Warning: This article is about suicide and may be distressing for some readers.

Where to get help:

LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234

A year ago this week, Emma Harford arrived home to find police and paramedics outside her house.


The youngest of her two sons, Cole Henry Isaac Harford, 15, had left the warmth of the weatherboard bungalow and taken his own life.

The outwardly happy, popular and talented boy - loved by all who knew him - left without explanation.

His mother, older brother Kobi, family and friends were left with unanswered questions and a painful void in their lives.

Cole Harford, 15, who took his life a year ago this week.
Cole Harford, 15, who took his life a year ago this week.

Harford had taken Cole to the doctor for cold feet in the month before he died. He had lost interest in food and had moments of anger. All are symptoms of depression.

Since his death, Harford has learned her son was suffering from insomnia, another symptom.

No one recognised them.

Now she is urging health leaders to introduce health screening surveys for teens - similar to a Plunket check.

Heartbroken, Harford started writing diary entries about her loss in the hope of breaking down misconceptions of suicide.


The Herald is publishing 12 of those entries, two a day. Harford hopes sharing her words will provide insight into the pain caused by suicide and change attitudes around it. Here are her words to her son, and to the wider world:

Sunday, November 27, 2016 - Surviving on pain management

Yesterday we passed the four-month mark since Cole's death.

I spent it cleaning up the spare bedroom which currently houses most of my personal belongings, and cried over every box I found the courage to pack for our move in a few weeks.

Within a day's length I might cry multiple times or once, for 10 seconds or more, there doesn't seem to be a pattern.

I didn't think it was possible to cry every day for 125 days straight, but it is. Day 126 will probably be no different.


Part one of Emma Harford's diary entries

Part two of Emma Harford's diary entries

Part three of Emma Harford's diary entries

Part five of Emma Harford's diary entries

Part six of Emma Harford's diary entries

See more from the Break The Silence series

Lately, people see me and tell me how well I look, which I take to mean "normal", and how great it is I'm laughing again.

I go to work everyday and focus on the things I need to get done, occasionally popping in the back room mid-flashback to breathe and allow tears to fall unseen. Sometimes I don't make it to the back room and I leak in public.

I get home and kneel beside my son's empty bed and weep over the blankets for the warmth and the missing body it no longer possesses. Memories swirl of his sleeping shape, a caress of his lovely hair and a kiss on his cheek. Sometimes he would smile as a sleepy acknowledgement.

Laughter is what happens due to pain management, the kind of management where you master your pain just long enough in chunks to allow laughter to happen.

Laughter does not mean I'm not in pain anymore, or healing or magically over it. I'm coming to see this is a lifetime's exercise in open wound care.

Sometimes you neatly bandage the gaping hole and it temporarily provides relief, but the wound sits there regardless of the gauze and tape and resolve.

It makes other people happy to see me laugh and smile, it helps them with their discomfort at my constant distress.

It's meant to be a compliment when someone says "you're looking well, it's so nice to see you smile again", but it also serves as a reminder that nothing will ever be the same again.

Laughter will never truly come without the added expense of knowing I once laughed free of this heartache and with my son at my side, and that it will never rise again from that place of wholeness and freedom from the loss of him.

I read other survivors of suicide loss and they sound relatively similar.

I've learned to fight the urges to let my mouth tremble when I talk about my son's death, and to breathe slowly to manage another onslaught of tears. I see other people I know and care for doing the same things sometimes to manage their pain in front of me.

We have lived 125 days in the shadow of our loss and I have tried to get on with life pragmatically and methodically because time demands it and I have another equally precious life to protect and nurture in my oldest son.

I know it's okay to laugh and experience pleasure, my boy would never deny me this. It's just not the same, and it is not a yardstick of my progress away from grief.

Laughter and grief coexist because they must in order for to me to live, and live for as long as I know I'm going to have to.

Emma Harford expected her first Christmas without Cole to be
Emma Harford expected her first Christmas without Cole to be "an aching day filled with the echoes and silences where he should be". Photo / Mike Scott

Monday, December 5, 2016 - Dear Cole, our first Christmas without you

Dear Boy,

I've been going to work everyday, and serving people getting ready for Christmas. I think of you asking me "any bad customers today?" and me saying "all the time son, all the time".

I never understood how the grieving could disavow Christmas till you died. Now it is the last thing I ever want to do again.

On Friday I found myself at the Xmas lights celebration at the park. It wasn't till I arrived that I realised what I had walked into the middle of, our entire community from the womb to the tomb, every part of your life represented in our community, at possibly the hardest time of the year, less than five months since we lost you.

I try not to cry on several occasions. People who know us stop me and embrace me. Every part of me is acutely aware I'm the mother with the dead boy.

Your classmates walk around me, their parents, your teachers. All these people and their alive children. I feel at the very least glad they don't know what this feels like.

It's not your fault, and I'm not angry with you. I could never be mad with you for this. You didn't know, you couldn't have known.

It is excruciating to be there, even though I know you would probably have emphatically turned me down if I asked you to come with me. It's the idea you would have had the choice to stay at home that I miss so much.

Today was our last Monday in our house. I spent today packing, thinking about you, wishing we didn't have to do this, leave like this.

I feel guilty that you cannot experience this with us, I feel guilty we are leaving the place you died and the place you lived.

I hope you know why, and I hope that you can understand and forgive me, son.

I went to the hardware store and bought pieces of wood so I can take all the heights we measured over the years off the door frame and transfer them, so I never lose how much bigger than me you stood when I lost you.

I won't stay at Nana's house on Christmas Eve. I've already told her I can't, because I can't bear to wake up in the morning and know you aren't there.

I feel bad about her waking up without us there but I'm just not ready yet. If I could wake up and it was Boxing Day and I'd missed the whole thing it would be preferable.

None of us really want to do this Christmas, son.

I wish I could buy back the last 12 hours you were alive and change your mind, but I can't. I want to set a place at the table for you so that the space marks where you were, and so that you don't feel we have forgotten you.

Christmas will be an aching day filled with the echoes and silences where you should be.

I love you boy, there won't be a second of Christmas I won't mourn you, love you and remember you, but Christmas as I understood it, has become a heartache I can't rightly figure out how to fix.

I know your brother is with me, I hope we get through it together.

Mum. x

• Support Youthline by donating via youthline.co.nz/breakthesilence.


If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.

If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:

LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234

There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.