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Suzanne Breen

Joan's heart was broken by the killing of her youngest child, and it couldn't be fixed

Suzanne Breen


Lyra McKee

People queued outside Lyra McKee's north Belfast home to pay their respects at the wake for the young murdered journalist.

Inside the house, there was one woman who barely noticed all the visitors arriving.

Joan Lawrie sat in her wheelchair - as close as she could get to her beloved daughter's coffin - and never left her side for hours.

Friends and strangers would shake her hand or try to share a few words with her about Lyra. But the mother-of-six didn't seem to see them or take in anything they said.

Joan's heart was broken by the murder of her youngest and favourite child, and it couldn't be fixed.

She looked so frail and distraught that the only wonder is that she lived for another 11 months. It was only ever a matter of time before Joan joined Lyra in the grave.

They had something so special and sacred between them. To describe it as a close mother-daughter bond doesn't even begin to do it justice.

Lyra lived for Joan, and Joan lived and died for Lyra.

They were best friends, confidants, and partners in crime. They always had each other's back.

Relationships between mothers and daughters, no matter how loving, can sometimes be fractious. Not this one. In my five-year friendship with Lyra, I never heard her once say anything less than adulatory about Joan.

They were inseparable from the start. Lyra was born tiny and premature in 1990. She was sick most of the time.

She had a hearing and speech impediment which made learning difficult.

She hated school. Homeworks took hours, and Joan was a single parent with five other children. "My poor wee mummy, all she had to put up with over the years," Lyra would often later say. She went through huge emotional turmoil before she came out as gay to her mum.

While some friends' parents had reacted negatively to news of their son's or daughter's sexuality, Joan just joked to the anxious 14-year-old standing before her: "Thank God you're not pregnant."

And as Joan was there for Lyra in childhood, her daughter was there for Joan after she lost a leg.

Lyra was not a natural behind the wheel to put it politely. But she persisted with years of driving lessons until she passed her test and could take Joan out shopping or on wee trips.

Any store or restaurant which didn't treat its disabled customers decently were on the receiving end of Lyra's ire.

Amazingly, she combined her journalistic career with being her mum's full-time carer. There were countless hospital visits at all hours of the day and night.

At 2am on February 21, just weeks before she was killed, Lyra messaged me: "In hospital. Mum brought in. Waiting on a bed. Kept collapsing and falling. We don't know why."

But it would be wrong to characterise their relationship as one of only suffering and pain.

Joan and Lyra had the best of times together too. Photo after photo shows how they lit up in each other's company.

On Joan's last birthday before her daughter was killed, Lyra wrote: "Happy birthday to the best Mum in the world, Joan Lawrie. My Mum is the definition of selfless. I'm proud to be your daughter, Mum. I love you so much."

On Mother's Day, she posted how Joan had to be "mum and dad" to her and was "the best in the world at both".

Lyra wouldn't entertain any career opportunities abroad because they meant leaving her mother.

The New IRA gunman who opened fire in the Creggan on April 18, 2019 didn't just kill Lyra. Bullets travel. He took away Joan's life as well.

She kept on breathing, but she was never really here. Soon, they will open up the grave and lie her beside Lyra - where she belongs.

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