4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
30th January 2011
What I am going to talk about this morning is not the easiest of things to talk about. And I am aware that many families and people have been effected by it. Over the past week the local Coroner spoke about the rise in those that die by suicide, especially in the Offaly area. I am no expert in it nor indeed are those that have studied it. All I can do is to share my experiences of it and what I have learned in the hope that we all can be more aware of it and be hope to others.
For seven years I worked in Mullingar hospital as an attendant during my holidays from seminary. Those years gave me a great grounding in life and have helped me in my work as a priest. Part of my work was to bring people who had died to the mortuary. And at times bring relatives to see a deceased relative. I remember on one occasion I had to bring a mother and father over to see their beloved daughter who had died by suicide she was 19, the same age as me. I remember the walk over from the hospital to the mortuary which as some of you may know is a 4 min walk across the road from the hospital. That walk seemed like 4 hours, small talk seemed inappropriate. They were devastated. And I remember feeling great anger towards their daughter, why would she do such a thing. So many people are effected by suicide, the emergency services, gardai, hospital staff undertakers. And of course the families and friends. I think its like a double death. A death that a family can never fully recover from.
As a priest I have been called out too many cases, young adults, a man in his late 70s a mother with teenage children, a friend. As I spent time writing homilies for their funeral my attitude changed from one of anger towards them to one of heartfelt sorrow for them. For I believe as they made their final decision they were in a dark lonely place in their mind, and their illogical decision to us seemed the only logical one to them. As I pieced together their lives in those homilies and listened to their loved ones speak of them I think they thought that the world, their families would be a better off without them, and my heart really and truly went out to them. For these were people who were highly thought of, they were talented, to everyone seemed to have a love of life. But somehow their joy their lightness of heart left them.
To those who maybe walking in darkness this morning- maybe their sitting beside you, maybe it’s a family member, Please take time to reflect on our gospel. You are the light of the world. Your life, everyone’s life, is valued and even though you may not think it or see it, you really do make a difference in people’s life, without you the community, the lives of your family and friends would be a darker place without you. It’s not really the big things that impact our daily lives, it’s the small everyday kind actions that truly make a difference. Choosing to die by suicide not just puts out the light of the deceased, it darkens so many people lives afterwards. That last final decision brings huge sadness, heartache pain and confusion. That final decision is not the only answer. If you are down or walking in darkness, or the joy of life has somehow been extinguished please talk about it. Talk to a family member, talk to a friend, talk to a member of the parish team. There is always a priest available, other members of the parish team are available in the centre, there is always a priest here on Saturdays from 12 – 1 and 3-4 for confessions and chats. You are not alone, so many people are available to help, have the courage to ask.
How can we as a community prevent, well I have some suggestions you may have more
First us men we are not great at talking! If someone asks us how we are what do we say –‘GRAND’ Sorry to all the men out there, sorry for letting the side down. Yes we will talk and banter in the pub about football and soccer and rugby, matches played and watched and games still to come. And after that we’ll talk about the state of the country and then we’ll move on to the weather, and when we run out of talk we’ll move on to climate change and global warming!!! Sorry if I am giving away any secrets! Suicide rates are highest among us men young and old and that’s maybe because we don’t talk about what’s going on in our hearts and heads, I know I am the world’s worst. Maybe next time you are in the pub with your mates or walking with your friends and you’ve had a lousy day or your feeling down or for that matter your happy about something, say it to the rest of the lads, of course you’ll feel awkward but maybe your awkwardness could save a life, because just maybe someone in the group is really down and by you breaking the ice could enable him to begin to talk about the darkness in his life.
Secondly, all of us could make an extra effort to make real time for each other. One can have over 500 friends on face book but no one to talk to. A friend of mine always seems glued to his mobile phone, you could be in the middle of telling him that your arm is about to fall off or that ya have only a short while to live and his mobile phone rings or a text message comes and off he goes and answers it! The point I am making is in this age when communications is made so much of we need to remember the importance of making real time for each other, face to face time, Communicating the old fashioned way is far and above e mail face book, twitter and beebo.
Thirdly we need to really listen to each other, I don’t mean reading into what people say, just listen to how people are by what they say and how they are. We need to have the courage to ask people how they are, how they feel. And be able to listen and not racing ahead for a solution.
We all like to think that suicide happens to other people. We hope and pray that it doesn’t visit our door. But it could happen to me, it could happen to you. No one knows the way our minds work. Our health, our mental well being is something that we take for granted, I know I take my own for granted, and yet it is so fragile, so precious. It’s not when we are down in the dumps that we need to look after it. We also need to look after our well being when we are well, when we are in full health and full of the joys. Ask ourselves if something happened do we have people to talk to, as we journey through life are we learning to let certain people know our inmost fears and thoughts, let people know the real me. Remember God loves us exactly the way we are, warts and all and asks us to trust ourselves with others, those chosen few. Friendship is powerful, it’s what gets us through life, and you know the way we wish our friends would confide in us more, well our friends wish the same of us. Our true friends love us and want to share our downs in life also. To truly let our light shine as Jesus asks, we have to let our weakness and vulnerability shine out also, and perhaps that takes a life time to allow happen. While society seeks the perfect person, the porcelain doll, the china doll, God seeks the old rag doll battered and torn, the person that’s broken and torn through the hurts of life, and God uses these people to be of help to others. If we are all honest we are all rag dolls broken and torn, let us not hide that fact. In the doom and gloom let us be beacons of hope for each other. And when the light within us dims everyone once in a while let us have the courage to let others light our path for us. We are not alone…..You are not alone….. Take courage.
Fr. Patrick Donnelly, C.C.