herald

Thursday 24 July 2014

The Clarkes did the best they could but the truth was always going to come out

BECAUSE chef Derry and his wife Sallyanne know media and frequently appear in media, this will eat a hole on them.

It shouldn't.

The couple did their best in an impossible situation. Most people don't find themselves making public relations decisions when their son is in a coma, having apparently attempted suicide.

One of the downsides of fame is that the most agonising moments of private life become public. Just before Christmas, Derry and Sallyanne were in magazines, talking about how they manage Christmas dinner, the stories accompanied by lovely pictures of them at home.

It was inevitable that the sudden death of their 16-year-old, unlike the sudden death of any other 16-year- old in the country, would be news.

In that situation, someone like me, who advises businesses and families when crisis hits, would normally get blunt.







Rumours

Even if it seemed harsh, the Clarkes would have been told "Tell the truth. It's always the best way. And, in this case, it's going to come out at the inquest anyway, so put out a simple honest statement."

However Derry and Sallyanne Clarke had to make decisions before Andrew died, when they still had hope that he might survive, and concerned for his future.

They didn't want him stigmatised by public awareness of a suicide attempt, so they allowed the rumours of a car falling on him to become perceived fact.

They hung their hopes around his heartbeat, desperate to believe he'd survive, equally desperate to protect him when he did. Just how much he would have been stigmatised, had he lived, is not for debate at this time.

What is clear, right now, is that Derry and Sallyanne Clarke, in common with many well-known couples, knew there would be much more interest in Andrew than in a less well-known teenager, and they tried to control it.

It worked, up to a point. Although the need they saw for concealment of the real cause of his death disappeared once Andrew died, allowing the concealment to continue permitted a funeral at which the personality of the young man came through, unchanged, as it would have been, by public knowledge of the real manner of his death.

They must have been relieved and hopeful. But, because they move in media circles, they must also have been filled with dread.

Ireland is too small for such secrets. Some people had heard a different explanation and so were puzzled by what they read in newspapers.

Most of the people who knew the truth said nothing.

But a few talked, and so, before the weekend, Sallyanne had to confirm that Andrew had died by his own hand, and the end result was a public revision of the story, inevitably delivering extra distress to all of the Clarke family.







Inquest

Two points are worth putting on the record, here. The first is that, for the Clarkes, it's now out and done.

They don't have to wait, clenched in fear, for what would emerge at the inquest.

The second and more widely important point is that the Clarkes should not have had to be concerned about post-mortem stigma attaching to their son. Young people who take such action choose to go out of life alone.

Their death doesn't reflect on their family.

And, while we struggle to understand and prevent suicide, we should never stigmatise the individual involved.

Nor should the death of an individual become a case study of suicide.

Andrew Clarke was a son and a brother first -- and that's how he should be remembered.

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