Murray twins record ad for charity that helped tragic cancer dad Liam who died at Christmas
While Belfast gears up for Christmas, nine-year-old twins Amy and Liam Murray have been doing their bit for families affected by a cancer diagnosis.
For them, the festive period brings back memories of the death of their beloved father. Yet both of them happily agreed to feature in a Q radio advert for the Cancer Focus NI Spirit of Christmas appeal - in tribute to how the charity helped their family.
In 2009, Liam Murray was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour at the age of just 31.
He’d fallen ill with cancer at the age of 19, but after two operations as well as radio and chemotherapy, he’d been able to live a normal life for years.
In 2006, the twins were born. Then, just three years later, Liam and his wife Bernie were told that the cancer was terminal.
“It was very frightening – especially with young kids,” Bernie (38), told the Belfast Telegraph.
“You’re bewildered; you don’t know what you’re going to do. You’re told this diagnosis and you just hope they’ve got it wrong. But obviously they hadn’t.”
Bernie and Liam then had to face the difficult task of explaining his illness to their young children.
On the advice of a hospice nurse, the family were put in touch with Rachel Smith, the family support coordinator at Cancer Focus NI, a charity that supports local cancer patients, their families and carers and that also funds cancer research.
“Rachel helped us prepare what we were going to tell the kids. She helped their dad put together messages that they’ll be able to read when they’re older, along with mementos for them to keep,” said Bernie.
“Rachel also advised us about what stories we could read to them to help them understand, to prepare them for what was coming.”
Her husband, Bernie recalled, always had a very positive attitude when he was with the children - yet he was also very honest with them about what was happening.
On Christmas Day, Liam’s condition worsened. A few days later, he was taken to a hospice. He died on New Year’s Day, leaving the family devastated.
After his death, the charity continued to support the grief-stricken family.
“Rachel came to the house and helped Amy and Liam through play, explaining things and answering their questions in a way three-year-olds would understand.”
The family also joined a Cancer Focus support group, which they still attend once a month.
“Volunteers come and take the kids to do art or play games while the adults chat about how they’re coping and living day-to-day life without a partner – things you never imagine you’d ever have to talk about.
“It’s really helpful to me to meet other younger people like myself - you don’t feel so much on your own.”
Issues brought up in discussion can range from big to seemingly trivial, she said.
“When you have two young children, it could be a thing like you’ve run out of milk and the kids are in bed and you can’t leave the house - simple things you took for granted when your partner was there.”
Liam is still very much part of their family life, she said.
“We talk about him every day, or I tell the twins about things that he did or would have done. My daughter plays water polo and my son plays Gaelic football - just like their dad did.
“They often ask me: ‘What would Daddy do, Mummy?’ or: ‘What would Daddy say?’ and I just answer truthfully.”
The money raised by the twins’ radio appeal will go to the charity’s family support service, which helps children who are spending Christmas without a mum or dad this year because of the disease.
According to Bernie, the twins couldn’t have been more delighted to take part.
“The charity asked if the kids wanted to do it and I just knew before asking them that they would love to do it,” she said.
“They were ecstatic! Everyone has been jokingly asking them for autographs.
“When they went down to Q Radio, they were treated like stars – they really enjoyed it. They said they would love to work in radio now.”
She added: “We’re just happy to give a bit back because we’ve been helped so much by them over the last six years.”
Despite the painful memories, Bernie believes it’s important to stay positive around Christmas, for the sake of the children.
The support she received from the charity is crucial, especially in the festive season, she said.
“Christmas time is terrible without a partner, but when you have kids you just have to get up and get on with it. And hopefully Cancer Focus NI will be able to help more families like us. The help they’ve given us has been invaluable.
“I’d encourage everyone to help support this wonderful service - and anyone affected by cancer should definitely give Cancer Focus NI a call or look up their website. There is so much free support available and the staff are warm and friendly. It’s a real lifeline.”
To donate to the Cancer Focus NI Spirit of Christmas Appeal text STAR33 £5 to 70070 or call Cancer Focus NI on 028 9068 0745.