Last weekend, Pieta House’s Darkness into Light walks were held all over the world. I remembered Joe Parlon (RIP). It was poignant; knowing somebody well who had recently died by suicide. People in farming circles will have known Joe as a family man, a prominent dairy farmer, a community man, an IFA man and a GAA man.
Death by suicide leaves a family bewildered and a community unsettled. Friends and relations struggle to understand. It is important that we speak openly about it in the hope that people will believe they are loved - even if they themselves have lost sight of it.
The family of the late Joe Parlon (RIP) dealt with Joe’s death with gentleness and compassion. They had journeyed with Joe throughout his illness. Joe fell ill in 2006 and recovered. Life went on and he was IFA County Chairman of Offaly from 2010 – 2014. He worked hard for farmers. His depression returned in 2016. He shared his distress willingly; describing himself as a mental and physical wreck. He felt continually anxious as he sunk into a black hole; unable to sleep, eat, or work.
Joe recovered again. He immediately started giving back support to other farmers. He gave talks and encouraged farmers to talk to each other and seek support. Joe wanted to be well, farming and active. He also wished for the stigma around mental health to be removed. The supports for mental illnesses, like depression, should be on par with physical illnesses. I know there were occasions when Joe, his wife Mary, his sons and siblings struggled to find appropriate services at the right time for Joe. People who need urgent care need it immediately.
The rural Irish funeral is a sacred ritual of handshakes, tight hugs and eloquent words about the person who has died. It is also very much about support for the loved ones left behind. Once the news spread of Joe’s death, cars started to pull into the yard to get the farm jobs done. Mary’s family, the Cody’s, and Joe’s neighbours and friends were unselfishly on hand. Joe’s brother Tom told us this in an emotionally-charged address at the funeral mass.
The arms of the community began to wrap tightly around the Parlon family. Gardaí and emergency services did their jobs. Food began to arrive; bottles were dropped silently in corners without any acknowledgement necessary. People called, sent texts and left beautiful messages on RIP.ie. Fr Kieran Blake (parish priest of Coolderry/Kilcolman and long-time friend to Joe and Mary) was stalwart in his support for Joe - always. He made the ceremonies very special.
There is something beyond generosity that is a mixture of hope and love. It came to the Parlons in many forms. A meitheal gathered in the graveyard to dig the grave. Another one, even bigger, to feed the people who came to offer their sympathy in the local Coolderry community hall. Despite Joe’s determination and willingness to engage in any programme that might help him to return to his bubbly, enthusiastic, humorous self, he died by suicide on the 1st March 2023, aged 61. Too young and too soon.
Cows to be milked
On Sunday morning, the day after Joe’s funeral, I pulled myself up onto the side of the bed and looked out the window. My favourite view greeted me; the cows in the paddock around the house. One by one, the cows got up to graze. I thought of the cows on the Parlon farm in the Leap, Roscrea. Despite human tragedy, life goes on and the cows have to be milked. I imagined the young dairy farmer, Joe and Mary’s son, Eoghan, facing into his work routine without his lovely Dad, Joe as his friend, mentor and supporter.
Likewise, Joe’s other two sons, Darragh and Declan, will return to their working lives. I thought of Mary Parlon - her strength, her dignity, her faith and her acceptance of what had happened. Her acknowledgement of so many good memories and fun times in their 35 years together. The tears flowed down my face unchecked for one of the strongest and kindest women I know. The day after Joe died, Mary went to the calf shed to feed the calves. She needed normality. She heard the sound of a young fellas ‘souped up’ car arrive into the yard. Her heart burst with pride to see her five nephews aged 17-25 tumble out saying, “We’re here for you, Mary.” All of them had learned and worked with Joe.
Mary and Joe met in Macra, just like myself and Tim. She, 19 and he, 23 - from opposite ends of the parish. Four years later they married. Mary loved Joe fiercely and left no stone unturned to help him. Mary is due a lot of rest and cuddles from her darling grandson, Páidi, to sooth her in the days to come.
If you or someone you love has been affected by depression, thoughts of suicide, or other mental illness, know that you are not alone and help is available to you. Confide in someone you trust and/or contact Samaritans Ireland (24 hour help line; 116 123) or Pieta House (pieta.ie).