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I handed over a bundle of rags and she wove them into four squares of life

How a very special quilt helped mum cope with son's death

Published 23/01/2016

Road to recovery: Ann Gorman
Road to recovery: Ann Gorman
Happier times: Ann Gorman with her son David
Memento: a touching hand-stitched detail on the special quilt

Nearly two decades after her 26-year-old son David drowned in the River Lagan, Ann Gorman tells of the long hard road of grief she has been travelling ever since.

This time 18 years ago my dear son David was missing. He had fallen into the River Lagan while walking the dog in the early hours of New Year's Day in 1998.  The dog came back that afternoon, but sadly David  never returned.

He remained missing for five long, hard months. At that stage, though I suspected it, I had no proof he was in the river. Dogs don't talk.

I look back and remember the horror of being in the dark tunnel of despair. The pain of death is crushing, but the pain of not knowing what happened to your loved one is probably the worst there is. We were lucky because David did emerge from the river that May.

Because I am a long way down the road of survival, I can honestly say I am glad I am here alive on this Earth. In those early days of searing pain, I was not so sure.

I guess you could say the journey of survival started when I bought my first little blue iMac in September 1998. Back then the internet provided a fascinating new tool of information. The first words I keyed in were 'death by drowning', which brought up what I wanted to hear. Then I keyed in 'bereavement of a child', and instantly loads of chat rooms sprung up.

I clicked on 'Invincible Summer', run by a lady called Carol who had lost a daughter to eclampsia. There I found a group who were all sharing stories about making a trip. At first I thought I must have got the wrong site, but when I wrote in, suddenly the mood changed.

They all wrote back and shared their stories. The trip they were talking about was to meet up in Omaha, Nebraska, in May 1999. Clearly, I had landed in cyberspace America. We later renamed our group Maybound 99.

Exactly a year after my son's funeral, I made the trip by myself to Omaha. There I met all these like-minded good people who had mostly lost grown-up boys. Paula and Peter's sons died in car crashes. Ricki's son was shot in the head. Bonni's son died of a drug overdose. Judy's son died of cancer, aged 26, the same age as David.

Booked into a very basic Super 8 Motel, we pored over photos, shared stories, laughed and cried a lot. This was interspersed with trips to steak houses and Mexican restaurants, all organised by Ricki, our host.

Since then, Paula and another of that group, Anne, have crossed the pond to visit me. I have stayed with Paula in Florida and Anne in New York. I have been back to Omaha twice to see Ricki. We are all friends now on Facebook. All of this from the tragedy of my son dying and the click of a mouse.

My journey continued with many more changes. I left the job I once loved and set up my own marketing consultancy. When you are grieving, everything is a struggle.

Simple tasks become onerous, but as I often explained to people, "There are no choices, you simply plod on". There are rocks to cling to - belief, love of family and friends, closeness of the one already gone and, in my case, lovely people who trusted me to look after their business.

Our daughter Lara stayed with us, my husband Trevor and I, for two years and then she needed some space to breathe outside of the grieving home, so she went to Dublin where she picked up on her yoga practice. It seemed to help her so much I thought I had better try it too.

This led me on another path of the journey as I am now a yoga teacher, which I absolutely love. I stumbled into my first class overweight and overwrought, but within a few weeks I could feel a sense of calm.

Before David died I thought life was easily controlled. I was always making plans, fixing things, changing things and trying my best to control things. When tragedy strikes you quickly realise there is no control - all hope is gone and joy is replaced with sorrow. I could barely get up in the morning.

As well as the acceptance of loss, yoga has taught me to be grateful for the moment, for the simple things in life and to trust life to bring things to me if the time is right. As my friend Ricki reminded me in my early grief: "We all get our day in the sun".

All those years ago, in a Belfast Telegraph interview, I told a journalist how my son had made me an Airfix model of his favourite plane, the Second World War Flying Fortress, for my birthday. I actually brought it down to show to the journalist who wrote about it poignantly and sensitively. The story still moves me to tears to this day.

Staying with that plane, fast-forward on the journey to two years ago. I was sitting at David's graveside in Newtownbreda when I heard the strange sound of an old aeroplane. I video-clipped it as it circled overhead. When I watched the news that night, it turned out to be the Flying Fortress sent over to mark the unveiling of a Second World War memorial close by in Castlereagh.

What were the chances of me sitting at the graveside and this plane flying over my head? This was one of those moments where I believed there were no coincidences.

Then there is the quilt story, which happened this year. My dear friend Ricki in the USA gave me the idea of getting a quilt made out of David's clothes. You rarely part with all of your children's clothes. She and I liked the idea of them literally going to the grave with us.

I had been at the Europa Hotel in Belfast for a first aid training session and was walking home up Great Victoria Street when I saw a sign for a church fair. I wandered in and got chatting with a girl on a fabric stall. I enquired if she knew anyone who made quilts. She replied that she did, but at present this lady was not working. I then said: "This might sound crazy, but I am looking for someone to make me a quilt from my son's clothes which I can get wrapped in when my time comes".

She then told me that the lady in question was also a newly bereaved mum of a grown-up son. We exchanged contact details and two weeks later a lovely woman called Imelda got in touch.

Imelda made me the most wonderful quilt. It is way beyond my expectations. After 18 years I felt like I was handing her over a bag of rags but she wove them into four squares of life. I cried when I saw it. It is so beautiful and so telling. Imelda created this through all her pain of early grief.

She said she could feel David's personality as she sewed. How wonderful is that?

There is nothing that replaces death like life. It is the natural order of things. No one person can ever replace another - that is different.

I am so blessed to now have two beautiful granddaughters who bring love, life, peace and joy into my life. My daughter Lara talks to them about her brother, and they laugh when they see a photo of him with long hair.

I have been fortunate to have the support of my husband throughout this, and we both love to share the memories of our dear boy.

When the bonds of love are strong, no one ever really leaves. At least that's what I believe.

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