Three writers on the letter they wish they had sent
Life is full of regrets, things left unsaid, words left unwritten. We may regret not telling someone how much they meant to us or not thanking a loved one properly. We may be haunted by the sense of unfinished business. Here, three writers put pen to paper in a bid to find closure with the past.
Tony Macaulay: Dear dad,
I'm 53 years old now. It's more than 30 years since you left us and the world has changed incredibly. Everyone is connected by computers to a worldwide web. You would love it. Everybody has a wireless phone in their pocket with all the music, photos and books you can imagine available at the press of a button. It's gadget heaven in 2017.
My wedding to Lesley went ahead a few months after you died. I was hurt and angry that you left us so close to our big day. We're still married and we have two grown up daughters, Beth and Hope. In fact, you have six beautiful grandchildren. I'm sad you never got to meet them. Mum died last year. We were with her until the very end. She was 83 years old and so brave. You were wrong, you know. She didn't have a happier life without you. She was heartbroken and never got over losing you.
You've missed far too much. Your three sons have done really well. All your hard work and sacrifices to make sure we got a good education paid off. You won't believe it, but your son is an author now. I've written books about growing up in Belfast during the Troubles and people all over the world read about you. I've given book readings in amazing places like New York and Los Angeles but also in the Shankill Library where you used to bring me every week to borrow a Famous Five and a Billy Bunter.
Readers tell me how much they admire you. They say you were an independent-minded man who did his best to look after his family during the Troubles. By the way, the Troubles are over now. We've had peace for over 20 years. Of course, it's not perfect, the peace wall between the Shankill and the Falls is taller now than when you died.
When I started writing about my childhood I realised just how much you inspired me. I've worked for peace and reconciliation all my life. When you were the oldest DJ in town playing the Bay City Rollers in the Westy Disco you kept hundreds of kids from the Shankill off the streets and safe every Saturday night. You saved lives. Today people talk fondly about that wee youth club and we still watch your cine films of all the trips.
I'm sorry I wasn't there that morning. I would have persuaded you not to do it. I would have told you we needed you. I would have convinced you life was worth living and everything would get better. I'm sorry I didn't understand how depressed you were. I'm sorry I didn't spot the signs. For the past few years I've volunteered on the board of a charity that runs a 24-hour helpline for people in despair. I do it for you. If there had been a Lifeline in 1986 I'm certain you would have called for help.
Today I talk about suicide to break the stigma. It's my way of trying to help others like you not to take their own lives. I don't want any other family to go through what we went through. I believe every suicide can be prevented up until the last moment of life. I'm sorry I wasn't there to stop you. You had no idea how much you were loved and how much you would be missed. You were too ill to think about all the brightness you would miss out on. I'm not angry with you anymore. I forgave you years ago. I think about you every day.
Thanks for being a good father and for inspiring me to be the man I have become. You are a part of me. I never said it to you when you were alive, but I'll say it you now. I love you, Dad.
Tony Macaulay's 'Little House on the Peaceline: Living and Working as a Pacifist on Belfast's Murder Mile', (Colourpoint Books) is available from Amazon, £9.99
Leesa Harker: Dear Sylvia,
You're living in that apartment you went to see 10 years ago at the top of the Ormeau Road. We don't talk now - not at all, we've drifted apart as friends do sometimes. You're long over him, thankfully, and you are happy. Maybe you've met someone else? Of course you have. And you're happy.
Except you're not. Happy. Or there. Or anywhere.
That little fantasy is how my mind deals with the fact you took your own life Sylvia. Ten years ago - just after viewing that apartment. In a flash, all your plans and dreams and worries were gone forever. I remember every detail of that day and night like it was yesterday.
I spoke to you on the phone about another apartment I had seen that you might like. You said, "Yeah," but your voice was vacant. I knew you were down.
See, you couldn't see the bigger picture like we could, your friends. Your heart was broken so badly, it broke your spirit, too. I kept thinking about your voice on the phone. It took me two hours getting home from work that night. Some poor soul had taken his life by jumping off the bridge on the motorway, and the traffic was at a standstill. Did that event start the events in your mind that night?
By the time I got home, I had decided to get you to come over to mine for a few bottles of wine and a cry and hopefully some laughs and a 'sickie' would be called into work the next day. All planned. I rang you. You didn't answer. I rang you again. I left you messages, three in total. I texted you. You didn't reply. I didn't like it. I rang our mutual friends. They laughed at me. Sure I'm Leesa, the young one of our group, the mad one, the carefree one - why was I getting on like a worried mother? I laughed at them laughing at me. Why was I worried? You were probably out with a friend.
Except you weren't.
You were already gone.
I rang your house phone. Engaged. I texted our friends to say the panic was over - you were on your house phone. Probably talking to a friend, filling them in on 'him'. I went to bed. I closed my eyes. I opened them. It didn't feel right. I rang again. A policeman answered. He said there had been an 'incident' and asked how good a friend I was to you. I knew what he meant.
The next couple of hours were a blur. An ugly smudged series of images. Me driving up the Newtownards Road on the wrong side. How I made it to your house without crashing, I will never know. The policewoman hugging me. The screams - they were mine. The other images that I won't remind you of because they are too harrowing. I wanted you to know I was there with you - even if I was too late.
You were gone.
Did you listen to my voicemail messages? Did you read my texts? Did you know I was looking for you? Did you know you were loved? And had a future? Did you see us in your house the next day? We were traumatised. We cried. Did you see us find your letter to us? We were broken.
I had nightmares about you Sylvia, about how such a kind and gentle-natured person could have such a violent death. I had them for a long time. And guilt. The guilt will never go.
You could have been happy - I know you would have been happy - in time.
I wish you had reached out. I wish you had answered my call. I wish I had driven to your house. I will never give up wishing. It won't get you back. The action you took meant there was no going back. You were determined. You were gone. But, of course, you are fine. You're living in your apartment up the Ormeau Road. You are happy. You are fine. Leesa
Karen Ireland: Dear dad,
Where do I start? It's been 15 long years and I still think about you and miss you every day. They say that time heals. I don't believe that any more. I just think it helps you cope with things. I've learnt to adapt to a life without you but it isn't easy.
I miss the simple things that other people probably take for granted - like chatting to you about work. You were my biggest fan and so proud when I got a full-time job on this paper when I was 23.
But you were also a realist and I know you would have understood that when I had baby number three it made sense to look for more flexibility when it came to my work/life balance.
So, now I file copy as a journalist as well as working in PR. You'd probably say I've sold my soul but I think you'd understand the motives. I hope you'd still be proud.
My heart breaks that you never got to know your grandsons. Every day I imagine you in their lives.
Jesse (17) has just passed his driving test. I know you'd worry about him on the road but be so pleased that he has his independence and his own wee car.
He also has a part-time job which I know you'd be proud of as you always taught us to be independent from an early age and earn our own money.
Korey (15), the one I call the 'gentle giant', is so like you in every way. He thinks of others first and really cares for people (and animals). He had a rough few years with problems with his legs when he couldn't walk at times but he is now doing great. One of the fastest and first on the rugby pitch, he simply loves life. He surrounds himself with great friends and is a real people person.
And of course, Teo, my baby is loving and affectionate. He is the joker of the bunch and you never know what he is going to do or say next. He has taken up running and is doing well. He has won a few races and loves it.
I'm so proud of the young men my boys are becoming and I know you would be too. You'd be so interested in their lives and I know there would be lots of conversations about sport.
So, what about me? I am doing okay. I never thought I'd be able to say that again after a rough couple of years when my marriage of 19 years came to an end.
I wonder what you would have made of all that? I know you would have been heartbroken for me and for the boys but I also know you knew what was right and what was wrong and you would have realised why I couldn't stay.
I hope you and mum are proud of the job that I have been doing as a single mum bringing up my three boys. It isn't easy, especially without your support and help but we have got by and we are a stronger, tighter unit now because of it.
I've also met someone else, dad. Someone special who makes me very happy. It hurts that you never got to meet him.
He reminds me of you and I know you'd have so much to talk about and so much in common. I think you'd get on great and be pleased with my choice.
Try not to worry about me. I really am doing okay. I love my work and it keeps me focused and I love my time with the boys.
I've never got used to you and mum not being in my life. I used to see you every day and I know mum would have been such a help with my boys. At times I feel lonely - even though I am surrounded by people I am lonely for my parents.
I want you to know how proud I am that you were my dad. I don't think I ever told you that enough when you were here and I just assumed that you'd always be around.
I miss you dad and I try every day to make you proud of me as a person.