A year on from their father’s death, Cork brothers Shane and Derek Collins made a difficult decision - to share publicly the grief and pain they went through in a bid to help others.
They hope their harrowing experience can help others in a similar situation. Shane spoke to Cork's Evening Echo, which also published Derek'[s first-person account of their father'[s death, and in particular the legacy of pain it left with his family.
The article by Elaine Duggan is re-published below with permission.
A year ago, dad-of-two James Collins took his own life, leaving behind two grief-stricken sons, Derek and Shane.
The family found out about his death on Shane’s 19th birthday, when James' body was discovered in the River Lee.
Shane, 20, recalls seeing his father shortly before he died, when he performed with a band at a birthday party at the Harp Bar.
“Afterwards we both sat down and he said ‘Well done, man, great stuff, when is your next gig? Love ya, love ya’’. I gave him a hug and went home on the night.”
A few days later, on September 10, 2015, Shane recalled: “I exchanged messages with him. I was in a cafe in town with my brother and I said we would pop up to him in a minute. He messaged me back, ‘Cool bud. Love you and Der’ always’’.
Shane messaged back: ‘Cool bud, we’ll be up to you in a bit for a flying visit to see how you’re doing :)’’
“We then left the cafe and went to his place in Dean Street,” recalled Shane. “There was no one home but we thought nothing of it.
“Derek and myself walked by his pub, Moks, to see if he was there and the barman said he wasn’t. We still thought nothing of it thinking he was in a friend’s house or something, until we got home and Derek came into me at half-one in the morning.
And that's where Derek’s article starts…”
I’ve been sitting on this for a long time and constantly debated to myself if I should even bother sharing my thoughts and feelings, but I feel now is the right time.
If you or someone close to you is in a bad place right now and dark thoughts start entering your head, then my sincerest hope is that this will give you some understanding of just how badly the results of any sudden or rash decision you make will impact upon those closest to you.
Imagine your loved one in our position, as we found out how we lost our father a year ago.
It’s half one in the morning and the phone rings. The phone NEVER rings at half one in the morning. Maybe it’s a prank call or a scam? Nope.
The number is local and there’s already one missed call immediately before this one. It must be urgent.
You answer the phone and the first words you hear are: “Hello, Derek? This is Gurranabraher Garda Station and we’re ringing you in regards to you’re father’s whereabouts…”
Your body seizes up. You can’t breathe. You already know what’s coming but it still doesn’t prepare you for the words that come next — the garda says they have reason to believe my father had entered the river.
You look for the nearest thing to cling on to that will support your weight and you hold onto it for dear life because if you release it you’re going to collapse on the floor.
You hear the garda on the other end of the line giving words of reassurance, like “not 100% confirmed” and “it’s too early to say with absolute certainty” but they just go over your head. Those words mean nothing. You know it’s too late.
Half-formed thoughts of the ifs, ands or buts start racing through your mind. What if I did this? Maybe I shouldn’t have done that? I should have said something to him.
Your body is numb. Cold from shock. Reeling from the absolute devastation of the fact that your father, as certain as the sun in the sky or the rain that falls, is gone.
There’s a hole. A void that will never be filled.
You hang up the phone and your mind is in free fall. You’re the one who has to tell your mother and brother, who’s the spitting image of dad, that he’s gone.
You pace around the kitchen, trying to figure out just how in the hell you’re even going to word it to them, when your own mind is still a raging tornado of confusion, pain and utter panic.
Then a switch flips. Your breathing steadies, and your mind clears. You go up the stairs to your brother who’s chatting to a friend of his online. He looks at you and just by seeing the expression on your face, he already knows what you’re about to say before it leaves your mouth.
The same look of shock. The same confusion. He ends the call to his friend and you both head downstairs to tell the mother.
All three of you are in the kitchen, the silence is absolutely deafening. Then the crying starts. First mam. Then your brother. You look at them both trying to make sense of the news.
Mam calls dad’s brothers and sisters. You try to cry but you can’t. You’re on autopilot. Your mind is too numb to feel anything. It’s all a blur. A nightmarish, hideous blur.
It’s now 9 o’clock the same morning. You’ve been awake since yesterday morning and you’re still too numb and full of false energy to even sit down.
The phone rings. Mam answers. They’ve found him.
He had travelled the entire length of the river in an abnormally short length of time. The authorities caught him before he went out to sea. A small blessing.
Then you head to the funeral home to pick out his coffin.”What? His COFFIN?! We’re picking out Dad’s coffin? WHY are we doing this? He’s not dead! He’s fine! There has to be a mistake surely”
The strength leaves your brother’s legs and he collapses in grief. You pick him up and support him to the directors’ office to arrange the death notice for the following day’s paper.
You’re still on auto-pilot. You haven’t slept for nearly two days. You go home and collapse onto your bed and sleep hard for a couple of hours.
Then you see him laid out. It’s him. No denying it. He looks like he’s chilling out on the bed as he always does. Just dozing for a bit.
You look at him and realise that this is just an empty vessel. The man that inhabited this body is gone.
The removal and funeral are over before you can even blink. You’re sat at home staring at the wall. A cold lump starts to form. A lump that inhabits the place where dad used to be. It sits there like a lead weight and makes breathing incredibly difficult. You don’t know what to do or what to think.
Then, a week later, it happens. You’re walking home and the thought comes into your head to pick up some bread and milk for him on the way to his place. You stop walking and realise that that’s not going to happen anymore.
And it’s not just that. No more stories. No more advice on how to mark your man in a game of hurling, or how trying to count the number of spins on the slíotar as it’s falling will make it easier to catch.
No more birthday cards. No text message from him asking you to send on the lotto numbers from the previous draw.
No more trips to Youghal, Cobh or Kinsale in the summer, or getting lost on a random trip to parts unknown and laughing about it later.
No more Dad. No more… no more…
That’s when the floodgates open. That’s when the roar of anguish you’ve been keeping in for the past week finally escapes your lungs. That’s when every ounce of pain you’ve kept locked up comes pouring out of you. Your very soul burns.
The false strength you’ve been projecting that fooled no-one leaves you and your legs buckle. You fall to the floor in a heap and the reality of the situation finally hits you.
Your heart hurts so much you feel as though it’s about to explode. It defies explanation just how much you miss him.
Everything I have just described here. Every single thing. This is what is passed on to your parents, siblings and close friends when you take your own life.
This is what my mother, brother and I have experienced and still experience to this very day since dad died. This is what the result of it is.
The pain doesn’t end with you. It’s passed on to those closest to you.
No problem you face in this life, no matter how severe it may be, it is NOT worth ending it over.
Don’t isolate yourself from those closest to you.
TALK to them. Reach out to them. Isolating yourself will not make things better.
If even a single person reading this reconsiders taking their life as a result of knowing what the fall-out will be, then I can sleep some bit easier, knowing that another family won’t have to experience what we have.
Life is way too short to be sad. Live, and live freely. Love, and do so unconditionally. Make the most of your time here and just be happy.
You’re never alone in this life. Open up to those closest to you and tell them how you feel. It’s OK to not be OK sometimes. We’re not machines.
Thank you for your time.
*This article was published first in the Evening Echo.
*To contact the Samaritans call 116 123 (ROI).
The Aware Support Line 1800 80 48 48 is available Monday – Sunday, 10am to 10pm.