Let me get one thing straight here, I’m not looking for sympathy. You can shove your sympathy where the sun (or my son) doesn’t shine!
Usually when a child dies, the families of the bereaved parent wraps itself around that person, protecting that person with every fibre of their collective being. Friends will call night and day, whether the company is required or not. They will bring food, humour and tears in equal measure. The family doctor, priest or pastor will call and speak of the ‘beautiful soul that is now in heaven’. If the person is well known, the newspapers will attest to the goals, achievements and academic heights that the deceased person has climbed. Whether the deceased person was the most boring man alive or Quasimodo’s long lost sister, family, friends and colleagues will only remember how beautiful and vibrant that person was. That may seem a bit flippant but I’m leading somewhere, I promise. The family doctor will be at pains to explain how this tragic death happened, spending hours comforting the parents, answering queries patiently, understanding the parent’s need for answers. Employers, schools or colleges will hold tributes and maybe do a fundraiser for the family’s chosen charity. No matter how many years following the death, a parent speaking of their child will always be looked on kindly and with much empathy. Awh, such a nice image really, the community at work, the world as it was meant to be (apart from the grieving parents of course).
An inconvenient truth.
So what happens when a child dies from a self-inflicted death? What happens when your child dies from a prescription drug-induced suicide, or worse, maybe even kills another in the process? LSD, Heroin or something equally as toxic (but illegal) would be more believable as causing a chemically induced manic episode. Suicide or homicide or both caused by a prescription drug is a tough one to believe, isn’t it? Despite precedent being set in the US, Australia and worldwide Courts; despite the warnings of suicide and violence, including homicide in various patient information leaflets, the psychiatric protection of these dangerous drugs run deep.
So, is it okay for friends of these drug-induced suicides to post profile pictures of themselves with the deceased person? Not according to some people. Can getting abusive messages from other ‘friends’ saying ‘take that effing picture down – have some respect‘ really help that friend deal with their own grief? Or does it really matter, sure he/she’s the friend of that person who chose to end his own life and/or someone elses. Will the deceased’s friends bow to the unbearable pressure of the judgmental masses? Sure he’s dead, he doesn’t need protecting, and sure isn’t it way too much hassle to stand up for the minority? I have to point out that Shane’s friends or family haven’t bowed under pressure, they still protect the Shane they knew as if their life depended on it and for that I am truly grateful. Trinity College Dublin, my son’s Alma Mater, went above and beyond the call of duty, despite the terrible circumstances.
My friend Maria who has borne more heartache than most, knows only too well the difference between a death by any other means than drug-induced suicide. Her son Toran died in 2008 from a Prozac-induced death. The pharmaceutical company admitted that Prozac was the most probable cause of his death. She says:
“Because of theories about copycat suicide, the Chief Coroner issued an order against me preventing me talking about Toran’s death and the events leading to it. My son’s name was never mentioned again at his school – no minute’s silence, no memorial assembly – and his friends were punished for wearing wristbands in his honour. Because it was an antidepressant induced suicide I spent four and a half days at his inquest under cross examination by lawyers trying to prove that Toran died because he was a bad kid with a bad mother as a way of deflecting attention from their drug. None of that would have happened if he had died in any other way.”
Sadly, Maria’s experience is not a solitary one. What of the doctors who give their time and endless patience to parents whose child has died in an accident, through cancer or other equally terrible circumstances? Where a parent raises their concerns about the prescribed drug the deceased was on, the doc will shut the conversation down quicker than you can say ‘Judas Iscariot’. The parent will be told – “if you have any queries, put them in writing”. In an attempt to cover their own back-sides, the deceased child and their family will get trampled on. Indeed, Mr Iscariot would have had more loyalty. Having an ‘uninvited’ psychiatric ‘expert’, Patricia Casey, attend Shane’s inquest, who defended the drug and yet worked for the same drug company who made the implicated drug, was like a kick in the stomach. Having her make a statement about her ‘issues’ regarding the verdict, directly following my son’s inquest, just made Shane’s family and friends sadder than the day itself could possibly have been. Using the media in order to discredit Professor Healy, who was the coroner’s medical expert, made me feel worse than awful. After all, I was the one who begged him to do the expert report and again to appear at Shane’s inquest. He did not deserve the backlash he got from the traitors of the Irish College of Psychiatry, and yet it was I who persuaded him to do it, putting him in the firing line of the ‘protectors of
antidepressant drugs’. Not only is he an internationally respected psychiatrist, he is also a psycho-pharmacologist and scientist, but hey, don’t let that stand in the way of ignorant Irish psychiatry. I discovered later that the Irish College of Psychiatry had been in contact with the drug company regarding my son, with an eloquently entitled e-mail – ‘the Shane Clancy Affair’.
The doctors and psychiatrists were not the only ones who involved themselves. Ireland’s Catholic think-tank ‘The Iona Institute’ decided to wade in with their tuppence worth. At the time of Shane’s death there were 5 patrons of the Iona Institute. Three of them involved themselves in my son’s case. Breda O’Brien questioned the decision to go on TV and talk about what happened to Shane. I can understand her point, don’t agree with it, but I understand where she was coming from. Patricia Casey, also the psychiatrist I mentioned, was involved before, during and after Shane’s inquest, stating that the drug Citalopram could not cause suicide or violence. Father Fergus O’Donoghue, a Jesuit priest, pulled no punches and just branded Shane ‘pure evil’.
I have seen people who speak of their dead children, 10, 20, 25 years after their death, and the usual reception is kindness personified – isn’t it lovely to hear him/her speak of young Johnny or Jackie? Let’s talk about him/her and hear the stories which made them the lovely person that they were.
Stage left, I have seen parents talking of their son/daughter who died by suicide, usually drug-induced I might add, but not always; yet, the pervading reaction is “jeekers, would he/she ever get over it?” It’s uncomfortable listening to a parent speak of their ‘flawed’ child. Better to talk about the poxy Irish weather, whatever, don’t let her talk of her child’s suicide – it’s way too boring and extremely uncomfortable, and sure didn’t the ‘experts’ say it was an inherent defect, not the prescription drug?
I have to admit, I have a great family and fantastic neighbours. When Shane died our neighbours in Redcross, family and friends couldn’t have been nicer; the complete opposite of the medical profession, psychiatry and the supposedly Christian Iona Institute. There is no getting away from it though, for a parent of a ‘suicide’ child, whether drug-induced or otherwise – It’s a lonely planet to inhabit!
As I said, ‘it is what it is’ – take it or leave it, but please God, not the sympathy vote!