Tuesday 21 November 2017

'I had no idea Andrew had taken cocaine' - restaurateur reveals pain at son's death

Sallyanne Clarke and her son Andrew
Sallyanne Clarke and her son Andrew
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Sallyanne Clarke shows me a Facebook link on her mobile phone. It reads: "Suicide doesn't end the chances of life getting worse, suicide eliminates the chances of it ever getting better."

On the back of Sallyanne's phone is a picture of her teenage son Andrew at her 50th birthday party on September 21, 2012. He looks so happy in the picture - smiling broadly. Its hard to believe that three months later he would be dead. Sallyanne says she finds it "comforting" to look at the picture every day.

That comfort, however, only goes so far for Sallyanne, her illustrious chef husband Derry and 24-year-old daughter Sarah May, because, "our hearts are broken" - she says, adding that there is not a second in the day that she does not think of Andrew "who left us" on December 27, 2012.

"We are devastated. We will never get over it. We are trying to get around it," Sallyanne says sitting in her world famous L'Ecrivain restaurant on Baggot Street she runs with Derry. "Work has been our saviour."

Sallyanne has had every major A-list star in the world (Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston - "I didn't recognise her" - Pierce Brosnan, Angelina Jolie) through the doors of her Michelin-­starred emporium over the years (as well as regulars like U2 and Ronan Keating, who had a birthday party there recently, with his girlfriend Storm). The top Dublin restaurant is, in fact, marking its 25th year, but as Sallyanne says, "you can't have an inquest last week and be celebrating this week. Derry and I are only human."

"Life goes on, but it will never be the same ever again for us. It can't be."

Part of Sallyanne's healing process, she says, has been working recently with Teenline - a confidential, non-judgemental listening service for teenagers who may be feeling alone, worried or distressed, explains Sallyanne.

"Teenagers don't see the long-range picture. They don't see the long term," she says. "They don't think it through." Through working with Teenline, Sallyanne has seen, she says, "how quickly teenagers' minds can change and how quickly they can make a decision".

It is heartbreaking to hear Sallyanne say these words because it is implicit that she is referring not so much to teenagers' decisions generally but perhaps more to her own son's decision to end his own life - at the age of just 16 in the garage of their family home in Brittas, Co Dublin, just two days after Christmas in 2012.

He passed away on New Year's Eve. Sallyanne says it is not possible to answer why her beloved son took his life, and that the pain at the deepest level is unimaginable. "You will never understand it until you go through it yourself," she says her face etched with that unimaginable agony.

Dealing with the tragic loss of Andrew has been made that bit more difficult by the fact that she and Derry - and Andrew's big sister Sarah May - have had to do so in the public arena. The inquest into Andrew's death last week, she says, was difficult. "That was very difficult especially when... " Sallyanne says, stopping herself, getting, inevitably, upset. "You wonder what public service was achieved by putting all that" - Sallyanne says referring to the traces of cocaine, benzodiazepines and painkiller medication found in Andrew's system after toxicology results.

"In the public domain? I know an inquest is supposed to be the who, the where, the what, and the how. With all due respect to the Coroners Office, they couldn't have been nicer, but from a personal point of view, obviously we would have preferred if we didn't have to go through with it. It is done now. It's finished. but it is the fact that it was a public inquest and everything was in every single newspaper the next day.

"This is going to sound awful, but thank God for Garth Brooks," she half-smiles, half-grimaces, about the country and western superstar taking her late son off the news agenda last week. Sallyanne says it was hurtful to read that traces of cocaine were found in her beloved son's system.

"We still have no idea where he got it. We still have no idea, because he wasn't even a drinker. He was a driver. And he was a very serious rally driver. You find all these kids that he was pals with... they might have a beer or two, but because they were all drivers, they weren't drinkers, So we never worried about anything like that with Andrew. We don't know where he got it [cocaine]. We have no idea where it came from," she says. "We are in the dark as far as all that is concerned." Sallyanne said the inquest "opened up wounds", adding, "it was difficult to get it all into your head again; and get your head around it, and to think that [Andrew is dead]."

There is an eternity of a pause.

Then Sallyanne says, near-stoically: "We still have the same questions now that we did when he died. We still haven't got any answers. And we probably never will."

Sunday Independent

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