An epidemic, taking our youth… suicide.

I make no apologies for this…

Martha and the Muffins played on the radio, “Echo Beach, far away in time…” I held her in one hand, a wriggling, wrinkled, musty thing. Her fingernails were long and manicured, her eyes unable to focus, the heat of her tiny body extraordinary. She looked like a punch-drunk boxer, her fists ready for the next round. She cried a lot, refused to sleep, wanted to be the centre of it all. I drove around the city at 2am, hoping she would fall asleep; a wailing bundle in the baby seat. My wife and I shared the feeding, the nappy changes, the all-night, Calpol cooled vigils. She was a small baby, the nurse was always more concerned than seemed normal. We worried but we shouldn’t have.

She grew, her fingernails trimmed, her hands perfect, her wrinkled skin smoothed. My wife is certain that there is nothing so soft in this world as the back of a baby’s neck. She grew curls, smiled, recognised the difference between us. She babbled, “Ba, ba, ba, ba, ba,” a musical story all of her own. She tore around the living room on her bottom, chewed her toys and her soothers, drank her mother’s milk by the gallon and always wanted cuddles. Finally she walked, along the hall, unsteady but sure of herself. Her first word was, “Cat.” So much for Mama or Dada. The little boxer grew some more, talked some more, fought some more and welcomed her brother with open arms. They grew up together, a secret language between them. People remarked they must be twins for he was always bigger than average and they were inseparable.

We moved to Donegal, to give them the best start in life; walks on the beaches, petting farms, trips out on a Sunday, sandcastles in the rain. 20 years later she is at college, fighting for her independence, spending money like there’s no tomorrow, living her life with joy, working hard and playing hard. That is a tale of my own child, a tale that any parent can tell. When I held her first, I had never felt a love so powerful and profound. We are bound to our kids, they to us. The memories we share reflect in our every day lives. The smallest moments are imprinted in our minds, recalled with laughter and sometimes with tears. It isn’t always easy, my daughter has struggled now and then; sad times, hard times, lean times affect us all, but we’re still here and she’s still boxing. I cannot imagine life without her, I cannot contemplate the thought of her loss. All those memories, washed away like sandcastles on the beach.

And why all of this? Some friends of ours lost their daughter at the weekend. I cannot find the words for their grief. I cannot empathise in any way with their sorrow. I am dumb. I am at a loss. “So sorry”, seems to be all I can say, but there are too many “So sorries”. There is an epidemic in this land and in spite of all the announcements of funding for this service and that group, the epidemic shows no signs of abating. Over the last decade, the annual figure for suicides in Ireland has been around the 450 to 500 mark. Mark… there’s a word that does not convey in anyway the collective grief of each of those families. It is just a number. It does not meaure the memories of each of those human beings. I wonder what would happen if 500 children, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, were taken by an infectious disease? We can do more. We can do better. We can talk more, demand more. We can support the likes of Aware, Pieta House and the Samaritans. We owe it to the memories of those we have lost. And once more I type… Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam.

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