By sheer coincidence I arrange to meet Mary Rogers on the 12th anniversary of the death of her beloved only child, Louise. The Baylin resident jokes that it's a sign from her daughter that she has to keep busy and do something positive on what could be a very dark day.
Mary is here to talk about Anam Cara, the bereavement support charity for parents, just weeks after their poignant annual balloon release ceremony in Hodson Bay where people from all over the country came to remember their children and support others who have been through immense loss. It's an organisation she is passionate about and is keen to spread the word to others grieving that there is support out there.
Indeed, Anam Cara, which means soul friend 'as Gaeilge', is hoping to set up a Midland group in February next year, and it is open to all bereaved parents regardless of the age of the child or children, the circumstances of their death, or whether it was recent or not. For Mary, her first contact with the organisation came about quite by chance and some five years after the death of her daughter from breast cancer, aged just 35.
“I was in the Hodson Bay at a wedding and somebody told me that there is an event every November, a balloon release day that Anam Cara do for people who have lost children. They gave me the date and said 'Why don't you go along and see what it's like',” she recalls. So she did and found it a very “moving” and “emotional” day with uplifting speakers, music and the opportunity to release a balloon with a message for the person you had lost. What Mary found surprising was her own reaction because she felt she had dealt with her grief.
“I found it extremely hard, I was surprised by own reaction. I broke down, I was extremely upset. I thought I had grieved. It was at least five years after Louise had died so I had in my own mind dealt with it, I had grieved, people could mention her name and I didn't break down so I got a big surprise when this happened.”
“From that moment I thought that was a lovely way to remember and I thought I must get involved in the organisation and find out more.”
She later travelled to a group meeting, a forum where they can connect with other bereaved parents. Anam Cara also runs a specific group for those like Mary who lose an only child as this is a very different experience with no other siblings to concentrate on.
The Baylin resident found the group setting very helpful, and it certainly taught her a lot.
“There are people who sit there and don't say anything and there are people who can't stop talking, it's all different. It's very interesting because I never realised there are totally different ways of grieving,” she observed.
“I think it is very important that parents who have this common bond help each other on the journey,” saying that she has made important friends along the way and referred others.
Asked what the group meant for her, she replied: “It helped me in that I'm stronger for it, definitely. Emotionally I'm definitely stronger and I can speak about my daughter without getting depressed and upset... I think when you've lost a child you should be able take on anything after that.”
“I know they are always there and they're my rock (Anam Cara). If I need any help whatsoever I know all that I have to pick up the phone and Sharon and Clodagh and they will point me in the right direction,” Mary said as her phone pinged with yet another message of support from her late daughter's friends and families.
Acknowledging that November can be difficult, dark and lonely month for many, Mary tries to stay positive as her daughter would want her to be and she is now getting ready for Christmas which was her Louise's favourite time of year.
When asked to describe Louise, Mary just lights up with enthusiasm for her daughter. “She was effervescent 100%. She was always positive and upbeat. She lived life in the fast lane, she worked for Budget Travel as a rep in the summer and went to different countries and then in the winter she worked for Top Flight as a ski rep in places like Andorra.
"She was always forever on the move, it's almost as if she knew she would die at a young age. Every single weekend even when she was having treatment she'd say come on, we're going to this, going there....”
Indeed, travelling to see the oncologist she recalled that Louise played a song called 'Life' by Desiree, a song dedicated to enjoying everyday to the full, something she put into practice everyday. Louise later married, travelled to Australia for six months, even doing her PADI diving certificate, as well as trips here, there and everywhere among her many adventures during her final years.
“I feel blessed that I have taken it on the chin with Louise in the background guiding me through it and got on with life. I have done the best I could in the sense that I go out and watch the rugby matches as I did with her, have a pint on a high stool as I would have with her and I go to shops. I enjoy life. I really try to enjoy life and try not to focus on all the negativity,” Mary said, adding that she believes in signs and finds them pointing to Louise all the time.
“I focused on how my daughter would have wanted me to live,” Mary, a self confessed animal lover ended before heading off to help out with a bucket collection for the ASPCA, just one of four animal rescue groups she is now involved in.
For more information, check out the https://anamcara.ie/ website.
The late Louise Deveraux Gavin pictured in the middle with her friends while skiing in Andorra.