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Dublin: 7 °C Sunday 23 September, 2018
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"There is something profound about holding someone as they take their last breaths"

Your experiences of grief, in your own words.

OVER THE PAST few days, TheJournal.ie has been exploring death – how Irish people talk about it and deal with it.

Our Last Rites series has included personal accounts – from a dying person, a bereaved person and a grief counsellor – as well as insights into the world of death and dying from people who experience it everyday through their work.

Since the series began last week, we have been inundated with messages from people who wanted to share their own experiences of loss.

Here is a selection of those stories:

“There is something profound about holding someone as they take their last breaths. Even more so if they are the centre of your young universe. It will be 13 years in January, but I can still remember the last breath and my assurances to my mum that it was okay to let go. That I would be fine, not to worry about me.

“To this day I try not to dwell on the fact that at the time of her passing, I could lift my mum from bed to chair.

“We didn’t have an easy relationship. She had separated from my father when I was 13 and we went from a chaotic life to being two headstrong women in a small house. Mum grieving her marriage and me just being happy that I had a little freedom and the house was peaceful. It is only now, in my 30s and married, that I realise how tough it was for mum to be a separated woman in a small and religious community.

“I was in Australia when she was diagnosed. I knew nothing about it until a friend gave a hint. I remember feeling a chill and not being surprised. I was home pretty soon after that. And I was the first person after her mastectomy to see her scar. I tried so hard not to recoil from the viciousness of the red mark. So hard not to cry for her and the unfairness of it all. And I told her how proud I was of her. How beautiful and heroic she was to me. I am so glad I did that.

bree Bree and her mum

“I was 21 when she was rediagnosed. Younger in many ways in my head. She said she didn’t want to know so I asked the oncologist myself how long she had: three months at most. That was November 2001.

“The last Christmas with my mum was the reason that I will always feel like an outsider looking in at happiness at Christmas time. November and December are never easy months for me. Too many memories of morphine and oxygen and wanting to rage and scream that my best friend was leaving me alone in a world I wasn’t ready to face alone. In the end she saw Christmas through. When the end came it came quickly. She was 65 two days before she died, but there was no celebration. We were both exhausted.

“I said goodbye to my mum in an overcrowded, hot ward with a curtain around us for ‘privacy’ and the wails of a dementia patient long since lost. But somehow it was just mum and me. Instead of her loving arms around me, it was my arms around her. My tears on her hair. My voice reassuring.

“We buried her on a cold January day. I gave the eulogy in the same church she had married in all those years before. I tried to do her justice. I stayed up all night writing and rewriting. Not wanting to gloss over our growing differences as I became a woman, nor understate my admiration for her unique capacity to make people flock to her. When I mentioned the mad dash to the funeral home to put on her red lipstick, the whole church laughed. It was my mum’s trademark and no way was I risking the bad karma of letting her public see her without it! When you have put lipstick on the body of your mother there isn’t much that fazes you.

“Love gives us strength we never knew we had.

“There is not a day that I wouldn’t trade a year of my life for a minute in her embrace again. Her voice, her wisdom, her belief in me. She was a character. And while sometimes we may have been at odds, I miss her every single day. She was irreplaceable. My life has been a poorer one for the loss of her in it.

“So if you are lucky enough to have parents alive, pick up the phone, call to them. Let them know that you are grateful for them and the little things. You never know when you may wish that you had. And if you are grieving, know that grief is personal. It is yours and no one should or can tell you how long or how much you will grieve. Be kind to yourself. It is a long road.

“In the end all that matters is love and those who inspire it.”

- Bree

“The last words we spoke to one another were ‘I love you’ and ‘I love you more’”

ollie 1

“My husband, Olivier, drowned in March 2014 in a boating accident in Cannes. He was trying to save a friend. They both died. Ollie was 38, Mathieu was 35.

“I was in Ireland at the time as my mother had had a stroke the previous January and was diagnosed with dementia. We had already been through the mill as I had had a back operation the previous November and we had just lost granda (August 2013) and granma (January 2014) and Ol’s dad had had a close call on the operating table during an operation on his aorta (February 2014).

“I was due back in Cannes where we lived, less than 24 hours after Ollie died.

“Fifteen months on and although the grief isn’t all consuming as it was until recently, I can still be knocked side-ways by a thought or the snatch of a song or simply certain smells wafting towards me. Mainly though it is the sea. Ollie was a brilliant swimmer, so at home, so happy there – his handsome face would be split in two with a massive grin anytime any part of him was in it. I know that is why he went into the water that moonless night. He thought he could, even though he had a broken collarbone.

“I ask myself did he try to swim with the broken arm or try to drag Mathieu (both fully clothed) with it. I found a video on his phone a few weeks after he died – made after the accident but just before he got into the water. His last word was ‘Oh’ and the last sound of him on this earth was his converse clad feet walking across the boat 1,2,3 and the quiet splash as he dove into the cold sea.

“I fought with the police to see his body (drowning victim/autopsy). Six times I asked until they saw I wasn’t going to give up, and consented. He wasn’t in a refigerated facility. There is only one in Nice and that is for victims of crimes. I didn’t recognise him at first, but then he came back to me all of a sudden, my Ollie, the man I loved. I even joked with him, laughed and cried. I tried to leave three times before I actually could. I knew it was the right thing to do. I knew that he would have been proud of me and that he would have wanted me to be the last person to be with him before all traces of him were gone for good.

ollie 2

“I travelled the 800km from Cannes to Bordeaux (his hometown) with his body in the hearse. The entire room in the crematorium was filled with sunflowers (his favourite flowers) as people said their goodbyes. Even the funeral compère was in tears.

“Ollie (or Urnie as I now call him) lives with me and will, until I too die one day, then our ashes will be mixed together and we will sail, hand in hand, on the wind, above the Wicklow hills as Wordsworth said ‘fluttering and dancing on the breeze’ and our laughter will echo down the centuries. At least that is the way I like to see it :)

“He was a wonderful man – kind, humble, generous and thoughtful. He was smart and handsome. I was privileged to have been his wife. The way that he loved me sustains me. Even now it makes me smile, albeit often through tears, and warms me and comforts me and lifts me up at my lowest moments.

“The last words Ollie and I spoke to one another were ‘I love you’ and ‘I love you more’ (with his cheeky grin). I will be forever grateful for that.”

- Sooz

A letter to my mother

Dear Mammy,

I was extremely lucky in life to have been gifted the most loving, caring and devoted mother imaginable. You truly were my greatest hero. The selflessness with which you went about motherhood was admittedly only appreciated retrospectively since when we were growing up, myself and my brother often indulged in disgruntled mumblings about you being overprotective and fussing too much. Thankfully, when we reached adulthood, it became clear that your life included countless unspoken sacrifices designed to improve our lives, sometimes at the expense of your own and your perceived obsession with protecting us was borne out of your all encompassing love for us. These realisations enhanced our relationships and galvanised the love and respect we had for you, our mother.

We were so close, you and me. We discussed all of our worldly troubles and were each other’s ‘go to gal’ in good times and bad. We created so many beautiful memories together and for these, I am eternally thankful.

And so I find myself, a few months on from that horrible day, grieving for you while simultaneously ambling through my current status as apprentice mother. I am full of wonderings. I wonder whether I would be a different kind of mother if you were still here to guide me. All the time, I wonder whether I’m doing anything right. I wonder what you would think about the various mothering decisions that I make and even though I am so privileged to have had your loving influence in my life for the years that I did, I wonder whether one of these days, the enormity of the void left by your departure will be enough to paralyse me into a state of malfunction.

My greatest concern, however, is whether I can possibly keep your memory alive for my little boy. He will never know the warmth of your hug, the assurance of your smile or the comfort of your words. I feel that the love you would have showered upon him is utterly irreplaceable and while he is constantly surrounded by love, my heart breaks for both you and him and for all the lost opportunities.

I don’t want you to become simply a face in a frame since you were so much more than that but I worry that as time moves on, I may begin losing the battle to keep your memory alive in the mind of a child who will have no recollection of his grandmother except for the stories I promise to tell him and the memories I hope I am strong enough to share.

I wish it didn’t have to be like this, but it does. I wish you could sing my little boy to sleep and bring stories alive like only you could, but you can’t. I wish you could chase him through the fields and scoop him up in your arms, but you can’t. I am as helpless to these facts as I was to curing your illness and easing your suffering but as you so often assured me, ‘We can only do our best’.

I promise to do my best to fill him with the love you taught me to feel and nurture him with the same motherly warmth you surrounded me in. In this way, though your picture may fade, the light of your love will carry on.

With Love Always,

Your Daughter, xx

- Anonymous

‘My sister loved Christmas’

“She was tight with the news of her cancer and just got on with it. So denial, no full details, being as normal as possible, holding on to words like ‘incurable but not terminal’.

“I was angry with the medics too for vague optimism.

“She had ovarian cancer – half a chance of surviving but, if not, max five years. She managed to get through a couple of years with temperature spikes and panic dashes to hospital.

“Then just before Christmas 2010 I got to ask how long they thought she had and was told she should get through Christmas. I thought ‘Which Christmas?’ Denial is a powerful, cynical trickster. I was stunned, later thinking ‘Oh, this Christmas’.

“She was in Sligo. We were all around Dublin and the snow had gripped and closed the country when friends of hers advised ‘You all better get up here’.

xmas Source: Shutterstock

“She was admitted to the hospice in Sligo and we could only travel by train such were the roads. Her house – her pride and joy – was destroyed by frozen pipes and flooded while she was in the hospice and we decided to get her home to Dublin as soon as possible after Christmas to live close to mam and dad for her last days.

“I got to drive her home. There was no more important trip to me and we chatted all the way.

“She was admitted to the hospice in Raheny – shortly after she died on 18 January 2011, our sister’s birthday.

“I cleaned out her house and arranged her funeral, disposed of the half-knitted presents, gave out the ones that were bought but not wrapped, and I cried and cried and cry still.

“Between then and October 2012 I lost three good friends – great people – and a 42-year-old brother-in-law, all to cancer.

“My mother died from her third stroke in February 2014.

“It never ends: the crying on cue, the reminders, the missing.”

- James

‘He was diagnosed on New Year’s Eve, he died on 28 January’

I lost my Dad to pancreatic cancer ten years ago. He was diagnosed New Year’s Eve 2002 and died 28 days later.I was very close to my dad and when I lost him it ripped my very soul apart. Having to watch him in those last hours was the most horrific thing I have ever had to endure. This disease was squeezing the life out him before my very eyes and there was nothing I, or anybody else, could do about it.

I told him l loved him, he squeezed my hand and he died right there and then … I remember the look of complete emptiness and shock in my mum’s face. She had just lost her friend and her soul mate and I was witnessing this for real, it wasn’t a dream. I can’t even begin to describe the feeling at that moment, our life together flashed right in front me. Our whole life in a split second was replayed to me, this person that I loved was gone forever in a split second and I would never be able to see or talk to him again. Even now, ten years later, while I write this it takes my breath away.

Our whole life was unravelled right there at that moment, and it was never to be the same again … Everywhere I looked he was there, the empty chair he sat in, his newspapers, his lotto tickets, the car keys, his garden, all the DIY, his slippers beside the chair. He was everywhere and it hurt so bad I could feel it pull me apart.

The funeral was mind numbing, I carried my Dad to his grave on what was a beautiful fresh winter morning and we laid him to rest.

funeral Source: Shutterstock

The worst part was walking way from the grave, having to leave him there in that cold place – on his own without anybody to comfort him, not being able to say ‘Are ya coming for a pint?’, not able to have a laugh, not be able to have dinner. The sense of emptiness and loneliness was overwhelming. I remember the day after the funeral I called my mum to see how she was, but the answering machine came on with the sound of my dad’s voice saying “I’m not here at the moment, leave a message and I will get back to you.” Funny thing is, I did and it was only when I hung up that reality hit me like a stone. I have left a message he would never get and it almost killed me.

In the intervening years we lost four more loved ones including my son’s 14-year-old friend.

My mum was diagnosed with skin cancer then bowel cancer, but thankfully she made a full recovery. I lost my job due to depression and a complete breakdown. I would cry for weeks on end, it was like being stuck in a dark mist with no way out. I did eventually get better and went back to college four years ago and hopefully will graduate with my degree next year. It puts life in perspective in a very cruel way and you realise that some people go on with an awful lot of bullshit that, in the broad scheme of things, really doesn’t matter. I have learnt to take life as it comes, enjoy it while you have it and cherish you family, that is all that matters.

- LB

‘A last walk with Dad’

Dad and Me

“He doesn’t hunch over or stumble; he walks straight and tall and holds my hand with a tight grip.

“He isn’t cold or frail, his hands are warm and his face is full and round. He doesn’t need a jacket or a jumper or gloves or a scarf, but walks in his short-sleeved shirt on a bright, blue day. He wears his Indiana Jones hat we got in Disneyland, but only to annoy me because he knows I get embarrassed.

“He breathes easy. Without struggle or pain and takes in the fresh air.

“We walk along the water by the lake and he asks about my life; he asks about my friends and work and my music and what books I’m reading and what album he should try next. He asks me about my plans and we talk about my future, his past days and all our favourite things. We talk about the news and politics and he teaches me things I never even knew I wanted to know. He knows everything and he passes it onto me in the short time we have. He makes me laugh and listens to all of my worries and ramblings as only he knows how, and when I’m with him it’s the safest place in the world.

Dad

“We sit on a bench and I tell him there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than here with him and, if I had it my way, we’d do this every day forever – knowing we’d never run out of things to say.

“I thank him for giving me the best childhood anyone could have asked for; for experiences, for support and encouragement and for love and strength. The love and strength I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. I’ll pass it on to people around me, making sure there’s a little more love in the world because he was in it. I thank him for being my hero and for battling through all of the horrible things that just weren’t fair. He smiles and tells me he’s proud of the life he led and all he leaves behind.

“I hug him without being afraid to squeeze him tight and he goes, but it will never feel like he’s really gone.

“For anyone going through anything similar; spend as much time with family as you can and remember every little moment, they keep you going when the person is gone.”

- Gráinne

‘I lost my mother and my sister within four months’

Paula July 2014 Ryan's sister Paula

“I lost my mother to breast cancer in May 2014 and one of my sisters in tragic circumstances less than four months later. I was only 20 years old at the time so both losses had a huge impact on me and my life.

“Nothing prepares you for such bereavements. They were both incredible people and life without them is and will always be hard to imagine. Every positive thing I do in life is dedicated to their memory.”

- Ryan

‘My mother died on my birthday’

My mother died on my birthday. The following year my adopted/foster brother died and was buried on my birthday, followed four weeks later by his partner whom I had grown extremely close to. I lost a lot of people whom I had considered family and then had an accident breaking one of the vertebrae in my back. It really is true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I cry every day about one of them, little things remind me of them and of what I have lost. I will never get over their losses, nor would I want to. they have made the new me, the woman of steel who can conquer the world.

“My nephew wrote my mam’s eulogy and it was a superb testament to her life. The funerals were difficult, but seeing so many people who were there for me, having never met the deceased, was like having a security blanket and made the world of difference.

- Gillian

‘It is quite the challenge being so far away in a culture that does death differently’

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“My dad died on 11 October 2015 -the day after my 41st birthday – from Parkinson’s. I had been home (to the US) two weeks before with his youngest granddaughter as his doctor told me he about six weeks left – I was lucky to spend that time with him. When I said goodbye to him and told him I loved him, I asked him to hang on until December when the rest of us would be coming during the winter holidays to visit.

“Parkinson’s is exhausting – trying to breathe, trying to walk, people not understanding what you are trying to say, and not being able to live in your home because it isn’t the safest place for you just sucks – so I can appreciate why hanging on until December wasn’t going to work for him. My mom was amazing and did so much fighting for him, but Parkinson’s takes it toll.

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“It is quite the challenge being so far away in a culture that does death differently. I grew up Jewish in LA and now I am in ‘sort of Catholic’ Ireland. Regardless of the religion – it all around stinks and I miss my dad. My brother and I wrote my dad’s eulogy because I needed to make sure people knew he was fantastic and not just someone who died from Parkinson’s. We will be home in December and I look forward to spending time with my mom and brother and bringing my three girls to their Zeideh’s grave.”

- Deb (an Irish citizen originally from the US)

‘You’re in the club now kid’

You’re in the club now kid, don’t worry we take care of each other in here.’ They were the words of my friend Charles the night of my mum’s wake. He put his arm around me and said those words as another friend Stephen stood on the other side of me. They knew. They were already in the club. Of all the people I saw over those insane few days, of all the people who said lovely things, mad things, funny things; Charles and Stephen knew exactly how I felt and I knew they knew all the things I was thinking.

I’ve read and heard so many people talking about their own experiences, their loss, their grief. It’s so sad, this really awful part of life that you think about but that you never properly get until you’re facing it. It’s shite. Everything changes forever, you change forever.

What’s so comforting in all the sadness however, is how many people know. They get it because they’ve stood where you’re standing, shaking the hands, taking the hugs, hearing the sympathetic things. As time goes on though you tell people you’re fine when you are actually sneaking down to the kitchen at night to let out a wail so you don’t wake anyone up…

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“What saddens me still is the things people don’t tell you … the things that I’ve found myself telling friends who have sadly lost loved ones and maybe they think I’m mad but some of them have actually said ‘Yes, thank you, I thought I was losing my mind, I’m so glad it’s not just me.’

“Like I said the death of a loved one changes you, it makes you think mad, wild, inappropriate things, say even wilder things OUT LOUD and make you question everything you ever thought up until that point.

“I lost my mum suddenly. She died of a heart attack in her sleep. She was sixty. She’d murder me for putting that in print. It was awful. At the time I just got on with it because, honestly, you’ve absolutely no choice, you just get on with it. The funeral whizzes by and people slowly get back to their lives. You have to try cope then with the enormity of everything that has happened. It’s not just that this person you loved so much is gone now, it’s that you’ve this massive thing inside you now to cope with and you’ve no idea where to start. I was so lucky, I have great family and friends and huge support…

image1 Lauren's mum Mary

My mum was the only thing people spoke about. It consumed me and everyone around me … It was the only thing that mattered. My mum was dead. Discuss. Rather, I’ll discuss and you listen. I wondered what did I used to spend my days doing because all I did now was think and talk about my mum. I get that everyone’s different and some people choose not to talk or they feel they aren’t able to talk. There is no right or wrong, there is just your way of doing it. Of dealing as best you can…I dealt and am still dealing as honestly as I can…

I was so reluctant to let go of that first year without my mum, I’ve heard other people say they can’t wait for that year to be over. It’s different for everyone but, I promise you, people understand. It’s okay to say all of those things out loud. Everyone in this club has felt in some way or form what you are feeling. What we believe and what we choose to do with our lives going forward is our own business, everyone finds a path of how to deal with their loss.

For me a very important part of it all has been to be there for others in my life who may have just lost someone and say to them ‘Here, it’s cool, whatever is going on your head right now, it’s okay to think that and it’s okay to say it too’. We take care of each other in this club. We know.

- Lauren

‘Losing family or close friends is a grief beyond telling’

“I lost my husband in 2005 and, although separated, due to alcohol I always worried for him and, although not said, I shared my children’s worry whenever the wind was blowing on a winter’s night and we wondered where he was and if he was okay. According to everyone else I had no right to wonder or worry – I had given up my right to that, so when he was found dead it was a grief I had to keep to myself.

In 2006, almost a year to the day, my beautiful nephew (19) was taken from us in a motor accident – a lovely young man at the start of life, fun loving, a heart as big as a house. I can remember exactly where I was, in Athenry Co Galway at a work meeting when I got the news, and today almost 10 years later he is missed as if it were yesterday. I never listen to The Fields of Athenry, the sadness is too much. After that year I lost somebody from my life each year for about five years. They were much older but they left a legacy of life, of memories of times past, Christmas traditions, little things they did to make us all feel special.

“Losing family or close friends is a grief beyond telling, you don’t forget. You can’t, they were part of what made you what you are. I look at the sky on a starry night and wonder ‘Where are you now?’ I have learned to place them all in a little pocket next to my heart. I carry them with me where ever I go and in the years in between I speak to them in different ways and at different times when they help me to shoulder the burdens of life.”

- Maura

‘All of a sudden: cancer’

“I lost my brother last May. He was a fit, handsome farmer of 42. He loved his life, loved to farm, enjoyed the countryside and was fit and healthy. Then all of a sudden: cancer of the worst kind, grade four brain tumour. As a farmer he lost the use of his left leg and arm, lost his hair with radiotherapy, and had every complication with their last ditch attempt at chemo. He lasted ten months from diagnosis. We were told by his doctor after a seizure one night that we had to “make the most of each day”. My god, my heart left at that moment. It will always have a broken bit.

P1020257 Kerry's brother Adam with his nieces

“My brother was my best friend and I his agony aunt, when he had a mad girlfriend in tow he could never break up properly and, for his own fault, was always too nice. His funeral was full, and I mean full of women – single, married, you name it – they were all their weeping, he would have loved it!

“The last two weeks were so sad yet so lovely. We got to laugh and cry and say we loved each other. We never said goodbye, we just kept up the belief that he was going to have a good sleep and get better. He went so peacefully at home with my mum and dad and me with him. I could still cry every day and think of him always. I have three gorgeous daughters and a very loving husband who get me to laugh again.”

- Kerry

‘I wonder how Ryan would have fitted into our crew’

‘You’ll get another one she said’ as she patted me on the arm and walked off to do her shopping. Another told me ‘At least you have an angel in heaven’ as she cradled her own baby in her arms. People on the road where we lived at the time surprisingly crossed the road when they saw us coming – too uncomfortable in themselves to face our grief. Perhaps there should be a crash course in how to deal with people who are grieving, after all few of us escape the occasion in this life.

hand Source: Shutterstock

I speak of the time almost 20 years ago now that my little boy Ryan died on the night of my birthday in June 1996. Even to this day my heart contracts at the thought that I’ve “lost” him, that he is no longer part of my physical life. I look at my other children occasionally and wonder how Ryan would have fitted into our crew. Would he have been a typical teenager, just coming out the other side now to face the world as a young man – the adult he should have been? I will always wonder. When we have special family occasions I often speculate as to whether anyone remembers that there is someone so important missing from it, my special someone – our special someone.

To this day I will never forget the raw, unimaginable, dark, awful grief that we suffered during those days, weeks, months and years. Someone could have cut off every limb in my body piece by piece and it still would not even get to the depth of the pain I felt. And, as anyone who suffers grief knows, your world when it shatters involves lots of people around helping, doing the necessary so you don’t have to do it yourself but then little by little they drift back into their own worlds, going on with their lives that don’t for that moment include grief…

The years have gone on now, and I wonder if I speak for other mams and dads out there that lost a child when I say that you never get over it, you just learn to live with it – because you have to – otherwise you don’t live. Granted you will never live the same life again, everything will be different forever but you have to pull something out of the experience to perhaps try and make things better for others. For my part, I feel that Ryan inspired me to offer words to others going through such pain.

– Linda

‘Time is a great healer (my arse)’

“It was the start of the summer holidays June 1994 . I was 15, almost 16 years old, at the time. My mam was getting ready to go to work, I called out ‘Hang on for me I’ll walk with you into town, I’m meeting Tricia’ . Chatting away walking to town, my mam suddenly says ‘I’ve a headache’ … before I knew it she was screaming in pain and unsteady on her feet. A car driving near us knew something was wrong and stopped. We got into the car and headed straight for the doctor. My mam was getting sick now and the ambulance was called. In all the pain she was in she handed me her purse and said ‘Get something for your dad’s dinner.’

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“The ambulance brought my mam away and I was left on the street on my own (no mobiles then). My mam had suffered a brain haemorrhage. She suffered a second one a few days later and died in hospital. Myself, dad and my three sisters were left devastated. She was only 46 years old.

My Dad always said then he was the reverend father and we were the four nuns . We grew very close to our dad after mam’s passing – he was a super dad, more so our best friend who we confided in. Dad was straight talking, what you see was what you got. He didn’t hide his love for us and us him.

“Dad went on his first foreign holiday with us in 2002 to Spain – he loved it so much he said when he retired he would go every year. We had a big 65th birthday party and retirement party for dad in December 2002 , he was looking forward to retiring after working very hard all his life.

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“He saw his grandchild Jake born on January 2003, one of his proudest moments. On 27 August 2003 I spoke to dad on the phone that morning from work – the last thing I said to him was ‘Bye dad, I love you’ and he told me the same . Little did I know a few hours later I would be told by my friend Karen that dad was out walking and was found on the road – he had a heart attack and had died (he was only 65). My world came crumbling around me.

You know, the saying ‘Time is a great healer’ is a load of bullshit. Time is not a healer, time only teaches you how to deal with it, not how to get over it because you never get over it … I still shed tears every week for my wonderful mam and dad who are loved and missed so very much.

- Elaine

‘He loved to tell stories’

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“My father was a great cook. He loved to tell stories and never let the truth get in the way of a good tale. He was an amazing grandfather and would give you the shirt from his back. When he passed away I never really grieved, the focus was to look after mam.

“Not long after my dad passed my brother James died suddenly while on holiday, to say it was a shock is an understatement. My kind, funny, loving and always-up-for-the-craic brother and love of my life was gone. To this day I find it hard to even think about it.

“A year later my darling mother passed away at home with us. She was and is still the kindest person I have ever known. Many people have used the word ‘lady’ to describe her. She truly was a lady to all who had the privilege to know and love her as a mother, grandmother, mother-in-law and friend.”

- Jenny

‘Half my world had disappeared’

“By the age of 16 I had lost my father and my brother – which felt like half my world and life had disappeared.

“We all have our own ways of coping with loss. Death can make the world seem very bleak and reality can feel so raw. Time truly does make it easier as we get used to the changes and missing our loved ones. It certainly makes us appreciate what we still have in the world too.

“Personally I think it’s all about having the right attitude and trying to learn to see the positive things in life and the simple pleasures all around us. However, I also accept that life is forever up and down and pain is always inside us and comes when it comes. But it always passes again. I guess I cope with grief by accepting it as part of who I am, but I also always try to do fun things and laugh as much as I can. Life should never be taken too seriously after all.”

- Eoghan

The Late Shift

MO

(A poem by Derek about his mum, Maureen)

A wisp of a thing, built like a boy
a lump in my throat, a tear in my eye

Fragile, trousered, little legs, steel grey curly hair
green eyes that searched for secrets
for hope that wasn’t there.

Toe nails clipped and tidy
teeth all polished bright
A tiny white round tablet, helps ensure a pain free night.

Following the daily planner
let’s see – we’re on day three
Time for serum X or Y, perception is the key.

Crush the tablet, increase the dose, oh doctor, please do tell
while playing nurse and minder
what we do – do we do it well?

The late shift starts at 10pm and carries through the night
logging, checking, minding,
at least the book work’s right

An ache or pain disturbs her sleep, she greets me with a smile
‘Turn me around’ – ‘A little drink’
The shift was well worthwhile.

Thank you for letting me do my bit – it helped to ease the pain
your strength helped me when I was weak
got me on my feet again

Red Sails in the sunset, are memories and part
of things we see on land and sea
and things that tug my heart

Thank you all.

Some people’s names have been changed at their request.

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Read: ‘Then everyone died’: I lost four people I loved in 14 months

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Órla Ryan

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