By Elizabeth Doherty
JOANNE Fetherston is the epitome of a strong woman. She lost her partner Andy Morgan to suicide in 2010 and rebuilt her life without him, making the ultimate tribute to the dad by forming a group in his name to help those suffering depression and the families and loved ones dealing with suicide.
Joanne, the founder of the Andy Morgan Foundation – said she’s sure “Andy is proud,” at what she does everyday to help those suffering – while assisting in building mental health awareness and suicide prevention in a fight to stop the loss of loved ones that is all too common in Ireland today.
“Sometimes when I’m at these vigils for suicide I don’t think of myself and losing Andy,” Joanne said.
“I am looking at the people round me and I kind of forget about my loss until I am home at night and have time to think then and be sad, only after..they come first – so, helping others helps heal yourself, together you heal and together you’re strong.”
Joanne, 44, from Santry, Dublin, last saw her beloved Andy at a New Year’s Eve party in 2010. He left the pub where they were in Dublin and took his life shortly after.
Tragically he left Joanne and their three much-loved children behind and the mother was left with no answers. She said there had been little signs of depression before Andy died. He had been a fun-loving man and no one could have suspected this would happen.
“We tried to change it round for World Suicide Prevention Day this time round,” Joanne said. The day took place on Saturday after a full week of events – but one day to mark the deaths across Ireland is not enough, she feels.
“We had been holding vigils the last couple of years. People would come, choirs would sing and poems would be read, speeches would be given.
“Local TDs would come and the event would be very successful.
“But we were in talks a couple of weeks ago and it made me think. Last year there was a lady in the crowd. She was holding 10 yellow balloons and I gave her a hug but she was trembling with fear.
“She nearly fell to the ground, it was heartbreaking – and I was worried that time – did she go home? And was someone there to hold her? Or did she cry ’til the early hours of the morning.
“It was like the grief was too much to her. I asked myself are we encouraging people in grief? I felt instead we should be giving people hope to carry on.”
This World Suicide Prevention day the group instead took to Facebook at 9am and asked people to send in names and photos, with memories of their loved ones.
Joanne decided she didn’t want to be part of taking “people to such a deep place of grief.”
“We asked for a happy memory. We wanted to celebrate lives. You see, people who’ve lost someone can be grand one moment and sing a song but then that song could put them down when they thought they were getting stronger,
“I think Andy would be proud of what we do, especially now we are doing lot of work with children.”
The group recently introduced ‘Buddy benches’ in to a number of schools across the city – to help children who feel isolated, so their work has extended greatly beyond suicide and depression.
Their aim is to start making the world a better place for children in the hope this good feeling can carry on through their lives.
“If a child is alone and sitting on the Buddy bench, the other children know they need a friend so they go down to sit on the bench with the child.
“We hear of children who just stand sometimes near the bench in the hope someone will sit down so they can make an excuse of going over to them, which is lovely and not something we expected. It shows how kind humanity can be if we just try.”
The children are taught at a light-hearted meeting with performers just what the bench means and that is how they know how to use the system.
“We were raising awareness for suicide only at first,” Joanne said.
“It was a deep, dark place but we hope with what we are doing now it’s really got as positive an emphasis as possible.
“Start with the children from a young age and see can we change things. I think and hope Andy would be super proud of me.”