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Why we owe everything to our dads after losing mum

 

Ahead of Fathers' Day Kerry McKittrick talks to three women whose mothers died when they were young but who owe their success in life to the influence of their dads, who took over the role of both parents.

‘He gave up his whole life for us’

Alanda Rogan (27), is a nurse and lives with partner Ryan near Ballynahinch. She says:

I have an older brother, Aidan, and younger sister, Sinead. My mum, Bernadette, died almost exactly 21 years ago. She had a brain tumour and secondary lung cancer.

Mum was ill for about three months before she died. She was just 32. I was six years old, but I remember it like it was yesterday. Sinead was only two-and-a-half, so she can't actually remember mummy. I don't think we understood until she was nearly gone that this was it and she wasn't coming back.

I see this every day working as a nurse. Telling children that a parent is terminally ill or has died is one of the hardest things anyone can do.

Dad did everything he could to make things normal for us after mum died. Our primary school was right next to us, so dad would get me and Aidan off to school - watching us from the front door.

Sinead was petrified. She went from having a mother to her just being gone, so she was very clingy. She wouldn't let dad go when he put her to bed, because she thought he would disappear too.

Me and Aidan tried to step up and help - we changed into mini-adults very quickly.

Mum and dad were hard workers - they had bought a farm and had their family. Dad says they went from a strong couple who did everything they wanted to him being in a completely different situation. We're a very close family. It's difficult to grow up without a mother, but dad certainly tried his best.

We've had difficult times, but we've always been able to see that dad tried his best. He gave up an awful lot for us - he was only 30 when mum died - so he didn't do anything that 30-year-olds do these days. He gave up his whole life for us.

We went to dad with our problems and he tried to help us work through them in his own way.

If you were having a tough day he had a box of my mum's things in his wardrobe and would have given you some of her perfume.

He knew he wasn't her and could never be, but he was there for us and she was never forgotten."

‘I’m proud of how they turned out’

Gerard Rogan (51) is a chef and lives in Ballynahinch. He says:

It was a bit horrific after Bernadette died. I would have described myself as a man's man back then. I'm a chef, so cooking was no problem, but I still had to come in and bath the children, do the laundry, look after the house.

It's difficult for everyone - a death like that brings everybody into a room that shouldn't be there. Sinead couldn't understand what had happened and even now she's very protective of me. It certainly brings you closer together - I love my kids and they know that.

I'm very proud of how my kids have turned out. Alanda is a nurse, Aidan is a solicitor and Sinead is a trainee barrister."

‘He’s admired for what he’s done’

Emma Heatherington (39) is a novelist and lives in Donaghmore with her partner, Jim McKee. She has four children; Jordyn (20), Jade (15), Adam (14) and Sonny (2). She says:

My mum Geraldine was only 36 when she died very suddenly of a heart attack 15 years ago. I was 15 and the oldest of six children. One Saturday morning, our whole lives were just destroyed within a couple of hours.

It was a total shock. Mum had given birth to our little sister Rebecca a few months before. We had just moved into a new house and my dad had started work painting houses, so it was all happening for our family.

That morning mum wasn't feeling well and they called in the doctor, who diagnosed indigestion.

He asked me to go and see what was in the cupboard for indigestion and I brought up God knows what into the bedroom and she laughed and said 'typical Emma'.

And that was the last thing she said to me - she died a couple of hours later. Her condition deteriorated during the day and the doctor told us to call an ambulance immediately.

By the time we got to the hospital, a doctor came in and told us she was dead - she had a coronary thrombosis. I remember my dad saying 'What on earth am I going to do?'

For the first couple of years after mum's death, my dad really relied on the support from family - my mum was the youngest of seven sisters and they really stepped in. My aunt Mary took Rebecca to live with her for a few months until her first birthday. Dad took time off work for a few months too - he knew he had to.

We all had to grow up overnight. We needed to help around the house and help daddy shop for Santa and that kind of thing. We were all trying to help lessen the burden, but without a doubt the heaviest burden lay on him. We all had to just try and get on with our lives.

I would say it took about two years before we could start to adapt and pull together as a family. We were, and still are, exceptionally close. We meet up every Sunday at dad's house for lunch - it all revolves around him and that's still home for us.

Christmas Eve is the big occasion when we all get together, even though we all have our own families now.

Dad is hugely respected and admired for what he has done. We still remember the loss when there's a big milestone - a wedding or a baby being born - but my dad is always in the middle of the family with his grandchildren.

Dad never did settle down with anyone else - but he's very eligible if there's anyone out there!

He's very independent though and loves hanging out with the boys."

‘I wonder how I got through it’

Hugh McCrory, (57) is a painter and lives in Donaghmore. He says:

It was unbelievably difficult after Geraldine died in 1991 - that was the year that the world fell down around me. My sisters-in-law stepped in to help, as they all lived within walking distance. You do feel that no-one else is going through what you're going through.

I had to be mother and father to them all as they grew up - I think back and wonder how I got through it all.

The thing that nearly put me off the rails altogether was when my son David had a brain haemorrhage when he was just 16. I had to get the kids into school each day and then go straight to the Royal Victoria Hospital, where I sat with him until the early hours of the morning. I had to go to Sheffield with him for specialist treatment, but he's fine now.

Everyone gathers around here on a Sunday and I cook dinner for them - it gets us all together each week.

I think the important thing is that we all stayed together and I treat them all the same."

‘He helped build memories of mum’

Bridget Molloy (25) is currently finishing a master's degree in ancient Egyptian culture. She says:

I'm the second of four children - the others are Joseph, Michael and Elizabeth. My mum, Susan, went into hospital with back pain when I was 13. They found a tumour in her lung and a year later we found out it was terminal. Mum went into hospice care for a few months before she died.

We were very involved with what was happening with mum. They still treated us as kids, but they discussed her illness and treatment with us. When she was ill, mum started to spend weekends in the hospice - she didn't need to but it meant that we would be in the house with dad by ourselves. We knew what it would be like when she wasn't there.

I was 15 when she died and it was a bit of a blur - I only really remember the day she died and her funeral.

About a month after she passed I went to America with a local organisation for four weeks - both parents had encouraged me to go, no matter what was happening. I missed out on some key grieving parts with my younger siblings while I was away, but my dad had managed so well I knew we were going to be ok, as long as we stuck together.

We've always spent a lot of time together and dad made sure that kept going after mum died. We ate meals together, went on trips together and went on a family holiday just a few weeks after I got back from America. He wanted us to build new memories as just the five of us.

But he was always aware of each of us as individuals; that we would need to do things ourselves and do things our own way.

My sister Elizabeth was only nine when mum passed away and sometimes she can get frustrated that she doesn't have as many memories of her as the rest of us. Dad recognised that she needed help to build the memories of mum.

Dad never expected me to step into a motherly role for Elizabeth, or pick up any of the things that mum would have done. He knew I was a teenager and wanted me to experience that - of course I helped out with various things, but he took the reins completely.

We're all very close, but I think my dad and my sister have one of the closest bonds.

We have all gone off to do our own thing - Joseph was 17 when mum died so it wasn't long before he went off to university, then I followed. Elizabeth has just finished her first year at university.

But we're still close, we have our own Whatsapp group so everyone stays in touch. My brother is organising a fundraiser in a couple of weeks - it will be the 10th anniversary of mum's death and we're raising money for Marie Curie. It will be a big party, which is much more in keeping with her.

I could write about my dad, I don't have enough praise for him. He's one of my favourite people in the whole world. I call him a couple of times a week, just because we enjoy talking to each other.

I asked my siblings if they had anything to say for this article and my brother Joseph said dad has a quiet strength about him. He said that other men won't talk about emotions or get sad, but my dad has no problem sitting down and talking to us about our mum and what it was like before we were born. Sometimes he finds old letters and will go through them. We have an outlet with him if we want to.

As a family we can laugh harder than we would with other people - of course we fight, but overwhelmingly we're a strong, close family unit and it's all thanks to my dad."

‘I think I’ve done the best I could’

Trevor Molloy (62), a retired computer programmer, lives in Belfast. He says:

I was lucky. We were and are a very close family, based on love, kindness and friendship. So we supported each other and tried to carry on as normal while still making space and time to process the grief.

We didn't spend as much time together as possible, we spent just the right amount of time.

You need to be careful with routines, as there is a risk of getting locked into doing things just because 'Mum enjoyed this'.

For example, for a number of years we attended an annual memorial service.

But as we are a non-religious family we discussed and decided to go out for dinner and drinks instead as a more suitable celebration of her life.

I think the differences were more to do with the kids' ages and personalities than their genders.

A nine-year-old processes things differently compared to a 17-year-old; they have a different range and depth of memories and issues to deal with and they needed a different communication style.

Looking back, there's nothing I would have done differently, I think I've done the best I could."

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