Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Family struggles to cope with sudden death

Sharon Smyth with daughter Katrina, now 13Sharon Smyth with children Katrina, Chris and Luke
Sharon Smyth with daughter Katrina, now 13

The mother of a troubled woman whose lifeless body was discovered by her 12-year-old daughter has said she will never come to terms with the loss of her child and best friend.

Mother-of-three Sharon Smyth died after taking a fatal combination of prescription medicines having suffered badly from depression and anxiety for almost two decades.

She was found dead in her bed by her youngest child, Katrina.

The brave girl relayed instructions from a 999 operator as her grandmother – Ms Smyth's mother May Halligan – conducted CPR in a desperate attempt to revive the 43-year-old.

At an inquest into Ms Smyth's death in Armagh Courthouse, coroner Jim Kitson said that the evidence indicated the death of Ms Smyth was accidental and that she had not killed herself.

She died as a result of the combination of three drugs prescribed to treat her long-term mental health problems.

The effects of Citalopram, Mirtazapine and Chlorpromazine slowed Ms Smyth's breathing to such a level that pneumonia set into her lungs, causing her death.

Ms Halligan, who lived across the street from her daughter in Rectory Close in Loughgall, spoke to her daughter for the final time on Friday, September 22 last year – the evening before her death.

When she tried to telephone her on the Saturday she was unable to get through and suspected something was wrong.

Katrina answered the phone and told her grandmother her mum was in bed and she was unable to wake her.

Speaking yesterday, a heartbroken Ms Halligan said she has taken two of Ms Smyth's children into her home, Katrina (now 13) and Luke (15). Eldest son Christopher (22) is currently studying at university in Scotland.

Ms Halligan (64) said she is mourning the loss of both her daughter and her best friend.

"We went shopping together, everywhere we went, we went together," she said.

"Sharon was my best friend, as well as being my daughter.

"I don't think I'll ever come to terms with it. I don't think I'll ever get over it.

"My only daughter. I've three sons, I only had one daughter. It will never leave me, not when you lose a child."

Ms Halligan said she saw her daughter twice a day most days and said that despite being aware of her long battle with depression, she had shown no signs of wanting to end her life.

At Monday's inquest Mr Kitson said the evidence indicated the death of Ms Smyth was accidental and that she had not killed herself.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Peter Ingram said the levels of the drugs taken by Smyth, and the combination of them, had fatally affected her breathing.

‘One of the kids said on Saturday they wanted their mum. I want her too, but we can’t have her’

By Chris Kilpatrick

The empty chair in May Halligan’s home is a daily reminder of the heartbreaking tragedy endured by her family.

Every day her daughter Sharon called over to her house, and the two would spend several hours in one another’s company.

From that seat Sharon would share her hopes and fears with her mum, and discuss the shining lights in her life — her three children.

The two women shared not only the special bond between mother and daughter, they were best friends.

They also fulfilled the roles of guardians to Sharon’s three youngsters — Christopher, Luke and Katrina.

Single mum Sharon’s children regularly visited and stayed overnight at their grandmother’s, just yards away from their own in a small estate in Loughgall, Co Armagh.

Often Sharon would confide in her mother of her constant battle with depression, a condition which had blighted her for almost 18 years and was sparked by a vicious assault.

“It has been so hard since September, for all of us. I'm still waiting for Sharon walking in the door,” said May.

“She was here every day, twice a day, and spent hours here.

“Her and me just lived for the children.”

On the eve of the tragic day which was to shatter the lives of May and the children, Luke stayed with his grandmother, Katrina with her mother.

As she did every day, May called Sharon on a Saturday morning last September.

There was no reply.

Again she tried, still with no response.

By this stage May said she was growing increasingly concerned for Sharon’s wellbeing.

Devastatingly, her maternal instincts that something was wrong were proved correct when Katrina — described by May as the apple of Sharon’s eye — answered the phone.

“When I phoned her I knew there was something wrong when she didn't answer,” said May.

“I called again thinking she maybe was sleeping, as she was sleeping all the time then.

“I phoned again and Katrina answered. I said, ‘Is your mummy in bed?’ Yes, she said. So I said, ‘Waken her and tell her I want her’.

“Katrina went away and came back saying ‘I can't get her wakened Nana’.

“I knew right away she was dead. I had that feeling she was dead.”

May rushed from her home towards Sharon’s.

She met Katrina coming from the house, clutching a small dog.

‘She would have never left the kids or me’

“She's cold Nana, she's cold,” the youngster told her grandmother. May ran into the house and called 999. Katrina showed strength and courage well beyond her 12 years to take instructions from the operator and relay them to her grandmother, who was carrying out CPR in a desperate attempt to revive Sharon.

Neighbours arrived at the scene and attempted to help; May headed back to her house to tell other family members of the emergency.

When she tried to return to her daughter’s home she was turned from the door.

May recalled how she had to tell Luke his mother had passed away. Struggling to come to terms with the blow herself, May said she had to set aside her personal grief and turn her attention to supporting the children.

She opened her home to Luke and Katrina.

“The children are coping well,” she said. “Yesterday was hard. One of them said on Saturday they wanted their mummy.

“I want her too, but we can't have her. I sit down in the kitchen and I look at the empty chair where Sharon used to always sit. It's easier than at the start, but not much. It will never leave me, not when you lose a child.”

May said despite her battle with her personal demons, Sharon would never have contemplated ending her life.

“She would never have done that,” she said. “She would never have left the kids or me. She said she would never take an overdose. She would come to me when she was feeling down. I talked to her, dried up her tears.

“Sharon's death was an accident, just an unfortunate accident. Something triggered it and I don't know what.”

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