In honour of Séamas McCabe
On the 29th April 2003 my life and my family’s life was shattered when my eldest son Séamas ended his life, he was 20 years old.
As I work to put the pieces together over the years I begin to realise how my life has changed, how the pieces of my family life no longer fit the way they did before Séamas' suicide, the reality is, there are no longer any Séamas pieces, Séamas is no longer physically present in my life and because of the circumstances of his death I and my family will never be the same. All I have left of my son Séamas`s life is his memory which I carry in my heart and my head I have started to heal from the emotional injuries I sustained, but it’s so very difficult to adjust to this great loss, but with God’s help and the support of loving family and friends some of whom who have steadfastly shared our journey, I have to a certain point reconstructed my life, although I am forever changed by Séamas' death I am determined to make changes in Séamas' name to help others who are suffering in a similar way.
I say ended his life and not committed suicide because the word committed refers to something that is seen as illegal and the word suicide conjures up all sorts of negative images i.e. Mental health problems, hopelessness, depression, worthlessness and many many more, but if this is the case, why then did something as tragic as this go so totally unnoticed by so many people who loved him.
Those of us who knew Séamas knew him as caring, bright, handsome, fun loving and popular young man with so much potential, and with so much happening for him.
Séamas was at Queens University when he died, and he told me from his own mouth that he loved it there. He once said to me jokingly however that he always wanted to remain a student that he loved the great carefree life it offered, so how then could something so terrible as this happen, what was it that came over him that no-one noticed, neither we his parents, his sister, his brother or his friends.
It’s quite usual to put someone who has died on a pedestal, but it’s very easy for us, Séamas family and friends because of Séamas' unselfish, caring and thoughtful nature.
One of Séamas' new friends that he met while at Queens university said of him:
'When I first met Séamas he put me at so much ease that I felt he had always been my friend' he was a fun person who really seemed to be enjoying life.
I have so many happy memories of Séamas and I would like to share some of them with you.
When Seamas was four, for Christmas one of his presents was the small black A-Team van that he could ride about on, one day he was out at the front of the house playing when he decided to look in through the front window at his sister Dionne who was three at the time, anyway as luck would have it the van moved and Seamas fell breaking his arm, but when at the Accident & Emergency Department in Daisy Hill Hospital the nurse asked him what happened, in his hurt little voice he replied: 'I was looking at Dionne and Dionne was looking at me and the A-Team van moved and hurt my arm' 'poor wee man' the nurse said.
Another special memory is Séamas' school formal, he looked every bit the gentleman, I took him in the car to collect his girlfriend and I was just about busting with pride. 'Hey everyone look at my seventeen year old son Séamas ain’t he something'
His eighteenth birthday party was held at home with his family and friends and as a well done jester on passing his A-Levels and as part of his eighteenth birthday present his mother and I give him the fare to go to the Canaries with his friends from St Colman’s College, Newry, that July, it was his first holiday without his family and he had a wonderful time, when he came home he recalled the exploits they all got up to on holiday. Although I suspect there were some he purposely didn’t recall.
Then there were the telephone calls when he arrived back in Newry from Belfast on Friday evening’s, 'Seamy' as he referred to me `can you pick me up I’m at the bus depot, then once in through the front door and having dropped off his dirty washing in the utility room he would rush upstairs for a shower, back down to eat his meal and then off again to meet up with some of his friends to start the weekend.
One of the most ironic things about Séamas' life was where he ended it, again he told me he loved the Arches, better known as Craigmore Viaduct at Bessbrook a few hundred yards from where we live. He spent his adolescence growing up there it held a special place in his heart, this is where he could climb trees, mess with his friends, smoke, drink and date girls but it is also the place he took his life.
I often go down there and see his name carved on the trees and imagine him laughing and fooling around with his mates.
He was extremely popular all through his childhood as an adolescent and as a young man. His teachers always referred to him as being popular, hardworking and enthusiastic and many of his teachers and peers where in tears at the news of his death, we received many messages from his wide circle of friends and many of them still visit or telephone us.
Since Séamas' death I have great difficulty using the words is and was, when I speak of him I am forced to say was, but what I really want more than anything in the world is to say `
But memories are all I have left, happy memories and not so happy memories which make it all the more difficult, memories were I may have grounded him for one reason or another and memories of going for a pint with him, of fishing at Greenore , of him helping me paint the house of meeting him in Belfast and him taking me to the Bot for our breakfast and many many more.
I now find myself looking at his mother, sister and brother and praying to God nothing bad happens to them and I also ask Séamas to watch over them and be our guardian angel.
I find it frightening to think of the future without him he will always be apart of us his family and we a part of him, but there are so many things I want and need to tell him, so many questions to be asked and answered so much pain, confusion and sorrow and there’s the unending craving that never goes away and leaves a huge void that can never be filled.
I often find myself still saying,
and if only.
Since Seamas' death people have approached me and in a lowered voice sometimes even a whisper talked of a suicide death in their family, I have been stunned by how many people have been touched by suicide, but I am saddened by their shame and embarrassment of the word suicide.
Suicide can effect anyone and we cannot afford to remain ignorant nor to stigmatise an illness that is taking the lives of so many of our family and friends each year.
Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
A person who takes his or her life usually does so to resolve a dilemma that could be healed by time and good judgment, this is particularly true of young people often impulsive, and often unable to see life beyond the next week, next day or even the next hour.
I believe that Séamas suicide was an impulsive act of a bright but immature young man, he had never exhibited any signs of depression, he just had the ups and downs of any young man. I always believed that he was more adventurous than most of his peers, He was spontaneous he could make you laugh, he was a renaissance man, A renaissance man I once read is someone that can walk and talk with kings and beggars, that was Séamas.
I have nothing but great memories of Séamas, the bad things you could attribute to Séamas wouldn’t cover half a finger nail. The mere fact that there were over 600 people at his funeral service says a lot.
A few months after Séamas' death and probably while still in shock, I called up the parents of a young man who had died through suicide, They had contacted us shortly after Séamas' death, they invited us to their home and we shared our grief. When we left I decided that I needed to honour Séamas in some way and make sure he would never be forgotten.
I contacted many bereaved families from the Newry & Mourne area and set up a meeting in Dromantine College.
That was the beginning of PIPS Newry & Mourne
Our aim is to help people contemplating suicide or self-harm by raising awareness of the services available to those considering suicide and signpost and link them to appropriate services as well as offering support to bereaved families, getting involved in suicide prevention is my way of making sure that Séamas' life and his legacy achieve great purposes.
PIPS Newry & Mourne has formed links with scores of groups across Ireland.
We understand the special needs of those who have suffered this kind of loss, we are always searching for answers and hoping for some relief from our pain, we can find this by talking to others who have similar feelings and experiences.
To finish off I would like to say;
Séamas I can no longer touch you, hear you or smell you, but for all of my life I will always love you, I will speak your name often, visit your resting place and I know that someday we will be together again and all our memories can be relived once more.
I would like to finish off with a little reflection to Séamas.
I HAD A SON
I had a son that I loved very much, he was my oldest son and I admired him in many ways
I had a son who enjoyed music, being a student, being with friends and family, He was handsome and intelligent
I had a son who cared about others and who tried very hard to please them
I had a son who worked hard at school and at his part-time jobs; he strived to complete each task to perfection.
I had a son who I admired greatly
I had a son who carried a lot on his young shoulders
I had a son who had a big heart
I had a son who was never satisfied with what he had accomplished
Yes I had a son, his name is Séamas, he will always be our son our first born
The truth is I didn’t know,
The problem is that I didn’t know,
I didn’t know that there was a problem
Yes I had a son and I will never forget him
God bless you and keep you Séamas
Mum & Dad xxxxx