ALWAYS SMILING A picture of Declan Donohue jnr, taken at his graduation from Puddle Duck Creche, Galway, a few weeks before he lost his life.
Geraldine Donohue recalls the pain of losing her young son, Declan, in a farm accident and dealing with the aftermath
“For as long as you need, for the help that you need, we are there.” These were the words of comfort and compassion spoken by Margaret McGoldrick of First Light – words that Geraldine and Declan Donohue and their daughter, Julianna, had been waiting for since the tragic death of their young son, Declan.
The Donohues’ world was turned on its head on July 29, 2015, when young Declan died tragically. The family, who lived in Knocknacarra in Galway, were visiting Declan’s grandparents’ farm in Ballinaboy, Belmullet, when he was in an accident involving a tractor. At just four-and-half years of age, Declan died in his mother’s arms, in an ambulance on their way to hospital.
A monument, erected by family members, now stands on the Ballina Road, Belmullet, where little Declan was pronounced dead.
Now, three years later, a barn dance is being held in his memory on Sunday, August 5, in Healy’s Hall in Glenamoy, Ballina. The dance is also a chance for the family to raise funds for and awareness of Embrace FARM and First Light, charities that help families deal with bereavement.
Speaking to The Mayo News ahead of the event, Geraldine, who is expecting her fourth child, says that Declan was ‘full of beans’ and ‘always laughing and smiling’.
A little boy with a wide circle of friends, who never fought with his older sister and loved listening to classical music before falling asleep, Declan was very funny – and likely to say anything to anyone.
He brought so much joy to everyone, Geraldine recalls, ‘with his mischievous smile and devilment’. He was, she says, ‘a little boy with an old man’s head on his shoulders; it was like he had been on this earth before’.
“He was hilariously funny … He would spot something very innocently, and say something. I work in the hospital, and I would bring my children in to have some interaction with older people. A lot of kids run away when they see an old woman or man. My son was drawn to the older person.
“This time, he saw [an older man] Paddy down the hall, and he walked straight down to him. Paddy had his leg amputated, and he asked, ‘Do you know you are missing a leg?’. Paddy replied, ‘Ya ladeen, it is up in Heaven’. Declan said ‘oh right’. It all made sense to Declan.”
Gerladine recalls another time her little boy’s innocent comments on missing body parts raised an eyebrow. “A week before he died, he was at a Christening, and he turned to a man behind him and said ‘Do you know you are missing more teeth since the last time I seen you?’. It was so innocent and pure you could not take offence to it.”
Declan’s open nature meant he would happily chat away to people he had never met before.
“He was very outgoing and would talk to anyone he met. If you were in a queue, he would talk to each person. I would get embarrassed when my son would go talking to strangers,” Gerldine remembers fondly. “That was my little Deceen, he was a different little boy.”
All too suddenly, that sound of Declan’s chatter was gone.
“When he died the house fell silent. I found it awful hard to live as a mother. The silence of the house was unbelievable, I couldn’t bare the silence. Declan would fill the whole room with noise, and for a mother it was very hard to live with the silence.”
The year following Declan’s death was a daze for Geraldine. The passing of time was a blank. She praised the services provided by Embrace FARM, Ireland’s dedicated farm-accident support network for those impacted by farming accidents.
“They brought us away to Kilkenny the first year and to Trabolgan the second year, where we stayed for two nights B&B and paid for all the outings and activities. They had group counsellors to help us. The kids go separately while the parents are in a counselling session.
“They [the children] do little activities to honour their siblings or whoever has died on the farm belonging to them. They honour their memory and put up balloons in their name. My daughter found that very good and always keeps the stuff they give her.”
Life started to move on, especially with the birth of their second son, Noah Pia.
Back to square one
Geraldine returned to work as a Health Care Assistant with the HSE in University Hospital Galway, but just four months ago a serious accident involving Noah brought all the horrible memories rushing back. He had fallen down the stairs and was rushed to hospital in Galway. Although he made a full recovery, Geraldine realised she needed professional help.
“When Noah had the fall everything came back,” she explained. “I realised I was falling to pieces all along. I was back to square one and living in a daze. I had got no help, and whatever stage I had got to, I knew I couldn’t go on any more. One child was taken from me and another child in my head was potentially gone. I was afraid. I wasn’t able to function as a mother, and I knew I had to give proper time to my kids.
“I was broken and that was when I sought First Light. My daughter was broken too. She was seven years old when Declan died, and she blamed herself … I didn’t realise she was blaming herself. I needed help for her. She had become more withdrawn and quiet and was grieving hard.
“After three or four months, all the supports go and you are drifting through life. When I looked at my daughter I thought, I need to help her.”
Help at last
The nurses who comforted Geraldine in the hospital where Noah was being cared for put her in touch with Maeve Tonge, the Senior Medical Social Worker in UHG. Then, for the first time, she was told about First Light. The charity provides a bereavement support service to parents, families, professionals and communities who experience the sudden loss of a child or young person.
“I contacted First Light on the Monday and left a message on the machine for Margaret McGoldrick [a psychotherapist]. She rang me back and said she was in Dublin but was going to Sligo to liaise with a family who also suffered a bereavement, and she said she would come down to us then.
“The poor woman arrived around seven in the evening, I’d say starved with the hunger. She drove from one place to the other. She drew out a plan for me and Julianna, and said ‘We are going to look after you … for as long as you need, for the help that you need, we are there’.”
Geraldine has found the counselling hugely beneficial, and she is now able to talk about Declan without crying – something she could not do before. Now, she wants more people in a similar position to her to benefit from First Light’s services.
“When I asked for help for my daughter, nobody had given me First Light’s number. That is why I wanted to go public, because people are not aware of them. I’m not the only one in this boat … there are many families who need this help.”
Tickets for the Barn Dance in Healy’s Hall in Glenamoy on Sunday, August 5, are €10 each. They are available in local Belmullet outlets or they can be bought on the night. Alternatively, contact 083 8167462 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. An auction will be held on the night, including a Manchester United jersey signed by the full team.