mental scars were deep.
Still, in time, I’d managed to build a happy life from the wreckage.
I wanted Ryan to realise that abuse didn’t have to define him, either, show him there was hope.
‘I understand what you’re going through,’ I told him, soon after, sharing my own terrible story.
Ryan was shocked.
‘It doesn’t get better overnight,’ I soothed. ‘But it is possible.’
‘You’re Superwoman, Mum,’ Ryan said.
‘You’re brave too,’ I reassured him.
As time passed, Ryan perked up – got a decorating job, found a nice girlfriend and moved out.
But I kept a close eye on him, and when he was 21, cracks opened up.
His relationship broke down, his usually spotless flat became neglected.
He was disappearing for days partying – finally he admitted using drugs again.
‘They help me forget,’ Ryan sobbed.
This time, we got him drugs counselling, but his mental health deteriorated.
‘I can hear a voice in my head,’ he told me in June 2017, eyes fearful. ‘A fictional man called Sam, who says I’m worthless.’
He drew a disturbing picture of Sam and my heart broke.
Five months later, he turned up, barefoot, in the pouring rain – wearing only a pair of tracksuit bottoms.
‘Mum, make the voice stop,’ he begged.
He was voluntarily sectioned, treated for drug-induced psychosis with hallucinations.
Five days later, Ryan was discharged and came to live with us.
‘I’ll stay clean this time,’ he vowed.
He began expressing his
pain through poetry, and we started up our girls’ nights again.
But it was tough. He’d miss doctor’s appointments – and by June 2018, the warning signs were back.
Ryan was going out all night, losing weight…
‘I feel powerless,’ I despaired to Wayne.
On 16 March this year, Ryan was upset after rowing with a friend.
Wayne and I stayed up talking to him, thought we’d made a breakthrough…
‘I’ll speak to a counsellor about the abuse,’ he vowed. ‘It’s time to face it.’
‘Son, you may have been knocked down, but you can get up again,’ I promised.
At 4.30am, Wayne and
I finally headed to bed.
Exhausted, it was almost lunchtime when I padded downstairs.
‘Ryan,’ I called. No answer.
So I knocked on his bedroom door, opened it and went inside.
Seeing his bedsheets flung back, I sighed. Where’s he gone now?
Then I glanced at the window – and saw my son. He’d hanged himself.
I was too shocked to scream. Dazed, my body numb, I stumbled back to our bedroom to tell Wayne.
He cried out and we sobbed in each other’s arms.
Our beautiful boy was dead at 24.
We dialled 999 and paramedics and police officers arrived.
I spent hours in the chapel of rest, holding Ryan’s hand.
‘I’m not angry,’ I said, sobbing. ‘But I wish you hadn’t done this, my darling.’
Two weeks later, I stumbled across a note in Ryan’s room.
I’ve always considered myself lucky when it comes to my parents... it read.
Now I don’t want to be here any more and that would hurt them...
Hopefully my mum and dad will end up being happy, no matter what.
If it’s possible, my heart shattered even more.
Around 300 mourners came to Ryan’s funeral.
In June, at an inquest into Ryan’s death, the coroner recorded a narrative verdict of death by hanging due to mental illness brought about by sexual abuse.
We tried so hard to save Ryan, and I would have done anything to take away his pain.
Now I’m fundraising for the mental-health charity Mind.
I want abuse victims to know recovery is possible. I’m proof of that. After my attack, it wasn’t easy, but I forged a good life, full of people I love and who love me back.
Now, though my heart is broken, I have to try to find that happiness again one day – it was Ryan’s last wish.
I am spreading a message in my son’s name.
If you know the same pain as me and Ryan, I beg you to get help.
Before you do something you won’t be here to regret.
• To help, visit justgiving. com/fundraising/ remembering-ryancooley.
I’d have done anything to take away his pain
Ryan and me last December
My smiling boy, aged 7
Now memories are all I have
Ryan’s sketch of ‘Sam’