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Oliver Brown: Suicide is a life sentence for loved ones left behind

You imagine Gary Speed's wife Louise, whose torment at discovering him hanged in the basement of their garage in Cheshire is impossible to measure. You fear for the two teenage boys, Edward and Thomas, who face a lifetime of struggle to make sense of an act that defies any notion of the rational.

The tragedy of those who take their own lives is magnified by the life sentence it delivers to those who loved them most. For a haunting illustration of that truth, Ronald Reng's 'A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke', is unsurpassed. His work, the winner of the William Hill Sports Book of the Year prize, leaves the reader racked as much by sorrow for Robert as for the plight of the goalkeeper's widow, Teresa.

Literature would struggle to render a love story as affecting as that between Robert and 'Terri', teenage sweethearts from the former East Germany whose journey from Monchengladbach to Hanover via Lisbon, Barcelona and Istanbul slowly deepens their mutual commitment. She says of Reng's book: "He never forgets the many happy memories there were."

As such, the final 50 pages are almost unbearable, as the shattering of their happiness approaches with all the remorselessness of the regional express train that Robert steps in front of on the evening of November 10, 2009. He is 32 years old.

Their relationship begins at a railway station. Teresa, a Bavarian outsider in the city of Jena, is the last arrival on the 10pm service from Bad Windsheim and notices the fair-haired boy sitting alone on a platform bench

Spotting Robert as the one who has just begun making a name for himself in the local team, she asks him what he is doing.

"I'm waiting for somebody."

"Oh, okay. Well, have a nice evening."

As she turns to hurry on, he cries out: "Hey! You're the one I'm waiting for, obviously!"

To anybody romantic at heart, it is reassuring to know that the spirit of 'Brief Encounter' lives on. For from that point on, the couple are inseparable.

As Robert secures his first Bundesliga contract at Borussia Monchengladbach, they move into an apartment in a forbidding, ochre-coloured block on the edge of town, while Teresa commutes 50 miles daily to and from her university in Dusseldorf.

Their new independence is tempered by her sense of alienation, and by an irksome neighbour who keeps asking her to clean the stairwell.

"Love and a sense of the freedom of life could only mask their unease," Reng notes. "They couldn't eradicate it."

A more profound contentment is brought, eventually, by Robert's move to Benfica. At first he is assailed, as a provincial German 'Ossi' transplanted to the exotica of Lisbon, by a feeling of not belonging.

An hour after signing his contract, he is to be found back at his hotel, weeping inconsolably and begging to go home.

It is purely the cajoling of Teresa that helps his assimilation in an alien southern European culture.

She accompanies him everywhere -- even, at one point, to a training session. "Head straight, Robbi!" she shouts from the touchline.

Alas, a call from Barcelona breaks the peace just as they are starting to settle.

One could easily characterise Robert as an early exponent of footballer as manual labourer: an itinerant forced to upend his entire existence, and that of his wife, with each fresh signature. He becomes only the second German, after Bernd Schuster, to represent Barca in 100 years, and yet it turns out to be the transfer that breaks him.

He is blamed by the captain, Frank de Boer, for two of the goals in a 3-2 Copa del Rey defeat by Novelda and is never the same again.

He loses his confidence, he is sold by Barcelona, and his exit from an ill-judged spell at Fenerbahce triggers his first full bout of depression. And yet the unconditional support of Teresa endures. They have a baby, Lara, born with a heart defect that necessitates three operations in her first 18 months of life. Lara dies, although any assumptions that this precipitates Robert's unravelling are mistaken.

Reng writes of the bereft couple: "The countless inner breakdowns led to an unimaginably beautiful insight: pain brought them together."

In the words of Robert's friend Marco Villa, "there are moments in life when you feel very powerfully, 'I'd like to grow old with this person'. That's how it was with Robbi and Terri after Lara's death."

The utter heartbreak of what follows is that they would never even be able to try. (© Daily telegraph, London)

Irish Independent