Many years ago a family came to live on our little terrace of six houses, Mom, Step-Dad ,Sister and Brother, that’s when I met a young man of perpetual motion (we will call him Tom). Tom was a lovely, cheeky, sociable, complex young lad. In a very short time I was out playing golf with this young divil every Sunday morning rain or shine, we’d go with his step Dad, his Grandfather and another neighbour Steven. I spent a good deal of time chatting with Tom as we wandered around the golf course bating the little white ball everywhere but where it should have been. He was a great kid who was the light of his Mothers’ life, she loved the bones of him, he had an older sister and she loved the bones of him too and his step dad was there for him every step of the way.
But Tom was at war with the world, not in any great way but in a way that is now quite normal amongst our teenage children, he was rebelling, against what we didn’t know but the signs were there, he had been found sniffing gas cans several times by his mam, we had found gas cans out the back of the terrace of houses, he smoked a bit of weed, he came to the attention of the Gardaí for nothing more than cheek. He was full of questions that were never asked and looking for answers that were never given. He didn’t know how to ask for help and we didn’t know how to give it to him. He got bundles of love from all his family, he was universally popular with all the neighbours, but that wasn’t enough.
One night I was just about to go to sleep when my front door (all Glass) was nearly put in with a ferocious banging. I ran down the stairs quickly followed by my missus, when I opened the door Tom’s sister was crying and asking me for help, she had had an argument with Tom over a cigarette twenty minutes earlier, their parents were out and she didn’t want him smoking in his room, she hadn’t heard anything from him for a while and she couldn’t get into his room and he wouldn’t answer her. Our neighbour had heard the banging and had come out; he was an old army man and a very straight and capable individual. I asked my wife to look after Tom’s sister and I headed in to talk to Tom with the old soldier in tow.
I called Tom several times and he wouldn’t answer, we got our shoulders to the door and without much trouble I got in. Tom was hanging on the back of his bedroom door, I shouted at the old soldier to call the police and ambulance as I cut Tom down from the coat hook on his door. I worked on Tom and then the ambulance service arrived but unfortunately he had died.
The Gardaí arrived and I gave my statement to them, we talked and consoled his sister and the Gardaí went looking for their parents, I headed to the hospital so I could be there when they arrived. The pain that was etched on their faces when they arrived at the hospital will stay with me for ever. There was nothing I could do or say that would bring back their beautiful son.
The next few days were a blur as people analysed the why and how, the what we didn’t see and what we should have seen, there was the funeral and the inquest. I took part in all these in a state of numbness. The family was in a complete state of shock, everyone tried in their own way to sympathise or empathise with them and in the middle of all that, I needed someone to ask me how I was.
Now, today in 2012 and many years after Tom took his own life I am still affected by this traumatic event. There is not a week goes by that I am reminded of that fateful day, that day changed the lives of many people, it changed my life forever. It left me with lots of unanswered questions, many which I have managed to answer over the ensuing years through counselling, study and training. It led in some part to me becoming a social care worker and it has left me with a very powerful tool to help me when I am working with young people in my care or when I am working with and chatting to young social care workers.
Feeling that a life has passed through your hands is not something that many people get to experience and as much as it has left a deep wound inside of me it is a wound that I will happily carry for the rest of my life. In Future when anyone comes to you for a chat and it is just not the right time, think twice you may be the last person they will ever talk to.
Adrian McKenna is a frontline child care professional; he has worked for many years with young people and adults in residential care, detention services, mental health services and post-adoption services. He currently works with a large Dublin-based charity. He is a Member of The Irish Association of Social Care Workers, Social Justice Ireland and the YES Campaign for Children.
All views expressed are entirely my own unless otherwise stated and are not representative of any organisation or employer past , present or future.