Monday 19 February 2018

Annette Rocca on the death of her husband by suicide: Obviously I lived in a bubble

The US news channel CNBC described the property tycoon as the first high-profile victim of Ireland's financial crisis.

GOLDEN COUPLE: The late Patrick Rocca pictured with his wife Annette at an exclusive charity ball in Marbella, Spain
GOLDEN COUPLE: The late Patrick Rocca pictured with his wife Annette at an exclusive charity ball in Marbella, Spain
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

It is seven years since the suicide of Patrick Rocca. His wife Annette has often asked herself: "Why?"

To an outsider, the respected businessman appeared to have it all. And when the economic crash took hold, society scrambled to find meaning.

Patrick Rocca
Patrick Rocca

The US news channel CNBC described the property tycoon as the first high-profile victim of Ireland's financial crisis.

For the New York Times, his suicide was an example of the steep personal toll of global recession.

But for the woman closest to him, the superficial reports didn't tie in with the Patrick that she knew.

And what she went on to learn in the weeks and months following his death made her realise that suicide is rarely bound up in such a simplistic explanation.

HAPPIER TIMES: Patrick and Annette Rocca pictured at the Marbella Ball in 2005
HAPPIER TIMES: Patrick and Annette Rocca pictured at the Marbella Ball in 2005

"It is rarely just one thing that drives a person over the edge. It is an amalgamation of things. And in the reality, it was only when I started investigating, I realised it wasn't just the [financial] institutions… there were a lot of other elements which would have affected his state of mind, God love him.

"In reality, experts say it's at least 10 things, it's not just one thing that can a flick a switch inside the mind of someone who eventually takes their own life."

Speaking for the first time since her husband's death, Annette wants people to stop relying on simplistic explanations when a person takes their own life.

She explains that, although Patrick gave off a gregarious air - the life and soul of the party - in reality, he was hiding a torrent of pain and turmoil.

"Like Patrick, the majority of people who take their own lives are proven to be very sensitive souls and they have great difficulty showing their feelings, sometimes because they are full of pride," says the mother of two.

"They are also shown to be very clever and, sometimes, the more intelligent you are, the more your nerves can have an effect on you.

"In the aftermath, you think, 'God, if I had known back then what I know now' but you get to the stage where you realise there is nothing you could have done because that person's mindset was so frail at the time.

"The greater the intelligence, the more sensitive the person and the more they suffer, and as time goes on, we all live and learn. Everyone who ever experienced suicide has their own story."

Annette went on to stress that people should stop viewing suicide as a selfish act. She explains that as a society we need a greater understanding of such a deeply personal and complex issue.

"It's very wrong to look at people who go through with suicide as selfish or to see it as a selfish act. It's uneducated. People who believe that are simply uneducated about such a complex issue.

"If they investigate and read up and learn - as we have over the years - they might realise too how frail that person was at that moment in time, but they couldn't express themselves or they just wouldn't open up to let you know how they were feeling.

"They weren't able to reach out and seek the help they should have, so they could still be here today. And that's the way I feel."

In her evidence at the time of the inquest, Annette said that her husband had not been sleeping well and on the morning of January 19 had got out of bed to work in the early hours.

He returned to bed at 7am and was still there when she was dropping their two young boys to school. However, when she returned at 8.30am, he was not in bed.

She saw their gardener outside and asked him had he seen Patrick. He had not. But she found him lying in the garden, lifeless.

"I checked his pulse but knew by his colour that he was gone," she said.

Ms Rocca explained that the conversation around mental health is slowly changing in Ireland as people are more willing to openly discuss their feelings.

"People talk more now. Even more than we did in 2009 when Patrick went through what he did. And it is very important because the more people who get out there and talk about it, the more we can prevent it.

"People need to be made feel that it's okay to come out and talk about how they are feeling. And if we can save lives by talking about it, then that is at least something good for the family."

She added: "We have all gone through hell and back and our lives have changed. If anyone out there is going through what we have gone through, all I can say is just to be strong. There is light at the end of the tunnel. In your own time, you will get through all the stages of grief - whether it be anger or depression - and you will have your good days and your bad days but you really have to pull through it.

"For the sake of your family and your children. And you know, for me, Patrick lives through them and I am very proud of that. They have a lot of their dad's personality traits and we have wonderful memories and we just live through them and speak about him on a regular basis because that is part of therapy too.

"As for me, I am on my own now but it's okay. You just have to be strong."

Describing how she has changed since the loss, she said: "Obviously, I lived in a bubble with Patrick and now I realise so many things happened and I can see through an awful lot. It has woken me up to the reality of life and now I am much more aware, both mentally and physically and I suppose on a business level you just open your eyes.

"I miss having someone to talk to or go for a walk with and companionship really. It's amazing because we did everything together and now I kind of look at life and you learn to live.

"I am cherishing our memories together. I lost my mum when I was 15, I lost Patrick at 42 but you just have to keep going.

"Stay strong and look forward and just be very positive and never ever, ever let the negative take over.

"Always be very strong-willed because it is your strength that gets your children through it and no matter how bad you feel at times, you have to stay strong for your family."

The Samaritans  can be contacted by phone at  116 123. This number is FREE to call. The 1life Freephone  is available 24 hours a day at 1800 247 100 or text the word HELP to 51444. The 1life service is of particular relevance to people who are feeling very low, have had suicidal thoughts.  

Sunday Independent

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