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Cycling against suicide helps ease personal pain

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INSPIRATIONAL The founder of the Cycle Against Suicide, Jim Breen, is pictured with Mayo’s former Rose of Tralee, Maria Walsh, at the recent Student Leaders Congress. Pic: John McDonnell

Feature

Áine Ryan

IT is a phone call that nobody ever wants to receive, but in the early hours of a cold November Sunday morning back in 2000, Lecanvey native Stephen Mortimer, awoke to hear  his sister sobbing on the end of the line. Their much-loved younger brother Joe, aged 24, was dead.
“Dad found him, and with the help of our amazing neighbours and friends, he brought Joe back to the safety of his bedroom. On my drive home from a night out in Claremorris, I was in denial, in disbelief. Why? How? Seeing him lying on his bed, reality hit,” Stephen Mortimer tells The Mayo News.  
“For us his family, for his friends and many others, it was utter devastation. How had this happened? Why Joe? He was a popular guy, loved by us all, a strong, healthy man with a new job as a fitter, doing what he loved. We are just a normal family, this sort of thing should not happen to us,” he recalls emotionally.
Imagine, then, the poignancy and heartbreak when Joe’s exam results for his recent qualification as a fitter dropped in through the letterbox on the morning of his burial.
 
Frozen days
Fifteen years later and those long moments and frozen days after Joe’s sudden departure are etched deeply in Mortimer’s memory.
“It is impossible to describe the moments and days that follow losing someone to suicide. Having family and friends around kept me going, but when people slipped back to their own lives, I found this time very difficult to deal with; coming home from work to see Joe’s car, coming in at night to see an empty chair. I felt an overwhelming sense of pain, emptiness, confusion and devastation.
“I had no control over my emotions and a fear that this would not change. I recall sitting on my bed, with a close friend the morning of Joe’s death and saying ‘I wish it was seven years from now’, that was the enormity of the pain that I personally felt,” he recalls.
Unsurprisingly, Stephen Mortimer still asks:  Could I have done more? Should I have asked him if he was okay? If only Joe had talked to us, his family, his friends, or if he had sought some professional help or somewhere to go, would things have been different? If he had sought some professional help or somewhere to go, would things have been different?
 “Unfortunately for Joe, for his own reasons he did not. As a family we always said Joe was a little bit quiet, as happy in his own company as he was when he was out with his friends,” Stephen muses.
The passing of time is the only imperative for the subsidence of such intrusive thoughts, he observes.

Stigma diminished
AS he prepares for the Westport to Louisburgh Cycle Against Suicide SpinOff, to be held on Saturday, February 20, next, Stephen Mortimer expresses relief that ‘the stigma attached to any thoughts of admitting something was wrong’ has diminished in recent years through a plethora of helplines, social media and societal supports. He stresses that there are many organisations out there now that provide help and a non-judgemental listening ear.
Mortimer explains that it was Joe’s best friend since primary school, Aidan Gill, who participated in the Galway SpinOff of Cycle Against Suicide.
“Aidan was subsequently approached to organise a similar SpinOff for Mayo. Another strange twist of fate is that the phone call came on November 5, Joe’s anniversary. He swiftly put a committee together, Marion Gill, Noreen O’Toole, Cormac Kearney and myself. We would love to invite anyone – you do not have to be from Mayo – to come and join us.
“This is not a race, it is an opportunity to hop on a bike for a leisurely spin and have a chat or simply silently enjoy the company of people who understand what you are going through,” he says.
Mortimer added that those people who may not wish to participate in the leisurely cycle are welcome to come to Sancta Maria College for light refreshments and to hear guest speaker, John Concannon of Pieta House.  
A decade and a half after his brother’s tragic passing, Stephen Mortimer carries the simple answer offered by Lecanvey Parish Priest, Father Paddy Gill, to his grief-stricken question, ‘What has just happened here?’:
“He didn’t want to leave, but he couldn’t stay. Unfortunately suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” Fr Gill responded
Stephen Mortimer last week urged ‘anyone who ever feels that they can’t stay, please find a little more strength to talk to someone’.

The Westport to Louisburgh Cycle Against Suicide on Saturday, February 20, aims to raise awareness about an issue that claims over 800 lives in Ireland annually. Significantly, it is not a cycling competition but an innovative way to raise awareness, to talk, chat, exchange numbers, make friends, offer support. The movement was founded by entrepreneur Jim Breen following his introduction to a suicide awareness group as part of RTÉ’s Secret Millionaire programme which aired in September 2012.

For more information and to register, visit www.cycleagainstsuicide.com.