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'I'll always wonder about the missed call I had from my son the night he died'

Former Fianna Fáil TD Charlie O’Connor says he believes his son’s death was an accident.

Image: Leon Farrell via Photocall Ireland

FORMER FIANNA FÁIL TD Charlie O’Connor has spoken about how he is dealing with the death of his son, Robert O’Connor, who died in April.

The Tallaght politicians told Sean O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio One, “Robert is very much my focus.

“I’ve lost parents, grandparents, friends but this is completely different and it has changed my life.”

He described his 35-year-old son as “complex”, explaining that he had difficulties but overcame them – “he worked in the Dail, took up acting, got married, had a daughter.

“It’s very important that I and people close to him remember the positives as well because he was a good person.

He wasn’t just my child – the loss is not just at that level.  I saw him every single day of the week including the day he died.

“The day before he died he asked me if I had money in my account and I said ‘No’ – because you always say no. He asked me if I had €9.73 to order a book and when it arrived from Amazon it was ‘An Introduction to English Poetry’.”

I’ll always wonder ‘what if’

“My Robert would say to me when he was drinking – I’ll be stopping on Monday and he would and he could do that.

“When he was drunk, he was a nuisance. When he was sober he was a nuisance in a different way – he’d be asking me is this done, is that done. He was brilliant really.

“The money that was collected at his funeral went to the Tallaght Drugs and Alcohol Task Force to fund a discussion on alcohol.

“Alcohol was his big demon – alcohol may have been involved in his death and certainly drugs were.

The night I believe he died I had a missed call at 11:03 and I’ll always wonder what if…what if I answered it. Was he saying goodbye to me? Was he telling me he needed help quick?

“I believe his death was an accident.”

Receiving the news

“I was at mass and when I came out I had lots of missed calls but it didn’t panic me.

His girlfriend got me and was sympathising with me on his passing and I didn’t understand what she was saying and after a few seconds she suddenly realised she was was telling me something that I didn’t know.

“That was a big shock and then as the hours went on – because of Facebook – people were sympathising with me before I had the chance to tell his wife, his daughter, his mother and his brothers. That was difficult but that was the way – it was so shocking, it was so difficult.

I believe he died [on Thursday] night or early the next morning – he wasn’t discovered until the Saturday morning and that upsets me – of course it does.

Mental Health

“My Robert wrote to a hospital three or four weeks before he died saying he wanted to engage with regard to his alcoholism and I didn’t get a reply for several weeks afterwards.

“I think more needs to be done about the manner in which people with mental health issues are dealt with.

The response after he died told me they had received his correspondence and they were sorry to hear about his death and that he would have got an appointment.

“I have had bereavement counseling – I’ve been going and I’m happy about that and I’m benefitting from that.”

O’Connor described how The Tree of Hope plants trees- to honour people who have been affected by suicide and are living with mental health issues.

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“The tree of hope has brought great consolation to many people – you get to see how the death of a child affects us all and it does.”

You’ll always wonder

O’Rourke mentioned Bob Geldof and how he spoke yesterday about putting blame on himself for the death of his daughter, Peaches.

Yes, you do because you’re saying what if – what if I  answered his call, what if I wasn’t asleep, what if if I had stayed with him that evening…all those things go through your mind.

“Should I have done things differently? Should I have stayed with him that day?

“His mother, Pauline, took it very badly – she had a heart attack … but we stood together for the funeral and she’s gotten through it.”

I’m not afraid to talk about Robert

Everybody misses him, his mother, his brothers, his ex-wife, certainly his daughter Heather who has come up to the grave with me.

“While she’s very loyal to her mother, she’s clear she’s an O’Connor – very much. People would tell you she’s her daddy’s daughter.

“We prayed in Roberts mass for those dealing with addictions. I’m not afraid to talk about Robert.

I walk up the stairs in my house and there’s a painting of him that was given to us. I have pictures of him everywhere and I carry them with me. I can call his phone if I need to hear his voice.

“It’s about trying to keep a routine – not to be afraid to face your challenges your demons but be positive and I’m positive about Robert.

“I want to remember my son in a positive way and honour him in that regard.”

  • Console  1800 247 247 – (suicide prevention, self-harm, bereavement)

  • Aware 1890 303 302 (depression, anxiety)

  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie - (suicide, self-harm, bereavement)

  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)

  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

  • Alcoholics Anonymous Ireland 01 842 0700 or see  list of contacts here

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