Friday 20 September 2019

Another day. More suicides. Yet more clichés.

The family plot at the cemetary in Schull in West Cork where the remains of Martin McCarthy (inset), the Cork man who died by suicide, were buried
The family plot at the cemetary in Schull in West Cork where the remains of Martin McCarthy (inset), the Cork man who died by suicide, were buried
The family plot at the cemetary in Schull in West Cork where the remains of Martin McCarthy, the Cork man who died by suicide, were buried
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

It's not hyperbole to say that last week's inquest into the suicide of Cork man Martin McCarthy and the death by drowning of his daughter – at his hand – was almost numbing.

There's no point in going over all the details one more time – the chances are that you, like everybody else, have absorbed enough of those and already know more than you ever wanted to.

This is normally the point in a column where the pundit will thoughtfully stroke their chin, brew a pot of coffee while they ponder their Deep Thoughts and then bravely inform an expectant readership that: "It's Time We Spoke Honestly About Suicide."

And you know what? They never do.

Instead, we're given the usual platitudes about how the person who, under the current code of language 'died by suicide' (as if they went out and forgot to wrap up, thus catching a bad dose of suicide) must have been going through some unbearable internal, tectonic pressure that finally cracked.

And, of course, that is true. To a point.

But people who prefer to talk about the unique, existential pain of the 'victim' are deliberately avoiding one of the most common emotions felt by those left behind. And that is one of almost unbearable, fruitless anger at that person for doing what they did.

Nobody wants to add to someone else's hurt by pouring condemnation on a loved one who chose to check out. But despite the occasional plaintive plea from the occasional priest who is sick of holding funeral services for people who kill themselves, such a silence only serves to further obscure the real issue and it is this – people who take their own life kill not just themselves, but they also forever destroy those they leave behind.

And what do we tend to do in those circumstances? Well, in the midst of our national custom of not speaking ill of the dead, we collude in a pernicious myth that suicide is, somehow, an unfortunate but understandable reaction to life's vicissitudes.

I'd warrant most people reading this concur because most of us, at this stage, have been touched in some way by suicide. In fact, ask some of your colleagues and friends if they know of someone who killed themselves and the chances are you will quickly find yourself in a weird, hellish games of Top Trumps – with each person having their own, individual horror story of a partner, child or family left confused, bereft, guilty and angry at someone for doing what they did.

Yet even if we accept we are now living in a culture where suicide is more prevalent than ever before, we are queasy and reluctant to apportion blame to the perpetrator. And someone who kills themselves should be seen as exactly that – the perpetrator, not some innocent bystander.

The focus should not be on the person who did it – there are some who would now even argue for a return to an unmarked grave for people who take their own life. It should be with the ones left to pick up the pieces when all the Facebook tributes have faded and the flowers are rotting on the grave. This is something that never leaves them, even though the rest of us carry on and get on with life.

Despite my lack of religion, I suggested to a friend – as we were discussing the recent suicide of someone we both knew – that maybe having some old-fashioned fear of eternal damnation would stop people taking their own life for what appears, to the rest of us at any rate, to be trivial reasons.

He furiously disagreed, arguing instead that children and young people should be taught that you only get one go – there are no mulligans in life, no do-overs, no second chances. He passionately, and with some validity, argued that throwing it all away in a fit of pique should be condemned, not portrayed as a weirdly romantic course of action.

Maybe it's time to move away from the standard mantra of suicide prevention – that you are wonderful and everybody loves you and the world would be a smaller place with your passing.

Perhaps we should start to remind people of the devastation their actions will leave behind.

Perhaps it's time to focus not merely on suicide prevention, but suicide shaming – how this act of selfishness will rip apart your entire family and they will never, ever be the same again. Because for as long as they live, they will still never understand how the person they loved could do this to them.

The media likes to talk about 'victims of suicide'.

Let's start being honest – the only real victims are the ones left behind..


You may remember our beloved Lord Mayor, Oisin Quinn, was forced into a humiliating volte-face after he slammed the plans for Patrick's Day as 'tacky'.

As it happened, I agreed with him prompting one furious reader to blast: "o doherty you seem to base all your articles on some controversy i think the INDEPENDENT should dress you up like leprecaun and send you to NEW YORK for PATRICKS DAY you seemed to be steeped in urban parocialism NY might brighten you up a little."

I think it only fair to say that I thoroughly agree with our friend with the unusual approach to the language.

In fact, I fully endorse his desire for my bosses to send me to New York for a weekend.

As for dressing as a leprechaun?

Screw my principles, frankly I'll dress up as Panti if it gets me over there.


Given America's disastrous war on drugs it is indeed surprising to find them rapidly becoming one of the most liberal countries in the world when it comes to weed.

And one of the most oft-parroted arguments against legalising pot is the cry of 'what about the children?'

What indeed.

Well, what about 13-year-old San Francisco Girl Scout Danielle Lie? She set up a stall outside a pot dispensary in the Bay Area and is doing a roaring trade selling cookies.

She points out that everybody knows stoners get the munchies, so she is simply providing a supply to meet the demand.

Now that's one smart cookie.

Irish Independent

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