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Donal Walsh

Brave Donal Walsh’s death should be a message to Ireland that suicide is never the answer

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Donal Walsh

Too many people in Ireland take their own lives, but one teenager who died last week from cancer begged his country to wake up and deal with the devastating issue. April Drew recounts sad stories about her own friends who have first hand knowledge of suicide and depression.

It was a little after 8 p.m. on a cold and dark Sunday evening. It was the first Sunday of 2009. Christmas was just over and the January blues were setting in all around the world.  

I was sipping tea at my desk in our Bronx apartment and working on the computer when I heard my phone barley beep.  I recognized the sound – it was that of an incoming text message. 

I contemplated getting up off my chair, putting down my tea and taking a two minute break from work to retrieve the text, but it could wait I thought. I was busy putting our paper Home and Away (or as it’s known now Irish Central Community News) to bed. It goes to press on a Sunday evening in New York so I was under the constraints of time. 

I left it another few minutes, but curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to know who was texting me on a Sunday evening. 

I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and choosing to follow my curiosity that dark Sunday evening in New York was probably one of the most important decisions I ever made in my life. 

When I picked up the phone I saw it was from one of my best friends in the whole world, a male friend (early thirties). We had been through a lot together through the years. We confided in each other, had a lot of laughs together and got up to silly antics. 

He would often text to see how things were going for me in New York so I could have left it until later to read, but I decided to see what he had to say.  

The message read “I always loved you April.” 

Now that knocked me for two, because my friend’s messages were always very light hearted and jovial. The message felt wrong. 

I didn’t take it to mean that he loved me romantically, but rather that he loved me like a sister, but why was he randomly telling me this in a text message at 1 a.m. Irish time?

A dark fear creped over me.  This particular friend had been going through a very tough time emotionally for a few years. We had spoken about it many times. 

He had been bullied relentlessly as a child.  He was in a dark place, and only a few months before this message he told me he had been battling depression for many years. 

I was gob-smacked because the same fella was always the life and soul of the party, not a big drinker, but just a big personality and extremely kind hearted. 

Something felt wrong about this message. It felt final. My thoughts were racing. 

I instantly drew two conclusions. He was either very drunk or was about to take his life. I battled with it another minute, called my then fiancé, now husband, John into the room and filled him in. 

Before he got a chance to say anything I called my friend’s phone.  

“Hello,” said a very groggy voice at the other end of the line. “Who’s this?”

“It’s April, are you okay, what’s wrong?” I frantically asked.

“I can’t talk, I have to go,” and he hung up. 

He switched his phone off.  Again I wasn’t sure if he was drunk (which was a little out of his character) or if he had taken something in an effort to end his life. 

I had to make a decision there and then. I was 3,000 miles away in New York. I was helpless but there were others close by. 

I called his brother.  My instincts told me to. My friend had never told his family he was depressed and didn’t want them to know so I kept it to myself all this time, but that particular Sunday night I couldn’t do it anymore. 

The brother’s phone rang out the first time. I tried again and another groggy voice met me on the other end. I hadn’t time to explain everything. 

“I feel (friend) has taken an overdose or something. He has been depressed for a long time and I got this strange message that leads me to believe he might be harming himself. I could be wrong, God I hope I’m wrong but you have to go to his house now,” I blurted out. 

My friend’s brother was in the car in minutes and arrived at the house by about 1:40 a.m. Irish time. This was 30 minutes after I received the text. 

I waited patiently by the phone hoping and praying I was overreacting, and was already getting embarrassed at the thought of it.  I went back to doing the paper. I watched the phone every few minutes. John checked in with me every 10 minutes. 

There wasn’t a peep for about an hour. And then the phone rang. 

This time it was the brother in tears. I knew it was bad. 

I listened as he explained that my best friend, his younger brother, had taken a large quantity of pills -- medication he was on for his depression -- and by the time he reached him he was unconscious in the bed, alive but unconscious. 

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