Even in the darkness of suicide, there are steps into light
Published 13/05/2016 | 02:30
Some 20 years ago last March, my brother Tony took his own life. In the traumatic and surreal immediate aftermath our family gathered in shock and I remember my father being very adamant about one thing. He insisted that we were all going to call this what it was - suicide. He was firm that we would not be ambiguous about the cause of Tony's death. We would name it. He knew that this was important.
Back in 1996, suicide still carried a degree of stigma. It is also never easy for any bereaved family to publicly say that their son or brother chose to end his own life. And so many families, understandably, didn't.
I wouldn't be known as someone who enjoys exercise. In school I dreaded PE and suffered five years of being on the basketball team by virtue only of my height and certainly not my talent.
Today, I wonder what all these people in Lycra are at, as they whizz past me running towards some unseen goal. As for setting an alarm to get out of my nest at 3am, well that is something I do only when heading to the airport to embark on a trip abroad.
So walking 5km in the middle of the night held as much appeal as, well running up a hill or jumping into the nearest lake in winter.
But as it was our Tony's 20th anniversary I thought that participating in the Pieta House 'Darkness Into Light' walk might be an appropriate way to mark the fact that he had lived and that he was loved. It would be a way to keep his memory alive. I also wanted to include my two youngest daughters who had never known their uncle.
However, I was afraid that said two daughters, who are teenagers, might baulk at this idea, not being huge fans of getting up out of bed at the best of time. But surprise, surprise they were keen to join me.
So last Friday the alarm sounded at 3am and we all fell bleary-eyed out of bed and donned our Pieta House bright yellow T-shirts. At that hour of the morning it's difficult to know whether to have a glass of wine or a cup of coffee - in the event we just 'hydrated' with water like the Lycra people. We frightened the life out of the deaf dog when we woke him from his very deep slumbers to tell him he was going out - you show him the lead and make a walking sign with your fingers.
I must try to market my deaf doggie sign language.
We arrived on Bray seafront and joined a sea of yellow T-shirts all making their way towards the start point at the bandstand. Suddenly I felt that my father was walking beside me, amazed to see so many people all out to highlight the blight of suicide on our country. Many people were also remembering loved ones.
They wore badges of young smiling faces who are now lost forever; some had names on their T-shirts. They carried lights. They pushed buggies with sleeping babies. They held hands of small children. Some pushed wheelchairs. There were older people, middle-aged people but what I noticed most of all was that there were lots of teenagers and young adults, which I guess tells its own story. We set off away from the seafront and onto Bray's residential streets. The world at 4.30am is very quiet, no traffic noise, no sirens or alarms, not even any aircraft noise. The only sound was of people chatting and of our footsteps. I thought of all those who were being remembered in the darkness of a Saturday morning in Bray, were they with us too? I found it all so moving, so reverential, so beautiful.
As light seeped into the sky we made our way back to the seafront. There was no cheering or celebration.
Just thousands of ordinary people who got up in the middle of the night and walked with the ghosts of their deeply loved friends or family members until the sun rose above the horizon.
A simple act which carries a huge message. One that anyone who has been bereaved will have learned. The darkest hour is before the dawn but life is about keeping going, just one foot in front of the other and slowly, sometimes very slowly, the light returns.
I spend a lot of time writing about things that frustrate me about this bloody country; about how we have made such a mess of so much. But then something like Darkness Into Light happens and I know why I love being Irish. Why I am proud to call myself Irish. I just wish we had a Government who weren't so often out of step.