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Dublin: 8 °C Tuesday 31 May, 2016

‘When I was told my brother had died by suicide, I crumbled to the floor and howled’

Michelle Ross speaks openly about what she and her family have gone through since her brother died by suicide last year.

Michelle Ross

ON 15 SEPTEMBER 2015, I woke up in the Galway Bay Hotel at 7.45am and switched my alarm off.

My phone rang a couple of moments later and my life changed forever.

My aunt’s name flashed up on my phone.

‘Hello,’ I said.

‘Michelle are you with anybody,’ my aunt said.

‘No I’m down in Galway, is my Mam ok,’ I replied.

‘Your Mam’s fine…. oh, Michelle,’ she said.

‘What Anne, what’s wrong?’

‘It’s Derek, Michelle. He’s hanged himself.’

‘Is he ok, is he still alive?’

‘No sweetheart, I’m so sorry, he’s gone, honey’.

My life changed from that day on

fb_img_1457460015279 Derek

My whole heart literally shattered in pieces. I remember nothing more that was said after that. I crumbled to the floor, shaking like a leaf and howled. How I didn’t wake the whole hotel I do not know. I literally lay in a ball on the floor howling. I wouldn’t even call it crying, because there were no tears. I was just screaming.

Then I remembered my work colleague was in the next room. I managed to get myself off the floor and banged her door down. I don’t even know what I said to her but she took me into her arms and just hugged me.

I felt sick 

Then I needed to be sick. I heard her on the phone to somebody and it was then I decided I needed to go. I needed to get into our car and just go.

My Mam was in Spain with her partner, my Dad was on the way to Spain with his wife and I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the phone and call either of them. I rang my husband. God only knows how he understood what I said but he took control and told me it was going to be okay and they would get me home.

I asked him to contact my Mam and my other brother, Robert. I didn’t even think of how he would manage to make them phone calls. I howled again. I kept repeating my baby brother is dead! I called my best friend and sobbed down the phone, she couldn’t even understand what I was saying and when she finally got me, she sobbed too. She said she was coming to get me.

Something came over me then and I somehow managed to compose myself enough to get dressed, pack my bag and me and my work colleague got into the car. I insisted I was okay and wanted to drive. I just needed to get home.

fb_img_1457459663990 Michelle with her two brothers.

I had to get to Derek 

I needed to be with Derek right away and tell him it was going to be okay. I rang my husband again and told him under no circumstances was Derek to be left alone, that he needed one of us there with him at all times. He told me the medics, fire brigade and undertakers were already there. I didn’t care. I told him Derek didn’t want to be alone.

The rest of that day is a blur, but it’s a morning that will never, ever leave me, and something that replays in my mind over and over and over many times a week.

On that day, my baby brother Derek, who was just 24 years young, decided he couldn’t take any more of this life, and made the decision to end his life.

The few days that followed were the most horrendous days I have ever had in my entire life. My Dad arriving home, my Mam arriving home, going to meet with the funeral home, organising the funeral, having to pick out a coffin, a coffin. Coffin shopping. It made me sick to my stomach, I had to leave the room.

Picking prayers and readings for his funeral, booking somewhere for the afters, arranging flowers, songs, picking out the plot for his resting place. I don’t know now how we all managed to do those things. If I had to do it over I honestly do not think I could cope.

The worst was waiting to see my baby brother when he was brought home for his wake. Wake. Funny name. It’s all just so surreal now, like something you would see from a film.

fb_img_1457460390208 Michelle and Derek.

Here he was. Getting taken out of a hearse in a coffin. Myself, my brother Robert and our Mam and Dad had to hold each other up. It was horrendous. I can’t even breathe when I think about that moment. He was brought in and laid out in his bedroom. When I saw his beautiful face, he looked so peaceful. He was smiling, so handsome. His hair was so lovely too. He loved his hair. I was so afraid to touch him. It honestly just looked like he was sleeping.

The funeral director helped me to touch his face and to give him a kiss, and then something came over me. I couldnt stop kissing him, rubbing his hair. He wasn’t to be left in that room alone. Somebody needed to be with him at all times and I told everybody the same. There were crowds of people in my Mam’s for them days, family and friends from afar and they were all so unbelievably amazing to us all.

We would not have coped without them all around. But I didn’t care who was there, I spent most of my time by Derek’s side. Rubbing his hands, his hair, kissing his face, playing him music and singing to him. I was in a daze and only felt okay when I was beside him. It hadn’t sank in that he was gone.

I am writing this, firstly, to raise awareness, secondly to make anybody with suicidal thoughts aware of what is left behind, and lastly, to let you all know about the amazing work done at Pieta House

He was just 24 

Derek had turned 24 just 24 days before he took his own life.

He had suffered with depression for quite sometime, alongside drug addictions. This successful attempt had not been Derek’s first attempt to take his own life. In April 2015, he made an attempt, and thankfully then, he was not successful.

He was disturbed, and advised by a doctor that was called to attend the hospital to speak with a psychiatric specialist. We all took him to the hospital that night and were sat in the A&E department for a few hours. He was finally called in and seen to by a specialist and was in and out quicker than I had time to get a coffee.

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There was ‘nothing wrong with him’ they said.

They couldn’t help him there. He was referred to his local GP/ psychiatric care with a referral letter in his hands. I was in shock. My whole family were in shock. He was sent away after making an attempt to take his own life with a letter in his hand.

The following morning I contacted the unit he had been referred to to see when he could go in, and they said they had received the referral and gave me an appointment for him on the phone. It was for two months’ time. Two months – are you actually kidding me, I asked.

Seeking help

I kicked up a bit of a fuss on the phone and told them exactly what I thought. I couldn’t understand it. We tried and tried to get professional help for Derek at that time, but all we ended up getting was help from counsellors. That’s all that was available. We didn’t know where to turn to as a family, all we could do was encourage Derek to go for counselling, which he did.

He went for a one session and that was it. Help for people with mental health issues in this country is not readily available, in fact the mental health system in Ireland is an absolute disgrace, and Derek is proof of that. Our professionals sent him home and told us all there was nothing wrong with him.

Well, why is he 6 feet under now? Derek could have been saved with the right professional help and I firmly believe this. He didn’t want to die. He had mental health problems, and with the right treatment and care he could still be with us today. We are just one of many families let down by the lack of support for people with mental health issues.

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On average 500 people per year take their own life in Ireland. Approx 400 of this number are men. A study of young Irish men aged 18-34 years revealed that 78% knew someone who had died by suicide, 42% knew more than one person, and 17% had a close friend who completed suicide.  Those figures are just crazy.

If only they knew what they were leaving behind. Let me tell you what it’s like being one of many people left behind, affected and totally devastated by my brother taking his own life.

Dealing with his death 

I cry, a lot. Mostly when I am alone. My own mind is now probably my worst enemy. I sometimes question my own sanity and pray that my mind will just STOP, stop making me think of things that I can’t bare to think about. Like last night, I lay in bed trying so hard to get some sleep, but my heart was beating so hard I could feel it in my back, and my mind was playing out the moment Derek took his own life, it was as if I was there with him at the time and I was replaying a memory. I just want it to stop sometimes.

I try very, very hard to put on a brave face when I am having a bad day. The bad days are the worst. I’m angry, I question everything.

Why Derek? He was harmless, he had a heart of gold and he was probably one of the most affectionate and loving men I know. He always told us he loved us. He always rang my Mam when he had a few drinks on him just to tell her he ‘loves the bones’ of her. He was so funny too, he always knew how to make us laugh from the time he was able to talk.

I had my rows with him through the years, gave him a hard time for some of the choices he was making in life and about his drug use, but only because I cared and wanted the best for him. It does still make me feel guilty now. I always gave him a hard time for having his friends in my Mam’s when she wasn’t there.

The last time I saw him

It’s funny the way things go, because as I mentioned earlier, my Mam was away when Derek died, but the last time I saw him, which was the Saturday night (he died on the Tuesday morning) I was going out for a few drinks and wanted a few before I headed out.

My mam said to me that there was some vodka in her apartment that I could take, so I text Derek (Dez) and said I would be over to get some and he said no bother. When I got over he had a few of his friends and their girlfriends there and they were all having a few drinks and watching the footy, and for once I didn’t bark orders for them to leave, I sat with them for a bit having the chats and me and Dez had a few laughs together.

I went in to get the vodka and it was some brand that’s like 40% vol and Dez said: ‘You know that’s 40%’ and my cousin, Alan, who was there with Dez said ‘not any more it’s not’ and they all burst out laughing.

The feckers had drank most of it and topped it back up with water. We had a laugh and I left them with the watered down vodka and told them to have a good night. Dez gave me a hug and said thanks Chelle. I knew he was thanking me for not giving out to him for having crowds there.

That was the last time I heard his lovely laugh and the last hug I got from him. That’s a memory that I think of a lot and when I say I would give my two legs to do exactly the same thing I did that last time I saw him. I would say I’d give my arms too, but I want to keep them so I can hug him and never let go.

A broken heart

My heart is broken. My heart is broken not only for me, but for my family too. My Mam and Dad.

How can parents bury their own child. How are they coping? When I think of how they must feel my heart feels like its shattering into a million pieces. They are the strongest people I know and they are there for me and my brother, Robert and encourage us both to talk about our feelings and ask how we are doing every day as do we with them. But how do they do it when their own hearts are broken. I worry about them both every single day.

My brother Robert. He’s the biggest heart of gold and is the worlds number one worrier. He worries about everybody and always wants to be sure that we are all okay even though his heart has been ripped out.

He adored Derek and did everything he could to protect him. He was always there for Derek no matter what and they were as close as brothers could be and everyday on Whatsapp. Rob still goes to send Derek links on articles about football or whatever.

Talking about our feelings 

He is a broken man now, but still makes sure everybody else is okay before himself. He’s also probably better than any counsellor out there for getting you to discuss your feelings. He is one of a kind and I love him very much. It hurts me seeing him hurting so much.

Hes kept busy with his 3-year-old torment of a daughter, Emma. Torment in the sweetest way is what I mean! My only niece. Derek’s only niece. Boy, did he adore her.

She’s the funniest, craziest little wagon there is. She is talking now and he will never get to see all of that. She will never remember the love that Derek had for her or the bond they had. She loves her uncle Derek and talks about him all the time.

At Christmas when my Mam got upset at dinner time she said, is Nanna upset because she’s missing my uncle Derek. She’s a clever little cookie. She sings the new Adele song and I cry every time. It makes me think of her and Derek and how he didn’t get to see how amazing she is at singing. She’s actually a shocking singer really, but it’s funny and she entertains us all and that’s what I mean by amazing.

They are just some of the things that go through my head. Some of the pain I feel, and some of the sorrow that I carry around with me most days. Don’t get me wrong. I have good days, mostly, but this last week has been a really bad few days for me and I’m trying to pull myself back out of them. I have an amazing family and friends around me that always pull me out of it so I know I will get through it.

Pieta House

My Mam has taken her heartbreak and put it into something that is there to help prevent any other family from going through exactly what she has. She is now on the Committee for Darkness into Light Fairyhouse.

When somebody talks about taking their own life, that’s taken courage to say it out loud, and it needs to be taken seriously.

Think about what you are leaving behind. Try and understand that you are so loved and everyone in your life will do anything to save you. Life is very precious, don’t take it away from yourself.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post, and please sign up to take part in Darkness into Light or Donate to Pieta House.

If every one of the readers or followers finds it in their hearts to donate just €1 each, that will be almost €20,000 raised for a charity that is extremely close to my heart. You can  donate HERE. If you or anybody you know is having thoughts of suicide or self-harm please get in touch with Pieta House here.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart. It means so much to me that we could help save another family from this heartache, and also save many more precious lives.

For you Dez. I love and miss you every second. Thank you for the strength you give me, for the good days, and keep looking over us all. I feel you with me sometimes. Rest in paradise my love.

Michelle Ross is a 29-year-old fashion and beauty blogger. You can visit her website here needsnotwantsblog.com

Pieta House, the Centre for the Prevention of Self-Harm or Suicide, offers a specialised treatment programme for people who have suicidal ideation or who participate in self-harming behaviors. The service is free of charge, but donations are welcome. The specialised treatment programme offers a comprehensive service aimed at individuals and their families who are affected by:

  • Multiple suicidal attempts
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Continuous self-harming behaviors

Darkness into Light

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Michelle is appealing to everyone to sign up to this years Darkness into Light walk which takes place around the country.

Register for your place in Darkness into Light 2016 HERE. It takes place on 7th May 2016 starting at 4.30am.

Early bird registration is available from now until the 28th of March and is just €20 per person to take part. After the 28th March it will be €25 per person. All registration fees go directly to Pieta House. Remember this year for the first year, you can select Fairyhouse as your chosen venue.

Helplines:

  • Samaritans – 116 123
  • Console – 1800 247 247
  • Aware – 1890 303 302
  • Pieta House – 01 601 0000
  • Teen-Line Ireland – 1800 833 634
  • Childline – 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)
  • turn2me.org - online counselling

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