It has been a tough year for Monica Fee and her family as they have battled with their grief over the untimely death of their beloved brother Kieran Harkin. Tragically, aged just 52, Kieran took his own life last August after struggling to overcome a bout of depression.
But this year Monica, who runs a hair salon in Drumahoe, has decided to try and turn some “negatives into positives” and on April 28 is set to embark on a two-week cycle literally covering the length and breadth of Ireland. Riding her racing bike nicknamed “the Dangler” Monica will be facing her fears and setting up new hopes and wishes as she embarks on her journey. “The Dangler” is so called because it represents Monica’s “hanging in there” despite tough times.
Starting in Belfast before travelling from Mizen Head to Malin Head, Monica and the other riders will attempt to cover more than 1400km on their bikes.
And after scrapping a hand-written diary which she found “just too depressing” Monica has found another outlet for her grief via her Facebook page where she blogs daily about the trials and tribulations of learning to ride a bike, since unbelieveably the hairdresser has never really been on one.
“I think that there was one knocking about the farm when I was wee,” she laughed. “There were 16 of us so one of us must have had a bike sometime but I’ve never really been on one, no.
“I’m doing the bike ride with a charity called Cycling Against Suicide and have vowed that even if I have to travel with the group on the back of a van, I’ll make it around the country.”
Next month Monica is also hosting an at home fundraiser for mental health charity Aware Defeat Depression; half of the money raised also going to Foyle Search and Rescue.
“I’ll be cooking for around 100 people, so just a quiet night in then,” she joked.
“It’s really just a chance for some of Kieran’s friends to gather and tell stories about him because the last time we were all together was at his wake. I hope this will be an opportunity to share some laughs too.
“Because I want the money raised to stay in Derry I’ve picked these two charities. And it’s also because I wish I had known about Aware Defeat Depression during Kieran’s illness and that I could have gone to them to ask for some help. I knew that he was ill but there were so many times that I just felt helpless and I knew he was sad about things.
“On the one hand we were all really worried about him and I kept saying that he was going to harm himself and on the other hand he seemed to be making plans for the future.
“But that night that we found him I just knew on the way to the house that the news wasn’t going to be good. Kieran had been gone for three days before we found him and it was very traumatic, just devastating for us.
“Thinking about it in a very strange way I’m glad that we found him at home and that he didn’t take his own life by going into the Foyle. I can hardly bear to think of all of the families that have to wait for so long to get their loved ones back and of those who have never gotten them back at all.
“In the last few months people in Derry have had a wake up call because of the amount of people who have taken their own lives in this way. It’s a time bomb and we can’t afford to ignore the problem or continue to allow it to be stigmatised because at the moment people still do feel ashamed and embarassed to say that they are depressed and/ or suicidal. We have to break through this and help people realise that being depressed is nothing to be ashamed of.
“That is something that we have always said about Kieran’s death; there is no feeling of shame and there are no secrets surrounding it. I said that during Kieran’s eulogy and I meant it.
“Kieran was very much loved but for some reason he just couldn’t feel that love. There wasn’t enough room in Ardmore chapel for all the people that loved him but because he felt lonely all the love in the world couldn’t fix that. Something that I found really amazing was that after Kieran was gone I found out that a lot of his friends didn’t know that he was down and that they didn’t see the sad Kieran just like the TV advertisment. I always say that I have what I call my crazy head and my sensible head. My crazy head tells me that I could have done something more or that I should have seen more of what was going on with Kieran but the sensible head tells me that I couldn’t have done anything because he was going to do what he did.
“The blog does help to get some of these feelings out and it helps me find the funny in things again. Like the first time my husband went out with me on my bike and he had bought loads of tight lycra and it was wet and see through. Let’s just say that he had put on a bit of weight and it was very funny cycling behind him; I was in stitches laughing at him.
“My goal is to raise £2,000 and I’m about a quarter of the way there already. If people want to give a donation, they can call in to Monica’s in Drumahoe or they can donate via my page, Monica Fee on my charity.ie which you can also follow from my Facebook page.
“I originally got involved with the charity as a host for the riders and this year they are going to need Derry people to volunteer to put up the cyclists as guests for the night. There will be up to 1,000 people in the town and you have to provide bed and board and some washing facilities. The Cycle Against Suicide website will have all the details. “The motto of Cycling Against Suicide is that it’s ‘ok not to feel okay’ and I hope this helps to get that message out there. Kieran donated to a charity every month. He cared about those less fortunate and would have given those in need the shirt off his back. If I can help one person think twice about ending their life by suicide this cycle will be worth the pain.”
By Helen Sawyer