'˜The day I buried my son, I buried a part of myself with him'

Heartbroken and grief-stricken two and a half years after the tragic death of her son, brave mum Mary Monaghan is determined to raise awareness of suicide.

Mary Monaghan, whose son Paul died by suicide
Mary Monaghan, whose son Paul died by suicide

On March 22, 2014, Mary’s 22-year-old son Paul took his own life following a long battle with depression.

From that day Mary, her husband Ian and daughter Melissa’s lives would never be the same again.

But despite the heart-wrenching grief, Mary is speaking up about the gruelling truth of the heartbreak of those left behind.

Mary's son Paul

The Enniskillen sales assistant hopes that telling her story will prevent another family going through the same heartbreak and loss.

Mary, 50, said: “Paul was a very bubbly, outgoing person - on the outside at least. Everyone loved him, he was such a big character. He loved his little sister and was very protective of her. He loved his elderly grandparents and was devastated when his nanny died six years ago.

“We knew Paul suffered from depression, he was on anti-depressants for many years and often sleeping tablets. On bad days he could stay in bed for days saying he felt worthless as he couldn’t find a job and felt no one would give him a chance in life.”

As well as beautiful memories of her son, Mary is plagued with the horror of that day.

Mary's son Paul

“I was in work for less than an hour when a colleague came to find me and said there were some people out back wanted talk to me. I knew straight away it was something to do with Paul.

“Outside his girlfriend and two sisters were waiting, his girlfriend broke the devastating news that Paul had taken his life. I just collapsed in a heap in total shock. The rest is a bit of a blur,” said Mary.

“I just thought I need to get out of here, I need to get home, I need to tell Ian, I need to tell my dad, it was just sheer panic.

“I rang my dad, which was very hard because he is elderly and not well, I can’t even describe how he was, he was struggling to breathe, he was struggling to speak - that was quite traumatic.

“I had the chore of going to tell Melissa which is probably the hardest thing I’ll ever ever do because I had to wake her up and just say to her Paul was dead.

“Hearing that your child has taken their life I don’t know if you can put it into words.

“Burying your child is one of the most horrendous things I think any parent will ever do, I personally feel like the day I buried Paul, I buried a good quarter of myself because life just doesn’t feel the same anymore.

“It’s like a part of me’s gone, a big part has gone. I feel like Ian and Melissa have very similar personalities, very similar traits and you know they like the same things.

“Paul would have been like me, bubbly and outgoing and I just feel I lost part of myself.”

For Mary, Paul’s birth was a significant arrival in her life. Being adopted, Paul was Mary’s first blood relative.

She said: “To lose that just feels like you’ve lost a limb. Just going about daily chores, it’s horrendous. He was my first blood relative and now he’s gone.

“It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem, I don’t believe at 22 years of age that there was anything that would have troubled Paul so badly that he couldn’t have fixed or that we couldn’t have got him help for whatever was troubling him so bad.

“I would say I left for work that morning probably around the same time as he was found. Things that torture me are that as a mother why did your gut instinct not sort of tell you something’s happened. But there was absolutely nothing.”

For Mary, Ian and Melissa, losing Paul has had an irreversible effect on their family; one Mary doesn’t believe she will be able to recover from.

On a daily basis Mary struggles to move on with her life without Paul, traumatising over what more could have been done to help him.

She explained: “The hardest thing is getting out of bed, seeing his friends all moving on with their lives and settling down. Walking into his empty room tears me apart. It’s hard to think he felt so low he felt this was his only way out. “It’s hard to grieve when you miss him so badly. Planning your child’s funeral is just something you should not be doing. I’m devastated.

“It’s changed my life substantially. I struggle with life in general and have terrible nightmares and flashbacks.

“I also believe it has changed me too. I’m not the same bubbly person I was. I now have separation issues and I freak out if I can’t get hold of my husband or daughter. I’m just a bag of nerves daily and eaten up by grief, numb some days, to be honest I don’t think reality has hit home.

“Paul’s death has changed the family dynamic too. Melissa probably feels she has lost her parents as well as her brother because we are not the same people at all.

“I feel for her as we are a small family unit and when we go she will be alone.”

Mary now hopes that telling her story will encourage others to seek help before making the same decision Paul did.

Research released earlier this year from the Office for National Statistics revealed that while the number of suicides in Northern Ireland had fallen by more than 10 per cent, it remained higher than anywhere else in Scotland, England and Wales.

In fact, during 2014, the year Paul died, there were more than 16 suicides per 100,000 people in Northern Ireland.

The research also found that men remain more likely to take their own lives with 16.8 per 100,000 people doing so in 2014 compared to 5.2 women per 100,000.

“I was very angry and still am,” said Mary.

“I’m never angry at Paul, just angry that he had got so little help. I’m angry that he is no longer here. Angry that maybe I missed something. The grief overwhelms me some days and I just cannot even get out of bed the pain is so raw even now almost two and a half years on.

“I couldn’t prevent Paul’s death, but I will do everything I can to raise awareness and hopefully prevent another family suffering the same loss we have.

“I would just say to people just don’t do it; it really will leave a trail of destruction behind that’s never going to be fixed, that’s never going to be right again. Life for us will never be the same again.

“It’s important that families who have been bereaved talk about suicide and don’t hide from it. We need to try to lift the stigma and ensure no other family is plunged into this deep, deep darkness.

“More awareness must be raised. We have ads on TV for drink driving, speeding and more, but why not show a grieving parent or something. Schools need people to come in talk about it. Our MPs need to do something.

Anyone in Northern Ireland who is in distress or despair can call Lifeline free on 0808 808 8000. Their helpline is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year.