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Remembering my sister: '75 days have now come and gone since gardaí broke the news'

Today is the first one that my sister Donna Fox is among those we are remembering, writes Neil Fox on World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.

Neil Fox

Today is World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims. Gardaí have said that 23,948 people have died on Irish roads since records began in 1959. Here, Neil Fox shares his story since the loss of his sister Donna just three months ago. 

WORLD DAY OF Remembrance for road traffic victims is marked annually on the third Sunday of November.

Today is the first one that my sister Donna Fox is among those we are remembering.

Seventy-five days have now come and gone, since two gardaí broke the news to me on what had seemed an ordinary day; until that moment transported me into a new reality.

The calendar tells us that it will be 11 weeks on Tuesday, nearing three whole months since the morning that changed our lives… since gardaí were just gardaí and bikes just bikes, since standing at the pedestrian lights was just standing at the lights…

The sense of loss has not hit for me yet, in the chamber of shock that keeps me buffered in part from the violent reality.

I share some of this process as I think it is important to. To live in or with trauma is something that usually goes unspoken. I have got used to forgetting where I am going, losing things, and just been much slower at everything.

I think the weirdest moment was actually forgetting my name. Thank God that was a brief moment but one that stunned me. I allow more time for anywhere I am going as I seem to get distracted or go the wrong way.

For me, the initial month was like living in a dream, too surreal to even say a nightmare, for a nightmare feels very real at the time, this felt anything but real.

A good chunk of that time it was like watching my life on a screen at a total distance. A friend told me I was veiled from it right now as it was too much to take in. My family and I are no strangers to bereavement but this was and is a very different ball game.

I felt total and complete absence throughout the second month, as a bit of the reality crept in; just this feeling of a complete aloneness and not been able to feel my normal lifelong connection with God.

There just was nothing to grasp at, that was the felt experience. I find that is beginning to alter now thankfully. It was like losing my sister and my relationship with God in one go, and both were huge enough in themselves let alone together. But you soldier on. You pray, you search for meaning.

Meaning! How can we put meaning on this? That for me is my quest, I doubt I will reach it anytime soon but am hopeful with passage of time I will find a way of seeing meaning in this.

My beautiful happy sister with the world at her feet, going about her normal day, literally stole from us.

Donna was 30.

She had a great joy and peace about her which are things we will always be grateful for, yet in a way this adds a bitter poignancy to it all too.

Anger more than meaning is what I am working on this month. Time heals we are told, yet I hate a new week as it feels we are further from Donna, that somehow our lives must go on, yet I know I myself feel frozen in so many ways, and a part of me does not want the calendar to be moving on at all.

I have had contact from politicians, bishops, no end of journalists as well as the public, not to mention our own immediate world.

My sister Leanne, Daddy; Anne Marie and my aunts, uncles, cousins etc – the same.

We have had huge kindness shown to us in simple gestures from every corner of Ireland.

I have met people who dissolved in tears who never even knew Donna but somehow know her now. These things somehow keep one going. Although a big part of me dreads Christmas, New Year, any new week without Donna, I must say that she does feel close now.

That total absence is not as strong now. Donna does feel as close as she was that last day we walked together in a beautiful garden in County Tipperary just days before she died.

Every time I see someone wrapped up with a big wooly hat I smile and think of Donna. Funny what reminders we each have.

I have lost quite a few people in the last few years so I know all too well how mourning is a part of life. Yet when someone is taken the way Donna was from us, it does call for something. What that something is I am still unsure as I write.

My Dad has spoken on television of the cycling issues that desperately need addressing, indeed I have been backing the Dublin Cycling Community in their Allocate For Cyclists/Cycling campaign, and I was annoyed that Fingal County Council refused to allow for cycling and pedestrian improvements to be drawn into new school plans.

I will always advocate for better safety provisions for cyclists and pedestrians. As a non-driver, I am not going to get into specifics on what should or could be done to improve the situation in Dublin where my sister lost her life.

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It is not my business really, but what I can do is share the real aftermath of such a death, a death which seems such an unnecessary one.

I hope that keeping Donna’s memory alive, and sharing my own story since – might make it a bit more real to people as they drive about the city or cycle or walk.

We all can actually do something to stop this happening to another person, to another family.

Donna was an experienced cyclist, wearing her helmet on her way to work that morning.

She loved her job and was looking forward to seeing the staff she told me only that week were like a little family.

I walked the route she took two days afterwards. I felt compelled to. It was not to try to figure out what could have happened, but rather to try and imagine her last moments before the collision. I wondered what she was thinking, what sights she saw. There was a schoolyard with children playing at the time she was passing by, for some reason that gave me great comfort.

I suppose as the elder brother by a few years, I still see Donna as the little girl in Balscadden National School brown uniform with chalk stains and one sock up and one down, an image somewhere recorded in our home.

Donna’s kindness and her loving nature is what is primarily keeping us all going. Her memory gives us strength. Donna is with us and always shall be, but the shock is so great, the pain so deep that nothing right now can reach. This is not a story. This is our life.

There are hundreds of families in Ireland alone who today know World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims in a way we wish we did not.

Globally we are united in our shock, grief, trauma, but also in our mutual respect for one another, that we somehow get up and on with the day.

Only we know how hard that is.

My thoughts are with all others recovering from the shock and loss of a loved one, from a Road Traffic Incident in the last year most especially, and gratitude for those who made today a part of the global calendar of events.

Read: “I said to her that look, you’re mad cycling in the city… it’s a death trap and she said ‘no, it’s cycle-lanes the whole way’”

About the author:

Neil Fox

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