Donal had a simple message and it is ‘to live your life’. There is help out there and all you have to do is ask, as Donal said, “suicide is not a solution to life’s problems”. God gave Donal a challenge and he took it on, and he asked his peers to appreciate life and to live it.
Donal’s spirituality came to the fore towards the end of his life and today there is not enough emphasis placed on the positivity in spirituality. The simple things, like taking time out on your own to contemplate your own problems and to appreciate the good you have in life in a prayerful way, as Donal often did. There are so many empty churches of every denomination in parishes in Ireland, and to go there for just five minutes, can make a difference to anyone’s day.
About six months before Donal passed away, he asked to receive Holy Communion every day and he did. He had a routine of prayers and he was not shy about telling his friends this. As a result of Donal speaking out about his faith, I have had some of his friends and some complete strangers come to me to tell me how they now pray and carry the rosary with them all the time. Some have said Donal made praying cool. Others seem to be grateful to have had Donal as the means that brought them back to prayer.
I also know old people who have struggled with basic prayers and as a result of Donal’s message are saying the rosary and going to weekly Mass.
Prayer is a personal conversation between you and God, and there is nobody that can take that away from you.
I know that Donal died from cancer and I know what I did to keep him alive, with some form of independence. I know I did the best I could for Donal, and I wanted the doctors and the medical teams to do their best for Donal. Even though I know all this, I miss Donal desperately. I can’t imagine what the parents of a child who commits suicide go through. They don’t get that chance.
We all have problems – it is how you deal with them that makes a difference. For me, it’s like any parent trying to come to terms with the loss of a teenage son who died of cancer. For Donal it was coming to terms with terminal cancer and having chemotherapy radiation. For people with the mental pressures of everyday life, it is having the courage to ask for help and taking the necessary steps towards a positive mental health attitude.
I know from the amount of letters that we receive that there is a lot of sadness and upset out there for people who are depressed and can’t see there is a way out for them. And then on the other hand, from the people who are left to cope with suicide. We get letters from people whose brother or sister took their own life over 50 years ago and only after seeing Donal on television felt that they could let go, knowing it is not their problem. We also have letters from young widows and widowers, telling us they can’t speak to their spouse’s family about the suicide or explain to their children why their parent took their own life. These are the harsh realities of suicide that should be highlighted and spoken about.
The facilities of care centres have to be advertised more, so people feel that they can get the help that they need and that there is someone in there to listen to them.
Look for help
We need to let children know from a very young age, that no matter how much it hurts, no matter how bad life gets, there are no reasons bad enough to make them do this. If they look for help they can find a solution, and they need to think about the consequences of what they are about to do.
If we can get this message out at a young age, then teenagers can speak freely and openly in a non-judgemental way about any issues they might have. This is the key factor for promoting positive mental health.
In the past few months since the foundation was set up, I am so impressed with the young people of Ireland – their energy, their sense of fun, their imagination, their creativity and their generosity is boundless. The teenage population in Ireland is an untapped resource and I am so proud of them. I know with the help of the Irish teenagers this foundation will be a success and a legacy Donal can be proud of.
Elma Walsh was speaking at the Dominicans’ One by One Ministries ‘Youth Revival’ in Cork last month. The Donal Walsh #LiveLife Foundation was set up by his family in order to bring forward his causes of providing age appropriate teenage facilities in hospital and hospice centres as well as promoting his anti-suicide message. www.donalwalshlivelife.org