I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a news junkie, but I do make an effort to keep up with what’s going on. The problem with reading papers and listening to radio news or watching TV bulletins daily is that you can become slightly de-sensitised to tragedy and suffering. You take it in, think it’s awful and then move on with your own stuff, selfishly grateful that it isn’t affecting you directly. Then occasionally a news story comes along that, without warning, overwhelms the senses and affects you deeply.
The tragic story of the Flood family in Wexford last weekend did just that. The images of the two children, both visual and the word picture provided by the principal of their school, unexpectedly stirred very deep emotions in me. I’m sure it did for many others too. I wondered why this particular story had a greater affect than similar stories in the recent past. I asked myself why tears came to my eyes this time and not on hearing similar incidents before. Was it because they were around my age? Was it because of the violence involved? Or was it perhaps the images of the smiling children; little lives snuffed out before they had a chance to develop? Thinking on it further I knew that I was really so saddened by the obvious level of despair and depression that was hidden under a thin veil of normalcy and prosperity. To the outside world this family appeared to have it all.
It makes me wonder how many more people are currently in such a dark place, hanging by a thread and keeping it all together for the sake of the outside world. How many genuinely believe that all hope is gone and death is the only option? The mere fact that some people believe they are better off dead should chill us all to the bone. That level of despair goes against the very core of what it is to be human. Whether you believe in God or take an atheist stance, the life force within has never been in question. Humans can withstand horrendous ordeals as has been documented time and time again throughout history. Men and women marooned on desert islands, sides of mountains, in the open seas, in concentration camps, in captivity or under collapsed buildings, who survive against the odds, bear witness to that natural survival instinct that we all share. Yet more and more today we are seeing that innate natural sense being overridden again and again with tragic outcomes.
How do we get it through to a society that suicide is just not an option? We should be teaching our children that nothing, absolutely nothing is ever so bad that it is entirely without hope. Hope is a word that should always be close at hand as it is the only guardrail that stops us falling down that slippery slope of depression and despair that often leads to the inevitable thoughts of taking one’s own life. “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Although those left behind should never feel guilt or responsibility for the actions of others, this story also made me think about the lack of genuine compassion in today’s society. We are all so busy working to pay the mortgage and fulfilling our own hopes and dreams that we can easily neglect those around us. We forget to take the time to stop and listen to the problems of others, believing that we have enough of our own. We forget to remind those close to us just how important and loved they are and that anything they are going through has a solution. We forget to say ‘if you ever need help, I’m here’. Maybe we don’t say that because we don’t think we can help or have the time to help. Our own self imposed, self centered focus doesn’t leave room for that.
The Flood family story is just one in thousands. Individual suicides should have the same impact, all born out of the simple fact that the victims believe they have no one to turn to. They get to the point where they think that no one will understand/no one will forgive them for what they have done/no one can make the abuse or bullying stop; the reasons and thoughts are endless, but the bottom line is the same – they don’t think anyone cares. Then at funerals up and down the country hundreds turn out to say ‘if only they had said something we could have helped!’ It’s very hard to balance what we perceive as interference with offers of genuine help and compassion. We have become so good at minding our own business that we have gone to the other extreme and we need to reassess quickly.
The other issue that seems prevalent in many cases of suicide is a feeling of failure. Where did these people learn the lie that failure or making mistakes are unacceptable? Failure is part of being human. We must ask ourselves as a society if we are sending out a false message of perfection. Who is setting this ridiculous standard of success and lack of forgiveness? The only place to start is with ourselves. Everyone makes mistakes and does stupid things from time to time but we have created a world where we don’t talk about it. We love to boast and brag about our achievements but very few will celebrate their failures. As rounded human beings we are made up of both.
In another few days the Flood family will have disappeared from the headlines and for those of us who didn’t know them life moves on. There will be other suicides and tragedies and once again we will think how awful/sad/horrific. In the meantime we could make a start within our own circle of family and friends. Are you sure that they are all ok? Have you checked recently to see if there is anything troubling them? Do they even know that you care enough to ask? Start asking. A few simple words of compassion or a gentle enquiry might just prevent the worst even if they end up thinking you are a busybody. On the other hand if you are reading this from that dark place of despair please, please know that there is always hope no matter how bad the situation, there is someone, somewhere who can help. Find them.