Fr Brian D’Arcy: ‘The jigsaw puzzle left after a suicide can’t be completed’

Fr Brian says being there for people can help to let the light in.

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Stock image© Getty Images/EyeEm

Fr Brian Darcy

Fr Brian D'ArcySunday World

I don’t often write about suicide because I fear I might unconsciously make it sound like an attractive option for those on the verge.

Let me explain.

Thankfully I never contemplated suicide. However, looking back, there was one incident where I could have been tempted if I hadn’t been so aware of the dangers.

It was when the Vatican hounded me for telling the truth about the abuse of children by clerics.

They threatened to silence me and then excommunicate me. I was under immense pressure; there was no one I could share it with because the bullies in Rome forbade me to speak to anyone.

One night I was in despair. I couldn’t sleep so I walked around our car park in the middle of the night.

I stood beside a crucifix and for a moment, I was genuinely convinced the country and the church would be better off if I left this world for good.

I soon realised what I was thinking and how dangerous it was. I immediately put an end to those thoughts, came inside and, thank God, I came to my senses.

But when you become convinced, you are at the bottom, it’s dangerous to dice with negative thoughts. It’s vital to be aware of when we need help.

Today I’m conscious many people struggle to pick up the pieces after a suicide.

Fr Brian Darcy

At times like this, the most effective help we can give is to be available to people.

It’s difficult ‘to be there’ for others but it is a priceless thing to do.

When people die in normal circumstances, we rally around their families. But many of us back off when a death by suicide happens.

Maybe it’s because we don’t know what to say.

The stages of grief when we’ve lost someone close are clear.

But suicide bereavement is more than denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

At the very least we should add guilt and shame.

Guilt is internal; it’s because we feel we have a sense of responsibility for their death. It is the ‘if only’, the ‘I would have,’ ‘I should have’ or ‘I could have’ syndrome.

Shame is different; it’s more of an external thing. Guilt is what we think of ourselves, shame is about ‘what others think of me?’

Stock image© Getty Images/EyeEm

People who have lost someone to suicide often become obsessed with the reactions of others.

Will they think I was a bad parent, a bad spouse or even a bad employer?

In helping people who have lost a loved one to suicide go through the process of grief, I find the analogy of the jigsaw, which some counsellors use, helpful.

Sooner or later, after all our questioning, we come to accept that we will never truly understand why a person took their own life.

The person who died leaves a kind of jigsaw puzzle behind them. The difficulty is that this puzzle has no picture to help us.

There is no box to look at; all you have is a bundle of broken pieces lying around.

If we’re lucky, most of us find the edges and the corners of the jigsaw and we work our way in.

We’re working on the extremities first and we’re trying to get to the core of why this happened.

Everyone has their own jigsaw puzzle because everyone had a different relationship with the person.

We’re all trying to put it together. Sometimes we’re trying to force the pieces to fit in. As soon as we think we have the final few pieces to complete the picture, nothing fits properly.

And it’s the same with death by suicide. You are convinced, ‘that’s the answer!’ But the jigsaw piece won’t fit and things start to buckle again.

We carry on until we get to the end and there’s one piece of the puzzle missing.

Everybody seems to have one piece missing; that’s because the deceased took that piece with them.

You can never complete the jigsaw puzzle. However, it is vital to recognise the importance of the process of trying to complete it.

It’s about realising the final piece will never be there. That process helps us to understand that there will always be one more ‘why’.

Putting our own mental health and wellbeing ahead of everything else allows us to guide others gently along. It helps us to be confident that help is available even in the toughest times.

My experience has taught me that people who put themselves under unrelenting pressure quickly descend into mood changes; they turn ordinary events into insurmountable obstacles.

When those blinkers appear, all we see is negative stuff. We see only darkness.

We lose touch with the obvious resources — internal and external — which are there to guide us through the darkness to a place of hope again.

That’s how they end up seeing only one way out — suicide. Yet any of us just by being there, help to let the light in.

Many manuals tell us that we need CLEAR skills. Compassion, Listening, Empathy,

Acceptance and being Real with one another.

We can create an environment which helps people make a decision not to take their lives. In the end, the only person who can stop someone from taking their life is the person themselves.

If you have been affected by this story, you can contact Samaritans on 116 123 or email

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