Saturday 24 February 2018

'I feel cheated that suicide has taken my two brothers'

A double tragedy 20 years apart had a devastating effect on Mary O'Neill.

Mary O'Neill with her two brothers, Barry (left) and Darren (right), who both took their own lives.
Mary O'Neill with her two brothers, Barry (left) and Darren (right), who both took their own lives.

Edel Coffey

'I lost my first brother when he was 19, and my other brother in 2011," says Mary O'Neill, from Portarlington. At the time of her first brother's death in 1991, there was nowhere to go.

By the time her second brother died, Mary found Anam Cara. Anam Cara was set up in 2008 by bereaved parents for bereaved parents but also helps people who have lost a close family member suddenly.

"The loss of a child is awful but when you lose a sibling, you're in a different zone, especially when your parents are alive and distraught.

"You focus on them. No one asks how you are. I've lost someone who has always been in my life because I'm the oldest in my family. The bond that you have with a sibling is strong. I remember coming home from school at six and there was a Moses basket in the corner.

"I said, who's that and mammy said, that's your baby brother Barry Desmond. After my first brother died in 1991 my parents passed away between then and when Barry died, so when Barry died the loss ... " she trails off, searching for words. "I thought we were going to be a family forever and with a sudden death the loss is just awful.

"Where to go? Who to talk to? It's a completely different loss. You've been there for one another, you've covered up for one another as teenagers."

Both of Mary's brothers took their own lives. Neither had a history of depression. Darren was 19 when he killed himself in 1991, and Barry was 37 when he killed himself 20 years later, in 2011.

"Suicide brings its own issues. You're robbed of the natural grieving process. You're wondering why the person did it before you start to grieve. To meet like-minded people, I can't exaggerate how important that is. On a scale of one to 10, it's 100. Life is different for me at 47 because you've gone through so much but there's a gap there for young people who are living with a sick brother or sister who passes away. The parents are in such a bad place it's difficult for the brother or sister."

Mary has been trying to get services put in place for young siblings who have lost a brother or sister. "It can be a terribly isolated place to be where nobody else knows how you feel. It's a horrible, raw grief and a horrible place to be having lost anybody but there's nothing there for siblings."

Anam Cara have seen a 30pc increase in demand for their services, which include a website, private message forums, bereavement information evenings by professionals specialising in grief, support groups and family remembrance events. All of their services are free of charge.

'He died Thursday night at three minutes past 11. The fact that they both took their own lives, that's so difficult for people to deal with. They were both sudden, they both shot themselves. Barry had his dinner with me at 6 o'clock on Thursday, and we went for a walk at half seven. At 25 past eight he said, I'll see you in the morning. I said, you will of course Bar, and that was the last thing I said to him.

"The shock and disbelief of a sudden death is awful," says Mary. "I brought Barry home on Friday evening and waked him in my house. We buried him on Sunday. I woke up on Monday and it was a beautiful morning. I jumped out of bed, as if the weekend hadn't happened. I walked downstairs and saw all these flowers and cards and it clicked with me that Barry was actually dead.

"You go into autopilot, overdrive, bring him home, pick up his coffin, what readings do you want at the mass, what hymns, what clothes will you put on him, where are we going afterwards. That morning, I sat on the stairs and the realisation that our baby brother had not only taken his own life, but he was dead and I would never see him again ... I didn't speak for three weeks.

"I didn't go to work, I couldn't eat or do anything. My sisters were so worried. Eventually I realised I've just got to get over this. Nothing will prepare you for a sudden death. I couldn't describe it. It's the most awful thing in the world."

"With your parents you naturally think they're going to pass away, but with the two lads you feel cheated, you feel sorry for them and yourself. I feel sorry for my nieces and nephews too because they miss out so much not having Barry in their lives. My nieces and nephews loved Barry. When I told them he had died they said, there'll be no more mixing coke with orange. Barry's house was where they could watch 'Star Wars' and have crisps during the week. That was Barry. All he wanted was fun. That was the shock of it.

"I go to the cemetery now and look at their names and the loss is difficult to explain. You're supposed to grow older together. I always wonder what Darren would look like now, I miss that Darren is always going to be 19, that he never had children, he never got married. I feel sad for them that they never got that opportunity. Life will never be the same again I'm afraid."

While life will never be the same, Mary feels that the service Anam Cara provides gives people like her somewhere to go. "There are some bereavement services but they're terribly limited in this country. Anam Cara has an online forum if you don't want to talk face to face.

"There's someone there who is on your journey – they might be at the beginning, two years down the road, five years down the road. We have professionals who are paid by the organisation to talk to people and let them know it's okay to feel how they feel, to give you hope, everybody needs somebody.

"This is not something where you can always describe how you feel but there will be somebody else on that journey who knows how you feel. Anam Cara is not like sitting on a couch with a psychiatrist. The most important thing about Anam Cara is you're not alone, you don't have to do this on your own. That's the most important thing.

"We lose sight of the fact that the most important thing in this world is ourselves, us, people. People are so consumed with other stuff and that stuff doesn't matter to me anymore. To me it's about family and life, and that's important to Anam Cara too." or information line 087 9637790

Irish Independent

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