'Mum urged me to go to uni, but now she won't see me graduate which breaks my heart'
A young Co Down student has touched the hearts of strangers as a letter she wrote to her mother, who died suddenly, was shared on Facebook. Danielle Wilson (19) talks to Karen Ireland about why she wrote the letter and how she's learning to cope with grief.
Dear mummy… the reality is grief isn't pretty.' Those are the opening words which Danielle Wilson wrote in a letter to her late mum which was posted on Facebook this week.
The first-year student at Hull University said she had thoughts tumbling all over themselves in her head, and she couldn't get them out, so she decided to write them down.
Little did she know her poignant tribute to her mum Karyn, who died aged 46, would be read and shared by so many.
"I have been overwhelmed at the response to the letter," reveals Danielle. "I just wrote it to get my thoughts written down, but loads of people have been getting in touch about it.
"They've all said how much it touched them and made them cry and how proud my mum would be of me."
Now back home in Blackskull, Co Down, with her dad Damian, Danielle says that's the one thing she clings to - that her mum would be proud of her.
"She did everything she could to give me the best life possible and I just wanted to go to university and make her proud," she says.
"It was mum who encouraged me to do my A-levels and convinced me that I could go to university. Now she won't be here to see me graduate, which breaks my heart."
Danielle, who is an only child, had her life turned upside down in May this year when her beloved mum passed away suddenly.
"I would speak to mum most days on the phone, as we were very close. We would talk for ages about nothing and silly things, but I always phoned her to let her know I was okay.
"I spoke to her on the Sunday night and she was complaining of not really feeling great, but said she would be fine. As usual we told each other we loved each other before we hung up."
Those were to be the last words Danielle spoke to her mum, who passed away on Tuesday, May 9.
"According to dad she had been feeling a bit better on Monday and Tuesday, but on Tuesday evening she was very sleepy and groggy. Dad tried to get her up, as she wanted out of bed, but when he went to help her head fell back and that was it.
"He tried to do CPR and when the ambulance came they worked with her but there was nothing more could be done. She was gone."
Danielle recalls: "I have a part-time job and work nights and I always phone my granny every night to tell her I am home safe.
"That night she held it together, but I had a feeling there was something she wasn't telling me. I hadn't been able to get mum on the phone and when I woke up the next morning I just knew something wasn't right. I texted my best friend Becca and said something is really wrong."
However, it wasn't until she got to speak to her dad that Danielle found out the gravity of what was going on.
"He told me James, my boyfriend, was on his way and told me to sit down. He told me to be brave and strong and then he started to say, 'You know the way your mummy wasn't feeling well...' I just screamed down the phone, 'Dad, tell me my mummy isn't dead'. I started screaming when I realised that was what he was trying to tell me."
Danielle's boyfriend, James Price, a plasterer from Louth, arrived shortly after to comfort her and help her make plans to return home.
"James and his family were fantastic. His mum kept sending me food to make sure I was eating. All I wanted to do was get home to dad. I felt so far away and so helpless," she says.
Although a short plane journey home, to Danielle it felt lonely and endless and she cried thewhole way.
"I just wanted to hug dad and to see mum again. I knew I wouldn't really believe it until I saw her body," she says.
"I spent hours with her coffin and it gave me real comfort. I knew she wasn't there, but I knew she was with me and could hear everything I was saying to her," Danielle explains.
She reveals that the days which followed, with the wake and the funeral, are all a bit of a blur.
"I started to dream about mummy all the time and I had this one dream where dad and I were in a boat and mummy was in another boat which was full of balloons like the film Up. She started floating up towards the sky," she says.
"I like to think that was her telling me she was fine and she had gone to heaven."
At just 19 years old, Danielle has her whole life ahead of her with many milestones to come, something she addresses in the letter, saying: 'Questions flood me, how am I meant to grow older without my momma by my side. If the time comes, who will help me pick a wedding dress? Who will teach me how to raise my own children?'
Danielle says: "I know there are so many times to come when I will want her by my side and she won't be there.
"I really wanted my mum at my graduation as it's down to her I'll have got there, thanks to her persuasion and encouragement, and every girl wants their mum with them when they pick out their wedding dress. I still can't comprehend that she won't be there for any of that."
In the letter, she goes on to say that she is being strong and that her dad is keeping his promise to look after her.
The duo are comforting each other as Danielle has returned home early from Hull.
She adds in her letter: 'You are here with us even in the little things. In the shop when I see a top you would like. In the morning when I open the bathroom cabinet I see your toothbrush. When I look in the mirror I see you through me (I never liked to admit it but we do look similar).
'We never knew you were going to leave. I still talk to you. I feel lonely at times but I have you in my heart. I hold all those memories close, mum, all those silly things like you falling over baskets or dunking for apples. I listen to your favourite song when I get sad and I know that somewhere over the rainbow you are happy.'
Danielle says she poured her heart out in the letter and ended it by thanking her mum. "I just wanted to thank her for her unconditional love and for teaching me right from wrong. I wanted to thank her for pushing me to be the best I can be," she adds.
"Sometimes it still doesn't feel real and I wonder when it will hit me. It has been such a shock for everyone. Every morning I wake up and it hits me again like a wave and I feel the pain start again. So many people are left behind, including mum's parents and dad's parents. We are all left wondering, as we have no real answers yet.
"If I could talk to mum one last time I would tell her I love her and I would tell her it's time to come home now."