Family share heart-breaking story of dad-of-three’s tragic death after mental health difficulties
PUBLISHED: 06:14 31 May 2020 | UPDATED: 08:04 31 May 2020
He was an amazing dad who was utterly devoted to his beautiful three young children.
But, after the tragedy of losing their father following his mental health difficulties, Sgt Antony Reynolds’ daughters have now devoted their lives to keeping his memory alive – through Scotty’s Little Soldiers, the charity which helped them cope.
The Wattisham-based soldier was a popular and well-respected avionics technician in the army, who had completed three tours of Afghanistan and served in Bosnia during a glittering, 20-year military career.
Yet his wife and mother to their three children, Sarah Ross, believed he had long struggled with his mental health before he tragically took his own life in July 2018, aged 41.
“I don’t think there’s one particular thing we can say was responsible,” said Sarah, who said the pressures of serving, being away from home and struggling to adjust to normal life on returning from Afghanistan in 2013 all took their toll.
Sarah, who separated from Antony a few years before his death but remained his best friend, said he was an “amazing dad” who “would literally do anything for the girls”, adding: “He was completely devoted to the kids.”
Yet the thing he perhaps struggled with most of all, she believes, was that: “He perceived himself as not being the best dad to the children.”
His death nearly two years ago was “horrific” for his family and friends, with Sarah saying: “You feel immense guilt.
“You ask yourself if you or someone else could’ve done this, or if you could’ve done that.
“You don’t actually ever know what caused it. You can just speculate what was wrong.
“I’ve been through all the army notes and coroner’s notes, looking for any little detail.
“Then you think about how you’re going to tell the children. How do you tell the children that their dad chose to die?”
The couple’s eldest daughter Molly, now 16, already understood how her father died.
But about a year after Antony’s death, Sarah took the incredibly difficult decision to explain to her two youngest daughters, Emily and Isabelle, aged five and seven at the time, that their father had died by suicide.
Pastoral officers at Emily and Isabelle’s school, St Mary’s Primary in Hadleigh, even went above and beyond their duty to help Sarah break the heart-breaking news.
Yet despite their shock and sadness, Sarah said that the children have been “so resilient” - helped by Scotty’s Little Soldiers, a charity which supports bereaved British Forces children.
Scotty’s: like a ‘comfort blanket’ for bereaved children
“I was quite worried at first that, because Antony had taken his life, we weren’t entitled to the same level of support as families of people killed in action,” said Sarah of the charity set up by Nikki Scott, whose own husband, Corporal Lee Scott, died in Afghanistan in 2009.
“However, every child, no matter what situation, is important to Scotty’s.”
Scotty’s has provided a respite break for Molly, Emily and Isabelle at Center Parcs - as well as events such as the Scotty’s Christmas party, where they can meet other children in similar situations.
Yet perhaps the biggest difference it has made is behind the scenes, with help programmes for the children and Scotty’s head of support, Bev Townsend, always being on the end of the phone.
“It helps being part of the Scotty’s family,” said Sarah.
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“It’s like a comfort blanket around the children, with a group of people who have always got their back.
“Nikki is just phenomenal. Bev is someone I can phone about anything.
“When it’s just you and the children, you can doubt yourself – but I can phone her about anything if the children are struggling or I’m struggling.
“Without the security blanket of Scotty’s behind them, they wouldn’t have had the confidence to be so resilient.
“Molly often doesn’t like to talk about it but her way of dealing with it is to go out and do things for Scotty’s. That’s her way of keeping her dad’s memory alive.”
Sarah added: “The girls’ faces light up when they see anything from Scotty’s. They absolutely love the charity and everything they do for them.
“I can’t explain how much of a difference the charity has made. They’ve made so many new friends through the experiences provided by Scotty’s and I’m so grateful to them for turning something so horrible in their lives into something so positive.”
Lockdown fundraising challenge
Molly, Emily and Isabelle have been raising money for Scotty’s during the coronavirus lockdown by taking part in the Month of May Marathon in their dad’s memory.
As Antony was a keen runner who took part in the Manchester Marathon before he died, the trio set about running and walking the marathon distance throughout the month to mark their father’s birthday on May 9.
They have already surpassed that distance and are looking to clock up more miles before the month’s end, with £900 raised for Scotty’s so far.
Those funds will be particularly beneficial in the current climate – like many other charities, Scotty’s fundraising has been significantly limited by Covid-19.
Founder Nikki Scott said: “Molly, Emily and Isabelle have been through so much in the two years so for them to take on the May Marathon, for the second year in a row, to help raise money for Scotty’s, is incredible.
“We are currently living in strange times and the charity needs people like Molly, Emily and Isabelle more than ever.
“Every penny raised through the Month of May Marathon challenge will allow us to keep providing vital support to bereaved Forces children across the country when they need it the most.”
About Scotty’s Little Soldiers
Scotty’s Little Soldiers provides valuable support to bereaved British Forces children to help them learn to smile again.
The charity helps any child or young person up to and including the age of 18 who has lost a parent in the armed forces.
Children who join the charity as a member benefit from three assistance programmes - Smiles, Support and Strides.
The Smile programme helps families plan fun days out, arranges vouchers for anniversaries and gifts for birthdays and Christmas.
Children are able to get emotional support through counselling and a dedicated family support worker in the charity’s Support programme.
The Strides programme offers grants for driving lessons, university and extra-curricular activities.
However, during the coronavirus pandemic the charity has had to adapt by using modern technology and arranging virtual events and activities to engage with its members.
It is also offering an increased level of emotional support to a great number of families who are struggling to cope with added pressures.
To download a membership form or read more about the charity’s work, visit its website.
■ Need to talk? Call The Samaritans on 116 123.
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