Distraught parents at special charity game between Chris and Colin’s clubs to raise awareness of suicide
The two mothers had never met before but here they stood, hugging one another, broken by suicide, united in grief.
Jill King’s youngest son Chris (30) had his whole life in front of him: a good job, a family who adored him, close friends, the camaraderie of team-mates.
Amanda Lowrie’s son Colin (25) the same.
Tragically though, they couldn’t see what everyone else saw, choosing to end their lives and their pain alone last month, just a day apart.
For their loved ones, while the heartbreak is still raw, they are remembered as beautiful souls who will never grow old; whose warm and infectious personalities enriched the lives of everyone who knew them.
But of course, it is the wreckage of the aftermath, of the loss so young and so sudden, of a son, a brother, a boyfriend, that those who are left behind must come to terms with now.
Forever haunted by the question: why?
At the Diamond pitches in the Rathcoole estate last Saturday, the football teams that Chris and Colin played for, Ravenhill YM and Rathcoole FC, faced each other in a charity friendly in support of the two families and to raise awareness of suicide, by far the biggest killer of young people, and predominantly men, in Northern Ireland.
It is where Jill and her family met Amanda and hers, including son Adam and Colin’s heartbroken partner Mollie Galbraith; all brought together under the most dreadful of circumstances yet each somehow consoled and comforted by the occasion.
“Saturday was lovely and the Ravenhill football team have been amazing,” said Jill, who lives in east Belfast.
“I’m overwhelmed by their kindness and generosity and I met the mother of another boy in the Rathcoole team who had passed away in similar circumstances. So it was good to meet her as well... very sad, she was in absolute bits.”
Chris was the youngest of four, and lived all his life with his mother. Naturally, his siblings — 40-year-old Jason, John (37), and Amy who turns 34 this year — are devastated, and all finding their own ways to cope.
“We are all very different in how we deal with it,” said Jill.
“We are all at different stages, I think for myself, I’m still in practical mode, doing all the things that have to be done.
“I’m still very numb, I haven’t really broken down in tears or anything whereas the rest of the kids have gone through that.
“As I say, we are all very, very different in how we deal with it, some of them are withdrawn, others are bursting into tears or just sleeping a lot.
“And I think my own focus at the minute is helping them.”
“He was just my baby boy,” added Jill, her voice heavy with emotion, yet strong, unwavering.
“(He was) the youngest in the family and he lived with me all his life. We had a good relationship, he worked nights and I worked days so we weren’t in each other’s way constantly.
“There is no doubt that he knew how much he was loved, no doubt at all.”
As she struggles to process it all, Jill says the last thing she needs at this time is recrimination.
Chris, who worked at Arnott’s Fruit, had been fishing with a friend on the afternoon of the day he died, and later went for a family meal, so she believes his actions were spur of the moment.
“I’m quite philosophical about the whole thing, I just think there was no intention that day, I think it was just a moment of madness really,” said Jill.
“He had a great day that Wednesday, he was going to go out on the Saturday and even the guy he was with that day said he was great, messing about.
“Then we were out for dinner that night, the whole family, and then Chris left to go home and called into a shop to buy some things, so you don’t do that if you have that intention.
“So it was totally spontaneous I believe, and I haven’t looked through his phone and I don’t want to.
“I don’t want to find a message from someone because I don’t want anybody to blame.
“I firmly believe that the sole responsibility for this and the ownership for this is Chris’ and Chris’ alone, I don’t want anyone feeling guilty, it’s not healthy... it’s not healthy.”
Like many predicted about the pandemic, heightening anxieties as it has done across all walks of life, Jill believes it had an impact on Chris’ state of mind.
But she wants to remember the happy-go-lucky boy she raised to a fine young man, rather than dwell on a question to which she will never know the answer.
“He loved to carry on but he was also up and down,” added Jill, who now intends to volunteer with the Survivors of Suicide charity.
“He liked to be out at work, he needed to be doing something, he was furloughed so that really affected him and he did fear that he wasn’t going to get his job back.
“But he loved a laugh, he loved his family, loved his football team. He had a big, dopey laugh, and he was always there for his friends too.
“Friends would come to him, and one in particular, Chris would have been his crutch.
“So we need to get the message out there, for goodness sake talk to somebody. You know there are so many helplines out there, help is just a phone call away, or a text message.
“You don’t have to go through all this on your own, and there’s so many people devastated, not just the family... not just the family.
“And I know every death in a family is tragic, but if someone is ill, you know the reason, if there’s an accident, you know the reason, but with suicide, unless there is a detailed note left you don’t know the reason, and that’s pretty difficult.”
For Mollie, her Colin was ‘the one’, the love of her life, her soul partner.
So the sense of a future together now lost; of the family they had planned together snatched away in an instant, is hard to bear.
“We’re just really taking it day by day,” said Mollie, who would have celebrated two years together with Colin next month.
“We’re all just like in a bubble, as my friend said, it’s like he’s on holiday with no phone, that’s the way it feels at the minute, it’s just so raw.
“Colin was just such a lovable person, he was always very forgiving, and the way we described him was a lovable big glype.
“He was so dopey, but he never, ever had a bad word to say about anyone at all.
“Colin had everything planned, we had just rebooked a holiday for next year, we were saving for our own house and he wanted a family and everything.”
While there’s little that can assuage her own anguish right now, Mollie echoed Jill’s calls for anyone who is suffering to reach out for help.
“Colin was always a people pleaser and I don’t think there’s enough mental health things for men,” she said.
“People just need to talk to someone if they feel low. I always said to Colin to speak to somebody, if it’s not me, then a friend or a doctor, just get help.
“I just think we need more things put in place for people to talk.”
It’s the very nature of suicide, a silent killer with little symptoms, which makes it so elusive and so hard to treat.
Claire Curran from Survivors of Suicide said more needs to be done, both in terms of funding and in approach.
Just as she answered the phone to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday, she was given news of another young life needlessly wasted.
“Suicide in Northern Ireland is a major problem, it definitely is,” she said.
“There needs to be more investment, the systems we have in place for mental health within our hospitals are not fit for purpose.
“We are not measuring for suicide risk, it’s just not working and we are missing people.
“If we can get people beforehand, we can make a difference.”
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. If you, or anyone you know, is in distress or despair contact the Samaritans on 116 123