“Something just took over and carried me through”
These were the words of Kilkenny woman Angela Hayes who this week visited Derry to talk frankly, not just about losing her husband Tommy to suicide, but her son, also called Tommy.
Angela Hayes was in Derry as part of the Youth Fest event organised by the Long Tower Church.
She was joined on the altar by well known Derry footballer Liam Coyle who has just recently spoken about his battle with depression.
“I lost my first husband Tommy to suicide on March 19, 2002,” Angela told the congregation.
“We had four boys aged 4, 7, 9 and 13.
“I don’t know, something just took over and carried me through those days. But my boys were the priority.”
All five of the Hayes family needed counselling however only two of them could avail of it in Kilkenny, the other two boys went to a group called Rainbows.
“I didn’t have counselling but I had a lot of support from family and friends, that was invaluable,” she said.
“I was just so numbed by his death, I did feel angry. My boys have struggled in their lives without their dad so that anger was an natural thing.
When my Dad told me Thomas had taken his own life I felt like my heart had been ripped out of meAngela Hayes
“I got a great piece of advice when someone told me to go to church to talk to Tommy and tell him that I wouldn’t hold what he had done against him.”
However following his father’s death Angela revealed how her eldest son Stephen began to lose interest in school and began hanging round with a new crowd.
“Maybe he couldn’t cope with his old friends,” said Angela, “those that still had their dad in their lives.
“Stephen left school and began working on a building site. Stephen had won athletics medals and was a soccer player at school, but when he started working, he had no time for his sport anymore.
“By the age of 16 he had gone down a road of self destruction. He spoke about wanting to be in the grave with his daddy.”
Angela explained how she had to make the difficult decision to ask Stephen to move out of the house.
“I had three other boys to protect,” she said. “It was hard but we all have choices, Stephen had a choice. We kept giving him that choice, if he came off the drugs he could come back home.”
Stephen did come off the drugs and Angela says that now he has a tremendous faith.
However the Hayes family were set to be hit by another tragedy in 2011, following the ninth anniversary Mass of their father’s death.
“The call I got that day was the most horrendous I’ve ever had to face,” said Angela. “When my Dad told me Thomas had taken his own life I felt like my heart had been ripped out of me. There were no signs of anything at all. Thomas had been making loads of plans, he was training to be a chef.
“I found out that Thomas had left a message on his friend’s phone telling him to visit him and come through the garden. He was hoping someone else would find him that day, but it was his brother Robert who found him.
“Now I can only look back and be thankful for the many years Thomas had with the family.”
Angela said there more supports in place for young people now.
“I would tell people, it’s ok not to feel ok, she said. “But face your problems.”
Liam Coyle told the young people that when he was 21, while playing with Derry City, he was crushed by the news that he would never play football again.
“I went on a downward spiral,” he said. “When you are in the middle of it, you don’t think you have depression.
“Everyday was the same. I couldn’t function. I had no energy. I couldn’t get myself out of it.
“One day I drove to Lisfannon Beach and sat there for 3 or 4 hours debating whether the water was too cold. That was my lowest day.
“But my mother’s face kept coming into my head, and I knew that it would have devastated her. My mother was the one who got me sorted out. Her faith, she said, was enough for the two of us. She made me realise that I had to go on.”
Liam says that since he decided to speak out about his depression he has been inundated with messages from people wishing him well and saying how his story has helped them deal with problems in their own lives.