Bereavement group Anam Cara helped keep family together after death of little Cian Corrigan the age of 11
The father of an 11-year-old boy who died from an extremely rare and incurable form of cancer has spoken of how a bereavement group helped stop his family from falling apart.
When Jarlath Corrigan's football-fanatic son Cian died from a spinal tumour, the father-of-four struggled with the pain and devastation.
Little Cian passed away in May 2009 just six weeks before he was to turn 12, leaving behind his heartbroken parents and siblings.
Their ordeal and grief was compounded by not knowing where to turn to for help.
Jarlath and his wife Rachael then became aware of a bereavement group, Anam Cara in Co Armagh, and throughout the years they have been supported by the organisation.
Jarlath, from Dungannon, explained that Cian was the only person in the world to have that form of cancer at that time.
He said: "He went through a really rough time before he died. About an hour before he was to go in for an operation his tumour ruptured and left him quadriplegic, and he never regained much movement after that.
"As a man I had to be strong for the rest of the family, and that's what my friends and family were saying to me. It never hit me for a year because I didn't allow myself to grieve, and then I nearly had a breakdown.
"And then some time after he died we heard about the Anam Cara service.
"I was among people who were going through something similar and that was the common bond. I felt comfortable in those surroundings.
"I wasn't being judged and I was being listened to.
"It was my outlet and a place where I felt at ease. I didn't feel pressure from society."
The support group gave the couple hope as they talked to parents who were at different grieving stages.
Before joining the group, Jarlath feared that he was losing his family.
"It's very hard watching your children go through it when you don't know what you are going through yourself," he said. "The group is so very important because when we lost Cian it was about trying to keep the whole family together."
The couple still work with the group and want to help other parents.
Next week Anam Cara will co-host an information evening for bereaved parents in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Children's Hospice.
The first event takes place in Newtownabbey on Tuesday at Corr's Corner Hotel at 7pm.
Two further events will be held in Ballymena on February 3 and Enniskillen on March 8.
The evenings involve a talk by a guest speaker followed by an opportunity to ask questions and meet with other bereaved parents. Talks are open to all bereaved parents regardless of the age of their child or the circumstances of their death.
Ann Lappin, a senior social work practitioner at NI Children's Hospice, said: "We want to open up the services to families in the community.
"We stay in contact with families for up to two years after their child has died, and if we feel parents would benefit from Anam Cara we give their details.
"There is that unique help and support that can be provided through other bereaved parents. Families say they have that experience of being understood."