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A moving account of a mother who walked out - and the father and aunt who held a family together

In today's Belfast Telegraph Weekend magazine, the well-known public relations consultant and commentator Tom Kelly writes movingly of the calamitous event that occurred in his childhood - his mother's decision to abandon his father, him and his two siblings, Catherine and Neil, for a new life in England.

It is a real-life story that has already resonated with many - since Mr Kelly first went public two weeks ago, he says he has been inundated with people making contact with him to share their own stories about tumultuous events in their childhoods.

What has also struck many of those who have contacted him has been the heroic role of both his father and his Aunt Rose, who strove valiantly to hold the family together and made sure the young Kellys were surrounded by love and security. "To me Aunt Rose's was always home, as it is today," writes Mr Kelly.

Mr Kelly says that he never got a chance to say goodbye to his mother, known then as Irene Hanna, when she left in 1977. And it was decades before he made the decision to try and track down his mother. After several failed efforts to locate her, he discovered that she was living in England and had remarried, though had no further children.

Eventually, 10 years ago, she finally agreed to meet her now grown-up children, but the reunion was to prove a devastating experience. "When we left that meeting we were hollow, our rejection was complete," he continues.

Mr Kelly concedes that when the call came last month to tell him his mother had died, his initial reaction was one of anger. "When I discovered that she knew for months she was dying from inoperable brain tumours and yet never felt any need to meet or leave a letter I felt rejected again."

Perhaps what has struck many of those who have responded to Mr Kelly's disclosures about his family life, have been his reflections on how he has struggled to make peace with the past.

If he has spoken eloquently about his sense of loss, he has also made clear his depth of gratitude for his father and Aunt Rose who "never walked away no matter how tough the going got".

In today's article in Weekend, he also adds: "Sometimes people say that dad and my Aunt Rose are extraordinary people but that's not true. They are very ordinary people who have had to do the ordinary things that parents, step-parents, guardians do every day - the only difference is that they were extraordinarily good at doing them!"

Today, at St Catherine's Church in Newry, Mr Kelly, his wife Patricia, his brother and sister, their children and his aunt will gather for a service that he says is neither a Requiem Mass nor a memorial. They will, he says, "simply reflect on the passing of my mother".

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