As most of Donegal is revved up for the eagerly awaited championship match with Tyrone this Sunday, I have chosen not to write this about what is going to be an overwhelming victory for the home team. Instead I would like something completely different with you.
I have just returned from Medjugorje. Anyone who has visited this remote town in Herzegovina will agree that it is special place. People from all walks of life go there; the young and the old, the rich and poor, the believer and the sceptic, the able and the infirm and the majority who just seek peace. I travelled with an informal group made up of differing characters from all over Donegal. Most had been there before. Some had not. A transformation in most people’s lives takes place in this little piece of heaven on earth. It happened last week too. That’s why we go back. Their stories are theirs to tell but for me there is one story that stands out.
Have you ever seen anyone with a broken heart? I’m sure that we all know someone or maybe that person is you. My sporting passion is Gaelic football as was a man called Gerard Monaghan. Gerard died by suicide in January 2014. A former player, he was heavily involved with Convoy GAA and did a lot of work with the youngsters in his club. We rarely hear about the people who toil tirelessly at the grassroots of the GAA. These people, men and women are the people who keep the flag flying for the GAA. Had Gerard been with us today, he would be in MacCumhaill Park on Sunday proudly supporting his intercounty team.
I met Gerard’s wife, Mary, for the first time at the end of October last year in that little town of Medjugorje. She was accompanied by her sister Veronica. The sisters were always together and were unnoticeable by their modesty within the large group. We had something in common. And no it wasn’t modesty, it was the GAA. Mary shared so much with me about her husband through laughter but mostly through heartbroken tears.
Suicide is an awful thing. It does not discriminate and it leaves a terrible legacy for loved ones, friends and families. Those left behind go through unimaginable emotions in the aftermath and with many unanswered questions, the main one being, why? This question can erode a person’s spirit forever.
I have had two friends who died by suicide and the big question still remains. It doesn’t go away but, I have put it in a box at the back of my mind. I have to accept that I will never know why and it is the acceptance of this fact that has allowed me to move on with life and all that it throws at us.
Mary and Veronica were back in Medjugorje last week. The pain has subsided but the heartbreak is still there. The heartache was that bit more poignant on the morning of the 9th of May. A number of our group accompanied Mary for her Darkness into Light walk around the chapel grounds. We did it simultaneously with other groups throughout Ireland.
Darkness into Light is an annual event which helps to raise funds for Pieta House. Our county of Donegal is in dire need of a Pieta House and the good news is that a Donegal Action Group has been set up to make this a reality. Pieta House provides a free, therapeutic approach to people who are in suicidal distress and those who engage in self-harm. Pieta House has a fantastic website detailing all of their services. Mental illness is, unfortunately, still stigmatised but it is very much prevalent in today’s society. Though suicide has been around since time immemorial it is all too common.
Ireland is a very different country than when I grew up as a teenager. People had far less. There was no economic boom or downturn. Drugs were unheard of. Black and white televisions were the norm in households. The mobile phone was still a concept. The absence of social media allowed us to nurture our social skills with verbal communication. Neighbours helped each other all year round and especially when crops were harvested.
Yes of course, we have to embrace technology and move with the times. We have had wonderful advancements in technology and especially in the medical field. That said I feel that we are moving so fast that we have ignored those ingredients required for a content life. The consequences are very evident in our modern world. We have become our own gods of desire and destruction.
In Medjugorje, I watched no television and had no mobile phone but I had the company of great people who talked, laughed and shared life’s experiences. God does exist.
Keep the faith!