Monday, 23 March 2009

Tragedy

The sad news of Nicholas Hughes' suicide will not receive the coverage devoted to Jade Goody's premature death. I doubt the Prime Minister will express his sorrow at the news. In fact, I doubt he'll even notice. But the son of the late Poet Laureate, brother of the artist, poet and columnist Frieda and - of course - child of Sylvia Plath is in some ways more deserving of our sympathy. The story of his mother's suicide, of her sealing up the children's bedroom before turning on the gas, of her leaving milk and biscuits for when Nicholas and Frieda woke, is sad enough. But the subsequent suicide of Ossia and Shura Wevill, the public vilification of his father by misinformed outsiders, his father's death to cancer and now the suicide of Nicholas Hughes himself raise the story to the level of a Greek Tragedy. Ted Hughes was a giant of 20th century literature. Sylvia Plath, both through her writings and iconic feminist status, became a legend. And yet, in the midst of such powerful human drama was a father trying desperately to shield his son and daughter from the pain; a man subsequently revealed in his letters as a deeply caring individual desperate to lift his children from the mire of tragedy and controversy that engulfed the family.

Nicholas Hughes inherited a deep love of the natural world from his father. He made it his living, working in Alaska and becoming both a successful environmentalist and academic. As his sister has said today, he deserves to be remembered for that. But inevitably there will be speculation. Was the depression he was suffering linked to events earlier in his life?

It's ironic that the news of Nicholas Hughes' death should coincide with Childline revealing figures showing that the number of young people suffering suicidal tendencies has quadrupled. Next Sunday, Young Minds, the charity aimed specifically at supporting young people with mental health issues (and who receive support from the proceeds of my novel Writing Therapy) are broadcasting an appeal on Radio Four. You can find details here. Surely the case for everyone of whatever age receiving support from organisations like this is overwhelming? Mental health provision in this country can be a somewhat hit-and-miss affair, and people cope with life in many different ways. But the great tragedy of most suicides is that delay of merely twenty minutes can be sufficient to make someone change their mind. Shame that seems not to have been the case for Nicholas Hughes.

18 comments:

Ruth Moss said...

Glad to see you blogged about this. Truly tragic. It is Frieda I feel for in all of this; to lose her mother, then her brother, in such similar circumstances.

Mal's Team Gherkin said...

Another tragedy. i know of another family where both parents died before their time (as an indirect result of drink), and two of their kids passed away well before their time. very very sad.

Kevin Musgrove said...

That's bad news indeed.

Thanks for the link to Young Minds.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Yes, good that you blogged about this. What a sad waste of life. Well done for contributing to Young Minds - I've just (finally) ordered a copy of your book. :-)

French Fancy said...

Yes, I was very upset when I read about this yesterday.I've only recently been reading Plath's poems which seem to have bypassed me when I was younger. What a troubled genius she was - no consolation for him.

French Fancy said...

p.s. your blog seems to take ages to load these days

Cassandra said...

I am also glad that you posted about this. I have been thinking about it a lot since the story broke, it is terribly sad and awful that the black dog stalks families through generations.

Cassandra said...

p.s. Thanks for the Young Minds link, I had not heard of this organisation before.

Coffee with Cathy said...

Thank you for saying what I was thinking -- you are so right that Nicholas Hughes' death is not getting near the coverage it should. Maybe you've started the discussion. Found your blog through Kitchen Bitch Ponders -- looking forward to visiting regularly.

A Confused Take That Fan said...

To think I have just wasted half an hour of my life watching Coleen's Real Women when I could have been reading your blog. Yes, thank you for mentioning this. It is tragic. I was a huge Sylvia Plath fan in my late teens - angst ridden years. So much talent and genius in the family. And so much pain.
In one of the reports a friend of Nicholas' from University said this; "I would really like to see him recognized in his own right, not just as the son of two famous people," Wipfli said. "In his own right, he was an incredibly wonderful person."

Megan said...

I had not heard this sad news until reading your blog.
What a poignant post. Thank you for the link, for touching on the individual tragedy, and so much more

Annette said...

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Eryl Shields said...

Having read Ted Hughes's letters last year I almost wept when I heard this news the other day. Nicholas Hughes sounded like a great human being who was doing really valuable work for all of us.

Thanks for the links, and I echo Gadjo Dilo: well done for your contribution to a very worthy cause.

Kitty said...

Good post Mr Dot. It is a horrible, tragic story and I too feel immensely for Frieda. When you consider that 1 in 4 people are said to suffer mental illness of some sort during their lives, the issue is still ridiculously under-represented in almost all aspects of the media.

x

Ladybird World Mother said...

Am so glad that I have read this...am out of the loop with news being at home with some ill children. So deeply sad about this news. Have had several friends finish their lives. Impact is huge. And, as you say, could possibly be stopped, just for the sake of 20 minutes or so.
My mum was a samaritan. She says that there are those with a terminal illness of mental health, and those who need a listening ear and loving voice. Who get better just for that.
A Sound Post. Thanks.

Maddy said...

How timely. We have been dealing with this tragic issue ourselves. Now that the boys' speech is so much better and they're more willing to share their emotions and express them verbally, we're finding out all sorts of things that we had only previously guessed about.

When the boys were first diagnosed the expert told us to get them on medication asap due to the higher incidence of suicide when they became teenagers. At the time I was quite distraught, but his words stuck with me and now I have two real reasons to take action, not just for my own children but others similarly situated.

Best wishes

BT said...

What a tragic waste and how sad that such tragedy seems to stalk certain families. Well done for writing about it and the information you have provided.

Susan Richardson said...

I, too, was very shocked and saddened when I first heard the news about Nicholas Hughes. I have always been a great admirer of Plath's poetry - and, more recently, of Frieda Hughes' work too. Thanks for your thoughtful post.