One Year On

This day last year we got the news that my younger brother, Finbar, had died suddenly.

I was at work when I got the phone call, and rushed home to see what had happened. Arriving at his home to find two guards and my sister in law waiting. Other family and friends arriving, in shock and in tears.

Finbar had died peacefully, though it took until June before the coroner’s report came back that it was a heart attack that killed him. At the time there was some comfort in that. There still is.

The rest of the day was a blur. Phoning the rest of our family to let them know. Gathering at the table to figure out what to do next. Food and lots of tea appearing by the magic and grace of wonderful neighbours and friends.

The next three days were more of a blur. Preparing for the dreaded funeral, whilst at the same time trying to make sure it would be a fitting tribute to the life and character of Finbar. Getting friends, family and neighbours involved in the mass. The ceremony itself went well, with a huge turnout, and lots of people gathered to celebrate the life of Fin.

But time passed, and we moved into the period after the funeral.

Following the Month Mind mass things changed. Now that the frenzy, the busyness of the funeral was over, we had to adjust to life without Fin.

I sometimes think that things were a bit easier in a different era. A time when there was an official period of mourning, and a person could visibly display or wear the uniform of grief.

There are times over the past year I could have done with that…
“How are you?”

The thing is, we often expect people to be fine. To be OK.
A friend of mine had a great phrase based on one of the self-help books from the 80’s. “I’m OK, You’re OK.”
His take on it? “I’m not OK, You’re not OK, but THAT’s OK.”
That’s an important message. It’s OK to not be OK sometimes.

There are definitely plenty of times over the past year that I’ve not been OK.
Times when the loss of Finbar has struck more than others.
Times when I’ve cried for no discernible reason.

But today.
The simple fact that it’s one year today that we found out.
Today is a day that will stand out for years to come.
Maybe today, and the anniversary next Sunday, will be the start of a greater healing.

As a post script, if you are ever in a position where you would like to help another, take into account a great bit of advice I received once.
We normally say something along the lines of “If there’s anything I can do, let me know”
In reality, a bereaved person often feels powerless, and is unable to ask for help, or unsure of what to ask.
A more powerful way to help is to offer something solid. “I’ll look after the kids for a day”, “I’ll cook dinner”, “Take the afternoon off, I’ll cover”
Something, anything.

Finbar on a fishing trip to Knockadoon.
I only realised later that this photo was taken on mam’s anniversary, 15th September.

Through The Cracks

There has been a lot of talk in the media over the past few days about the crisis in the health system in Ireland.  Things are pretty grim.

According to the Irish Examiner, waiting lists have soared 968%.  In other words, if you are on a waiting list, you wait almost 10 times as long now to be seen.

And this is scary.  But it is not the full picture.

As a culture we are still hesitant to discuss mental health. As a result, we don’t get the full picture of the difficulties faced by so many people in crisis.

According to Aware, up to 10% of young people suffer from depression at any one time (my emphasis)

According to this document from the CSO, in 2005/2006 there were 335,134 students in second level education (see p.115)

If we put these numbers together, you have approximately 35,000 second level students suffering from depression at any given time.  I find this a very upsetting statistic.  Not just for the fact of the depression that the students are battling, but for the fact that we have so few resources to help the students in need.

Schools themselves have limited resources.  In an incredibly callous display of disregard for students, our former minister, Rurai Quinn removed guidance counsellors from schools.  (It remains to be seen whether our new minister, Jan O’Sullivan will reverse this decision)

I don’t want to give the impression that schools should be the place to fix these issues.  A school’s function is to educate students.  Schools are not places to treat issues around mental health, just as schools are not places to treat broken bones or other physical ailments.  Schools can run programmes to promote mental health, but if you’re sick – then you need a doctor.

However, just as schools can provide support for students with broken bones and other physical ailments, they are also places that can provide support for those in pain.

Or at least they could if they had the resources in place.  With all the staff cutbacks (especially that to guidance counsellors) schools are hard pressed to do all that is expected of them.


More is needed in supporting our teenagers in trouble.

We do have some excellent groups in Ireland, for example:

  • Aware is working to help those suffering from depression.
  • Pieta House works to help those who are suffering from suicidal thoughts or deliberate self harm
  • Console helps those suffering, either because they are thinking of suicide, or because someone close to them has died by suicide.

But our health system is not able to cope.  We don’t have enough psychiatric beds to help those in serious pain.  Our social workers are understaffed and overworked.  Counselling via the health service has a huge waiting list.

In short, our mental health services are not serving our teenagers effectively.

It’s not just the teenagers who are left fall through the cracks.

In this article the Irish Times highlights that 554 people in Ireland died from suicide in 2011.  We all know families who have been devastated by the loss of someone they love.

As a society we need to do a lot more to look out for those around us.  We need to do a lot more to look out for those who fall through the cracks.