Losing my father to suicide has left me with questions that’ll never be answered but I have never lost hope

By Jennifer Betts

Suicide is not a dirty word, nor is it an unlawful act. It comes at the end of a long struggle, where the heart and mind become impervious to the love that’s around them.

It is a terrifying, lonely, lost feeling of emptiness, where the mind convinces the weary traveller, that this must end.  I understand this crossroads but nothing prepares you for being on the other side of that spectrum. No amount
of experience or knowledge makes it any less harsh and as familiar as the situation was to me, it
granted me little or no comfort, when I lost my best friend.

Taking one’s life is not selfish, nor is it courageous, but it is also the hardest decision you will
ever make in your life. It resists reason and logic.

I know this, because I’ve been there and while everyone’s struggle is extremely personal, I’m sure those will agree that that little voice in your head; the troll, the demon, whatever name you give it, is hard to quieten. But
even though I know all this, I’m glad I never succeeded.

My Da was one in a million. I know everyone says that about their father, but I’ve never been so loved and adored in my life. We never called him anything but Da, or Bettsy, the nickname he was widely known for.

He was a proud, Pearse Street man, but there was no such idea of dealing with mental health when he was young and he quickly adopted a method of dealing with hardships by using his fists. It was a cutthroat world in his prime and you had to think on your feet.

Despite this trait, my Da was the biggest softie. Having three daughters did nothing to honour his hardman façade and my sisters and I, completely ruined him – in the best possible way.


He had this tremendous personality that made you want to be in his company and made a lasting impression on everyone he met.

He had a way with him, which invited people in. If he liked you, you knew it. If he loved you, you were the luckiest person alive.

He was fiercely protective of everyone in his life, he listened with an open mind and if he could help, he
always would.

He was super cool too. I remember one Stephen’s Day when we took him to the coolest bar in Dublin, Bruxelles. A young girl begged him to dance with her and of course, he obliged.  That’s the way he was, incredible fun.

My Da was a father to more people than his five children though. He proudly served as Lord Mayor
of Ringsend and Irishtown for two years, fundraised for Pieta House and had the biggest
personality.  Most sufferers do.

He volunteered for the Ringsend and Irishtown Community Centre Summer Project for over 20 years and the kids thought he was such a teddy bear.

He was funny too.  He created the ‘Bettsy cha cha cha’ dance for bus journeys to the likes of Clara Lara and he’d blast the music out. It was enough to burst your eardrums.

One of the children told me recently, the bus was too damn quiet.

I would often joke with him that when he ‘croked’ we’d name the project after him. Seems futile now.

We talked a lot about his passing. I would even joke that each year I would buy him a voucher for Nichols funeral home, so by the time he passed, it would be paid for.

I even joked that his face ‘would make for a great coffin photo.’

Jennifer and Brian Betts in his mayoral chain

He had that kind of sense of humour and we had that kind of bond. I had to joke, it was the only way I could ever comprehend having to lose him one day.

And maybe the reason I’ve been single so long is, that my Da was the love of my life.

I don’t see how my Da died as an act of weakness or selfishness.

He was in terrible mental anguish and I’m trying not to let every detail of what I could’ve done take over my life.

But It doesn’t stop me from wanting to scream abuse at the sky, or become dehydrated from endless tears.

I constantly told my Da that I loved him, like we should tell the people in our lives every day, because I loved him every day.

No one is perfect on this earth but to me, he was.

I remember him bringing us to Funderland, to the beach and even into the Hammond Lane
where he worked.  It would later become the community centre which became the job he
was most proud of.

I did everything with my Da: shopping, socialising, holidays – oh the holidays! Who can say
that they’ve been to Benidorm with their Dad five times and loved every second?

We talked you see, all the time we talked. He got me and with all my mental health struggles, I needed
that. I needed to feel accepted growing up and he provided that.

He was and will always be my hero and love is not a strong enough word to describe how I feel about him. I will love my Da until there are no stars left in the sky and until Ireland wins the World Cup.

He treated me like a princess, then a queen and it was no surprise to my siblings that I was his

We simply loved each other’s company. We talked three times a day at least. He eventually hid his phone in the kitchen press (he didn’t know how to put it on silent) when I’d venture off out with my friends because he knew the inevitable 4 am ‘I love you’ call was coming.

He was a beautiful man and didn’t look his 71 years of age. He had hair that David Tennant
would be jealous of.

He loved wearing suits and when we cleared out his home, we found about 50 neck ties.

But he’s gone now. My rock, my friend, my Daddy is no more. Of course I’ll always have vivid, loving memories, but the piece of my heart he took? I’ll never get that back.

When someone dies, it’s hard but when someone chooses to leave, it’s a different kind of grief. I’ve been through and will continue to feel moments of anger, abandonment, sadness, dread and indescribable pain. Sometimes I feel my heart will literally shatter.

I often wonder how I’m still here, how many times can my heart actually break without failing me completely? But I have to carry on.

Brian Betts with daughter Jennifer Betts enjoying father-daughter time.

There is the fear that I will fall apart but suicide is not an option for me, as I can’t undo or unlearn the work I put into myself. Plus, I simply refuse to.

I don’t think of myself as a strong person when I’m at my lowest, but I’m still here. I still get up, shower, go to work, walk the dog and that’s enough for now.

When they found my Da, it was the worst day of my life but I’ve more years to come, more of life to come, more memories to make.

Maybe I haven’t had the worst day of my life yet but maybe I haven’t had my best either.

The truth is, I finally got to a place where I don’t need acceptance anymore. I still live with anxiety and depression every day but I balance it out. The key for me was always balance.

Sure, I might say fuck it some days, but I make up for it the next. Those little things we do?

That’s true bravery, that’s strength. The little things can be your Everest, don’t discount them. And don’t be hard on yourself. Do applaud yourself for that short walk you took, the meal you prepared, the anxiety attack you went through and came out breathing.

It doesn’t matter who cares, as long as you care about yourself.

I have a million questions for my Da. Answers I will never get, questions I’m trying not to torture myself with but that’s normal. I wouldn’t consider myself religious, but my beliefs tell me I’ll meet him again.

My faith also tells me that we are here to learn and what we don’t learn here in this life, will follow us to the next.

Karma is not a punishment, it’s a tool that presents itself time and again, until we get the point.

My thirst for knowledge will not end with my father, nor will the love and respect I have for myself. I won’t let my father’s death be in vain, there is help out there, I promise you.

Jennifer and her father Brian Betts enjoying a trip together

A kind friend said to me after his passing, that ‘I know you’ll turn this pain into something beautiful and creative.’ That really touched me and this is my attempt.

Depression and anxiety are prevalent in this world today. I have suffered all my life and thankfully have found a way to live with it. But grief is wholly different.

There is the common misconception that when you have a ‘reason’ to feel the way you do, it’s acceptable and
derives more sympathy.

‘Oh that poor girl lost her father.’ Believe me, it still hurts like hell when you’re crying for ‘nothing.’ The truth and it’s a very important truth, is that there is always a reason for sufferers feeling the way we do. And it doesn’t have to be enormous.

If a little thing is getting you down, that’s ok, there’s no room for guilt. But getting an understanding of the illness makes all the difference, trust me, it’s the biggest step.

Don’t give up, please don’t ever give up. I am a one hundred per cent a success story and if I can do it, you can too. There are amazing people in this country highlighting mental health but there’s more work to do. Let’s start with talking.

If you would like to help donate towards Aware, Pieta House and the Samaritans, in memory to my Da log onto the Go Fund Me page here to help this vital charity help others find hope and a way forward.

If you are affected by any of the issues in this article please note the following numbers.
Pieta House 1800 247 247, AWARE 1800 80 48 48, Samaritans 116 123. These people are
compassionate, non judgemental and are here to help.

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