Man Finally Discovers How His Mum Died, Almost Forty Years Later

by : Niamh Shackleton on : 25 Jun 2020 15:01
Man Finally Discovers How His Mum Died, Almost Forty Years LaterMan Finally Discovers How His Mum Died, Almost Forty Years Later@irenesghost/Facebook/Sky Documentaries

A man who put out an advert in a local newspaper has finally discovered how his mother died almost 40 years ago.


Iain Cunningham was just three years old when his mother Irene died, and throughout his whole life was never told the circumstances of her death – until now.

As well and not knowing about the circumstances of her death, Iain’s father Don Cunningham rarely spoke about his late wife at all. Iain, now 44, didn’t see a picture of his mother until he was 18.

Something that spurred Iain’s own investigations was when he became a father himself, and when his eldest daughter approached the same age he was when his mother died.


Iain told BBC News:

When you have a child that age, coming up to three, you see that they’re a fully rounded and emotional human being, and I found myself wondering more and more about what happened to Irene and the impact that had had on me.

I wanted to amplify her a bit and celebrate her as a person – but first I needed to find out who she was, I really didn’t know anything about her.

Following Irene’s death, Don remarried a year later and found that he naturally drifted away from the family and friends of Irene – all of whom could have helped Iain piece together what happened to his mum.

With this in mind, Iain put an advert in the local paper, and was soon contacted by some of Irene’s closest friends, school classmates and ex-colleagues, relatives and former neighbours

Despite people getting in touch with Iain and sharing their photographs and memories of his mother, Iain was still left with many unanswered questions, so decided to look at his mother’s medical records to try debunk further questions he had.

One doctor confirmed to Iain that his mother has suffered postpartum psychosis, while another said the antipsychotic drugs she was given to treat it were toxic to the heart, and that the doses she was given could have lead to her death.

Irene was sectioned and admitted to the psychiatric unit at the local hospital following her diagnosis and spent nine months there. While in hospital, she apparently went into catatonic stupor – when a person doesn’t move their body. After being discharged, Irene spent 18 months at home with her son and husband, but was later readmitted to hospital and sadly died three months later.


Along with Iain, Don was also never sure how his late wife had died, which was part of the reason he never spoke to his son about it.

Don said:

It was a different world – doctors didn’t give you any information and you weren’t told what medication they were on or for what. It was never explained to me what a catatonic stupor was and in those days there was no internet where you could go and look things up. My life consisted of going to the hospital every night and just sitting next to someone who was completely uncommunicative.

[…] I couldn’t tell him [Iain] because I didn’t know so to get that information, finally there was an explanation of how she died. I think Iain and I have got closer, and I’ve become much easier to talk to.

Following his investigations into his mother’s death, Iain created a documentary called Irene’s Ghost, which first aired on Sky Documentaries on Monday, June 22.

Irene’s Ghost is available to rent or purchase on Sky Store, YouTube, Amazon Prime and Google Play.

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]

Niamh Shackleton

Niamh Shackleton is a pint sized person and journalist at UNILAD. After studying Multimedia Journalism at the University of Salford, she did a year at Caters News Agency as a features writer in Birmingham before deciding that Manchester is (arguably) one of the best places in the world, and therefore moved back up north. She's also UNILAD's unofficial crazy animal lady.

Topics: Film and TV, Death, Documentary, Iain Cunningham, Irene's Ghost, Life, mother, Now


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