Mental Health

'Grief like you've never known': Fundraising airman on honouring his daughter's memory

Listen: Wg Cdr Owen explains how 3 Dads Walking was formed.

The unimaginable grief Wing Commander Tim Owen felt after his 19-year-old daughter Emily took her own life in March 2020, encouraged him to raise awareness of how many people are lost to suicide and fundraise for a charity close to his heart. 

Since his daughter died, Wg Cdr Owen has been shocked by how little is known about suicide in young people – the Office for National Statistics states it is the main cause of death in people under the age of 35 in the UK.

Speaking with BFBS the Forces Station, he said: "Hang on a minute, it's the biggest killer of under 35s, we didn't know that. Why isn't anyone talking about it?"

To honour his daughter's memory and raise awareness of suicide prevention, Wg Cdr Owen has joined forces with two other suicide-bereaved fathers and created 'Three Dads Walking', the name of their fundraising walking challenge in loving memory of their daughters; 19-year-old Emily, 17-year-old Beth and Sophie who was 29.

Listen: "The thing that's most likely to kill our young people is themselves so why aren't we talking about it?" says Wg Cdr Owen.

By completing two epic walks, the dads have raised more than £1,000,000 for PAPYRUS, a national charity dedicated to the prevention of young suicide. 

Hollywood actors Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman each donated £10,000 to the three dads during their walk in 2021, as did Scottish football legend Lou Macari who lost his son to suicide in 1999. 

PAPYRUS was founded in 1997 by a group of bereaved parents, who had each lost children to suicide. 

The charity believes that with early intervention and support, suicide by young people can be prevented. 

It states that more than 200 school-aged children are lost to suicide every year. 

Emily Owen as a teenager - daughter of 3 Dads Walking father Wg Cdr Tim Owen NO NEED FOR CREDIT
Emily was a talented artist who, Wg Cdr Owen says, struggled to fit into society and be that girl everyone all saw.

Since first meeting, the three dads have walked across the UK +twice to raise much-needed funds and increase awareness of suicide in young people, including primary school-aged children. 

Speaking with Amy Casey, a BFBS the Forces Station broadcaster, Wg Cdr Owen explained just how baffled he and other parents he has met since the fundraising started in October 2021, are about the lack of knowledge. 

He said: "We talk about all the other risks that's in society, whether it be from drugs, whether it be from alcohol or sex education... road safety etc. 

"Yet the thing that's most likely to kill our young people is themselves, so why aren't we talking about it?"

3 Dads Walking men ending their trek at Westminster and holding pictures of their daughters NO CREDIT NEEDED
3 Dads Walking, from left to right, Andy Airey, Mike Palmer and Wg Cdr Tim Owen.

Suicide is extremely complex and, most of the time, it is difficult to pin down what causes someone to take their own life. 

On the 3 Dads Walking website, Wg Cdr Owen lovingly describes his "free-spirited" daughter, giving an insight into the young woman she had become – someone who wanted to help whenever she saw injustice. 

He said: "Emily lived life at a million miles an hour, a free spirit with no limits, charging around in her beloved Mini and travelling to Cornwall as often as possible – a place she so loved."

Emily Owen self-portrait for her GCSEs NO CREDIT NEEDED
A self-portrait Emily painted for her final GCSE piece. 

Wg Cdr Owen said: "At the start of the pandemic... [Emily] was really struggling to cope and when we went into isolation as a family, she was autistic, high-functioning autism and all her coping mechanism disappeared and she couldn't cope and tragically, devastatingly, she took her own life.

"We were thrown into a totally despairing world, devastating world and as you do… not only have you lost your daughter, but you've lost your daughter because she couldn't talk to you about what she was going through. 

"Just grief, like you've never known, it's just horrendous." 

3 Dads Walking from left to right Wg Cdr Tim Owen Mike Palmer and Andy Airey NO CREDIT NEEDED
Wg Cdr Tim Owen, Mike Palmer and Andy Airey are hoping to persuade the Government to include suicide prevention on the school curriculum.

By the end of the first walk in October 2021, the three dads were feeling energised and "righteous almost". 

They had raised about £800,000 for PAPYRUS' emergency 'Hopeline UK', a dedicated line run by suicide prevention professionals. 

But this was just the beginning. 

He said: "We went right to government and said 'please... why aren't we doing something about this?' 

"'Why aren't we teaching our children at school?'."

3 Dads Walking L to R Andy Airey, Mike Palmer and Wg Cdr Tim Owen NO CREDIT NEEDED
The 3 Dads Walking have raised more than £1,000,000 for PAPYRUS, the suicide prevention charity.

Over Christmas 2021, the grieving men received a letter from a doctor in Edinburgh who explained that suicide isn't just a problem in England, it's across all four nations. 

In response to this, starting on World Suicide Prevention Day 2022, the men set off on their second walk during which they covered 620 miles across Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England – all to raise the profile of both PAPYRUS and suicide prevention awareness. 

He said: "Every time we met so many families of young people who had all lost their lives and no-one was talking about it. 

"We're talking young people as young as 11, we met their parents and just devastated, absolutely devastated and just thinking... why aren't we as a bunch of grown-ups talking about this and trying to address this big risk to our kids?" 

Emily Owen loved surfing 3 Dads Walking NO CREDIT NEEDED
"Free spirited" Emily loved surfing.

Something Wg Cdr Owen is incredibly pleased about is that PAPYRUS is now registered as a service charity so Armed Forces personnel and their families should be able to access it through service charity sources. 

The Armed Forces community has taken Wg Cdr Own and his family under its wing and has been a good support network for them. 

He said: "When we lost Em, the... love and support that we had from the armed services was incredible.

"The support is there and I... implore anyone that's struggling to... reach out because the support is there across the services to help you and your families."

Ged Flynn, Chief Executive of PAPYRUS, said: "The 3 Dads Walking have captured the nation's hearts. 

"In these days of financial uncertainty, people have dug deep to support them in their efforts to raise much-needed funding for our charity.  

"Together with the 3 Dads Walking, they have refused to see young suicide as inevitable."

If you want to donate to 3 Dads Walking visit their website where you can also sign a Government petition asking for suicide prevention to be put in the school curriculum. They also have a link to the PAPYRUS website

If you, or someone you care for needs help, you can find more information by visiting forces.net/audiencesupport