Life is precious…

I did some real social work the other day.

It has been a rarity of late- mostly I just go to meetings. But on this day I was the duty mental health officer for Argyll, and was called into the Psychiatric Hospital to interview someone in order to decide whether to grant consent for their detention in hospital under our Mental Health Act.

For obvious reasons I will reveal no details, but suffice it to say that the person I then spent the next few hours speaking to and about was living in the shadow of a terrible bereavement and had decided to take their own life. In many ways these kinds of conversations are run of the mill to me- I have been having them for 20 years. But each and every one of them is real in a way that most other conversations are not.

Despite this person’s lack of initial success in bringing about their death, they were in no way convinced that life was worth giving another try. In fact they were determined to leave the ward at the first opportunity, and to go on hunger strike until then.

My role in this process is a legal one- in that I have all sorts of legal obligations and duties- but it is also a very human one. And in many of these conversations I have found myself praying as I searched for ways of connecting- ways of opening up some kind of bridge over which we can travel together.

And in the mess of it all, in the shabby soon-to-be-demolished psychiatric ward, there can be these transcendent moments.

I can not easily describe how or why they happen, unless I use these words-

Grace will fall

On these broken places

Strength may fail

But weakness

May become our beginning

Hope may have been crucified

But the story is not yet over

The tomb now lies empty

But none of these words can be spoken.

It would be unprofessional. It would be patronising and would lack respect. The words would also not be believed.

But there was a moment when the person challenged me to give a reason why their decision to die was not a valid one- why this choice was one that people like me would use the force of law to declare invalid.

I could of talked about the nature of mental illness, and how depression steals our joy, then our energy, then our colour, then our light, then our reason, and finally all of our hope- but how also these things are temporary, and may yet return.

I could have discussed too the effect that such a choice has on those we leave behind. The generation who are condemned to years of guilt and pain in the wake of such an aggressive, final act.

Or I could have discussed my qualifications, legal obligations and the nature of mental health law (which I did a little- it is part of what I am obliged to do.)

But after the question was asked of me, I was silent for a while. And we stared at one another.

And into the silence I heard myself saying

Because life is just so precious.

And because you too are precious.

And for a while the air crackled with the Spirit.

I hope this time in a broken old hospital ward is a turning point, and a little more light is let in. We may never meet again.

Two young girls jump to their deaths…

erskine bridge

Along the Clyde from where we live is a bridge over the river, connecting Paisley to Erskine, and therefore known as the Erskine bridge.

It is notorious as a spot where people go to commit suicide.

So much so that there are four telephone boxes on the bridge with information about the Samaritans helpline service.

And yesterday, two young girls, aged 14 and 15, left the residential educational unit they lived in, stood on the parapet, held hands, and jumped off together.

Soon the fingers of blame will be pointed. Something surely should have been done to avoid this terrible waste of life?

But for now, the shock will be on families, friends and care workers.

My heart goes out to them all.

Choose life…

choose life

Today I attended the annual Choose Life conference at Stonefield Castle.

Choose life is an organisation working to reduce the numbers of people who die through suicide in Scotland. In 2004, 803 people died through suicide in Scotland.

My mind was constantly filled with memories of my friend Neil who died in 2007. The tragedy of the end of his life and the grief and pain and loss his passing left behind has been one of the most significant events of my adult life. Sheila- may life continue to grow anew for you and the kids, and may you know that you are loved…

The conference today was creative and engaging- dance, film, poetry and discussion.

And I wrote this- changing a poem I had written already…


Find for me a dark place

For at the moment, I can bear no light

Find for me a silent place

Because your words lie empty

And hollow moments echo

With their passing

Find for me a place to be

So that I may drag out the distant memory

The possibility

Of me

Support for people bereaved by suicide…

choose life

My wife Michaela is conducting a piece of research for Choose Life Argyll and Bute, in partnership with Argyll and Bute Volunteer Centre, and is looking for support and information.

Over the years of delivering suicide intervention skills courses, Choose Life have become increasingly aware of the lack of resources to support people after a suicide in Argyll and Bute. They are seeking to find out more about what resources would be useful for those surviving suicide and those bereaved by suicide, alongside those professional services providing support to those at risk of suicide. The  hope is that this will lead to actual resources available across the area.

She would like to speak to people in Argyll and Bute about what has helped them after being affected by suicide, and what services they would like to see being developed in the area for themselves or others.

However she would also like to hear from others across Scotland about what services and support are available in your area for people who have experienced risk of suicide, or bereavement by suicide, including both family and staff. If there are currently groups, helplines or activities that you know of that help people in your area, it would be good to hear about it, as an idea that could be used in Argyll and Bute.

Please contact michaela on 01369 700100, or email . Also, if you know someone who has an experience that you think they would want to share that would help this project, please invite them to get in touch.

Life is precious…


I have not posted any poetry recently.

This is partly because I have not written any recently- these things tend to come in batches. I have also been busy writing some other stuff.

I thought it time to post an old poem though…

For my day job, I work with people who have mental health problems. In one of the towns where I manage staff, there have been a spate of suicides recently. This time of year, when the days are short and stormy, and the nights are dark and cold- it can be fatal for those of us for whom life already is hard.

Each and every time this happens, the impact on the whole community is dreadful.

Because life is precious.

I have posted something earlier about Choose life , and breathing space. Suicide rates in Scotland are just too high.

A few years ago, we lost someone I knew well- another victim of a life caught up in alcohol use. I watched him slowly washed away- work, family, home, cognition- all that he had been- and each and every role dissolved, until all that was left was his fragile humanity.

And this was beautiful. He would have given away his last penny. He would have shared his last sip and last drag of rolling tobacco.

And one day, we broke down his door because he had not been seen for a while. And what was left of him had become part of the bed he died in.

I was one of the few mourners at his funeral, and wrote this poem;

Brothers and sisters, life is short
A magical, miracle thing
That marches by- at first all shiny buttons
Then ragged worn, battle done.

So, in drab but polished municipality
I watch as a man is laid to rest
As his empty husk is processed- be it kindly
And hear a minister talk of faith and love
And speak some tender words to family
Who gather to say goodbye to a man they hardly knew

And I am grateful
Thankful that in this weary way
We humans still value dignity in death

For life is precious
Light flickers, then goes dark

Neville lived and now is gone
And father, lover, brother, son
Soldier, husband, drinking man-
Will be seen no more.

And as the blue velour curtains close
I think of the man entering eternity
Leaving few ripples, no disturbance
Needing no fanfare to his passing
Just sadness for a gentle soul
Time gone, now in everlasting

© Chris Goan

On Neville’s funeral 22.9.04