On July 9th, 2016, I dropped my middle child and only daughter Ciara at the Lidl car park in Kilkenny for the concert bus to go to Kodaline in Marley Park. I never thought the last time I would ever see Ciara's smiling face was in my rearview mirror as she ran after the car, and her last words I would ever hear my daughter speak to me were, 'I need some money to go to Pegasus.'
Later that night, when John and I received the phone call from her friend that Ciara had collapsed at the concert was the day our lives changed. We changed. There are so many facets to grief, and it not only physically robs you of the one person you would have died for, but I was robbed of being me. I couldn't breathe without heart-wrenching pain, I couldn't concentrate, there was a constant white noise in my ears. I lost my empathy. I lost the joy of life.
I had experienced grief in my life. My sister died when I was nearly seventeen years old, and my father, who I was extremely close to, passed away in 2012. But, the pain at losing Ciara was a pain I had never experienced before. At college, I had learned about Kubler Ross stages of grief, but it's much more than that. It doesn't touch on many other emotions, including the madness that grief brings. A child is not supposed to die before their parent.
The one thing that kept me going were my sons and my husband. People told me that I wouldn't ever get over Ciara's death, that I would take the pain to my grave. I know people meant well, but their words of comfort were not helpful at all.
I went to a grief counsellor. We discussed that I had started writing in 2013 when Ciara told me to do something other in my life than drinking coffee in town with my friends. The counsellor suggested I should start writing again. I couldn't read a sentence, let alone write one. She told me just to write my grief. So I wrote my pain and heartbreak, and soon it turned into a Dear Ciara Diary.
I was on the second draft of my novel Dublin's Girl when Ciara passed away. I tried to go back to writing the book, but my concentration was gone. There was a constant white noise in my head. But I continued to write in my Dear Ciara Diary At first, it was all the pain of losing her, and slowly in time, I would tell her what her dad is doing and what her brothers are doing.
In November 2018, John and I were on the train to Dublin. I had been trying to do some writing, and I always loved watching people on the train. I was scrolling through Twitter and berating myself for for being on social media, and I saw a Ryan Tubridy Tweet that it was the last day to send in Letters of Regret to a loved one. I hadn't listened to his show for a while, as I had started going to the swimming pool most mornings. I found swimming therapeutic, and no one can see you crying in the water.
When I read the tweet, I immediately thought of Ciara and that my only regret was not giving her a hug before she left for the concert
As we walked around Dublin, I was thinking about the letter. In my Dear Ciara diary, I would ask her did she remember when we did something. I didn't tell John about the letter.
When we arrived home in Kilkenny, I checked the RTE One website, and Thursday was the penultimate day for the letters. I typed the letter and wasn't too sure about sending it but hit send about 11.30 before going to bed. The following morning I went for my usual Friday morning swim and forgot about the letter. After my swim, I checked my phone. I had missed calls and voicemail messages that Ryan had read my Letter of Regret. Not only had Ryan read my letter, but I had won a cash prize. That wasn't why I wrote the letter. It helped me get back to writing, and I needed that validation to continue to do things without Ciara.
In 2019 I submitted the novel to Kate Nash Literary Agency and was stunned when she accepted it and led to my three-book deal with Aria/Head of Zeus.
Grief can be lonely. You watch people move on and their children move forward in life, leaving school going to college, achieving all the milestones and rights of passage that you expected your child to achieve. But, when a person loses a child they a suspended. And that is lonely because you can't begrudge people sharing their happiness with the child achievements.
There is guilt with the grief you are forgetting about your loved one when it eases. And it is coming to terms and accepting that you have to live. And I know Ciara wouldn't want her dad or me to stop living. The madness grief brings, and the flashbacks have gone. I still have a way to go, as I still find it hard to talk about Ciara. When I go to sleep, and my first waking thought is Caira. She is with me all day. But the excruciating pain of a broken heart has dulled to a constant ache.