My name is Angela and I am joined today by my children and a group of 117 youth from Kilkenny, Ireland. We have all been affected by suicide. We all know someone who has lost – a husband, a wife, a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister or a friend to suicide. In 2002 my husband Tommy died by suicide. He was 32 and I had 4 young sons Stephen 13, Thomas 10, Robert 7 and Alan 4.5. There is no book and no words that can be said to make you feel better.
There is nothing that can prepare you for the turmoil that suicide brings.
How do you cope with this? I don’t know how we did but today we want to help others. Dealing with the grief and the loss of my husband / a dad for my sons / is something I would not wish on anyone. How do you explain to the boys, my sons that their dad took his life. Sitting down with them the night of his death and trying to explain, it was an accident and that daddy wasn’t feeling well was the best way I could tell them at the time. I had to be as honest as I could.
I found myself going into autopilot and just taking each day as it came not knowing what was the best thing to do for my sons and how were we going to survive life financially and emotionally without my husband and the boys dad.
I was very fortunate to have loving, caring and supportive family and friends in my life, but above all, my mum and dad. They were the ones that were there to help pick up the pieces with me and help me carry my cross.
In 2002 support services in Kilkenny were limited. We could only avail of free counselling for 2 of my children and the other two children attended a programme for a few weeks to help children who had been affected by family difficulties.
Each day was a struggle but we just had to manage as best as we could.
I was very busy, working in a training centre and rearing the boys. I was meeting people on a daily basis and I had no time to take an hour out be looking after myself and to get counselling. So how did I get through it I just don’t know. The boys at the time were very active between soccer, swimming, running, etc. and I had to step into act as both a mum and dad. As I was dropping one at soccer I would be heading off to collect another at running or something else and being just so busy. It was hard so hard seeing other families together and they seemed happy. I was so alone.
Looking back at this time, the best thing I did that summer was to buy a tent for me and the boys to be able to go off and spend valuable time together. We were like a little scout troupe with the boys each having a job of putting up the tent. One had to put the tent poles together (and on one occasion we did manage to go camping and forget the poles) another was to pump up the air mattresses, etc. We worked together as a team. There was no television or electricity but we had plenty of time to walk and talk along the beach.
We had brilliant times together on our camping days in Waterford. We loved it and I thank god for those treasured memories.
However by the age of 16, my eldest son Stephen was really struggling with his life. He turned to alcohol and drugs to help him cope with the pain of his loss. He wanted to leave school, he gave up going to soccer, hurling and other sports he loved. He just had no value left on his life and he just wanted to be gone from this world. He was really so angry.
Many nights we spent searching for Stephen, I would put the boys in the car and drive around our town, down by the river and just crying and hoping we would find him alive and safe. It was just heart breaking. His life was turned upside down and he just couldn’t cope with the pain of losing his dad.
Thankfully, after some time Stephen was admitted to the Aislinn drug and alcohol treatment centre – He got some help and the care he needed and was equipped with coping skills to help him get through each day and how to live his life without drugs.
In September 2010 life was good for us and we thought it just couldn’t get better. We had come through the worst and we were making the best of life.
My second eldest son is Thomas. When Thomas finished school he decided to train to be a chef. In his spare time he was a leader in the scouts, he had joined the scouts as a young boy and it was his favourite pastime. He loved being in the outdoors and the adventures of a scouts’ life. Sadly, Thomas couldn’t bear the pain of the loss of his dad and 9 years and 1 day after his dad’s death – in March 2011, Thomas ended his life at the age of 19. This is the worst most horrendous thing that can happen to a mother. I lost my precious son Thomas and his untimely death was due to suicide. Unfortunately Thomas showed no signs of how low he was feeling or the burden he was carrying from his pain that was pulling him down. How, why? I just couldn’t take this. Oh, this pain was just unbearable. My son. My heart was ripped to shreds. He was beautiful inside and out. He was caring, bubbly, and outgoing. Thomas was loved and respected by so many people young and old in Kilkenny and county and people still talk of him and put a smile on their face when they think of him.I questioned how and what did I do wrong? But I got great relief in his letter he left for me with words that assured me it was nothing I had done. He just wanted to be with his dad and that he was going to tell his dad all about the great times we had had together especially our camping days.
Again we were faced with how we were going to survive and live life without my son, brother, uncle and friend.
We fell apart. After all the years of hard work and finally things being good. Why did this have to happen?
After Thomas death in 2011 my son Stephen and Robert were approached by Joe Malone and invited to go to Medjugorje to the Youth Festival. This was the beginning of recovery and starting a new life.
In 2012, Stephen said mam you have to go to Medjugorje. His words were. “It’s amazing, you will love it. Please go.” The next summer along with Stephen, Robert, Alan, and Caoimhe I joined the youth group and we travelled to Medjugorje.
I don’t need to go into too much detail about Medjugorje as it is different for everyone and I’m sure you all have heard wonderful stories from here, but there is one thing in common, the peace.
My God, I never witnessed anything like Medjugorje before. During my time here a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I witnessed a peace in my heart. A true peace in my heart and I knew Our Lady was there for me to help carry my burden and I felt the reassurance that I was not alone.
I don’t let things or I try not to let things worry me now I reflect on the serenity prayer and hand it over to a higher power because at the end of the day what’s meant to be will be no point in me getting stressed and worried about things that are out of my control.
Medjugorje has been a miracle for my family. The peace and healing my sons and I got when we went is just after changing our lives by helping us to cope with everyday struggles as best we can. We love coming here. It is brilliant to see so many young people experience peace and restore their faith. We all needed each other.
Thankfully today and with the help of Our Lady of Medjugorje, my son Stephen is a carpenter and a super dad to my grandson Thomas, and my granddaughter Lauren. He has a focus and value on his life. My son Robert is now 23. He is a member of the defence forces based in Ireland – and he has recently completed a UN Peacekeeping tour in the Lebanon. He is due to begin his college in September.
My youngest son Alan is 21 and received a scholarship to go to University in Cork to study Social Science. He has received awards for his voluntary work and commitment to community. Last year he was selected as a ’2016 world youth leader’ where he was awarded this achievement in New York. Alan is also a member of the International choir for the Medjugorje Youth Festival for a number of years performing solo, and together as a group.
My daughter Caoimhe is 7 and a bubbly, busy little girl that loves dancing and singing and all the attention she can get from her brothers.
I have experienced first hand about suicide and the affects it has on a family. There are no words to describe how hard each day is as you try to live your life.
In 2014, my family and I were invited onto a TV show to share my story of how suicide had affected the life of our family. Alan sang ‘Survivor’ a song he wrote and dedicated to me. We received a huge amount of support and people suggested recording Survivor, raising money for charity by selling the song.
This is what brings me to how and why the Thomas Hayes Trust was formed. It was established in 2014
Our aims are: suicide intervention, family support, mental health awareness. How do we achieve this? We have a house called Teac Tom that is open Monday to Friday and a listener is available at all times 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.
We provide free one to one counselling to individuals and families from our dedicated counsellors. We have a family support group. We provide free play therapy for children. We are a community based suicide intervention, mental health awareness and bereavement support charity.
Our mission is to provide much needed private and confidential one to one support counselling services as well as psychological support to the families of those affected by Ireland’s largest killer – suicide. I strongly believe that “The Thomas Hayes” trust and Teac Tom is the work of Our Lady and believing this gives me great comfort.
Please feel free to speak with me this week, I have information cards if you know anyone in need of help.
I truly believe that the foundation of Thomas Hayes and Tom’s House is essentially Our Lady’s work and it has given me great comfort. Be free to find me and talk to me this week. I have information cards that you can give to those who might need such help, and you will also see a multitude of our Irish youth wearing orange T-shirts featuring Tom’s House. Please, have us all in your prayers and remember all of our beloved and loving people who have left this world for a long time. We will pray for them. At the very end, all I have to say is the following – if you have somehow been affected by suicide, never lose hope, put your hope and strength in God to find strength and pray because you can not overcome it yourself! “
Finally, Alan sang a song he dedicated to his Mum called ‘Survivor’.