Marian Finucane, Saturday, 26th January 2013
Live stimulating mix of news, interviews, reports and discussion.
Marian talks to Sebastian Hamilton, editor in chief of the Mail Group in Ireland, about the effect on his family of the suicide of his mother.
You can listen back to Sebastian Hamilton talking to Marion by listening to the podcast (see link below) or by going to the listen back button.
This is the copy of the original article which appeared in the Mail on Sunday on the 16th December 2012 .
Irish Mail on Sunday
2012 Associated Newspapers. All rights reserved
I DON'T know what went through my mother's mind the day she killed herself. In truth, I don't know much about that day at all. (I was only 2½). My brother and I were kept from her funeral: for years I believed she had died in a car crash. She was never to be spoken of. I didn't know her name - Hannelore Hildegard Hamilton, née Pfeifer - or even see a picture of her until I was a teenager. Only by accident did I learn how she really died: that she had sat into the back seat of the family car, poured petrol all over herself and struck a match.
Is it possible even to imagine the unremitting physical torture that she endured for the few weeks until she died? Probably not. But I do remember that documentary about Falklands burns victim Simon Weston: his shrill screams still hang in my ears, his plaintive voice shrieking 'Leave! Leave!' as he pleaded with medics not to even touch him as they fought to save his life.
We all know what it's like to burn yourself - how searing and unstoppable that pain is, even for a few hours. Now try and imagine every single millimetre of your body, every nerve ending you possess, tortured in that same relentless way every second, every minute, every hour, week after week. I just hope they stuffed mum full of morphine till it was bursting out of her, keeping her on a drugged-up cloud until her poor body finally shut down.
AND that's just the physical horror inflicted by her suicide.
For years, because I was in the middle of it all, I didn't fully appreciate the absolute emotional holocaust that it had wreaked: on me, on my father, my brother, my grandfather, my grandmother, my uncle, my cousins. Terrible consequences for each and every one of us, many of which can never be undone. Bonds which should be loving have been smashed, shattered beyond any hope of repair. Things have been said which can never be unsaid. Every relationship I had for over 20 years - including one marriage - was affected, usually damaged or destroyed. I grew up itinerant, rootless and fearful. And I particularly hated Christmas: it reminded me every year that all my friends had mums and dads.
I also missed out on all the love a mother gives a child. I never even knew it existed. I had no idea that mums made breakfast: I thought you did that yourself. I didn't know that mums tucked you in at night, drove you to matches, brought you a cup of tea, consoled you when some girl broke your heart, listened to you about your day. I used to think I was remedially stupid because I, and I alone, always forgot my proper Scouts kit on a Saturday morning: in the end, I used to hide in the school toilets for an hour rather than see our troop penalised again. How DID the other eight-year-olds remember their woggle every week? Only now do I realise that they didn't: they had mums who packed their kit for them.
First day at university: I saw 18-year-olds turning up with two parents and a sibling, car loaded with plants and books and kettles and posters. Together they all ferried the stuff to the student's room, and it always ended in blubbering goodbyes. I arrived on the bus. Standing at the front gate, wordly goods over my shoulder, I marvelled at these pathetic, babyish freaks who cried at leaving their parents.
It took me a long time to realise who was really the odd one out.
Only now, seeing my beloved son in his mother's arms, can I really appreciate what my own mum must have felt when she held me as a baby - and what I would have felt for her. I have a black-and-white picture of us, taken when I was 18 months or so. I've climbed out of my little buggy and the pair of us are just staring at each other, the love simply shining out of our eyes. At last, thankfully, I can feel how that would have felt. I miss it.
I miss her. And that's why I have to talk about suicide: because we need to stop avoiding it. If my mum had died of cancer, we would have talked about her, celebrated her, missed her, championed her. But because she died of suicide, we were emotionally cluster-bombed. And it wasn't just us: having taken part in an academic study of the children of suicide victims, I've learned that every single family that suffers a suicide is just obliterated.
The evil spreads and multiplies: it tears the survivors apart, it sets them against each other, it's magnified and handed down generations.
BUT because we don't talk about suicide, people don't know that. They're ashamed: ashamed of what their loved one did; ashamed to be associated with it, ashamed to admit that it's ripping them apart. And they always, always, try to find someone to blame.
Who triggered this? Whose fault is it? Who's to blame? Who made my father/mother/sister/ brother/son/daughter do this? Who drove them to it? And the answer always, always, is nobody. There may be factors, sure: but ultimately only one person took those pills or struck that match. And no, you can't find a reason why: because there can BE no reason for doing the most irrational thing any human being can do. You can't apply logic, or set out a sequence of events that led to it as if it were some plane crash or medical mishap.
Believe me, going down the route of trying to find the person 'responsible' is just another brilliant way of extending your suffering and drawing other people into hell. It won't give you answers, and it won't heal your pain, because it can't.
We also need to stop lying about suicide. We need to stop pretending that someone 'died unexpectedly', or 'accidentally' fell off the Hill of Howth, or strung themselves up as a 'cry for help'. We need to accept that suicide is as real and common and ordinary as cancer (which, 50 years ago, was just as taboo). We need to embrace the families of suicide victims - just as if they were victims of any other disease.
Most of all, we need to educate everyone. We need to teach people that suicide, like breast cancer, is real; that suicide, like breast cancer, isn't shameful.
We need to see the signs and we need to act. We need to ensure that the potential victims, like cancer victims, get the best possible treatment as fast as possible.
Above all, we need to grow up: and we can't do that as long as suicide remains this nation's dirty little secret.
If you have been affected by this interview and want to talk to someone about it, please contact some of these organisations. Samaritans, Tel: 1850 609090; Aware 1890 303302; 1 Life
1800 247 100 and ISPCC Childline 1800 66 66 66
or log on to http://www.yspi.eu/ Console 1800 201 890 / Pieta House 01-6010000
Irish Association for Humanistic & Integrative Psychotherapy (IAHIP)
Irish Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (IACP)
Also on today's show was Professor Ian Robertson, author of "The Winner Effect: The Neuroscience of Success and Failure."
Also on today's show was Professor Ian Robertson, author of "The Winner Effect: The Neuroscience of Success and Failure." Ian Robertson is Professor of Psychology at Trinity College Dublin and was the founding Director of Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience. He is a member of the Royal Irish Academy.
Here are articles written by Ian Robertson from http://professorianrobertson.wordpress.com// on the topics he spoke about on the show ..
The website he referred to is http://www.letstrail.com/
Dave Fanning and Paul Whitington joined Marian in studio to review "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Lincoln" and to preview the pick of next week's TV.