On Thursday, April 17, 2014, Sean and Ciarán spent the day playing with their grandparents, a perfect day that ended in tragedy.
On our way home, we were involved in a head-on collision with Finbarr O’Rourke. The collision happened within seconds, leaving me crushed and trapped in our car, unable to get my boys out.
While we waited for help to arrive, the panic, shock, and pain was unbearable. I fought for my life, thinking the car was going to burst up in flames at any moment, while trying to comfort both Sean and Ciarán.
They were crying and screaming. All of a sudden, Ciarán became silent. It was a silence I had never experienced before and, as a mother, I knew [it] was not right. I feared the worst for Ciarán. I knew he had been badly injured, or the unthinkable: Dead.
Sean remained crying, while I tried to calm him and get him to get himself and his brother out of the car.
Thankfully, as people came on the scene, we were finally getting help and they phoned for the emergency services. Sean was first to be taken from the car, then Ciarán.
Shortly after this, somebody phoned my husband and held the phone to my ear, where I told him what happened.
The last sighting I had of Ciarán was him being carried to the side of the road, with the evening sun beaming through his blond hair. The next time I saw my little boy was on a stretcher: Dead.
Soon afterwards, my husband Ronan also arrived at the scene with our other child, Caoimhe. We both had to look on at our two sons on the side of the road, Sean being comforted while Ciarán was being resuscitated. The look of horror and disbelief on his face told me our lives were falling apart.
Sean and Ciarán were taken to Portlaoise Hospital, while I was taken to Tullamore Hospital. I was brought to theatre for my first of 10 surgeries in the early hours of Friday, April 18. Hours later, I woke up, but was being supported by a ventilator.
Ronan and his brother Fergus arrived shortly after I woke. Unable to speak due to tubes down my throat, the only way I could communicate was to make the letter ‘C’ with my finger on the sheet. It was then that Ronan confirmed what I already knew in my heart: That Ciarán didn’t make it. My whole life was shattered and my heart was broken.
Early Saturday, Ciarán was brought to me on a stretcher. I tried to hold him on my best side, with total disbelief. I spent that night with Ciarán, talking to him and making the most of our final hours together. I spoke to God about Ciarán’s favourite toys, food, colour, and all the things that made him unique. Ciarán was taken from me on Sunday morning to be waked at home.
That was the last time I saw our little boy. I attended Ciarán’s funeral by ambulance, on a trolley, with the aid of two paramedics and an ICU nurse. It was a day that no parent should have to endure, seeing their child’s coffin, their families devastated with grief.
Over the next few days, the devastating news filtered through that the other driver was drunk.
Five long weeks, 10 surgeries later, I returned home. It was only then that we as a family could be together and grieve for Ciarán. Five weeks is a long time to be separated from two very vulnerable children and a heartbroken husband. Again, this I will never forgive Finbarr O’Rourke for.
Since then, we have struggled every minute of every day trying to be parents to Sean and Caoimhe, to be able to support each other while we are paralysed with grief.
Several milestones have taken place since. Ciarán’s ‘month’s mind’ Mass took place on Ronan’s 40th birthday. Christmas, which should be a time of happiness and joy, was filled with despair and heart-wrenching moments without Ciarán. Then came the New Year. Ciarán’s birthday, January 3. His fifth birthday celebrated for him, but without him, surrounded by our families, heartbroken watching Sean and Caoimhe blow out his candles. Then Easter; we relived every minute of the time coming up to the collision. On April 17, it was Ciarán’s anniversary. We have gone through hell and back since Ciarán’s death. Some of my darkest moments have been at night, when the children slept, trying to come to terms with everything, from the trauma of the crash, the nightmares, the feeling of being on fire, and the screams of my children and being unable to be a mother to them.
On nights that it was unbearable, I just wanted to die. Ronan would hold me while we cried and ached.
I have spent months torturing myself looking for reasons that would have made the outcome different. If I had gone home earlier or later, taken another road, but through counselling I now know that this was not my fault. I was a mother taking her two children home to her husband and their father and our daughter to get ready for Easter. We lived our lives for our children.
Ronan, all this time, had to care for me while I was non-weight-bearing in a wheelchair, while I had to learn how to walk again.
Since the collision, we have lost our business because of the financial strain of hiring extra staff to cover both myself and Ronan’s jobs.
Physically, every day is a struggle. I have days when I cannot function with pain. My left leg requires more surgery and, if this surgery does not work, I could face a lower leg amputation.
Family life will never be the same without Ciarán. We speak his name and try so very hard to include him in everything we do.
Children do not understand that death is permanent and over time they will have to come to the realisation that their brother will not be coming back.
We as parents, Sean, Caoimhe, our parents and extended family will never be able to come to terms with Ciarán’s loss. We will always wonder how life would have been. He never got the chance to start school, make his Communion, Confirmation, go to college, get married, or have children. These are the things that will break our hearts even more, knowing he did not get to live his life, a life that was so brutally taken through the drunken actions of Finbarr O’Rourke. Again this I will never forgive Finbarr O’Rourke for.
What keeps us alive are Sean and Caoimhe. They need us and it is our goal to be good parents to them.
We carry on knowing we have an angel in heaven watching over us. The only glue that keeps our hearts together is Sean and Caoimhe. We all will miss Ciarán every day of the remainder of our lives.
We thank God for four precious years with him, but grieve for the life he was denied by the actions of Finbarr O’Rourke, a drunk driver who shattered and devastated our family.