The pain of losing a child to suicide
‘Support is not as readily available as you think. There is a waiting list’
“I was bruised and battered, I couldn’t tell what I felt/I was unrecognisable to myself/Saw my reflection in a window and didn’t know my own face.”
– Streets of Philadelphia
Deirdre O’Connor draws on the words of Bruce Springsteen. They are the words that resonate with her when she recalls how she felt in the aftermath of the death of her daughter, Lorraine, on April 4th, 2011.
Lorraine, who was 26 and a mother of two, took her own life. Early childhood sexual abuse weighed on the young woman whose sharp beauty was echoed by a vitality and a spiritedness that masked her pain.
Her mother, Deirdre (58), from Belcamp on Dublin’s northside, has courageously chosen to share the effect her only daughter’s suicide has had on her. This is in the hope of aiding those in similar circumstances.
When Deirdre recounts the initial impact, she is lucid and articulate; a clarity that continues over two hours of speaking on the intense and difficult subject.
“You go into shock, first. Complete shock. I had absolutely no feeling whatsoever.”
Deirdre remembers getting the phonecall and travelling to Beaumont Hospital. She spoke to members of the fire brigade, who advised her they had given Lorraine an adrenalin shot and that she was being worked on. Hope remained.
But a mother’s instinct kicked in and Deirdre knew that her youngest child of four was dead.
Something else that strikes her about the day, is that she cannot remember who told her that Lorraine had died. But instinctively she knew, that with past occasions of self-harming, something similar had happened.
Lorraine’s death was almost instant, something Deirdre describes as somewhat comforting.
Medics advised Deirdre that she could speak to Lorraine. She didn’t and she regrets that now, despite acknowledging it was something out of her control at the time.
Her youngest son, Dean, was with her. She rang her third son, Ken. He later told his mother he knew Lorraine was dead when she rang. Her eldest son, Ritchie, was abroad on holidays and she rang him.
Her three sons, and their mother, had nothing but shock and disbelief to occupy their thoughts.
Deirdre says tears were slow to come.
“I didn’t cry. I went into shock, you go through the funeral, there are a lot of things you don’t remember because you are in shock. I couldn’t stay in the house. I was running to the shops for the sake of it.
“But I do remember looking at myself in the mirror, and saying, ‘oh my God, who is that person looking back at me’. Everything about me changed.”
Deirdre speaks with devotion about her three sons, their partners, and her grandchildren. But she laments missing out on life with her only daughter.
The shock took weeks to subside.
“I felt like I was standing in the middle of the M50 during rush hour when I was starting to come out of shock. I still had no real feelings. I’m in the middle of the M50 and all these cars are flying by me, and I don’t know whether I should try and get across the road or stay where I am.
“The next stage is ‘shit, this is really happening’. It doesn’t hit you until you accept it. The next stage is the sadness, the crying. I’m not a crier. I really, really don’t cry, it takes a lot to make me cry. But when I do, it’s hard to stop.”
It would be two months before Deirdre could cry. It was watching someone buy a doughnut that made her cry, the first time. An every day, innocuous occurrence.
She says that her focus on Lorraine’s children, and her own sons, is how she channelled her grief.
But her worst fear was now realised. Deirdre says that for years she feared Lorraine would take her own life. But at the time of her death, her daughter was in a relationship with her boyfriend, Paul, and she seemed to be more content than she had been.
However the abuse she suffered, plus, her mother says, institutional failings to bring the perpetrator to justice and to give her daughter the support she needed, built up.
Deirdre says she lives with guilt.
“Support is not as readily available as you think. There is a waiting list. If someone comes along and says they are at a low ebb and they hear ‘I’ll see you in two weeks’, by which time it could be too late.”
She speaks of the pain of loss that has become a part of who she now is. A different person. Does she enjoy life at all?
“No, I don’t look forward to anything. And I feel guilty over that as well. I won’t allow myself to enjoy. You divorce yourself from the legacy, yet you don’t want her memory to die either, she was part of me. I’m glad I did have her for 26 years.”
Deirdre’s darkest moment came when her grief pushed her to consider taking her own life.
“There was a big cable up in my bedroom at the time. I actually did try it. But I got a fright when it came to a certain point, and I couldn’t do it.”
Deirdre continues to put her energy into those around her. And she does touch on the joy her family, her three sons, her 10 grandchildren and her close friends give her.
But the pain is never far away.
“The first year anniversary is hard, then you hear people saying the second one is worse or the third one is worse. I remember when she was five years dead and saying ‘that’s five years since I’ve seen her’. That scared me, because it was too long to not have seen her.
“But you can’t think of it as being indefinite, it’s too hard to bear.”