My brother was famous for his prodigious appetite for potatoes, spuds as we called them, and his ability to consume copious quantities of that Irish emblem – the saviour and deserter of Irish lives – was legendary in our family. That was many years ago, of course, and, being small farmers then in the West of Ireland, potatoes were an important part of our diet and their sowing, spraying against infection and disease, picking, harvesting and cooking were important parts of the annual progression of our lives. Each season was marked by a potato event. It was easy to imagine a time in Irish history when so many lives revolved around the potato – we were connected to our past by seed and soil, by weather and work.
Mash was my brother’s recipe of choice, the potatoes washed, peeled, boiled and mashed by our mother; an almost daily ritual which must have been a miserable chore at times.
And so it seemed appropriate to me that my brother should mention, quite casually, ‘Oh that was the theme song of MASH’, as if everyone should know that. The line had followed me around in my head for many years, “Suicide is painless”, but, as is usual for me, it was an isolated few words and i had no idea where it came from or of the rest of the lyrics – i wasn’t even sure the words were accurate.
The beauty of the song, as indeed of the tv show MASH, is that reality is the opposite of what is stated or portrayed;
Suicide is painful.
Stating it is painless only emphasises the pain associated with such an end.
And that pain had visited my family and friends in a double blow that week. An inexorable pain that washed over everyone, even those slightly distanced, as we saw and felt the mourning spread amongst those we love and care about.
“Through early morning fog I see
visions of the things to be
the pains that are withheld for me”
Some pains are withheld for all of us, waiting, lurking in the shadows of evolving life, ready to spring on us and, often, there is no avoiding them. We cannot mind everyone, we cannot be everywhere, tragedy will strike and we cannot prevent it.
These were brave men, these victims of a blanket of pain and despair. They battled long against the desire to end their lives, to end the pain.
“The game of life is hard to play
I’m gonna lose it anyway
The losing card I’ll someday lay
so this is all I have to say.”
They found this game of life too hard to play.
One thing i do know is that these are not selfish acts, though they may appear to be so to those of us left behind. These men have walked the path as far as they can go. They believe that they are doing their best for loved ones and for themselves. They want to end the pain that they feel and the pain that they believe that they cause others.
“A brave man once requested me
to answer questions that are key
is it to be or not to be
and I replied ‘oh why ask me?'”
They believe that ‘not to be’ is the right answer, right for everyone.
And so the awkward dance of life and death continues. The music comes to an end for all of us, sooner or later we must bow to the musician and leave the floor; leave the dancehall to those who still hear the music.
“And lay it down before I’m beat
and to another give my seat
for that’s the only painless feat.”
Even those who keep dancing feel the erosive power of time as it wears us out and wears us down, even those who feel the answer is ‘to be‘.
“The sword of time will pierce our skins
It doesn’t hurt when it begins
But as it works its way on in
The pain grows stronger…watch it grin,”
But for some, the pain becomes too much.
So rest in peace dear friends and may the peace you sought and found spread out amongst your family and loved ones and soften the pain in their hearts.
Suicide is painful – don’t forget.
Stay safe my friends