Monday 22 December 2014

The wonderful and lasting legacy of brave Donal Walsh

The remains of Donal Walsh are brought to St Johns Church in Tralee Co Kerry yesterday.

Pic Steve Humphreys

15th May 2013.
St. Johns Church in Tralee, Co. Kerry was packed with mourners at Donal's funeral.
Donal at home with his family.
Donal with his drums.

Mark O'Regan told him, just days before he died, that his anti-suicide campaign was really working

The voice at the other end of the phone was strong and resolute – but it also betrayed a hint of hidden heartbreak. I was nervous. I felt like an intruder into the private agony of what must be the worst nightmare of any mother and father.

In this case, a son – just 16 years old – dying of cancer was in the final days of his life.

But Donal Walsh had fought a brave public campaign, from the moment he accepted he could no longer beat his disease, by making a heartfelt appeal to all those who would contemplate ending their own life, to think again.

As his illness wrought its final inevitable toll, he wanted others, however troubled or depressed they may be, never to consider suicide as a solution to their problems.

But how ill was he now? Did he still have the strength to talk to the media? It was Donal's father Fionnbar who answered the phone.

I apologised for calling, but said I had some good news for Donal regarding his plea that depressed young Irish teenagers should never resort to suicide, no matter how dark and futile their life seemed to be.

I wondered if I might speak to him.

"Sure," replied his father instantly. "I'll just have to bring the cordless phone to him upstairs. Just remember that he is quite low on energy.''

As the seconds ticked by, it was impossible not to contemplate the reality of a sports-mad, Irish teenager, confined to a family upstairs bedroom waiting to die.

Suddenly the voice of somebody obviously very ill came on the phone and said: "Hello. How are you doin'?"

When I told Donal that a website providing support for suicidal youths had recorded a four-fold increase in teens seeking help, following his plea to young people not to take their own lives, his delight was obvious.

"I'm thrilled my message has had a such a massive impact,'' he said.

And his voice seemed to get momentarily stronger as he added: "I didn't expect anything like that at all. A four-fold increase is huge. I just wasn't expecting something that big, I'm delighted.

Donal fought to contain a bout of severe coughing. But regaining his composure, he said: "Sorry about that."

His voice suddenly sounded very far away – and the gravity of his illness became awesomely clear.

"Thanks for calling,'' he said.

Indo Review

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