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April, John, Colum and Sadie last weekend before attending a family wedding. Photo by: Handout

The Irish Homecoming: God bless the children - tragedy in Galway reminds us how precious our families are

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April, John, Colum and Sadie last weekend before attending a family wedding. Photo by: Handout

What’s more precious in life than our children? Absolutely nothing, a fact made heartbreakingly clear to April Drew thanks to a tragic news story out of Galway.

It's Sunday evening. I’ve just finished putting my two little babies to bed. After reading to my 22-month-old son, Colum, we said our prayers.

Tonight we thanked God for a wonderful weekend.  We just returned home from celebrating the marriage of John’s cousin and my friend Ailish Markham to her wonderful husband Billy O’Connor.  We also thanked God for all our family, some of whom got a special mention by name.

We prayed for a safe night and a good week, and like we do every night we thank God for our health and pray it always remains good. It’s a top priority in our prayers every night, that last request.

John and I are acutely aware how blessed we are with two healthy children and a very happy life together but sometimes, like everyone I guess, we take it for granted.

We fight about the silly things (whose turn it is to take out the garbage, or who is next to change our daughter Sadie’s latest diaper disaster). We complain about each other to our friends and we go through life very often not living in the present. Aren’t we all guilty of planning ahead too much and not seeing what’s right in front of us?

And every few weeks we hear of someone else’s misfortune. Sometimes we experience first-hand the devastation that loss can have on us, and other times a simple news article can give us a good wake-up call.

Tonight I got that wakeup call again. I was just about to sit down to begin working on the Irish Voice’s sister publication, Irish Central Community News, when I briefly brought up online the Irish news of the day to see what bits I missed over the weekend while we were out celebrating the wedding.

A family in Co. Offaly is torn apart by loss and the unknown. Their daughter Catherine’s murdered body is still missing in Wales. A man has been charged with the 37-year-old’s murder.

A misfortunate soul was killed in a house fire in Co. Fermanagh on Sunday evening; no doubt this man leaves devastated family and friends behind. 

A man in his thirties out for a spin on his motorcycle on Sunday afternoon died after he collided with a car; more sad news.

I have a quick read through some economic and political pieces before I see it.

The headline says it all. I need not read any further. “Two Children Killed in Co. Galway Road Crash.”

My stomach begins to churn. A shiver runs through my spine. I rub my arms up and down to warm the goose bumps that have formed ever so quickly.  My uplifting mood instantly slumps.

I open the story. I have to read it, but I know details of their deaths won’t be important.

Two children are dead on this beautiful Sunday afternoon. They live in Galway, an hour away. Their names are Katie and Grace Gilmore.

Just after lunch a father took his two precious daughters out for a walk. I’m sure he wasn’t the only father in Ireland (or in the U.S.) on Sunday afternoon out for a walk with his children. Katie was two and her baby sister only 12-weeks.

Shortly before 2 p.m. a car plunged into the father, John, and the Phil and Teds double stroller (the exact same one I have) where the little girls were sitting in. The two girls are dead.

The father and driver of the car, who apparently suffered a seizure, are in hospital. It is reported that they will survive.

Why did this happen?  I ask.

I selfishly put myself in the mother Michelle’s position. It could have been my own husband John taking Colum and Sadie out for a walk while I got some me time or caught up with work or did some shopping. It could have been me at the other end of the line that the police phoned to say my babies were killed a few minutes earlier.

And selfishly I’m glad it’s not me. I wondered what the last words were that this poor mother said to her babies before she bid them farewell on their walk. When was the last time she hugged them?

There it goes. The first tear drops hard onto my keyboard and then the next and it doesn’t stop.

I cry for the loss of these two beautiful children. I cry for those they have left behind, and then through the ongoing tears I get angry. I’m angry at the loss of so many beautiful children.

I cry for the pain my friend Aileen in Co. Kerry and her family suffer every day for the past year and a half. Aileen lost one of her twin boys, Eanna, 19, to a brain tumor.

When diagnosed two years previous there was always hope he would survive, but he didn’t. It’s still hard to this day for all of us to comprehend that Eanna is not on this earth with us anymore, and why not?

What did he ever do wrong to have his life robbed from him at such a young age?  He was destined for big things, great things like his twin brother Darren.

While crying for Eanna I remember the Staunton family in New York and the heartache they are no doubt still suffering after losing their beautiful son Rory, 12, back in April. Rory died after contracting sepsis. He would be alive today if doctors diagnosed his condition earlier.

And then there is little Saoirse Heffernan whose family live in Co. Kerry. Saoirse died from Batten’s Disease two years ago at the young age of five.

Her family is still coming to terms with her loss but it gets worse. Their only other child Liam, 3, also has the fatal disease. They are amazing people who are very much living each day in the present surrounded by their adorable son who, like any three-year-old, brings endless joy and unconditional love to their lives.

A friend of mine whom I won’t mention personally just suffered the devastating heartbreak of a miscarriage. It was her fourth and she doesn’t have any children.

She can’t cope with it at the moment. I pray time and counseling will give her what she needs to get through this.

And the list goes on. Everyone reading this knows someone affected by the loss of a child.

We empathize with their loved ones, we share in their grief, we are there for them as much as possible and when weeks pass by we resume our own normality.

We slowly begin to take things for granted again (after promising to never do so), we lose patience with our kids for the slightest of things and we forget how precious they are.

We forget that we don’t know what the future holds for any of us. We forget that life is short for some of our children; we just don’t know it yet.

I have a knot in my stomach writing this last line. It makes me sick to even think that I could lose any of my children, so I thank God every night for them and their health and I pray that they will remain that way until they are 80 years old and never have to suffer physical or mental pain, ever.

I’m not sure I would be strong enough to cope with such loss. It’s best not to even think about it.

I had planned to write an upbeat article this week. I wanted to share with you all the funny things our children say or do.

It wasn’t my week for humor I suppose. Maybe another time, but for today I ask all of you reading this with children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews to appreciate them, spend time with them and most of all love them as much as you can because we just never know the cards we will be dealt in the future.

Ciaran Staunton (Rory’s father) ended his eulogy about his beautiful son in a church in Queens back in April with the words, “Go home and hug your children.” Eanna’s mom, Aileen always ends her text messages to me by saying “hug those beautiful babies of yours.”

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