Saturday, 27 January 2018

For Whom the Bell Tolls





On Tuesday this week, the death was announced of Richard Woollacott. He was forty years old.

The Racing world went into shock. The last time most people who love racing had seen him was in the euphoric post-race interview after his game, bonny horse Beer Goggles had beaten all the big boys at Newbury. Nobody really saw Beer Goggles coming. He had come up through the handicapping ranks and he was sent off at 40-1. Beer Goggles did not know he was the outsider in a strong field. All he knew was that he felt powerful and confident and full of beans and he was damn well not going to be beaten. He stuck his head out all the way to the line. And his trainer, who had brought him so far, beamed his giddy, infectious smile out of a million television sets.
               
And now that smile would never been seen again.
                
The internet had one of its rare moments of good behaviour. The grieving family had asked for privacy, and the massed ranks of social media gave them privacy. There was no speculation. Instead, the tributes poured in, from people who had known him for years, since his pointing days, to people who had only watched him on the telly. ‘I will remember him for always having a big smile on his face,’ said Richard Johnson, the champion jockey who had ridden Beer Goggles to glory.
                
Then, Richard Woollacott’s wife Kayley put out a statement of heartbreaking elegance. Mental illness had got him. She said, with a generosity and grace that left me in awe, that it was too late for her beloved husband but it was not too late for others. Three days after she lost the father of her children, she was raising awareness about suicide, about the brutal ruthlessness of mental illness, and starting a fund in Richard Woollacott’s memory. Not only that, but she wrote of him with such lyricism and love, talking of all his talents, of all his shining lights, but not ignoring the darkness that took him in the end. It takes a very rare human to be able to do that.
                
Any death is a shock. In fact, it’s shocking how shocking death is, when it is the one fact of life that all humans know. But there is something peculiarly shocking about a suicide. From the outside, it can be hard to understand. I went to funeral of a cousin who killed himself and I remember the stretched, pale faces of incomprehension. Why did this happen? How did this happen? What could we have, should we have done? I remember searing guilt mingling with the grief. If I had only rung him one more time, got him round, really sat down and talked.
                
I think when people are that far into the dark, no light can penetrate. That’s what is so terrifying about mental illness. It is indiscriminating and it is relentless and it does not give a damn for the human heart. It is a wrecker, and it will smash anything in its way. It seems almost impossible that the brilliant, smiling man who had triumphed on that happy day at Newbury now no longer exists. And what he did was indeed brilliant. Beer Goggles did not start out as a star. Richard Woollacott turned him into one. He did that. He built that horse up and gave him strength and confidence and kept him sweet and kept him right so that by the time Beer Goggles faced his biggest test, he knew he could fly. Will he wonder, as he goes out today at Cheltenham in front of a crowd united in grief, where that human is, the one who made him believe in himself?
                
The crowd will be united. It will come together because racing does come together in times like this, as if it were a big family. Everybody knows each other and everybody sees each other every week, come rain come shine, come triumph come tragedy. Everybody knows how glorious it is and how tough it is. Everybody gets up at five in the morning and everybody cannot sleep until they’ve done one last yard check to make sure those equine athletes are dozing peacefully in their boxes.
                
The crowd, and the people watching at home, will unite to mourn a very special man, by all accounts generous and kind, a horseman and a gentleman. Everybody loved him. But they will also unite because the shadow of this illness has passed over almost everyone. It’s a brother or a mother, a friend of a friend, crazy old Uncle Bernie whom everyone laughed at until the laughter abruptly stopped. Mental illness thrives in the shadows. It feeds off shame. It is mystifying and people are often afraid to speak of it. What, after all, do you say? The incredible Woollacott family have taken the darkness and shone some light into it. They have asked that this race day be not only about their own wrenching loss, but about everyone who is struggling against this most pernicious of foes. That is an act of courage for which I have no words.
                
John Donne had the words. He wrote, many, many years ago:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.


Nobody needs to ask today for whom the bells toll. They toll for everyone. But should the bright, bonny Beer Goggles roar up that Cheltenham hill and shrug off his challengers and race to the line, the bells will ring out in heartfelt, bittersweet glory and gladness. 

18 comments:

  1. Mental health knows no bounds and for this January it has been particularly fierce. For 3 weeks I have been fighting against the dark grey sucking cloud that leaves you devoid of hope, happiness or a future...it literally sucks your very being out of you. So Richard sought the only way out he could think of. For the family left behind please don't blame yourselves or think what else could I have done. Just know he did love you with all his heart....its just that he did not love himself enough. Hopefully mine is now moving off, I feel alive again and begining to Love myself again....but I know all to well it could be back and it could visit anyone at any time..... time to talk xxx

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    Replies
    1. Jan, please take care of yourself. As much as we are strangers to each other, your comment moved me. We lost someone to suicide two months ago, and it still feels like the world is never going to be the same (and I believe it will never be). I wish he knew how much his family loved him and how everyone just wanted to be there for him if he had just sent one message, or just said the word "help". Now, I just want anyone that feels like he was to know that there is always at least one person that loves you so much, and that there will always be a hand somewhere willing to lift you up. I hope you find the strength to overcome your pain and I am sending you a lot of love xxxx

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  2. Depression is hard, sometimes too hard, to live with. I hope that eventually (soon!) there will be medical breakthroughs that will help. So little is actually known about the brain and its workings. There is so much to learn.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've just read this again, now there is nobody sitting next to me to laugh at me crying. That somebody who went completely off the rails, was sectioned, escaped, lived on the streets. Apparently depression and suicide are "common" among young Irish men. He was young then. What can we do? Our story is a happy one. He can sit next to me and watch the racing and laugh at me if I cry. Thank you, whoever sorted that out for us.

    ReplyDelete
  4. شركة امست للتنظيف افضل شركة لتنظيف المنازل والشقق والفللوالبيوت والمجالس والكنب والمفروشات والخزانات بالقطيف والمنطقة الشرقية لديها عمالة مدربة وخصومات هائلة طما توفر خدمات مكافحة الحشرات ورش المبيدات بالقطيف باسعار رخيصة ومناسبة وخصومات هائلة

    شركة امست للتنظيف
    امست للنظافة القطيف
    شركة امست لمكافحة الحشرات
    شركة امست لرش المبيدات

    ReplyDelete
  5. افضل شركة تنظيف بالقطيف تقدم خدمات نظافة متكاملة علي اعلي مستوي بدقة وجودة ومواصفات قياسية واسعار تنافسية فتعد الشركة الاولي بالقطيف لتقديم خدماتالتنظيف بجودة وسعر مثالييينفهي خير مثال لراغبي الحصول علي نظافة شاملة مع التعقيم وباسعار مناسبة

    شركة تنظيف بالقطيف
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    ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


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    ReplyDelete
  6. هل تعانون من الحشرات وكثرتها واضرارها البالغة نقدم لكم افضل شركة لابادة جميع انواع الحشرات بالضمان وهي شركة المثالية لمكافحة الحشرات حيث تقدم اليوم افضل العروض والخدمات بارخص الاسعار بخصم 50% لفترة محدودة

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    ReplyDelete
  7. شركة المثالية للتنظيف افضل شركة تنظيف بالمنطقة الشرقية تخصصت في تقديم كافة الاعمال المنزية من نظافة ومكافحة حشرات بالمنطقة فلديها افضل الخدماتبافضل جودة واوبارخص الاسعار التي لا تتوفر الا معها كافضل وارخص شركة تنظيف بالاضافة الي خدمتا مكافحة الحشرات ورش المبيدات الامنة والفعالة علي الحشرات بجميع انواعها .. تقدم لكم اليوم افضل العروض والخدمات بخصومات هائلة يمكنكم الحصول عليها من خلال الروابط التالية

    شركة المثالية للتنظيف
    شركة المثالية للنظافة
    شركة المثالية للتنظيف بالدمام
    شركة المثالية للتنظيف بالخبر
    شركة المثالية للتنظيف بالقطيف

    ReplyDelete
  8. ahhh, I feel really lonely like right now..... wish something are here with me

    ReplyDelete
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