The story of Kate: a tale no parent should have to live with
At times like this you find yourself asking 'why'? Nigel Worthington, former Northern Ireland football manager, was commenting in this paper on the suicide last Sunday of Wales manager Gary Speed. Asking why, because Speed at 42, was talented and with no apparent reason to take his own life, and leave behind a devastated wife and two young sons.
Obviously, I write with no recognised authority on the subject of suicide, other than in the past five years I have known six people who have taken their lives. Four were men, one aged 35, the others in their 20s, mere boys you might say, and two were females in their mid-20s.
One of the young men was my youngest son's best friend since they were knee-high. They were out on a balmy late August Friday night, the boys, young and carefree, the wonders of the future before them. Philly was in good form. Enjoying the wild abandonment of youth. Happy.
The next morning he hanged himself.
Words are inadequate to paint the picture of the devastation he left behind for his family to endure.
My son went for counselling.
The doctors in my small hometown speak of contagion.
My son, when he talks about it - which is almost never - says he wonders should he have seen some warning signs, whatever, anything. Again, that 'why?' ...
Gary Speed has hanged himself, he said to me last Sunday, interrupting the morning meanderings of my mind.
Selfish, I said. Bloody selfish. Like ...
He wasn't selfish, said my son. You don't know ...
Suicide is the biggest killer of young men under 35 on this island. Between 1999 and 2008 there was a 64% increase in young men in Northern Ireland committing suicide, according to a report this week by The Public Health Agency.
The story, however, I want to relate today concerns a young woman named Kate whom my daughter knew on a nodding professional aquaintance. She was 25 when she took her life in early autumn.
Kate was born on June 26, 1986, in San Jose, California. Her father Tom was from small-farming stock in Dingle, Co Kerry,but in 1971, aged 18, he headed for the US. Seven years on, he met Kate's mum Sally in a romantic-poetry class at the University of San Francisco. Marriage followed, then Kate and her brother William. The family came back to Ireland 15 years ago.
From an early age, Kate stood out. Her twin loves of politics and communication began to emerge. As a child she started her own newspaper, sold in local shops. By secondary school she was reviving the school's moribund debating society. In her teens, strong, high-achieving women became her heroes and role models.
But the very qualities that made Kate special might also have marked her out in a manner not to her advantage. The bright kid with the American accent was bullied. "She was tough," says Sally, "but not as tough as we thought. She had her own style. She stood out ..."
Kate studied journalism, did a post-grad in public relations and settled into a career in PR with a good company.
Friends describe her as full of adrenalin, radiating talent, energy, beauty and determination. Her ambition was to write. She was someone whose life amounted to much more than the manner of its ending, said a wordsmith better than me. But beneath the surface, all was not well.
On August 19, she wrote a lengthy article on the subject of depression and emailed it to an Irish newspaper, asking that, should it be deemed publishable, it be done so anonymously. From the content of the piece, it was clear why. She detailed how drink had begun to assume a destructive role in her life. A broken relationship didn't help.
She said: "I write in the hope that this grabs someone, anyone, and makes them think twice about what they may lose by not asking the question. Seek guidance. Seek insight. For when you ask a question - a true question - only then can you receive an answer. And answers."
Three days later Kate committed suicide. She left no note, no explanation.
That cascade of raw emotion, love, memories, loss and anger followed. A cascade all too familiar to all those left in the wake of a suicide. Left asking why?
But with all of those feelings, there was also a belief by her parents that Kate's story, and her achievements, should not be bedeviled by bewilderment at her death, the manner of it, and that her plea for greater understanding of the 'physicality' of depression should be heard.
This week Dr Eddie Rooney, CEO of Northern Ireland's Public Health Agency, called for greater use of the media to reach out to people about the many services available for suicidal young people.