On murder suicide, desperation and communities ripped asunder

children swing murder suicide

I wrote this post six years ago, on the eve of the 25th birthday of a friend of mine who was killed – along with her mother – by her father, who then took his own life. It seemed (sadly) relevant to repost.

Some blog posts are made for the daylight. For when people are up, in work, at home, checking emails and updating themselves on the goings on in the online world. But others are made for the dark, when people are awake, but dozing, and there’s a haze over reality.

In a fortnight’s time, two of my closest friends are having a joint 25th birthday celebration. We’re going for drinks – and, if I have my way, for dinner – and we’ll toast their lives so far, the fact that they’ve made it to 25 without getting married, and bemoan the inevitable truths of ageing and growing cynicism. The group is wondering what to get them. I’m wondering what to wear.

In fact, there should be three of them celebrating – there should be three birthday girls, three quarter-centuries, three mid-twenties to lament. But one of them is gone, and has been gone for so long, and shouldn’t be gone at all.

We were in the same class in school – she loved sucky sweets and coloured hair bobbins, and carried a host of used scratchcards around in her schoolbag. To me, this was the most exotic thing of all; I wasn’t allowed to have scratchcards as they have something to do with gambling, and they cost money, and your odds are slim. But Sarah-Jane had loads of them, even though they were scratched out and crumpled and some, I remember, weren’t even legible. Is that three £5s? We weren’t sure.

She also carried around a nebuliser – a huge, hulking device that reminded me of goldfish, or doctors’ offices – so, when she didn’t come to school that day, the assumption was that she was in hospital again.  She’d had an asthma attack, most likely; it was a common occurrence, and not something worth writing, or calling, home for. But, and this has less to do with me and more to do with circumstance, I knew that she wasn’t sick, and that she wasn’t coming back.

When I was getting ready to go to school – sandwiches in tow, full of enthusiasm for grammar (little has changed) and colouring and our teacher who had told us that there were babies asleep in the room above ours, and that, for their sake, we had to be quiet – my mother would listen to the radio. In my childish way, I would only pay attention when there was something of relevance, and it wasn’t a regular thing. That morning there was a report of a mother and her daughter having been killed in Saggart. I remember this so clearly, and it seems so perverse – I looked up from my breakfast, from my colouring, and said to my mother: “That could be Sarah-Jane and her Mum.”

There are certain things that haunt me about that day, about that time, and that’s one of them – as if, had I not uttered the words, things could be different. But the passing of time is irreversible, and facts are facts (at the end of the day and other clichés).

My sister then called my Mum into her room and, when they emerged some moments later, they were both crying. My sister, 14 at the time, and my mother, much older and, really, too old to be crying. I’m not sure how someone breaks news like this to an 8 year old, but in the chasms of memory the moment is clear: they just told me. Sarah-Jane and her mother, who had just taken us to Bray for Sarah-Jane’s birthday and driven us back to Rathcoole with sand in our shoes and a car full of shells, were dead.

After that, it’s all a blur: I went to school, with instructions not to say anything until we were told, as a class (how do you tell a class of 8 year olds that their peer, their friend, is dead?). I remember that my friend C was due to go to her house that day, so when Sarah-Jane didn’t turn up to school, she wasn’t sure what to do; should she just go home? Would Sarah-Jane’s mother turn up at the school gates to pick her up?

I can’t remember the exact moment when I caved, but I know that I did. I told them what I knew – that she wasn’t coming back, that C wasn’t going to her house, that she was never coming back. It turned out that the teacher had known all along, and hadn’t been sure when – or if – to tell us. We were all a bit young, you see, to process this information, and nobody knew quite what to do with us. We took an unscheduled break and went out into the yard; I remember crying, I remember holding hands, I remember a kind of silence and grey skies.

Outside the school that evening, there were reporters waiting to ask us questions: Did we know her? What was she like? What was her dad like? (We didn’t make the link, really; there was never any question of where her dad was. He was obviously at work, and didn’t know – or he was at home, and did, and neither option was a particularly positive one.) Our headmistress “ran them”, as my Mum likes to recollect; it wasn’t for us, this interrogation, this adult questioning.

I wonder, sometimes, how things would be different now, for us. Would we have got counselling? Would someone have come in to teach us about violence, and desperation, and right and wrong? As it was, we lit candles and we prayed – we talked about what she was like and, in that immature, childish way, we fought over who was a better friend. She was my best friend, obviously, because we had shared those sweets; or she was yours, because you’d been over to her house last weekend and you’d played board games and you’d let her win at Monopoly.

If it’s details you’re after, the internet will, I’m sure, provide. For me, the details are in tears; in quiet moments; in the fact that her Girl Scouts class turned up to the church and made a guard of honour; in the house that lay empty for years before becoming a doctor’s surgery; in wondering how she had felt and whether she had known what was coming.

Now, of course, the details are in the what-ifs. Would we still be friends? Would she have moved to some faraway locale and communicate with us only through Facebook? What would she have done with her life? What wouldn’t she have done? And the details are in the loss – of a life that should still be here; of a smile that I can envision, bizarrely, more clearly than I can envision that of my family; of years and years of memories and experiences; of love, given and received.

I’ve never written about this before because I never knew what to say, and then I realised that I don’t have anything to write about other than the facts, other than the reality, other than her memory – and I want to share it, because I loved her in the truest of ways (the way only a child can), and when I think about her now I remember it so well. Because I want to know that I knew her, and to wish her a happy birthday – although if we’re talking wishes, there are others I could proffer.

I wish she was here, almost every day. I wish I could bring myself to visit her grave. I wish I’d talked to her more. I wish I’d talked about her more; I wish I could talk about her more now. So I’m talking about her here, in a space that will never be erased.

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Comments

  1. Incredible post. It’s not until we get older that we realise that some events in our lives will be scars that will live with us forever. It’s stories like this that make you appreciate what you have and the life you’ve lived.

    • Kate Bopp
    • March 29, 2010

    A lovely and moving post. A teacher’s assistant at my 6yr old’s school died over a year ago, and my daughter still calls her “favourite teacher”. It is heartbreaking when death has to be explained to one so young.

    • Clare
    • March 29, 2010

    My Mam still has the class photo of all of us in her room, Sarah Jane has a broken arm, we all look very cute. F and I were looking at it on Saturday morning and I told him about what had happened to her. What a strange coincidence that you wrote the post the next day…

  2. Beautifully written piece. It broke my heart to read it. I know that birthdays and anniversaries of loved ones we have lost can be very difficult so I hope the next couple of weeks are no too difficult for you. x

  3. A very moving piece Rosemary. Its very special that despite being a baby at 8-yrs-old you still hold her in your heart, and why wouldn’t you.

  4. Truly moving! Eilis

    • DiscoVolante
    • March 29, 2010

    I hope you’re ok and I’ll be thinking of you.

    • Efa
    • March 29, 2010

    Beautiful piece.

    • Hermione
    • March 29, 2010

    Beautiful post Rosemary – I nearly cried reading it. I really think bereavement never leaves you, and this is a lovely memento of your friend. Hope you’re ok. x

    • rosemary
    • March 29, 2010

    Thanks everyone, for the support. It’s a little weird to even respond, because I didn’t write this for sympathy – I just wanted people to know. Or, more accurately, I wanted to remember. Out loud. But I really appreciate the comments, it means a lot.

    • Emma H
    • March 29, 2010

    Oh Rosemary. This is a beautiful piece of writing but more importantly, such a moving tribute to Sarah Jane. I lost a friend in college and this has really struck a chord.

    • Quinner
    • April 6, 2010

    That’s such a lovely post, she would be delighted to be remembered, it is hard to believe it was that long ago.

    • Tynan Hooper
    • November 16, 2010

    Such a lovely tribute, x

  5. A beautifully written post and very moving. It’s a lovely piece in memory of your lovely friend and a wonderful insight to how little children cope with such loss. A little girl died in my child’s school (not his class) when she was in 3rd class. I often wonder how that class are really doing…. even if they do look like they’re coping very well.

    x Jazzy

  6. Pingback: ROSEMARY MAC CABE » Hello, goodbye

    • Patricia
    • August 31, 2016

    Very unusual post, it’s very touching. Really puts everything else in perspective.

    • Fiona
    • August 31, 2016

    So desperately, desperately sad that the time has come where this has become so relevant again and I mean that in the nicest possible way; a beautifully written article that one wishes should never have to be written x

  7. Just to simply say that was what it was simply through an eyes of an 8 year old and an 8 year old still trying to process it, too hard for an adult never mind a child, written perfectly rosemary very moving and insightful but never put a negative at end of it on urself, u were who u were like she was and life turned out bad for it, make urs count everyday, keep writing and sharing

    • Annie
    • September 1, 2016

    After the horrible news recently about that poor family in Cavan, it’s so wonderful to see an article which talks about the victims instead of the person who committed the unthinkable. I lost an aunt to a house-fire when I was 8. I like to talk about her alot, to keep her memory alive, not just in me, but in my family. Beautifully written article. xx

    • Cara
    • September 2, 2016

    Very touching article I think because it focuses on the young life lost and what she could have done with her life as opposed to the ‘why did he do it’ which the media becomes obsessed with.

    • Marie
    • September 5, 2016

    Beautifully written Rosemary

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