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Kevin Myers: Funerals of suicidists should be a reminder of the lifelong catastrophe that they have caused

This column was begun before news of the Cork tragedy broke. Its relevance remains.

Myles, the son of friends of mine, recently took his own life. It was the final attempt of several. Though an outwardly happy, athletic young man, he was as inexorably drawn to death as a salmon to the sea. Neither the love of his parents and friends, nor the heartbreak that would certainly follow upon his going, was enough to keep him alive. He wanted to die, and die he finally did.

There is an apparent logic in suicide. Death is our only certain portion, so suicide is merely delivering at a specific time and place what is coming anyway. In his own mind, why should a suicidist postpone death? To spare his parents the grief of burying their boy, in order that in the fullness of time, he shall fully know the grief of burying his parents? And so then he may do what he'd wanted for so long, but only after they'd finally got what they probably didn't want at all?

So this is not intellectually simple. And as a plague of suicide moves through our communities, we must try to tease these things out, but hopefully without the vicious and self-righteous hysteria that emotive topics usually attract in Ireland. (To be sure, were suicides 90pc female, as they are male, they would be the subject of far greater governmental concern -- but that is another issue).

Man is a violent species. We developed edged tools long before we developed into homo sapiens, in order to cope with the genetic disorder of uncontrolled growth of hair and nail. The proto-men that failed to create blades to cut toenails grew lame and perished. Equally, the proto-men that (like the great apes) were not afflicted with this genetic disorder were not obliged to fashion sharp tools. So they lost out to those who'd had to invent tools to overcome their genetic handicap, and which led inexorably to more lethal weaponry.

Thus homicide is etched in our DNA, shaped when our hominid ancestors wandered naked through the bitter winters of the Middle Palaeolithic: homicide of others and homicide of self. For, a man cannot take his own life with a hammer, but he can with a blade. So in response, early man created a taboo on people taking the "easy" way out: and as poverty and hunger remained the lot of the masses down the millennia, we retained the taboo on own-hand death. Only in our very recent prosperity did we lift this taboo. So what is there now to stop people killing themselves, as apparent despair and ruin once again gather around their lives?

Well, some people are always beyond saving. Poor Myles was such a person. Neither personal ruin had arrived for him, nor great debt, nor unbearable heartache, just the steady and irresistible allure of the grave, and therein an end to all care. He presumably had weighed up what this might mean to his parents, yet he went ahead anyway.

And no doubt he who turns and returns repeatedly to the quest for death possibly is better off succeeding than having to endure the daily misery of an unwanted life.

Myles' parents behaved with iron dignity at his passing: they had, after all, had warning enough that it might come. I cannot measure the anguish of a mother's broken heart as she mourns the son she loved and loves and will always love, or know how the father copes with such an unnatural sequence of death and bereavement. There is no font of wisdom that can ease the burden, or share the pain, or prevent others doing the same. There will always be our Myles, fixated with death like a lodestone to the pole, and there must come a point where we recognise that we can do nothing more for them, but tactfully allow them go their own way.

However, we cannot create two moral orders, one for individuals who have a death-wish codified inside their DNA, and the other for those who are prey to temporary but devastating urges to escape their current problems. We can never allow any form of suicide to be "acceptable".

Nonetheless, with the complicity of an abject and broken church, we have recently seen the introduction of elaborate ceremonials which actually celebrate youthful suicide, in ways that are not granted to the youngster who involuntarily perishes from leukaemia, or is run over by a lorry. This really is mad. Suicide should never be the occasion for colourful obsequies, melodramatic liturgy and self-indulgent teenage emoting, for these only serve as incentives to the impressionable, the weak, and the briefly despairing.

We know that in these terrible times, suicide is becoming more common. This is a grave social aberration. We must therefore discreetly register our cultural disapproval of self-killing by marking the final obsequies with a grey, silent and dignified austerity. Funerals are never for the dead, but for the living. So the funerals of suicidists should be a clear reminder of the lifelong catastrophe that they have caused for family and friends. Unlike others on our minds today, they chose to die.

Irish Independent