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Finding support in times of tragedy

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Friends bonded by tragedy hope to grow supports for grieving partners

Edwin McGreal

When Ciara O’Malley and Sarah Egan became friends during their studies at Letterkenny IT, neither could have imagined the terrible tragedies which would see their friendship becoming invaluable.
Ciara, from Manulla, was plunged into heartbreak when her partner, David Gavin, drowned in Canada in 2017. To make matters harder still, his body was missing until extensive searches finally saw his body found in April of this year.
Sarah, from Knock, lost her partner, Gerard Greene last April, ironically the same month David Gavin was found. He died when a branch of a tree fell on him while he was working for a tree services company in Curry, Co Sligo.  
They have supported each other through some very tough times and are now joining forces to organise a bereavement workshop in Breaffy House Hotel this Sunday.
“It is unfortunate as friends we are going through the same nightmare but, in a strange way, we have been blessed to be able to support each other through the devastating effects of losing your life long partner, your best friend, your soulmate and your future,” Ciara O’Malley told The Mayo News. “The main reason for setting this workshop is to show other people who have also lost their partner or spouse that they are not alone,” she added.
It will take place in the hotel on Sunday from 2pm to 6pm and the workshop will be facilitated by Laura and TJ Coleman who specialise in grief and loss counselling. The workshop is being held in association with Mayo Roscommon Hospice.  
Having walked a hard road in recent times, both Ciara and Sarah felt there was a shortfall in supports for people like them.
“We are both attending counselling which we find beneficial, however, we have noticed a massive flaw in the support services for people who have lost their spouse. Online forums are great yes, but we feel we cannot express ourselves the way in which we intend to fully, and in reality, you are essentially talking to a computer.
“Currently, in Mayo, where we both live, Anam Cara has been established to offer support for parents and siblings. They offer support groups which have been proven to be beneficial. We believe that this is what is needed for partners and are passionate about setting up a support system to help us and many others,” said Ciara.
She expressed her gratitude to Mayo Roscommon Hospice and to ‘two amazing counsellors’, Laura and TJ Coleman.
Shared experiences
They are keen to stress that the day is not about their stories but about the stories of everyone who attends and hope people’s shared experience of what has helped them deal with their grief will be therapeutic.
“This situation can be very isolating, every minuscule aspect of our lives has been affected in ways that no one who hasn’t been through this can imagine.
“Our friends and family have been incredible. We are so blessed to have such a wide circle of support around us. As unlucky as we have been to be two good friends from college to have lost our partners within a year of each other, we are blessed to have each other through this. We don’t need to explain ourselves to one another. What seems crazy or ridiculous thoughts that many going through such grief and tragedy have and are often afraid/embarrassed to say for fear that no-one understands them, we can say with no judgement or lack of understanding and know that this is our new normal.
“We hope people who attend can take something away from the day. Even just to realise that they are not alone. People outside the situation, as hard as they try to understand what we’re going through, will never truly and I hope never have to know what we are going through. The event is about finding hope, some peace and to pass on our strength to one another and hopefully maybe kickstart a support network for grieving partners and spouses,” added Ciara.
Guest speakers on the day, who will discuss their experience of losing their partner or spouse, include Colette Byrne, creator of widow.ie and Louise Galvin, professional rugby and basketball player.
There will be an open forum for anyone who has lost their partner or spouse to discuss their experience of grief and the day will end with a special remembrance ceremony in honour of loved ones departed.
“People are more than welcome to bring a friend or family member as added support if you do not feel comfortable going alone,” said Ciara.
To book your place, send a photo of your loved one and your information to organisers Ciara O’Malley and Sarah Egan at infopast2018@gmail.com.

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