Young man sacrificed own uni ambitions to support younger sibling after mum died
A selfless young Co Down man, who gave up his dream of going to university to support himself and his brother after the tragic death of his mum, is another worthy winner at the Sunday Life Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards with Ulster Bank.
Our judges unanimously named Bangor man Joe Traynor (22) as the recipient of our Overcoming Adversity Award sponsored by Hinch Distillery.
He was 18 years old and on course to study sports science at university when his mum died after a long battle with alcoholism in 2018.
Forced to find a job so that he and his brother Jack, who was 16 at the time, could survive, Joe didn’t hesitate to give up his university dream.
The teenage brothers found themselves alone and homeless after losing their mum Lynda, who was just 55 years old.
They also had suffered the trauma of watching her die, despite frantic attempts by Joe at CPR as he tried to save her life. Growing up watching their mum battle the illness had been tough on the brothers as they never discussed it with anyone outside the home.
Today Joe believes that the stigma of alcoholism needs to be lifted so that children can seek support.
He says: “We just never mentioned it as it was embarrassing and looking back now, I wish we had told our teachers as maybe we would have got some support.
“Jack and I never really talked about it even with each other. It is only in recent years that I have told people and I feel now if it helps to reduce the stigma then it needs to be talked about.”
Most of Joe’s childhood was overshadowed by his mum’s battle with alcoholism.
Not long before her death she spent three weeks in ICU after taking a seizure. Joe says: “Doctors said it was a miracle she survived it and said if she didn’t stop drinking it would kill her.
“She was a good mum and when she wasn’t drinking, she was bubbly and very happy and would talk to anyone.
“She was so sick for a long time and it was very tough.
“The morning she took another seizure, me and Jack were upstairs getting ready for school when we heard her fall and she called us.
“I rang the emergency services who talked me through CPR but she was so fragile and weak, I could feel her bones breaking as I did it. The ambulance men couldn’t revive her.”
Her death left her boys alone to fend for themselves.
Joe was on his first year of a BTEC Level 3 Sports diploma course at South Eastern Regional College with plans to go on and study sports science at university.
He recalled: “I was planning to go on to do sports science at university but when mum died I couldn’t afford it.
“Jack and I were suddenly very alone in the world and although we have good family support now, at the time it was like a hurricane had knocked the wind out of us.
“We were grieving the loss of our mother and had to rethink what we thought was a straightforward path.
“I couldn’t think about going to university then and the focus for me was to get a job and start earning money to support us.
“We couldn’t afford the rent of mum’s house and eventually thankfully we got an apartment which although it was not great, we were glad to get it.”
Despite everything he has been through, Joe is completely bereft of self-pity and only talks about his gratitude for how things have worked out.
He is thankful that after talking to the careers team in SERC, he was given advice on apprenticeships and found an opening in financial services. Joe started training with 14U Financial Solutions in Bangor and hasn’t looked back.
Ironically, he is now giving families advice on insurance policies which would prevent them from finding themselves in the position he was in when his mother died.
He says: “Right now I am doing well. My life has taken a different path and I am on a new steep learning curve.
“My role as an insurance advisor is about helping families protect themselves against facing financial hardship, whether that be in the event of death, illness or injury.
“I have personal experience of what can go terribly wrong in the blink of an eye. My mother didn’t have any life insurance which is why myself and my brother struggled financially.”
Joe, who recently passed his mortgage examination, is continuing his apprenticeship training to advise on mortgages as well as protection.
Thanks to getting a job his brother Jack is now studying at Liverpool University.
He adds: “The plan is to continue working hard to develop myself as a fully-fledged financial advisor. It has given me focus and the stability to prepare myself for a career and a future.”