Thursday 21 September 2017

'Daddy's in the clouds, and when it's raining he's crying' – heartbroken mum of seven tells how children cope with the loss of their Dad

Chris and Michelle Doyle pictured with their children in 2012 at their home in Portlaoise, Co. Laois.
Chris and Michelle Doyle pictured with their children in 2012 at their home in Portlaoise, Co. Laois.

Meadhbh McGrath

A mum-of-seven has spoken of her family’s heartache following the sudden death of her husband less than three weeks ago.

Chris Doyle (37) from Portlaoise, Co Laois, died on June 10 when he stopped breathing during his sleep. His wife Michelle discovered he was dead the next morning.

Speaking to Independent.ie, Michelle said: “It was so sudden. It wasn’t expected at all. It was only after I’d been to the bathroom with the little one that I came back in and thought, he’s not snoring.

“It was then that the shock kicked in, and even now I don’t think I’ve got out of the shock of it. It took me a week before I’d even go back into my bedroom because every time I went in there, the image of him being there was still fresh in my head.”

Michelle, originally from Portsmouth, England, and Chris first met in an online chatroom in 2007.

“We lost contact for a bit, and in January 2008, we found each other again. It was like it was a sign, he came back into that room and there we were again, chatting away and texting and ringing each other. We met up in April that year and we never looked back,” she said.

Michelle moved to Ireland in 2009, and the couple had their first set of twins, Adam and Anthony, later that year.

The next year, Michelle gave birth to another son, Andrew, and the following year, they became parents to Luke and Lillian, another pair of twins.

The couple made headlines in 2012 when they welcomed their third set of twins, Ollie and Olivia.

Chris had worked as a plumber but gave up work to become a full-time carer when his eldest sons were diagnosed with special needs and learning disabilities.

“He was the most devoted dad. He did everything for those kids, even if meant we went without, the kids got it first because he said, ‘They’re our number one priority, nothing else matters’,” Michelle said.

“Pretty much everything revolved around those kids, he never gave up on them, not until this all happened.”

Since Chris’ death, she has been struggling to manage the kids on her own.

“I have my good days and my bad days, I try not to let the kids see it so much. I try and hold it back until they’re in bed, and then it really kicks in,” she said.

“It goes really quiet in the house and in that time my brain starts going, ‘Where is he? Why isn’t he home? When is he coming back?’”

Michelle described the children as dealing with the loss of their father “very well”, but noted that often they will get upset about something else and “then it goes back to daddy”.

"’Why isn’t he here? Where is daddy?’ They’re crying their eyeballs out, and sometimes it just comes out of the blue, they’ll just break down and start crying,” she said.

She added that the four-year-old Ollie and Olivia are still too young to understand what has happened.

“The lad keeps telling me ‘daddy’s in the clouds, and when it’s raining he’s crying’. They kind of understand why daddy’s not coming back, but not fully, and that’s the hardest thing,” she said, her voice breaking as she tearfully described the loss the family is facing.

“It is very tough. I never ever thought it would get to this stage this early. You think your kids are going to be growing up with both parents, but it doesn’t work out like it. They always take the good ones.”

The local community has rallied around Michelle and her children, helping with the school run, grocery shopping, and babysitting when Michelle has to run errands.

“Thankfully I have the neighbours. I really don’t think I could have coped or managed with the kids if they weren’t around. The kids wouldn’t have gone back to school this side of the year, because there was just no way of me getting them there.

“Everybody has just pulled together and helped me out with it. I just have to keep trying to stay strong for the kids’ sake,” she said.

The couple had two cars which they used to do the school run each morning, as they couldn’t afford a nine-seater vehicle for the whole family.

Now that she is without a second driver, Michelle has been dependent on her neighbours to help her take her children to school.

“I do have a car, but it’s not enough to get all the kids in, it means someone has to come watch the kids and then I feel like I’m putting everyone else out because they’re taking time out of their own lives and from their own kids,” she said.

A group of her neighbours and parents from her children’s preschool have come together to raise funds to purchase a nine-seater car for Michelle.

They will also be hosting a benefit night in Portlaoise at Kavanagh’s Pub, where local bands Blessed and Soulset will play and a raffle will be held.

It will take place on July 15, and tickets, priced at €5, are available from the school offices, the Portlaoise Parish Centre shop or from PJ Kavanagh, the owner of the pub.

“I was seeing Michelle and Chris every morning doing the school run. When we found out he had died, all the parents were asking the preschool leader what can we do?” organiser Jane Heffernan told Independent.ie.

Together with 10 other parents and Bernie Tynan, the leader of the school, she set up the fundraiser.

“We were looking for something practical we could do, and they were always doing the school run in two cars, which took two drivers, so now she’s essentially trapped in the house.

“She can’t get out with them in the car and there are too many of them to walk. We thought if she had a nine-seater car, at least she could get them out and drive them to school in September,” Jane said.

Since last Sunday, they have raised €3,265 of their €30,000 goal. A bank account has also been opened for people to donate to Michelle and her family.

  • Donations can be made to any Bank of Ireland branch or online using the IBAN number IE17BOFI90188882269627.

Michelle said getting a nine-seater car would “mean the world” to her.

“It would mean getting my independence back. I won’t be relying on people, I can get my children to school in one go without having to go in shifts. I’ll be able to take the kids out through the holidays and go away for a few days,” she said, recalling how she and Chris had made plans for how they would spend the summer break.

“We had all these day trips planned for the kids over the holidays, we were going to Belfast and do a big shopping trip, but that’s all gone out the window now,” she said.

“I can’t drive two cars at the same time, or get them all in the one car, it just feels like they’ll be confined to the house, which isn’t good for them, especially in this weather they can’t even go out in the garden.

“I’m feeling a little bit anxious about the holidays, because I know they’re going to get so bored, I don’t know, I just have to take each day as it comes at the moment.  It’s just not the same.”

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