Peer Support

In Ireland this week with my BFF Leonie Fennell.

Leonie and I have a lot in common. If talking were an Olympic sport we would be gold medalists, if having an opinion on everything in the universe was an area of academia we would have PhDs, if drinking too much tea, smoking too many cigarettes and spending too much time on the computer were virtues we would be saints.

We also share the experience of having had a cherished child die from prescription drug induced suicide, and of devoting 90% of our lives to making sure their stories are heard in order to stop others joining our ranks.

On Saturday last week, we ran a conference in Wicklow where we shared with others what we know now that we wish we had known before our children died. The knowledge gained through years of research in the quest to answer the question ‘why.’ Critical information that we believe would have saved our children’s lives had it been provided to them and to us.

Research shows that peer support is the form of support most highly valued by those bereaved by suicide. Peers meet as equals to give each other support on a reciprocal basis.  A peer is a person who is similar in fundamental ways who offers support based on shared experience. A peer is someone who has “been there, done that” and has the T Shirt to prove it. The slogan on ours could read “They killed my child. They ripped my heart out of my body. They trampled on my soul. Then they lied, covered up, defended, blamed and continued to commit the same brutalities against other families.” Of course we would need a dress that resembled a large pink tent to fit all that on so maybe our T Shirts could just bear the slogan “Betrayed.”

This week I have been in my safe place. Those of us who have shared this tragedy are a diverse group but we have some fundamental things in common. We know that surviving is not about closure, recovery or moving on but about having an ongoing relationship with our children in the absence of their physical presence. We know that platitudes like “at least he’s in a better place”, “it was her time to go” and  “at least you have other children/can have another baby” at best make us feel isolated and misunderstood and at worst make us homicidal. We know that the tears shed when we talk about our children are because they are dead, not because someone said their name. We know it would take more than death to strip us of our motherhood and stop us loving our children.

In our circle, when someone says “everything happens for a reason” we are talking about psychiatric labeling and drugging, not God’s plan.

Coming to Ireland has been an amazing opportunity. Working with Leonie has been an honour, a privilege and a joy. Feeling safe and understood has been a rare blessing.

Connecting up families bereaved by suicide via CASPER or facebook or any other means is something everyone who loves and supports a person bereaved by suicide can do when they are not sure how to help someone so whose wounds are as deep as they get.


  1. Ye are both amazing ladies and the work ye do will help save others. I may have made one of those comments so luckily I still have my head! Non-judgmental listening is the best approach.

    I wasn’t trying to take away from the horror and trauma of it all.

    I think of certain other children related to the one lost. I remember a 6 yr old noticing that I was looking at a photo of all 6 siblings and even though she was only 2 when tragedy struck she said “That is my brother that died. We were very close”. And went on to tell me little stories about Shane. She went off to school that day and came back with a smile on her face. And a bar of chocolate hidden behind her back that she had bought with her tooth fairy money. How cute is that. And last weekend herself and her 9 yr old brother wanted me to stay another night on the couch. Such lovely kids they are.

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  2. Maria, Thank You for another wonderful piece.

    “They killed my child. They ripped my heart out of my body. They trampled on my soul. Then they lied, covered up, defended, blamed and continued to commit the same brutalities against other families.”

    These four sentences describe everything we have experienced with our Sara’s Paxil-related suicide and the subsequent inquest into her death that was carefully managed to blame the victims and exonerate the guilty.

    I wish I had been in Ireland with you. One day perhaps.

    Best wishes
    Neil Carlin

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  3. “They killed my child. They ripped my heart out of my body. They trampled on my soul. Then they lied, covered up, defended, blamed and continued to commit the same brutalities against other families.” That perfectly sums up mine and Shane’s experience; you do have a way with words Maria.

    What a privilege it was to have you here in Ireland for two weeks. I have never cried so much in my life, with laughter as well as sadness, and teaching me to play cards was just an added bonus. What a strange bunch we are! You would have loved it Neil and the invitation is an open one.

    As for amobeirne, the kids love you because you are you. What’s not to love?
    It was such a pleasure to have you all in our home and you have made a sad, bewildered frizzy-haired woman a little happier. That’s me Maria in case you think I’m attacking your dodgy fringe!

    Leonie and Tony

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    • Leonie Thanks. We will take you up on that invitation hopefully before too long. It would be wonderful if we all were together for even a brief bit of time.

      And yes, Maria has a way of so eloquently describing the things we all feel.


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  4. Phew Leonie! I thought you were talking about me and my hair 🙂 Got it done for a Capacity Law symposium in Dublin Castle, thinking I would meet our Minister for Justice but sadly could not make it due to my broken hand and the need to change my cast. Thanks for having me and it was great to meet Maria. Ye are both brave and amazing. Ye both do great work and complement each other. Hoping that Maria will be back again soon and she might get to other parts of the country to present her great work.

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