My son, Seán, died of SADS in the early hours of 17 October 2010, at home. He was 19 years old. His mother, Pauline, and his sister, Susanna (aged 16 at the time), were away for the weekend. It was a strange and terrible day, and it kicked off what has been the strangest few years of our lives.
We are a close family – we supported each other in a time of raw emotions and disbelief, and we had wonderful support from extended family, neighbours, friends and our local community. Sean, of all people, had seemed much too alive to die, yet we found ourselves living through his wake and funeral, and the aftermath – as well as the concurrent ‘Big Freeze’, which made everything seem even more unreal.
It was particularly difficult for Susanna, who had just entered her Leaving Cert year at the time of Sean’s death. She coped then and has coped ever since – she is now in France, in the third year of a degree course – but coping took its toll, as it did on Pauline and me. Pauline went back to work very soon after Sean died, and I continued with my freelance editorial work from home, as I still do. Just getting around was extremely difficult that winter – we live in a fairly remote rural area. The world seemed to have lost its bearings. As Bob Marley sang in a song that Sean loved, everything had changed – nothing remained the same.
Contact with CRY was hugely helpful for us. There was the relief of being screened for potential heart problems and given the ‘all clear’; also, the cause of Sean’s death was explained clearly to us for the first time. Susanna in particular has benefited from ongoing help and support from CRY, which is a wonderful organization.
For me, coping included writing a blog and songs. Pauline ‘bought into’ what I was writing, and found it helpful. She and I often sang some of the songs together in the evenings. Sean’s birthdays and anniversaries have been emotional, although really we think of him all the time – if he is not at the front of our minds at any given time, then he is certainly at the back of them. For his 21st birthday we organized a night of music in the local pub, at which some of Sean’s and our friends and local musicians performed. It was a great success, and we raised some money for CRY.
Other people move on with their lives, naturally – Sean’s friends, for example. It has been more difficult for Sean’s girlfriend, Clio, and for us. On some levels we move on, but on others we do not, and never will. But we don’t feel sorry for ourselves: we know that many other people have had to face equal, or even worse, trauma.
Healing takes a long time, and can only be partial. Heartache persists. We love Sean, and Sean is gone – though often we feel that he is still around, watching over us and helping us when we need help. I certainly feel that way. We are still standing, and we are resilient.
Brendan O’Brien – 20th September 2013
The O’Brien Family featured on Nationwide on 18th September-http://www.rte.ie/player/show/10199932/
You can also watch Brendan’s song “Seán and Clio in the snow” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=niTFyZmZg1I