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Wednesday 24 April 2019

'The nine weeks we searched for her were hell' - woman whose mum took her own life pleads for others in a dark place to get help

Elizabeth Burns holds a photograph of her beloved mother Jean McGahey
Elizabeth Burns holds a photograph of her beloved mother Jean McGahey

Leona O'Neill

The daughter of a pensioner who took her own life has urged those who find themselves in a dark place to seek help.

Much-loved former Templemore Secondary School teacher Jean McGahey (72) was discovered on a Donegal beach in January by dog walkers after she went missing from her home at Hazelbank in Derry on November 18.

Her daughter Elizabeth Burns has spoken for the first time about her heartbreak and urged others to seek help if they're suffering from depression.

She said her mother had fallen into a dark place as her health deteriorated and she started to lose her independence.

"The last two years of her life her health issues had really got her down," Elizabeth said.

"She was on painkillers and sleeping tablets. She moved in with me in my house; her independence was dwindling.

"When I was tidying up the day after she went missing I found an obituary she had hand-written the Saturday before she went missing outlining her wishes for her funeral."

She said the tragedy had left her with so many unanswered questions.

"On Sunday, November 18 I was lying down as I wasn't feeling well," she recalled.

"Mammy sat on the chair beside me. We were talking about normal things and she told me she was going over to her old bungalow.

"I woke up later that evening after 6pm and I saw that her car was gone. I called her on her mobile but it was not giving me a ringing tone.

"I started to get panicky and rang around relatives and no one had seen her. My brother said that we should call the police.

"In my head she had gone away to a hotel for a couple of days because of all the commotion over moving in with me. The police came over and they put out an appeal.

"They called me the next morning to tell me that her car was found at the beach in Buncrana."

Elizabeth says the long search for her mother's body was a horrible time.

"I went down to the place where her car was found and I looked across the beach and out to the ocean, wondering what had happened to her," she said.

"The nine weeks we searched for her were hell. We were in limbo. I lost a lot of weight because I just couldn't eat.

"I kept checking her credit cards for a week, hoping against hope that she had just gone off to a hotel and this was all a bad dream. But then I realised that it wasn't the case and I had to face up to the fact that she was gone."

Jean's body was finally found on Leenan Beach in Inishowen on January 23.

Elizabeth said at least the family was afforded closure.

She said she would urge others who are struggling with the darkness of depression to reach out for support.

"Suicide is heartbreaking for any family. The family are left devastated," she said. "I would say to people who are feeling low to seek help, reach out and ask for help. There are services out there to give you hope.

"Suicide has a horrendous impact on families and leaves so many unanswered questions. I would say to others who are in a very dark place, who are lost within their souls, please don't do it to yourself, or to those who love you. When you are dead, there is no going back from it. It is a final solution to a temporary problem. Seek help. Don't be ashamed to be depressed.

"Those left behind are left haunted. I have horrendous nightmares about my mother. I have nightmares about Mammy being in the ocean, changing her mind and she wasn't able to get back out.

"Suicide is so sad and so heartbreaking, because someone has given up. It leaves so many questions, the biggest amongst them is why? It is a question mark constantly hanging over us and that is tragic."

Elizabeth said she wants to thank all those who helped her family in their darkest days.

"I want to thank the rescue services who did so much for us," she added.

"Community services here in Derry for all they helped. I couldn't have got through this without my family and friends and all those in the community who reached out to us.

"Everyone's help just was like a light in the dark, showing us how a community can pull together in times of crisis."

Recalling how her mother was "a real lady", she added: "She was beautiful, very kind and caring. I have not only lost my mother, she was my best friend in life too. Everyone who knew her loved her.

"Me and my brother are just devastated. We have to live with this now. But we will never forget our beautiful mum."

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article please contact Samaritans helpline 116 123 or Aware helpline 1800 80 48 48 or Pieta House on 1800 247 247.

Belfast Telegraph

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