My brother called me a fortnight ago, on a Saturday afternoon. He asked me if I knew of a certain guy from home – ‘home’ being rural Sligo. I said that yes, I did know of him. The image of his smiling face flashed into my mind. I asked my brother Seán why he was asking me about him, already having an idea of what he would say next. My brother confirmed my suspicions and informed me that Stephen, the guy from home, had died.
I’m ashamed and embarrassed to admit that I immediately assumed suicide.
My impression and ‘sense’ of Stephen was that life had been somewhat unkind towards him, especially in his younger years. This ‘sense’ was confirmed for me recently when I learned more about him during the days, and now weeks, since his passing. I remember him as being a kind, honest, make-the-best-of-every-situation, say-it-as-it-is, no bullshit type of person, with the strong sense of empathy one acquires from having endured hurt and grief in their own life.
I also remember seeing him on nights out. He had the ability to attain a level of ‘craic’ I could only ever dream of and marvel at. He was the life and soul of the party. I also remember seeing him participate in local hurling matches, where he often decided to opt out of the compulsory helmet wearing rule. Having attended quite a few of these hurling events throughout the years (out of a sisterly duty to my hurling-playing brother, as opposed to any voyeuristic ‘watching the men in shorts running around with their sticks in their hands’ kind of way), I began observing, in a David Attenborough manner, some of the happenings at such gatherings.[pullquote]My brother confirmed my suspicions and informed me that Stephen, the guy from home, had died. I’m ashamed and embarrassed to admit that I immediately assumed suicide.[/pullquote]
At times it seemed that Stephen wore the helmet on days when he was especially hungover. When the whistle would bellow to signal half time, full time, or his substitution, I remember him walking towards the side line, taking off the ‘optional’ helmet and almost immediately lighting up a cigarette and inhaling deeply, as if parodying a character from The Hardy Bucks, except his actions were entirely devoid of dramatic irony. I was always amazed by how well he actually managed to play on these occasions. He was absolutely one of the most likeable people you could meet. I couldn’t quite grasp this news that he was no longer alive.
I then asked my brother how it happened, again, having an idea in my mind of what his reply would be. He said it had been an accident. I was confused. Accidents don’t happen.
Seán said that Stephen had been found by his girlfriend, who had expected him to collect her when she finished work. She knew he had been working on his car earlier that day and assumed he had just fallen asleep on the couch afterwards. The accident that took Stephen’s life from him in such an abrupt and vicious manner occurred while he was working on his car earlier that day. It was an entirely freak and incredibly unfortunate accident.[pullquote]He said it had been an accident. I was confused. Accidents don’t happen. Suicide happens.[/pullquote]
I sheepishly confessed to my brother some days later that I had assumed Stephen had committed suicide. He admitted that it had also been his first thought. In addition, it was the immediate assumption of a lot of my friends, many of whom did not know Stephen at all. They just assumed. They heard me begin the ‘news’ by stating that a 30 year old guy from home had died. They assumed suicide. They assumed a 30 year old man had taken his own life.
What has happened that this is the automatic and accepted assumption?
This immediate reaction I had to the desperately sad news of Stephen’s passing deeply disturbed and puzzled me. I became curious and contemplated it further. I then became aware.
I became aware of my acceptance of suicide.
I became aware of my defeatist, hands-up-in-the-air, ‘shur-what-can-you-do’ attitude towards suicide.
I became aware of my disempowered state in the face of suicide. I fear we are becoming a disempowered State.
I became aware of my exasperation at the enormity of the problem and prevalence of suicide in Ireland.
I became aware of the uncomfortable feelings the issue of suicide provokes within me. There are many contributing factors to such uncomfortable feelings. Ignorance: of not knowing what to do or how to help. Being overwhelmed: at the enormity of the problem – no, the crisis of suicide in this country. Inadequacy: of the services and real programmes of commitment from the ‘higher powers.’ I don’t need to quote the figures and statistics representing the inadequacies of the government on matters of mental health in this country. We all know. We know it too well. [pullquote]I became aware of my defeatist, hands-up-in-the-air, ‘shur-what-can-you-do’ attitude towards suicide. I became aware of my disempowered state in the face of suicide.[/pullquote]
Last Saturday, Saturday 7th May, marked the eighth year of Pieta House’s amazing ‘Darkness into Light’ fund raising event. The positive, supportive, and hopeful ‘vibes’ generated from this and similar events are truly inspiring. Such events and collective efforts provide real and tangible messages of support to all.
Change with regards to mental and emotional health is obviously needed. I believe it’s happening, really happening now. People are becoming more aware. This is the first step. Much like the ‘Darkness into Light’ event, this journey into mental awareness and health will be a step by step process.
From my own experiences, I believe that this change needs to be both internal – each individual person – and external – collectively, as a society and community. Internal change involves each one of us taking responsibility for ourselves, for our one precious gift of life, for our own mental health and development. This involves being both brave and vulnerable. This involves looking within and owning all the parts of our complex and dynamic selves. This involves owning the dark and the light parts inside each one of us. The darkness inside us is not something to be feared or ashamed of. This darkness, once acknowledged and accepted, can even be transformed into light. It’s time for us all – individually and collectively, internally and externally – to move from Darkness into Light, one small step at a time.
Hopefully then, in time, when one is informed of someone’s unfortunate and untimely passing, the automatic and immediate question will be; ‘What dreadfully freak accident occurred to take this person’s life so suddenly?’ Hopefully, in time, suicide will not be the accepted assumption it currently appears to be. We have the power within ourselves to affect change.
Rest in Peace, Stephen.
Rest in Peace, all those who have died by suicide.
Live in Peace, Everyone.