Long shadows - Pio Smith speaking yesterday to families and friends of loved ones who have passed away through suicide .
Fifteen or twenty minutes before the start of yesterday’s World Suicide Prevention Day ceremony at the steps of St. Peter’s Church, just as the organisers were setting up the microphones and making other preparations for the event, the grey clouds that had lingered all morning parted and the sun burst through.
Maybe it was a sign to the small crowd of people gathered to remember loved ones who had fallen through the cracks of this broken society and been lost to suicide, that the dark days of sorrow and pain will eventually end.
Yesterday’s proceedings, which were organised to mark World Suicide Prevention Day, began with a minute’s silence during which people had time for private thoughts and prayers. Several groups stood with arms around each other for comfort as the church bells sounded.
Getting proceedings underway Councillor Declan Power, representing a new organisation called "Let's Talk Mental Health", invited Mayor James Byrne to light the candle of remembrance.
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Father Aidan Murphy then spoke movingly about those who had died and asked the question that was in most people’s minds: “Oh, God, why? Let me away from this nightmare.”
“We need time” Fr. Murphy said, “we need reassurance for which so many of us turn to Jesus because he said ‘whoever turns to me I shall not turn them away. Remember everybody, we are not alone... step by step, we can rebuild.”
Councillor Power then spoke about the powerful image of the empty shoes which had been placed on the steps - “shoes that once were filled by a friend, a family member, a footballer or a dancer.
He said the shoes remind us that suicide is a leading cause of death in Ireland where 6064 people have taken their own lives in the past twelve years, 159 of them from County Louth and 237 from Meath.
He reminded us also that men are three times more likely to take their own life than women and that middle aged men have the highest rate of suicide.
Councillor Power said that World Suicide Day was an opportunity to raise awareness of and reduce the stigma around suicide and he appealed to people who are suffering to fill those shoes and take one step at a time.
“Let’s talk more, let’s share the problems” he said. “We are all flawed human beings after all but there are support services out there.”
Next to speak was Councillor Pio Smith, the Cathaoirleach of Louth County Council who, during the course of his work at the Red Door Project, comes across people in crisis on a daily basis.
“All of the people who have gone were loved by someone” he said. “They were unique and can never be replaced. They mean a lot to us even still.”
“In the Red Door we have lost a number of people over the years through mental health issues, addiction and through suicide.
“I have yet to come across anybody who is addicted to a substance who hasn’t experienced a trauma in some shape or form at some stage in their life.
“We need to understand that the services must be there to help those affected. We need to address the addiction and we also need to address the psychological distress that individuals are going though.
He asked the audience to consider that and to talk to their political representatives to get the relevant services strengthened.
The proceedings were brought to a conclusion with some music from some girls from Our Lady’s College, Greenhills with Mia Madden on guitar singing the very aptly named “You are Special”.