Saturday 22 October 2016

Andrea Smith: Brave Liam Heffernan taught us to cherish life, so stop stressing over your looks

Published 08/05/2014 | 18:25

Tony and Mary Heffernan and their son Liam
Tony and Mary Heffernan and their son Liam

SOMEONE asked me on radio recently if I minded being fat. I replied that it would be deeply ungrateful of me to mind, when there are so many people in hospitals or graveyards who would give anything to be able to walk around this beautiful earth in my fat old body.

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How shallow it would be for me to fret because I carry a few extra pounds, when the body I have works perfectly and has rarely given me a moment's trouble.

I thought of this skewed focus that we have on life over again when reading the beautiful eulogy that Mary Heffernan gave at the funeral of her five-year-old son Liam.

Liam died earlier this week in his parents' arms at home in Keel, Co Kerry, from Batten's Disease, the degenerative brain disorder that also caused the death of his older sister, Saoirse, in 2011.

In a deeply moving description of how Liam still managed to smile, laugh and clap his hands as the disease ravaged his body, Mary said that she and her family were going to live their lives to the full to honour their children.

While most of us would wonder how we would manage to put one foot in front of the other in her position, Mary said people often asked her and her husband Tony how they kept on going? “The answer is simple, life is worth living,” she said, adding Liam taught them to cherish life no matter what it throws at you.


Life is indeed precious, as I saw first-hand when my baby niece Isobelle was born ill last week. While her problems look to be thankfully fixable, the fervent wish every expectant parent has for a healthy baby never seemed more poignant.

It also made me see first-hand how amazingly strong some people are, especially Isobelle's wonderful mammy Marie, and her dad Brian – who transformed before my eyes from my “pesky little brother” into a strong, capable, wise and kind man.

The past week has also been a crash course in the kindness of strangers, and we were all touched by the support that comes from the most unexpected people in your life.

When it comes to celebrity life, nobody is more physically scrutinised than our film and TV stars, who are regularly berated over their appearance, style and weight “flaws”.

The Only Way is Essex star and glamour model, Sam Faiers, says she made the mistake of thinking looks were everything, but falling ill with Crohn's disease put things in perspective for her.

The 23-year-old says she was previously “desperate” to go from a size 10 to an eight, and then dropped to a tiny size four and weighed less than seven stone after developing the illness earlier this year,

“All my stressing about being skinny didn't matter – what's important is that you're healthy, happy and feeling good in your clothes,” she said.

“I'll never drive myself as mad as I did, because when I was thin, I didn't feel sexy.”

So you know what, we need to take her word for it and stop obsessing about the ‘thigh gap' we're never going to have, or those annoying lines that have crept up on our face.

They, and the fact that our bums are heading south, are a testament to the fact that we are lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to grow older in this life.

So step away from the mirror and the scales, call up your pals and get out there into the world of real life.

Laugh, have fun, take a walk in the fresh air, do something nice for someone else, and revel in simply being alive and well.

We owe it to the memory of Liam Heffernan to do it.

Irish Independent

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