In this week’s blog, Fr. Paddy highlights the terrible ongoing tragedy that is the high incidence of suicide in our society.

Fr. Paddy Byrne has a weekly column in the Nationalist papers.
This column appeared in the edition published 30 November 2010

LAST week’s front page of The Nationalist highlighted the terrible ongoing tragedy that is the high incidence of suicide in our society.

The pictures of three beautiful and much-loved people, whose lives ended abruptly because of tragic death, left many readers shocked and numbed.

Suicide is a real issue. Unfortunately, its reality is felt much too frequently in all of our communities. This is a time of great burden; there is a palpable sense of fear in the hearts of the Irish people.

The frequency of suicide is an alarming reminder of how fragile and vulnerable the human mind is. I believe mental illness is the most difficult of any human cross to carry. When illness is physically manifested, it is tangible, acceptable and real.

However, mental illness can be hidden, stigmatised and much more difficult to “fix”.

A few years ago, I remember receiving a phone call from a young man from the parish where I lived for five years.

He was a student in the school where I was chaplain. I remember him because of his outstanding ability. A gifted and very talented student: a wonderful musician, sociable, affable and very popular. After his leaving certificate, he went to university to study medicine. I had lost touch with him and it took me a few moments to recognise his voice.

He said that he would like to talk to me. I found him in good form. But at the back of my mind I wondered did he want me, perhaps, to celebrate his wedding (this was very much the norm regarding phone calls from previous students, inviting me back to celebrations in their lives, such as 21st birthdays, and engagement parties. Because his voice seemed cheerful, this is what I assumed. I told him that I now live in Bagenalstown and suggested that we could have a chat and even a pint if he called down to see me. Our conversation ended.

The following evening, I got a phone call from one of his previous teachers with the absolutely devastating news that this young man had ended his life by suicide.

His family continue to be devastated, struggling with the why to so many unanswered questions. This vulnerable and true story can be mirrored in the thousands of similar tragic circumstances as a result of death by one’s own hand.

Perhaps the greatest devastation that results from suicide is the unanswered questions that loved ones will forever struggle with. Why did this happen? Should I have recognised the signs? Why did they leave this pain on us?

How did I not know that they were so unhappy?

I believe the burden, anxiety and overwhelming despair that brings somebody to end their own life is itself the most lonely and vulnerable cross any human has to carry.

I suggest that theirs surely is the Kingdom of Heaven – a kingdom that transforms despair into hope, darkness into light, and being lost into the joy of being found.

Any individual whose life has ended in the darkness of suicide also has a life story filled with brightness, gentleness and tremendous actions of human love.

In these dark days that are so uncertain and difficult for so many, please talk out your fear to somebody.