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.