A poignant reflection from Sean Mallory on the death of a friend’s sister.

Man Utd 3 Aresenal 1, that was the final score in the match on Saturday evening, 2nd December. It was hailed as the most exhilarating game of the season so far. I’ll not forget it.

Prior to the result, I had just entered my local pub after gaining a free pass-out for all my chores around the house earlier that day and was sitting chatting and sipping a pint, happy as a pig in the proverbial. Shortly before the game started I received a message from an old friend. A very old friend, not old in reference to his age, but in reference to our friendship. We don’t see each other a great deal, in fact about only once in the last 10 years but nevertheless, a friendship that once kindled it is hard to blow out.

His message wasn’t about the game or football or even a quick hello but to let me know that his sister, Rebecca, had taken her own life earlier that day. She was around the same age of my own sister who died of a cancer related illness recently. Having experienced the loss of my own sister my heart sank on reading his text message. But suicide is different and the ‘what ifs’ are much more poignant in that they can never be answered.

Cancer is a diagnosis with the unfortunate recipient being present. Family, relatives and friends can gather round an offer succour and comfort. There is a prognosis, rarely benign and more commonly malignant, but a prognosis on a way forward to stave of the eventual terminal effect of it. A path that offers hope, perhaps false hope, and provides answers to difficult questions. A path that doesn’t throw up horrible surprises but only the inevitable, no matter how painful. But it's never immediate.

Suicide, on the other hand offers none of the above and it is immediate. Like cancer though, it is horrible and extremely unwelcome news to receive. It can break families apart, gradually wear them down and leave them no answer to the numerous ‘whys’.

What it has become in this materialistic and commodity driven society is much more common and frequent. It is very rarely something decided and acted upon in an instant with the obvious exceptions being substance overdoses by addicts.

From my own experience of having lost people, some very good friends and some work acquaintances, it tends to be a resolution determined by the individual, suffering from severe mental anguish, as the only alternative path to their predicament.

As we are generally not psychiatrists nor psychologists, and as most times engrossed in our own lives, we fail to spot the signs. There is no blame to lay at the door of the living and no blame to lay at the deceased, for the turmoil they unconsciously leave behind.

Mourn them as you would mourn a sister who died of cancer, for irrespective of how they met their untimely demise you’ll miss them dearly.

So sorry for your loss.

Sean Mallory is a TPQ columnist


  1. saddened by news of yet another suicide. Sincere condolences to the family and friends.

    July 4-5 years ago - while waiting for medical attention for a suspected broken ankle in A&E in the Mater Hospital, Belfast I got into conversation with a teenager who was accompanying an injured person (riots etc ongoing up the Crumlin Road due to return Orange march ).

    She told me her brother, cousin and friend had all committed suicide in Ardoyne within the previous year.

    What a burden of sorrow she and the rest of her family will have to bear forever.Like Rebecca's family and friends.And so many others.

  2. Sean

    So sorry to hear of this suicide as well as the loss of your sister to that dreaded disease.

    Five years I lost a dear friend who had got to know through shared interests in Leeds United and political and psychological matters to suicide; he had stabbed himself in the heart. I know that was affected by schizophrenia and had a past history of drug use but he battled through all that to achieve a PhD at the University of Essex in Psychoanalysis (I am also an Essex PhD graduate from its Government Department). i do not know what triggered his suicidal thoughts and action but i know that he had issues around his adoption and struggled for a post PhD role (as i have). His mood swings (expressed in text messages) could be very alarming and I heard after his death that he had been prevented from jumping off the Orwell Bridge near Ipswich by the police.

    I and all his friends and adoptive family were left totally bereft after his death wondering what more we cold have done to prevent his demise. There are questions to ask of the local Mental Health Trust under whose care he was at the time of his death. He had so much to give to people suffering mental health distress .

    Is it fair to say that the spate of suicides in Northern Ireland are related to loss of identity in the post-Troubles era?

  3. A difficult topic navigated well.

  4. It is a very well written and heartfelt piece. The comments are also very thoughtful. And as you DaithiD, say it is a difficult topic which Sean Mallory navigates adroitly.

  5. I attended an Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training last Autumn ... its a two day mental health first-aid training designed to empower the individual to recognise when someone might have thoughts of suicide and how to best work with them in creating a plan that will support their immediate safety.

    The training is available to anyone over 16 and previous knowledge is not a requirement. In the 26 its provided by the HSE free of charge.

    Check this out for more information on ASIST

  6. If someone is at the end stages of suicide attempts,past the ideation and planning phase,and past all other healthy options to help them, i can think of something to try, I’m not a dr, and what I’m thinking is only for when someone is determined to end it all, but I think it’s important to throw it out there for when a person has been failed by other options up to then. I would suggest trying heroin, it’s not a long term solution, but it will potentially stall those plans until the person has the strength to fight to live. It’s an option of last resort.The only thing a persons family would hate for their relative more than heroin would be death.

    If a person can not / will not communicate their mental state to alert others through a sense of shame or other, then anything that helps them to delay making a such a permanent solution to their temporary problems is preferable. It’s gives the suicidal person another option.

    I know how this comment could be mis-construed and I thought many times about adding it knowing this. But if one person decides to at least delay their self destruction then it will be worth it. I’m not a dr, it’s not a conventional suggestion, it’s only for those who are making nooses, or holding guns at that moment, thiose who are emotionally unable to allow others to assist them.

    If someone isn’t at that stage , heroin would likely make them worse(if that's possible).But to kill all physical and mental pain fast enough to allow space for a rethink, it’s worth considering, but I’ll understand any editorial decisions to not add this to the comment section.

  7. From Sean Mallory Barry,

    I can’t honestly say one way or the other if there is a connection to ‘identity’ or not post-Troubles era but I can allude to the materialistic and accompanying commercial pressure that society is under these days. There are a lot of people who struggle daily to provide for their families and themselves but the social and commercial pressures prevalent in society today do impact on them and especially at Christmas. In an increasing number of cases, this pressure to provide the best, generally ends either in some form of addiction or more tragically for both them and their families.

    As regards your friend, which is extremely sad to hear that someone so gifted should feel that there is no other relief for their anguish than for them, the taking of their own life...bloody awful and I do sincerely empathise with you.

    Patrick Cockburn carried a series in the Independent on his own and his family’s trials and tribulations in dealing with his son’s schizophrenia and in which his son also talks openly about it. It is truly harrowing and daunting to read but so very informative in trying to understand schizophrenia, mental anguish and its affects not just on the person but on the wider circle of everyone concerned.....Cockburn and his family went through hell but stuck by him and exhibited huge courage even at the times when the simple solution was to walk away and have done with it. Worth a read if you are interested and here is the link:

  8. Barry G,

    here's a link to a book review from yesterday's Guardian which seems to suggest that depression is more linked to power imbalances rather than to chemical ones.

    It may offer a partial explanation to the question you pose ... power, agency and identity being intrinsically linked.