Don’t be Afraid to Talk

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How can you live for thirty years and talk to someone every single day of your life and not miss it? You can’t. It is impossible. Phone calls, texts messages, Facebook posts, house visits – all things that happen daily in most families. A simple act that when it’s gone it leaves a massive void in your life. This is before your mind can even process that the one you love is gone and you can never, despite your best efforts, speak to them again. Not in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that in the first year of my thirties I would have to lose two of the most important people in my life. Two beautiful amazing women who brightened the world by simply being in it. Suicide. The ugly word we hear about in the press, stole my two sisters. Suicide left a family of five torn apart and caused a tidal wave of destruction. Suicide changed my life and who I was forever.

There was never a day that I didn’t speak to Michelle or Shauna, the phone was constantly on the go, we had Mum tortured with the constant calls – but we knew she loved it really, even when we called before work at 7am, sure when we were up, the whole world was awake! Every morning of my life started with a 7.25am call from Michelle before work, just to find out what the craic was – not that there was much when you spent most of your week in an 8-6 job! Shauna wasn’t so much of an early bird, you were most likely to hear from her after midday, sometimes afternoon! Nevertheless, the call always came. The call always came until it didn’t and life as I knew it was no more.

People often ask how you continue to get up every morning following such a trauma. The truth is, life doesn’t stop for anyone. Bills keep coming, news events happen and people live their lives. Life goes on. As blunt and as harsh as that sounds it is true. In the early days following the girls deaths I could never understand how people continued with their lives as if nothing had happened when my entire world was turned upside down.

It was an effort even to get up and out of the house in the morning and even now these days still exist. Your mind knows that people have their own lives to lead and truth be told Michelle and Shauna would hate it if people stopped living just because they had died. What didn’t and doesn’t get any easier is the way people tend to treat you when you lose someone you love to suicide. The stigma attached to this type of death is very much ingrained in society. Granted it is a horrible topic for any person to talk about, to know about or to experience. It is even worse to have to live in its aftermath, not once, but twice.

As kind as people mean to be at times I have found their approach towards talking either to me or about the girls not only rude, but offensive. Just because the media gave their deaths a high profile, does not give people an automatic entitlement to know every single detail. I remember quite clearly, someone who I knew of but didn’t actually know asking me details of how the girls died. Information they didn’t receive and information they had no entitlement too!

Suicide isn’t like any other death, it is private and personal. Quite rightly those left behind are very protective of their loved ones and what information people and society are privy too. Society however, society seems to think that it’s ok to ask intimate questions, and worse, they expect answers. In a death like no other, suicide should not be glorified. What matters is that yet another person has lost their life to this cruel and awful disease. Yet another family is left behind looking for answers and never finding them and a new generation of people become members of a group that has automatic enrolment – those bereaved through suicide.

I have had people say to me, ‘things happen for a reason’, ‘they’re in a better place now’, ‘she wasn’t meant for this world’… people seem to always have an opinion on how you are supposed to deal with and ‘get on’ with life. I get on with life the way I see fit and each and every day is different. Whilst people are trying to be helpful and kind, people need to be mindful that those bereaved through suicide are more sensitive than most. Grief is a journey and as individual as each different person. The grief I feel after losing my two sisters is totally different to the grief Mum and Dad experience following the loss of their two daughters.

I grieve so much for the past, the days together, the holidays, calls, nights out, all fond memories of a life now lost. I also grieve for the future which should have been full of new beginnings but now has a massive void that no matter what I do will never be filled. I miss my two sisters beyond belief, each day is a struggle.

Even now a year later, I still pick up my phone to text or call Michelle or Shauna. The realisation that I will never get an answer or a reply is still something I have to come to terms with. I don’t know if I ever will. The hardest and most difficult part of losing someone to suicide is people do not want to talk about them. Either the lives they lived before or that they died through suicide. They refuse to bring up the conversation because they are afraid. Afraid that by speaking about suicide it will bring it to their door. By neglecting to talk about those we love simply for this reason is perhaps one of the hardest things that I struggle with.  Michelle walked this earth for thirty three years, she was kind and beautiful and had one of the biggest hearts, her life won’t be forgotten and my memories didn’t stop the day she died. Shauna, in her twenty three short years left a little piece of her personality with everyone who was lucky enough to meet her. Bright and bubbly she was our Angel and full of fun.

If the girls had died from cancer, in a tragic accident or a sudden physical illness it would be talked about. I love to speak about Shauna and Michelle and I am not ashamed about how they died. They lost a battle, a battle of the mind and one which they fought to the end. Like any tragic death, it impacts so many. The only way to grieve and to learn is to talk, to raise awareness and to stop people being afraid. I have heard people discuss the girls and stop the conversation when I walk in, similarly I have been told that the conversation hasn’t been spoken about because the audience is too young or they ‘don’t need to listen to this’ – what hurts most is it if often those we are closest too who have this attitude.

By no means am I an expert on grief or suicide but what I have learned from living this journey is the need for tolerance, kindness and patience. These things go along way not only in helping those bereaved through suicide but also in promoting the awareness that Suicide Intervention and Prevention requires. It isn’t going to ‘go away’ far from it. The figures keep rising year on year and each statistic is another Shauna or Michelle, beautiful people who have so much to live for. Each statistic is another family, mother, father, brother, sister – living in its earth shattering aftermath.

As a community we have a responsibility to each other, to our family and friends and to future generations to make it easier to talk about difficult things. Mental Health is becoming more paramount in society and Suicide Intervention and Prevention will only improve if we talk about it in our homes. If people are comfortable to admit they are not OK they have better opportunity to survive, and it is about survival. Every suicide is preventable up to the point of death. We just need to remove the stigma surrounding suicide and its ever prevailing presence in society.

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An open letter to Suicide

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Dear Suicide,

You are possibly the one thing that I never really gave much consideration to when I was growing up. Why would I? I enjoyed a blissful childhood, surrounded by two loving parents and two unique but equally loving sisters. Whilst we had our squabbles, our fallouts and our screaming matches – as sisters do – we grew up to become best friends. We lived together, socialised with the same friends and despite the difference in years, we shared similar interests. As a threesome we relied on each other and always had each other’s best welfare at heart. Then you came along!

I suppose looking back you seeped unknowingly into our lives way before we even knew you existed, like a slow growing cancer that lies dormant for so long that you have to watch and wait, to see not if but when, it’s going to cause damage. Unlike cancer cells though, there are no blood tests, no CT or PET scans, no regular consultations with specialists to enable us to know how vengeful you really are or when you are going show your face. There is also no treatment. Once you strike, the chances of survival are minimal.

You hide and you are very good at it. So good in fact that people are afraid to mention your name. They are terrified of you, of the devastation you bring and the total helplessness of the wave of destruction you leave in your wake. You not only destroy the person, but their families – the sorrowful parents, the grieving siblings, partners, friends and even entire communities. With that you destroy relationships, strong solid relationships based on true love. Relationships which have seen their troubles but have overcome them. But you, you test them to the core and sometimes, in fact a lot of the time, you win. Your rippling effect is never-ending. Is it not enough that you cruelly take one life, but you make so many other people suffer as well?

Before you attack you torture the poor soul, you make them believe that life, their life and that of others would be so much better if they were no longer in it. Sometimes you test them to see if they are capable of doing what you want them to do. And when they don’t succeed? You give them hell! You make them feel unworthy of compassion, of love, of a single ounce of human kindness because unbeknown to the poor individual, you have poisoned their mind and your existence has firmly been established.

Thankfully I don’t know you personally and quite frankly I hope and pray that I never ever will. Yet, you have ruined my life and you will continue to affect me every single day. The hardest part of all? You haven’t given me any choice!

First you took Shauna, my stunning, caring, gifted and thoughtful baby sister. She had the ability to light up any room just by being in it, her laugh was so hearty it was contagious. She had the capability to make people feel at ease, no matter who they were or where they came from. Her gifts were so personalised that they continue to be some of the most precious items I own and probably ever will. Shauna had a devilment in her that you couldn’t help but love. She loved all things pink and glittery and she dyed the dog’s hair to match her own, she even coordinated their outfits so they matched on Christmas Day! Something only Shauna would get away with – the rest of us? Well we would just look mad! Crazy even, but that was Shauna. Our Shauna. The baby girl who so much wanted to become a biomedical scientist and had both the brains and ability to do it. She had the potential to be so successful and with her kind and gentle ways she could have went anywhere. The world really was at her feet – until you entered her world.

You hid in the background like a secret ally, pretending that you could offer support when the sticks where down. You allowed elements of self-doubt, normal at times I imagine to linger, but unlike an ally you had a secret objective. Instead of offering support you poisoned her mind. Like the devil in disguise you destroyed my baby sister, our Angel, our baby girl! She didn’t believe she was amazing, kind, generous and beautiful. She listened to you and she died. You Suicide, you won the battle and you shattered our lives into tiny little pieces.

I will never forget the phone call that would change my life forever. Aged just 23 17/12/16 Shauna Kate Reilly died through suicide. I actually believe that no one who heard the news that night could comprehend the enormity of your presence. We had heard of you of course but we never imagined that our family would be effected, much like any terminal diagnosis, you never really believe it can happen to you until it does. In the days that followed, the police officers, coroner phone calls, funeral arrangements, every single detail was defined by you. In true Shauna style she made the front page of the local paper, known as ‘the bubbliest girl you could meet’ – at least in that respect Shauna had the last word. We asked for those at her funeral to wear the brightest and boldest colours they had, a celebration of a life now lost but a recognition of a life much loved and loved she was. We didn’t call her an angel for no reason – although at times she could be anything but! But now she was heavens angel and somehow we had to learn to exist without her presence.

I don’t think you ever let those who have been bereaved through suicide to really live again. Exist yes, really live like they did before? Never. You didn’t even give us a chance to try to cope without Shauna. Secretly in the background like an invasive terminal cancer you were working your evil on my older sister, Michelle and just seven weeks later you took her too. Aged just 33 10/2/17 Michelle died through suicide, you plunged our family into a whole new painful and horrible world, one where we didn’t want to be and one where we couldn’t escape.

I never knew what life was like without Michelle, she was my older sister, always there no matter when and where I needed her. We grew up together, went to school together, learned to ride our bikes and simultaneously fall off them together! My friends were Michelle’s friends. We shared houses, holidays, memories – lots of memories together. She was the only one who knew what we really got up to as children. We had so many unwritten rules we knew what each other was thinking before we even spoke. Michelle was absolutely stunning, a younger version of Mum but just as beautiful. Kind, thoughtful and gentle she was amazing. Equally she was very unassuming and quietly went about her days. She asked little from anyone but gave a lot. She was far too intelligent for her own good and she drove many people mad by not pursuing a career she would have been amazing at. But that was our Michelle, all she wanted was to be happy, have a family and watch her children grow up surrounded by her own parents and sisters. A simple but plentiful life and a life that you selfishly took for your own selfish reasons!

It kills me that every day I wake up and have to face another without Shauna and Michelle. Today we should be planning Michelle’s hen party – she was engaged to be married in March this year (2018). Instead, I am researching verses for the paper for Michelle’s 1st Anniversary. Shauna’s has already passed, as has our 1st Christmas. Overnight I have become an only child and it isn’t a place I ever wanted or imagined. You have robbed me not only of my memories from childhood but my future, of weddings, nieces, nephews, christenings, communions. Every family event that I will never have.  And when Mum and Dad are gone, there will just be me, no siblings to lean on, just me and it terrifies me. The hardest part to accept? You make me feel like I could have prevented it. I could have read the signs, I could have intervened earlier or I could have sought professional help. But that’s just you Suicide, you don’t stop – you are relentless. Even now a year later you interrupt our lives daily. Not only mine and mum and dads, but our friends and our extended families. There have been more families effected and I am sure you are working your cruel way into another poor unfortunate family but let me tell you this Suicide – you may have won this battle, but you have definitely not won the war. It is my mission to prevent you from causing more heartache. I will find a way to stop you ruining lives. My sister’s deaths will not be in vain! Your prevention is paramount to our society, to our families and to our future.

I will never forgive you and I hope I never encounter you again.

Emma