When I retired as a humanist celebrant I thought I'd stop writing this blog, but my fascination with all things death-related prompted more posts. They're just written from a slightly different perspective, that's all.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Orwell Bridge

I've conducted several funerals with connections to this bridge, which was opened in 1982 to carry the A45 (now the A14) over the River Orwell at Ipswich. I've driven over it hundreds of times.

One funeral was for someone I knew; a very interesting man who'd been a member of the council responsible for commissioning its construction. He was proud of the curved arch in the middle, which was his suggestion. He thought it added something, aesthetically. Another funeral was for an engineer who was involved in its construction. He was equally proud of the bridge.

Sadly, many people around here associate the bridge with suicides. It's been a magnet for depressed people since it opened, the latest only a few weeks ago. I remember conducting the funeral for a young man who'd been plagued by mental illness for years. His family had been happy that he seemed to have responded to treatment, and was planning to spend some time with friends in Spain. They waved goodbye at the door of their home, after he'd refused the offer of a lift to the airport, oblivious to the fact that it was all an act. He went to the bridge and jumped over the low wall at the top, just as a school bus full of children was going past. They all needed counselling afterwards, including the driver.

I was reminded of this the other day, when I noticed that there was a TV programme about suicides on London Underground, and their consequences. I couldn't bring myself to watch it. When I was a relative funerals novice, I shared a car with a young man who'd gone to work for a funeral director after he left school. He was glad to have the job, he said, because several of his friends were unemployed. I asked if he enjoyed it. He replied that he did, most of the time. One thing he didn't enjoy was walking along a railway line, gathering the body parts of a suicide. Suicides are notoriously oblivious to the effect that their actions have on other people.

Postscript - 22/2/2011: The Orwell jumpers don't always succeed.

7 comments:

gloriamundi said...

Horribly interesting, I'm afraid, Margaret, but also enlightening. In the "Seasons of Life" anthology there are a couple of poems about the existential choice of suicide, suicide as a final freedom. Your comment makes me think that another passage in the anthology rather confilcts with this view - "No man is an island" etc. I guess the problem is that suicides feel they are exactly that - Sylvia Plath's "Bell Jar" metaphor - and many, as you say, don't think of the effect it will have on those who find them. (Some do, of course.)

But it's nice to see the bridge - I used to live in Suffolk, pre-bridge, and have often visited since. We tend to take such civil engineering for granted.I helped with a funeral for a civil engineer who had worked on a difficult new stretch of trunk road around here (tunnels, bridges, the lot) and I pointed out that we would drivenover the man's work on our journeys home from the crem, whatever direction we'd head off in. A rather more useful memorial than a statue - or an ugly gravestone, though I didn't actually say that, of course!

Margaret said...

There's only been one occasion that I've felt it appropriate to use one of the readings from 'Seasons of Life' that you refer to, and that was Seneca's "If I can choose between a death of torture and one that is simple and easy...", applied to someone who was terminally ill. In most cases, I've felt that it would be too cruel to use them.

Most suicides are messy and create emotional distress, different from the sort caused by other sorts of bereavement.

There've been times when I've felt that they could have been prevented if someone had shown a bit more sense, as in the case of a depressed woman who was re-housed near the top of a tower block. She threw herself off the top soon afterwards, leaving two young children.

I'd quite like to go over the bridge on the top of a double-decker. You can't see much over the wall when you're driving.

Margaret said...

Have just remembered that when I had that conversation with the young chap from the Co-op, we were on our way to the funeral for a woman who'd thrown herself out of a second floor window in Poland, so her family had to cope with her suicide and with bringing the body home.

gloriamundi said...

I expect that should read "I'd like to go across the bridge on a double-decker..." Yes, it's frustrating not being able to see anything from the road.
What I really wanted to post was not a silly comment but - congratulations on your first-rate group website, which I've only just looked at. A model for others - though I guess it takes some considerable time to update and keep moving.

Margaret said...

Yes, that's what I meant - on the top deck of a double-decker.

Glad you like our website. Our webmaster is my son Nathan. I just post stuff.

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Margaret said...

An American friend drew my attention to this story - 'Motorist rams SUV into school bus filled with children in apparent suicide attempt'. Evidently the would-be suicide had already switched off his brain.