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'With aching heart I'll light a special candle in honour of Lyra McKee', says sister Nichola a year on after murder


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Lyra McKee

Lyra McKee

Lyra's sister Nichola McKee-Corner

Lyra's sister Nichola McKee-Corner

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Lyra and her sister as children

Lyra and her sister as children

Lyra's mother Joan

Lyra's mother Joan

Lyra McKee

As the anniversary of Lyra McKee's murder approaches, her sister Nichola McKee Corner tells of her raw grief as she recalls her shocking death last Easter.

A Reflection...

"You know what Aunty Lyra?"

"What, baby?"

"It's Uncle Andrew's birthday and me and my Granny are baking a cake?"

"No way!!"

"Yes way!! A chocolate one!!"

"Yummy. You're so lucky! Will you keep me a bit?"

"Hmm... maybe..."

Infectious laughter.

If you had told me on the afternoon of 18th April 2019 that our Lyra would not live to eat the slice of carefully crafted cake my granddaughter Ava had saved for her, I'd have told you, you were nuts! In fact, I would have made a mental note to avoid you… possibly forever.

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Lyra's sister Nichola McKee-Corner

Lyra's sister Nichola McKee-Corner

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Lyra's sister Nichola McKee-Corner

But that's how my son's 26th birthday ended, with the murder of my 29-year-old sister - Lyra McKee.

A year later, it still doesn't seem quite real. How could it be possible that my little sister, who was afraid of her own shadow, end up being shot dead by terrorists at a riot? It doesn't make sense.

I don't suppose it ever will. It is a nightmare from which we can't escape. Yet it is a reality - a reality that killed our mother less than 11 months later - and I honestly don't think we will ever recover.

Most people know Lyra through the public façade of confidence she projected to the world, yet she was full of insecurities and was often intensely anxious. Thankfully, she didn't let this paralyse her.

Through continuous encouragement from our mother, family and some close friends, Lyra began to ignore the 'naysayers' and 'trolls' that sought to undermine her hard work and kept up the hard graft, to which she had grown accustomed, to make her dream of being a published author a reality. And she was so close…

It was with a mixture of great pride and intense sadness that our mother lay in her hospital bed listening intently as I read to her from Lyra McKee in her own words: Lost, Found, Remembered.

The pain of losing her baby girl in such a brutal way, amid all the publicity, was obvious; it was killing her. Yet the pride she felt in her daughter's writing that Faber brought together so beautifully in this anthology shone through her tears.

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Lyra and her sister as children

Lyra and her sister as children

Lyra and her sister as children

Trying to console her, I said, "Mom, you did this. Lyra could not have done all this without you. You made this amazing, caring, talented girl."

With a straight face, through her tears she asked, "What happened to the rest of you?" and we all buckled with laughter.

It was comedy gold, characteristic of our mother's sharp wit, a trait she shared with her baby girl.

Thankfully, Faber had sent us advance copies, as little did we know, less than a week later, we'd be organising our mother's funeral. And now here we are in the middle of a global pandemic, unable to hug each other in our grief, unable to continue our regular visits to their shared grave.

Given the threat of the new invisible terrorist that is killing innocent people every day - Covid-19 - more families are being forced to experience grief in isolation every day and our hearts truly break for each of them. With everything that is going on, we are left wondering if it is even right to desire to mark the first anniversary of Lyra's murder - we don't know the right answer - but we can never forget.

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Lyra's mother Joan

Lyra's mother Joan

Lyra's mother Joan

Next Saturday, April 18, I will be baking my son's birthday cake, thinking about the two beautiful souls who were stolen from us by a not-so-invisible terrorist, who remains as much a threat to society today as he was this time last year, praying that the bullet does indeed stop here and hoping that someone will finally do the right thing so that we have the justice that both Lyra and our mother deserve.

Sadly, my granddaughter won't be helping me, we won't have Lyra on the phone wanting a slice kept, we won't have our diabetic mother trying to convince us that she IS allowed to eat chocolate fudge cake (as she did quite successfully for many years).

And that evening, we'll be watching old home movies of happier times when we were all together enjoying ourselves but, as I light a special candle in Lyra's honour tonight, with an aching heart, I'll be thinking of the last words I shared with my baby sister on the 18th April, 2019:

"I love you sister."

"I love you too sweetheart. Now try to get some rest and stop worrying about Mom."

"I will. Love you."

"Love you too."

Belfast Telegraph