“Sarah and everyone,
It’s taken me a long time, and a lot of energy, to read down through all the posts to arrive here and express something. Paige said I’d need plenty reserve strength, and she was right because this is a draining business and the confidence I have read has caused me to doubt whether I should say anything.
But of one thing I am sure: the next time a couple of young adults and two young children go into an undertaker and make arrangements for their funeral, there will be alarum bells ringing all over the place. Someone said hindsight is not insight, and I know that applies here.
If the adults had gone in without their clothes on, they would have been intercepted and there would have been serious public reaction. But all they did was discuss their deaths, and pay particular care to how their children should be laid out. To me, with hindsight, it is a clear as anything that they were seriously disturbed. I firmly believe that if anyone had asked me what I thought, hypothetically, of any couple doing that, I’d have immediately said they were not fit to be left in charge of two young needy children. But I can’t prove I’m right now. It’s too late.
In my mind, this might have been a cry for recognition, recognition that “we are in trouble…” Certainly, most people in half of their health would have expected some significant reaction to such behaviour. Healthy people under 35 do not plan their funerals, and certainly don’t plan how their children should be laid out.
The undertaker was surely right to phone someone. The Gardai have legal duties and it was, I think, right to contact them quickly.
I see Ireland as a country in transition. There is still some semblance of traditional community. There is certainly in increasing urban-like anomic community: this is a community within which most people don’t know their neighbours, let alone feel they owe them a duty of care. So it is not so strange that this family seems to have kept themselves to themselves, and many locals have spoken of the man doing that. So no one is looking out for others with much experience. People are less and less practised at noticing that something is wrong with others, even those who appear to be holding it together.
People who are so much in trouble that they are thinking of all their funerals are not proud of their distress. They strive to disguise it. Certainly when I was deeply depressed and thinking of how I might kill myself, I did not display this despair openly. I tried to act normally. I held many conversation without my heart being in them. I wanted people to think I was normal. I also yearned for the company of a community within which I could be miserable openly.
I didn’t tell my wife I wanted to be dead. I didn’t let my mother know I was imagining the easiest and least troublesome way to die. I didn’t reach out to my brothers with an open display of desperation. They all knew I was depressed. I didn’t hide that. I kept away from other people so much, and that was so different from my usual way, that I felt I was obviously distressed.
The priest, had he suffered from depression himself? Unless he has experienced severe depression he is unlikely to know how hard it is to keep going over a long time. I know I believe everyone who commits suicide is suffering from depression. This does not mean that everyone who is depressed is going to commit suicide and murder their children. But depression is dangerous and people who go planning their children’s funerals are dangerous.
If the priest was a close friend, he would have gone back himself the following day, if he was worried. So I presume he wasn’t worried and that he was not really close to the family. I bet he wishes he had attended to that family all weekend because he knew there were no statutory services on the horizon.
The garda went off duty and handed over to another member of a complex organisation. No one took a decision that there was a risk here. I find this surprising, so surprising that I suspect that at least one garda felt there was a serious risk but didn’t feel empowered to take effective action. Easier to avoid individual responsibility within a collective bureaucracy. If this is so, there is a organisational culture issue and this analysis fits with other stories I’ve heard.
I also think it would be good to ‘get real’ about the health system. Everyone knows that mental health is the cinderella of the whole system. We all know there is no after hours service. We know there is no pro-active service looking out for troubled individuals and families. We know that children are in their parents care and that troubled families mean above all vulnerable children. This is a risk we have been prepared to tolerate.
Politicians respond to pressure. They want to be elected. It is because there has been so little pressure on politicians that there is so little service for people with mental health issues and their carers/supporters. The rate of change is so slow that it will be generations before there is a step change in the level of safety for people living with depression. This I believe.
We, the needy voters will have to take much more dramatic action to change the situation than we have ever taken.
But social change is not easy. There are competing demands and politicians and civil servants are the agents that we have to broker overall changes in social priorities.
Anger is healthy. To be understanding in the face of such a disgraceful and tragic event would be less than human. At least there is life where there is indignation and if the majority are casting round looking for a target to stone, this is a sign that there has been violence against a core human value.
Irish systems run by Irish people on behalf of Irish people and their children have failed this time. Will this blow over? I favour an inquiry for fear that this will be replaced by another headline grabber.
I’m sure I haven’t expressed exactly what I wanted to say, but at least I’ve given it a decent shot. Thank you Sarah for being here.