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Navigating the Path to Grief Recovery: A Personal Journey

Updated: Mar 31

On July 9, 2016, I my middle and only daughter, Ciara, at the Lidl car park in Kilkenny for the concert bus to Kodaline in Marley Park. I never thought the last time I would see Ciara's smiling in my m in my rearview mirror as she ran after the car, and the 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, it 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, whom I was extremely close to, passed away in 2012. But the pain of losing Ciara was a pain I had never experienced before. At college, I learned about Kubler Ross's 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 was my sons and my husband. People told me that I would never get over Ciara's death, that I would take the pain to my grave. I know people meant well, but their comfort words were not helpful.

I went to a grief counsellor. We discussed that I had started writing in 2013 when Ciara told me to do something other 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 about my grief. So I wrote about 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 about the pain of losing her, and slowly, in time, I would tell her what her dad was doing and what her brothers were 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 being on social media when I saw a Ryan Tubridy tweet that it was the last day to send 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 if she remembered 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 sure about sending it, but I hit send at about 11:30 before bed. I went for my usual Friday morning swim the following morning 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, which 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, and achieving all the milestones and rights of passage that you expected your child to achieve. But when a person loses a child, they are suspended. And that is lonely because you can't begrudge people sharing their happiness with their child's achievements.

There is guilt with the grief when you start forgetting about your loved one as the pain eases. And it is about coming to terms with 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, my first waking thought is Ciara. She is with me all day. But the excruciating pain of a broken heart has dulled to a constant ache.

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