Memories of lost loved ones drive Vincey on in his work

Mother and brothers took their own lives

By Francesca Ryan

Vincey Donaldson lost his mother and two of his brothers to suicide. The local family’s unfathomable loss confirms that suicide does not discriminate according to sex or age.  The triple tragedy also indicates that suicide, while certainly more prevalent nowadays, is not a new concern.

Vincey’s mother took her own life in 1976, leaving a husband and 10 children behind.  In 1994 and 2007, the family was again plunged into grief when his two brothers passed on after taking their own lives.

For the past six years Vincey has been working in West Belfast to help those affected by suicide. He started his work at the Suicide Awareness and Support Group and currently works with the Positive Steps initiative at the West Belfast Parent and Youth Support Group on the Falls Road.

“It’s very hard for someone to lose somebody to suicide,” Vincey told the Andersonstown News. “My mother took her own life in 1976 and back then there was a lot of taboo about those who took their own lives not being buried on consecrated ground. The priest told us to go home and pray for mummy because she wasn’t going to get into heaven.”

While that would not happen today, a chronic reluctance to talk about the problem persists and is exacerbating the problem, says Vincey.

“As a family we just never dealt with mummy’s suicide,” he said. “We never sat down and asked the questions, asked the reasons why this happened, we simply never discussed it. I was 20 when it happened, I couldn’t understand it.  There were no services available, nowhere to go for help.

“Even though services have been developed, there is still a taboo about suicide. Things are not moving at the pace we need and despite the hard work of the groups, not enough is being done, there are still gaps in the system.”

Suicide has revisited the Donaldsons on two more occasions since his mother’s passing.

“My youngest brother took his own life in 1994. There was nowhere for us to bring him for help when our mother died. He was only 12. There was nowhere for any of us to get help to deal with it. Looking back, all the signs and symptoms were there for my brother and we didn’t pick up on them because we just didn’t know what to look for. He had been depressed and he was smoking cannabis. There is no doubt in my mind that drugs played a big part in what happened to him.

 

Recovered

“In 2007 another brother went missing. His car was found at the Lough Shore and he had sent a letter home with his credit cards and a note saying he wasn’t as strong as everyone thinks.  His body was never recovered and we can only presume he took his own life.”

Vincey says he does not subscribe to the mantra that ‘time is a great healer’ as suicide leaves questions unanswered into eternity. He has learned how to cope, however – he has   conversations with his late mother and brothers every day.

“The effect of a suicide on the family is devastating,” he said. “Death in general is hard for a family because part of us dies too, but with suicide there are so many unanswered questions. You go through a rollercoaster of emotions including anger, guilt, and then you blame each other.

“I was angry with myself because my loved ones were having a bad time and I didn’t spot it, I wasn’t able to help them ease the burden. Even though it was so long ago, I feel like my mummy died just yesterday. I still have bad days when I can’t get out of bed, but I allow myself that as long as I get out of bed the following day.

“Every day my mother and brothers are the first people I think of in the morning and they are the last people I speak to when I go to bed at night. I talk to my brothers about what is going on in my life and I ask my mother to watch over us and guide us, just as she would if she was here.”

Mental health is just one of the factors that can lead to suicide, but as with suicide, it’s an issue that is too often overlooked and underfunded.

“With mummy, you would never have known the reasons she took her own life or understood them, it was only later I realised she had mental health issues. Suicide at that time was a big no-no. For years I told people my mother died of cancer. Then I realised I needed to tell the truth because I was doing her an injustice.

“Similarly, mental health issues don’t mean someone needs locked up – everyone goes through mental health problems at some point in their lives. What these people need is support and help to take small steps to change their lives for the better.

“My dedication to this work I do comes from me knowing how these groups could have made a difference when my family needed it. That’s why, so as long as I am able, I will continue to do it.”

Positive Steps has an open door policy. Anyone feeling any pressures in life is welcome to call them on 90 236 669 or drop into the office at 141-143 Falls Road.

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