'Grief needs to be dealt with head on': Niamh Fitzpatrick on dealing with loss of sister Dara last year

By Sarah Slater

A person left to cope with the loss of a loved one, should not allow themselves to live in the past, as it will drag them down mentally, a leading psychologist has warned.

Niamh Fitzpatrick, whose sister Captain Dara, died on board the ill-fated Rescue 116 helicopter last year, has revealed that she is finding “dealing with the loss of her sister throughout this year a lot tougher than in, the immediate days, weeks and months after the fatal accident.”

Captain Fitzpatrick was flying a Sikorsky S-92 Irish Coast Guard helicopter when it came down off the Co Mayo coast in bad weather on March 14, last year close to Black Rock Island.

The crew were on a call-out to rescue an injured seaman when tragedy struck.

All four on board died. Her body and that of her co-pilot, Capt Mark Duffy, were recovered from the wreckage but the remains of winchman Ciarán Smith and winch operator Paul Ormsby remain lost at sea.

Ms Fitzpatrick revealed: “I’m finding 2018 way harder to live and cope with the loss of Dara. Last year, I was just numb with my reaction to her death but this year, the reality of knowing that she is never coming back is hitting me.

“But I have to wrap my head around that fact of losing her and get on with my life and it’s not healthy to get stuck in the past as it will drag me and, indeed others, down psychologically.

“I have to, like many others have to do, is be ok or reconcile one part of my brain with living my life and the other with coming to terms that Dara is dead.

“I’ll never be ok that she has died, but as a private person and with my psychologist’s hat on, I can’t let my thoughts live in the past, as they will drag me down and put me in a state of depression.”

She said that she hopes her words comfort others who are dealing with the death of someone close.

This is my current struggle and in some ways may mirror that of others. I stumbled across a saying recently that the word ‘closure’ is a myth and that the joy of memories can co-exist with that of grief and I truly believe that.

“To me, it’s similar to the dire situation divers were faced with, when they had to rescue several young schoolboys caught in the Thai caves with rising waters, a couple of months ago. There was only one way out if their lives were to be saved and that was underwater.

“That was a situation never faced before by so many, and although it was extremely difficult to cope with then and in its aftermath, they found an outcome and people dealing with loss do too over time.

“What I’m trying to do now is take joy from the 45 years I had with Dara and allow those memories live alongside living my life and not feeling bad about it.”

Ms Fitzpatrick added: “There is no template on how to deal with the loss of a loved one or friend. Each relationship is unique and special to those people. It’s not like choosing a particular, type, size and style of jeans or a one size fits all way of thinking.

“Grief needs to be dealt with head on, it’s about honouring and remembering your loved one while looking towards living life in a person’s unique way.

“It’s not about moving on, but instead it’s about dealing with the emotions of loss and incorporating memories.”

Capt Fitzpatrick, had one son, Fionn, who was three-years-old when his mother died and is now being looked after her parents and siblings.

Audio from the helicopter’s black box, recovered from the crash site, revealed that a crew member identified an island ahead of them seconds prior to the crash which occurred in treacherous weather.

The helicopter wreckage was recovered and brought to an examination facility at Gormanston Co Meath.

Last October, a Rescue 116 helmet and lifejacket were discovered on a beach belonging to Mr Smith a father of three.

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