A mother, whose 11-year old son died in violent circumstances after they had just emerged from a period of homelessness, has dedicated herself to helping others who are struggling with the loss of a child or living without a home of their own.
In her first interview since the horrific death of her son Brooklyn Colbert, last November in Limerick, Sonia Aylmer said she would like to be involved in setting up a group to help people cope with the death of a child.
She is also training to participate in the annual Great Limerick Run, which takes place in May, in an effort to raise awareness about the Novas charity, which helps people who have become homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless.
“Myself and Brooklyn were in our home for five years and we became homeless as our landlord wanted to move back in (to the property). That was about two years ago.
"We were fighting to stay in our home as long as we could. I got in touch with Novas and they put me in the right direction, they were very good to us,” Sonia said.
Sonia and Brooklyn, who were “inseparable”, ended up living in a hotel room for about two months up until last October, when they eventually secured a house.
However, before they moved into their dream home, tragedy struck when Brooklyn’s body was found in a house in the city on November 3 last.
“We were in the hotel for about eight weeks and Novas helped us with our washing and provided tokens for the launderette.
"They gave us vouchers to get our dinner cheaper in Our Lady of Lourdes community centre. At the time we were made homeless we didn't know where to turn to.
"It was a blessing I had Novas, and since Brooklyn passed, they have been a massive help to me.
“That’s why I’m so passionate about giving back to them. I know Brooklyn would love to give back and to do something for Novas.
"He wasn’t embarrassed that he was homeless, he was very grounded, very happy.”
Brooklyn was one of more than 1,000 children supported by Novas in 2018.
Julie McKenna, of Novas, said: “We are so thankful and very privileged to know Sonia, and to have known Brooklyn and worked with him. He was a kid with a spark about him and he left an impact and a memory wherever he went.”
Ms McKenna said Novas was “humbled” Sonia wanted to highlight the charity’s services “despite everything she is experiencing, and, that she wants Brooklyn’s memory to live on through giving back to Novas”.
She said she organised for Sonia to meet recently with Kathleen Chada, whose two sons were killed six years ago; John Whelan whose sister and her two young daughters were killed in their home in 2008; and Paidi Campbell, whose daughter was killed in 2007.
Sonia says she now has hope she can learn to cope with her heartbreaking loss, but she also would like to help others who have gone, and, will go, through similar experiences.
To see how far Kathleen has come, and to see the strength she has, it shows it can be done. I’ve been amazed by her, she gave me a bit of strength, they were a great support.
"Sometimes you think you’re going mad, they just kind of clarified that what I was feeling was normal, no one actually understands unless you’ve experienced it.”
Sonia said her “whole world crashed” when Brooklyn died.
“He was more than my son, he was my best friend, he was like the other part of me, we were inseparable.”
Prayer has sustained her faith that Brooklyn’s spirit remains close to her: “I go to church most days to talk to Brooklyn and light a candle. We used to light candles in the church, it was a thing we did.
"I have his picture in the Augustinians Church, so I go in there and I light a candle and I have a chat with him.
“It only came to me the other day, that the Great Limerick Run finishing line is just after we pass that church, so it’ll be nice, it’ll be special.
"I feel him with me, I still do. We had so much of a bond. The bond we had can’t just be gone, it can’t just be broken.
"I believe we still have that bond, and I think he is guiding me stronger than ever.”
Sonia smiles when she looked at a collage of photos and videos of Brooklyn on her mobile phone.
“I’m so glad I have all these photos and videos now. Brooklyn was very caring, he was like a protector, he had a great heart, he was very soft.”
“He loved animals as well; he thought his dog ‘Buddy’ was his brother, he loved the dog, they were always together.”
Sonia has received letters of condolences from Liverpool FC, Brooklyn’s favourite soccer club, as well as Temple Street Children’s Hospital where Brooklyn was treated for a condition when he was a baby.
The letters were “lovely to get, and a surprise, it just showed the impact that Brooklyn had, he was a very funny child, and witty,” said Sonia.
The past 10 weeks since Brooklyn’s death have been “horrendous”, but she feels “Brooklyn is giving me strength from somewhere”.
Sonia plans to participate in the Great Limerick Run next May, which they had both previously competed in.
“The main reason is for Brooklyn, because we always took part in it. Brooklyn loved to do the kids run - one year he did it twice, so he got two medals that day.
“I’m focusing on the run and training and knowing that I have to do it to make Brooklyn proud.
"It has been good for my mental health as well. I know he’d be very proud of me to do it.”