My song today is ‘Endless Sleep’. This song is a teenage tragedy pop song that was written and originally recorded by rockabilly singer Jody Reynolds in 1957. This song created a trend of "teen tragedy" songs after its release. In Britain, the song was covered by Marty Wilde, whose version reached Number 4 on the ‘UK Singles Chart’, becoming his first chart hit. I first became acquainted with the song after hearing Marty Wild’s version of it.
I recall several teenage tragedy songs during the late 1950s and early 1960s that were spawned after this song was released. Unfortunately, teenage tragedy has continued apace ever since and shows little sign of ever abating. I strongly suspect that we shall see a surge around the world again in the future after the current pandemic virus is brought under control.
The deliberate ending of life in western societies (suicide) and other countries are far too high. Statistics show that youth suicide attempts are more common among girls, but adolescent males are the ones who usually carry out suicide. 2017 national statistics show that 75% of all suicides were committed by males and from these figures young men made up the largest category of suicides. Suicide rates in youths have nearly tripled between the 1960s and 1980s. For example, in Australia suicide is second only to motor vehicle accidents as its leading cause of death for people aged 15–25, and according to the ‘National Institute for Mental Health’, suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens in the United States.
There are many reasons which may lead a young person to seek to end their own life, and my heart goes out to every parent whose life has been shattered by such a loss. No parent ever expects to die after their child; such was never meant to be the way.
When I was a Probation Officer in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire between 1970-95, I will always remember one mother from the Batley/Heckmondwike area. Her only son was an 18-year-old who was obsessed with fast cars but who could never afford to possess one., One Christmas Eve, he stole a high-powered vehicle and took it on a ‘joy ride’. The police spotted him in the stolen car and gave chase, and as the stolen car was driven towards the traffic lights at an excessive speed, the lights changed to red in the distance. Sensing that they now had the car thief cornered, the pursuant police car increased its speed to catch up as the stolen car slowed down. The traffic lights ahead crossed the Leeds Huddersfield Road, which was notorious for fast traffic. At the very last moment, the 18-year-old driver of the stolen car, put his foot on the accelerator pedal and crossed the red lights as a stream of speeding traffic came across him. He collided with another vehicle at high speed and was instantly killed.
Just before Christmas day, the mother of the dead boy was contacted by the police, and as she opened her door and saw the two police constables who had come to inform her that her son was dead, her face was filled with shock realisation as opposed to tears. It would seem that a few hours earlier she went to her son’s bedroom and instead of finding him there, she found the room empty. On his side table by his bed was a note he had written. The note said everything she feared without saying anything specific. It was along the lines “I have to go, Mum. I won’t be back. Luv you.”
During later months, I had some statutory contact with the deceased boy’s mother. She told me that her deceased son had been depressed for many months prior to his death for reasons his mother did not know, but he had never threatened to take his own life. The bottom line was that the bereaved mother’s hurt and inability to bring some closure to the death of her son was adversely affected more by the ‘possible intention’ of her son and the unsettledness of his mind that last time he left home than his fatal car collision. It was as though she could accept her son being dead, had he died as the result of a horrific car-crash accident on Christmas Eve, but she could not bring closure to her bereaved state of being if she believed he had deliberately ended his own life. She never knew or would know if his death had been the result of a ghastly accident or by suicidal intent? This interminable doubt in her mind was created by the note he left behind in his bedroom that Christmas Eve.
I know from experiences too close to home, the traumatic effect that the suicide of a family member has on the loved ones left to grieve their loss. It is hard to emotionally come to terms with the decision of a loved one (especially one’s child) to end their own life. I fear that during the years ahead, as the dust from this current pandemic virus cloud clears and starts to settle, this country and many more nations will come to see the tragic consequences of the accumulative deterioration caused in the nation’s mental health problems because of the recent, current, and future consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic virus and the severe restrictions on our freedom and lives the virus imposed from March 2020 onwards. My greatest fear is that we will see a significant rise in suicide cases, especially among the young.
I dearly hope and pray that I am wrong in this fear, and I urge parents of adolescents to establish good communication channels with their loved ones, even when they provide their typical teenage responses of “leave me alone- I’m alright as I am- get off my back!’” The very best of all communications that we all need (whether acknowledged or not) is to be told “I love you”, especially when those precious words come from the mouths of mum and dad.
Love and peace