Mickey Clancy was a gifted surfer and led a fulfiling and dynamic life, but at only 22 he took his own life. Here, his father talks about the immense pain of losing his son, the faith that has helped him to come to terms with his grief and what needs to be done to help others
'Suicide in Ireland has become an option for young people – it's like 'choose X or Y on your mobile phone'," says Michael Clancy with a quiet consideration. In the last 10 months, Michael, his wife Bernie and their son Sean, have learned more about suicide than any family should ever have to know.
Since the death of their 22-year-old son, Mikey Clancy, a gifted windsurfer who finished 13th in the World Championships in Denmark this time last year, Michael has travelled a dark, often desperate road.
Along that road, he has met and spoken to many young people, Mikey's friends, as well as those involved with suicide prevention charities. When he speaks, it is with authority and understanding.
We are sitting in the front room of the Clancys' pleasant house in Raheny. Around us are many reminders of Mikey – his surf board propped in one corner; a collection of smooth stones over the fireplace, gathered from the beaches of Europe where Mikey competed, and brought home to his mother ; photographs of a beautiful child, then one striking photo of him as a young man; and a glass award from DIT – Sports Star of the Year.
And yet the room isn't a shrine – it is a tribute to a young man who has died, within a family that continues to live.
Michael talks, his voice low and measured, rarely faltering, about the heartache of losing Mikey and the months afterwards.
In everything he says, there is an acceptance of what has happened, of the permanently altered world in which the family now lives. There is deep, deep grief, but also the solace of faith. This is a man who has allowed himself to feel fully what comfort there is.
"Bernie and I were in San Francisco when Mikey died," he tells me. "Hearing the news from that distance was almost more shocking because you can do something when you're here. When you're away, it's just absolute panic. And yet, at the same time, it gave us time to talk, to be with each other and think what the future was going to be like without Mikey, and what it was going to be like when we went home."
And yet, of course, there is no possible preparation for such a thing. "The first time you see your son dead, that is a tragedy," says Michael quietly. "But I'm a spiritual person, I believe he's everywhere. I believe I spoke to him on the plane on the way home. I said to him, 'Mikey, I need to talk to you one more time. How are you?' I got the reply, 'I'm all right.'"
Once home, a family friend called to the house and said that he too had spoken to Mikey. "What did he say?" asked Michael. "He said 'I'm all right,'" was the answer. "That was a dual confirmation," says Michael now. "We don't get a glimpse too often of the next life, but if there is one, it's through moments like that we see it. I believe in that, and that has got me through the heartache of losing.
"You lose so much – your best pal, your son, your flesh and blood. He was almost a faultless kid to have in the family – happy, affectionate. That's the part we miss the most, the physicality of Mikey, the way he is no longer able to hug you, to hold you."
Michael's faith is broader, more spiritual than any one specific religion. In fact, I would almost call it a great openness, rather than a religion.
He is prepared to consider teachings from any source, choosing according to the value and comfort he finds, whether they come from Catholic priests, philosophers or others who have suffered as he has.
"We have done that a couple of times with different ceremonies. It has been a very gradual parting." How else to say farewell to someone so loved, except gradually, gently?
When Michael talks about the way the family have helped each other, been strong for one another, I can see again this solid wisdom, the way he is guided by instinct and a mind wide-open to any kind of light.
"When an animal is wounded, it will unfurl itself in its own time," he says. "When it's ready to crawl, it will crawl, when it's ready to walk it will walk. Humans need to copy the animal way and recover at their own pace. Humans are often forced, or we force ourselves, into getting up when we're not ready."