A journey from darkness into light

Features

HAPPY MEMORIES Ciara O’Malley pictured with her late boyfriend, David Gavin, who died tragically in a swimming accident in Canada in 2017.

Ciara O’Malley’s life crumbled before her when her partner David Gavin died in 2017. Slowly, she has built it back together

Interview
Edwin McGreal

Ciara O’Malley and David Gavin had their whole lives together mapped out.
Going out for ten years, they hit for Vancouver, Canada in early 2017. They were living the dream, seeing the world, making lots of new friends, and their lives were damn near perfect.
Had you asked Ciara then what turning 30 in 2020 would look like, she would have told you it would have probably have consisted of being engaged to her ‘teen sweetheart’ and thinking about married life and having children.
But Ciara’s plans for that future crumbled on June 30, 2017, when she got the most heartbreaking of news.
David and friends had been en route to a Gaelic football tournament in the province of Alberta. They stopped at Kinbasket Lake in eastern British Colombia for a swim to cool down. David, ever the adventurous type, suggested they jump into the water off a bridge. He went first and came up, waving to his friends before suddenly, frighteningly being pulled under.
Despite frantic efforts, his friends could not reach him. What’s more, no one else who came along to help with the rescue efforts could reach him either.
As minutes turned into hours it was clear this was no longer a rescue operation but a recovery operation. In the days that followed David’s family and friends were praying for a funeral.  
Now, just over two years later, Ciara has released a book, ‘Miracles Appear When Loved Ones Are Near’. In it, she recalls her journey from that ‘horrendous’ day to where she is now, in December 2020, an altogether better place.
Writing about the moment when friends in Vancouver called to her and David’s apartment to break the awful news, she says simply: “My heart just fell into pieces.”
Back home, the tragic news brought a huge reaction. Hundreds of thousands of euro flew into a fund set up to assist with search efforts.
Ciara recalls that such support ‘really pushed us on and gave us strength’. The initial efforts were unsuccessful however, and the search had to be called off until the thaw of the following spring.
In the meantime Ciara, David’s parents Michael and Angela, sister Aoife, family and friends had to go home and grieve without a funeral, without a grave to visit.

Harrowing read
Ciara O’Malley wanted her book to be an honest reflection of how low she was at the worst of times. She thought long and hard about the level of detail she wanted to put in and decided in the end not to hold back.
In order for people to be able to see how far she has come, they had to be able to see how far she had fallen.
The winter of 2017/18 was the worst, and Ciara nearly didn’t come through it.
She describes being ‘crippled with anxiety’, times she felt she could not continue and one incident where she actually tried to follow through with that.
It is a harrowing read as she brings you on a vivid journey to the depths of her grief and despair. Her descriptive writing and innate knowledge of her emotions brings you right along with her at every step of a fraught journey.
The grief they were enduring was a very different type of grief because David was still missing. Without a body, without a grave, Ciara’s mind was racing.
“I think it was very hard to grieve because we had nothing to say David was gone,” she recalled this week. “My mind was very active at the time and at times I used to nearly convince myself that David is still over working  in Canada. I knew that wasn’t true but my mind could believe that my heart wanted that. My heart was so broken. It was easier to think this hadn’t happened. I had so much time to think, my mental health took a big hit.”
The search resumed in April 2018 and, within days, searchers found David.
It was a moment Ciara had prayed for but was blown away by how hard it hit her.
Her description of finding herself beside David’s body under a sheet of plastic is powerful and heartbreaking in equal measure.
“I had spent the whole ten months almost glamorising what the moment was going to be like,” she recalls. “All we wanted was to find David. I had this image in my head, this image created that was so completely unrealistic. The minute we found out it was like I had just found out that he was gone again.
“But then another part of me was so grateful because the odds were so against us and this is what we wanted but that heartbreak … It was real. My head couldn’t pretend any more that he was over working in Canada and a realisation was there that I had to deal with this. I was so grateful too though.
“It was very conflicting. The way it was described to me as ‘the happiest sad news’ is exactly how I would describe it,” she recalls.
Ciara talks in the book about ‘Operation One’ being ‘Finding David’ while ‘Operation Two was Finding Ciara’.
That was a very different type of journey, much more gradual. It did not suddenly start the day David’s body was found. The winter that would follow would take a huge toll on Ciara.
She returned to work but was ‘riddled with anxiety’ while that Christmas she reached ‘an all-time low’.
“I was only surviving; I was not living,” she recalls in the book.
On New Year’s Day 2019, she turned a big corner.

Finding the way forward 

Edwin McGreal

Ciara O’Malley knows that many people who will hear or read her story won’t believe her.
She knows that talking about spirits, mediums and communicating with her late boyfriend David Gavin will be dismissed by some.
In her book, she writes about signs she received from David in the form of dragonflies and robins, details how she has communicated with David through mediums, and describes how a friend of hers, who she refers to as Sophie, came to her to tell her that David was communicating through her.
She’s not trying to convert anyone to this outlook, she says, merely to tell her own story, her experience.
It is, no matter what your beliefs are, an incredible story that has brought her from the depths of despair to a very better state of being now.
“For anyone who might be cynical and might not have a belief like that, that’s perfectly okay. At times I was like ‘should I be sharing this?’ But it is part of the journey and it is the reason I got to where I am today. It’s not my intention to make anyone believe … I just want to share my journey and show you that me and David’s relationship continued in a different sense.”
Central to this journey is ‘Sophie’. Ciara recalls in the book how Sophie called to visit her at home in Manulla one evening in the winter of 2017 and told her she had been seeing David.
“I think I said something like ‘That’s not funny’.
“Out of nowhere, I asked, ‘Can you see David right now?’
“She replied ‘Yes’, and even pointed out that David was standing right behind me, minding me.
“She proceeded to describe what he looked like and what he was wearing, describing his mannerisms. It was him. It was strange because I knew David was always with me. To have someone you trust point him out in a room was so emotional.”
Ciara had, she writes, ‘my very own personal medium’.
“She has a fantastic gift, but for now, she is not ready to be recognised for her abilities, and I will honour that for her,” she added.
She said Sophie gave her a first written message from David that ‘recalled a memory from years ago’. She had similar experiences with visits to other mediums, where they described personal memories involving David.
Ciara would get calls on days she was feeling low from Sophie asking how she was and saying ‘David is worried’.
She recalls how David, through Sophie, tried to intervene and guide the way for Ciara.
Despite this, Ciara was struggling by the end of 2018.
‘All grief and no Ciara’
In her book, Ciara describes her second Christmas without David, Christmas 2018, as harder than she could possibly have imagined. She had, she writes, ‘become all grief and no Ciara’. She needed to turn a corner and knew that for all the help and support she had from family, friends and professionals, she needed to drive this change herself.
On New Year’s Day 2019 she visited David’s grave in Breaffy Cemetery.
“I sat and cried and poured my soul out to him. I let go of the control that had a tight grip on my grief,” she writes in the book.
She made a series of resolutions. She was not ‘moving on’ – she replaced that phrase with ‘moving forward’.
“I decided to stop surviving and start living,” she recalled this week. She affirmed that feelings of anger and sadness were real and had to be given space. She changed her outlook though and started to appreciate the good things in her life.
Tools like positive affirmation, meditation and ‘gratitude’ paved the road ahead for her.
Visits to her friend in Melbourne and sister in Vietnam were big steps forward on Ciara’s ‘self-healing journey’. She had completed reiki courses too and is now a reiki practitioner, as well as continuing her work as a youth worker.
“I started realising that by changing my life and being more positive and changing my mindset, I was honouring David more so than staying stuck in my grief and not living because he wouldn’t want that.”
On a holiday to the US some years ago, David bought Ciara a bracelet with ‘everything happens for a reason’ inscribed on it. She firmly believes in that perspective, describing it in her book as her ‘divinely guided plan’.
“I would do anything in this moment to have David back, but I am also very aware that while things have been horrendous, I have also been granted a journey where David continued to come with me and I am so grateful, and I just think this is so special. I do feel that David is with me every day.”
Ciara describes writing the book as a ‘scratch itching to get out’. She hopes it will help show other people on a similar journey that there is light after the darkness.
“I think I am a better person now than I ever was, and I have a gratitude for life now that I never had before. I see that every day is a blessing.
“My mother remembers me lying on the floor and I’d be unconsolable. She would say these days ‘I just don’t know how we got to here’. I knew David was guiding me and I knew he’d want it and I started to want it. I was so young, I said I’m going to have my best life and honour David.”

Charity contribution
Ciara O’Malley is donating €2 from every book sold to Mayo Roscommon Hospice. The book was launched online on Saturday night last from Castle Book Shop in Castlebar. The book is available online from bookhubpublishing.com and in selected bookstores.