Belfast Telegraph

Lyra McKee: in her own words

The much-valued and very honest pieces she penned for the Belfast Telegraph

Lyra McKee's contributions to this newspaper centred on topics such as mental health issues and growing up in post-ceasefire Northern Ireland
Lyra McKee's contributions to this newspaper centred on topics such as mental health issues and growing up in post-ceasefire Northern Ireland

From an article about the peace process, published in the Belfast Telegraph in March 2017.

Are things changing? The answer is: not as fast as we'd like them to or as fast as they could. The generation known as the Ceasefire Babies - those of us who were children around the time of the Good Friday Agreement or were born after it - were seen as the great hope of the Peace Process. We were free of the terrors our parents had witnessed and would therefore grow up not hating each other - or so it was assumed. The reality was that, for many of us, our childhoods were defined not by what we'd seen but the fear of what we might see. That's how trauma works - it's handed down, from parent to child to grandchild. Research by academics at the University of Ulster has shown that the impact of The Troubles is still being felt by this generation, indirectly fuelling suicides among young people who never witnessed them. It will be felt by generations to come, made worse by a pitiful lack of mental health facilities and resources. The conflict is still claiming victims but you'll never read their names in Lost Lives.

The last piece she penned for the Belfast Telegraph, published on Valentine's Day this year

Four months after I met the love of my life, I accompanied her to a room in Altnagelvin Hospital. It was a Thursday morning. After dropping her off to visit her dad, I had planned to drive on to Belfast for work.

Some people get a child as part of the package when they begin a relationship - I got an 82-year-old man. Big D was the dictionary definition of a grumpy oul git but I adored him. He would sit, every day, in his chair and the only thing that could rouse him out of the grumpiness was talking about old times - his memories of Derry from the Forties through to the Troubles. That morning, I decided to drop in on him to say hello before heading to work.

We walked into the room. At the foot of his bed, a doctor stood, deep in conversation with my girlfriend's sister. She fell silent as soon as she saw us. We knew, immediately, something was wrong.

We'd been told Big D had weeks left to live. Now, we were instructed, it was hours. I went outside and made phone calls. A dear friend went and fetched clothes and drove the 60 miles to deliver them. Within 2-3 days, I thought, I'd be needing a suit for a funeral.

It didn't happen like that. Big D held on. We took shifts - myself, his son, two daughters, a son-in-law - and sat with him through the day and night. Other family members streamed in and out of the room constantly. The nursing and cleaning staff, angels that they were, provided us with towels and soap when we couldn't get home to get a shower.

On Sunday morning, Big D took his last breath.

Today, Big D's daughter and I celebrate our first Valentine's Day together. It's been almost a year since we met and in that time, I feel as if I've had a crash course in what it means to love and be loved. In the months after Big D's death, I had to confront the fact that I, too, was sick. Given that she was dealing with her Dad's death, I wouldn't have blamed her if she'd decided she couldn't deal with that. Instead, she held my hand and told me she wasn't going anywhere.

I realised that love isn't just what you feel, it's what you do when everything is falling apart and the person you love needs you. I have been so blessed, in my life, to have both felt that kind of love and had it returned tenfold to me. Happy Valentine's, Sara, and thanks for letting me be the one you spend it with.

From an article on the devastating toll of suicides in Northern Ireland, published in the Belfast Telegraph, April 2018

News of another death reaches me nearly every week. Again and again, I see the same theatre play out. Statements of condolence from politicians have become as meaningless as the "thoughts and prayers" offered after every mass shooting in America. Northern Ireland is a country where activity tends to be confused with progress but make no mistake: until the suicide rate is reduced as close to 0 as we can get it, the peace process has failed the very Ceasefire generation it was meant to save from slaughter...

Normally, this - the final paragraph of my column - is where I deliver some pithy one-liner (or try to) summing up my argument. Yet I didn't write this column to advance an opinion or start a debate. Instead, I want to make an appeal to you, reader. I've talked here about people who are at risk of suicide - who are just not sure if they can go on. Maybe that person is you. If it is, please keep reading - I just want two minutes of your time.

In the last five months, I've lost two good friends to suicide. To protect their families' privacy, I'll call them James and Roisin.

In the months since their deaths, I have felt like grief is eating me from the inside out. I am wracked with guilt. I've spent so much time talking about mental health and encouraging others to talk about theirs yet I didn't realise just how much my own friends were suffering. Suicide is a thief. It will rob you of the opportunity to see the day when things start to get better, before slowly torturing the loved ones you've left behind. People tell me not to blame myself for my friends deaths but I do. Not a week goes by when I don't think of all the missed chances, times when I could have talked them out off it, if only I'd realised what thoughts were in their heads.

If I could turn back time, I would go to the small flat where James lived. I'd beg him not to leave us. I'd tell how much we love him and that I know he's suffering but we'll fix it and we'll get him help and we'll make things better. Then I'd go to Roisin's house and do the same. I'd beg them both to keep living because I've seen the devastation their deaths have caused.

But I can't turn back time. I can't bring them back. I can only use this opportunity to beg you to reconsider what you're thinking about doing. If you are feeling the same way they did, please, ask for help. Talk to someone. There are amazing volunteers at Samaritans ready to take your call. Talk to your family, friends, neighbours, GP - someone out there will listen. If you feel you have no one, find me on Twitter and ask me to follow you for a private message - I will give you contact details for professionals who can help.

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