Belfast Telegraph

Armagh sisters who lost mum to cancer will tell event how they coped with grief

Amy (right), Eve (left), Ryan and Mia on their mum’s last Mothers Day
Amy (right), Eve (left), Ryan and Mia on their mum’s last Mothers Day
The family on the ‘stairway to heaven’ in Fermanagh on Mother’s Day

By Mairead Holland

A woman from Co Armagh who lost her mother to cancer will tell a conference in Belfast how she and her siblings coped with their crushing grief.

Amy McAtavey (27), from Keady, was left "struggling and overwhelmed" after her much-loved mum, Breda, died in 2017 at the age of 50.

The stay-at-home mum was "very much a friend" to her children and a "real community person", as well as an avid Cancer Research fundraiser.

In fact, a mass Macarena dance in the village last August in her memory smashed the world record, with 2,230 people turning out and raising £22,076 for the cancer charity.

In the aftermath of their mother's death, Amy, older brother Ryan, and sisters Eve and Mia, who was just 14 at the time, endured immense grief and difficulty in just getting through each day.

But they found the support they needed at a weekend organised by Cruse Bereavement Care and Corrymeela.

Now, Amy, a social worker, and Eve are aiming to help others by telling their story at a seminar being run jointly by the two charities.

They are among a number of young people and families taking part in the 'From Inside Out' event at Queen's University Belfast later this month.

The speakers' aim is to inform social workers, teachers, GPs, clergy and representatives from the therapeutic and voluntary sectors about what has worked for them on their journey through grief and trauma.

Both sisters will be giving workshops at the event, with Amy focusing on trauma recovery. She said: "My mum's death was a trauma. She had been ill for about 18 months with bowel cancer, but the last few months were the worst for her.

"She had six months of chemotherapy, but the cancer came back again and a scan showed it had spread. She had another six months of intensive chemotherapy and she also developed diabetes and she had a stoma bag.

"She was a shell of the woman she had been, but she put on such a brave face, even though we could see how much pain she was in."

Just a few months after her mum's death, Amy began to experience severe stomach pains and thought she had appendicitis.

"The effect of grief was having an effect on my whole digestive system. When the doctor told me it was stress-related, I knew I had to look after myself," she said.

She and Ryan were also worried about the effect their mother's death had had on their younger siblings and organised for them to have counselling.

However, it was the weekend together as a family that was the turning point.

Said Amy: "The approach was so unlike anything I had experienced. Everyone was so warm and understanding. We were surrounded by people who had experienced the same loss.

"Eve got so much more out of that one weekend than she got from all her other counselling sessions. They get you to open up and you don't go back from that.

"Bereavement is a trauma and can impact on you in so many ways, but you can get through it.

"I am not so traumatised now by the flashbacks of how mummy died. You think of the good times and of her life as it was, not on how it should be now."

She added: "The conference will be like closing a chapter for me. Sharing our stories is important. The conference will speak for itself because the volunteers and staff are all so passionate about it."

Elaine Roub, Cruse project coordinator: "One of the biggest fears people have in working with grieving children is saying the wrong thing. We believe that by giving children, families and volunteers a voice... delegates will overcome that fear and be equipped with practical and emotional resources to incorporate into their own work."

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