real life

The overwhelming grief and guilt of Nikki Gemmell.

Trigger warning: This post deals with the theme of suicide.

It started with a knock on the door.

Two police officers. Their faces set. And before they even opened their mouth, Nikki Gemmell knew someone had died.

It was an ordinary evening when Nikki’s mother Elayn took her own life. She’d been suffering chronic, debilitating pain after a failed operation. She’d been planning the whole thing in secret, not wanting to implicate the family. Not wanting to be a bother. Just wanting peace, an end.

This is a snippet from Nikki’s conversation with Mia Freedman for No Filter. The whole interview will be available next week: 

There was no note, no reasoning. They family didn’t know how, or why.  There was just a body, a crime scene, a cold morgue, and a daughter left laced with grief and searing guilt.

The author and Weekend Australian columnist told Mia Freedman in an upcoming No Filter podcast the bleakness was something she wouldn’t have wished upon her worst enemy.

“Nothing prepares you of the slight smell of death, for the feel of flesh… the flesh you know so well. The hand you have touched your whole life, the cheek you have kissed your whole life, it’s kind of like a deep, deep coldness. Compressed, condensed cold.”

The fallout was immense. The writer says she broke down, thrust into despair and an overwhelming feeling of guilt. “It was like an axe through my skull for the entire year… it was like my brain wasn’t working, I couldn’t write properly,” she said.

It was one question that circled for months. That cruelly replayed itself over, and over.

Why didn’t she say anything?

Why didn’t they sit down, and talk it over?


She wrote recently of it being the “modern story for modern times, of an elderly mother and swamped daughter trying to juggle a career and husband and school-age children all at once.”

Where “old people slip through the cracks in the cram of life’s whoosh”.

And whether, if euthanasia had been legal, her mother could have died in a room full of love, surrounded by those who held her in life. Not alone, in a bleak final moment.

If you or anyone you know is struggling, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Nikki Gemmell’s memoir After is published by Harper Collins on March 27.

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