Brendan O'Connor: The moment when little Ciaran Treacy (4) stopped crying
The death of four-year-old Ciaran Treacy was, in many ways, for his family, worse than murder, says Brendan O’Connor
Published 01/11/2015 | 00:00
A year ago, in the Civil Circuit Court, Ronan Treacy was awarded €10,000 for mental distress and loss. Ronan had lost his son Ciaran in April when a car driven by his wife Gillian was hit by another vehicle driven by Finbarr O’Rourke, a 40-year-old man who drank eight to 10 pints of cider before getting behind the wheel.
We can only speculate how the figure of €10,000 was arrived at - no fault to the judge the amounts are limited by law. Was €1,000 of it for the moment when Ronan, having just settled his two-year-old daughter Caoimhe down to sleep, got a phone call from a neighbour to say they had recognised the family car in a crash? Was there another €1000 for when Ronan had to speak to his wife on the phone, while she was trapped in the car, as she told him she was worried about their four-year-old son Ciaran, who, having cried and screamed for a while, had gone silent?
Was it another thousand for having to take Caoimhe out of the bed to drive to the scene of the accident? How much of the €10,000 was for Ronan having to look at his two sons, Ciaran and Sean on the side of the road, attempts being made to resuscitate Ciaran while Sean was comforted? Another €1000 maybe for having to look at his wife, seriously injured, as the emergency team took an hour to free her from the car. How much of Ronan Treacy’s compensation covered having to bear the knowledge on his own that his little boy was dead? His wife was too critically ill to be told, even though she kept asking. So Ronan had to bear that shock alone. And how much was it worth to compensate for Ronan having to then confirm for his wife what she knew already, that their world was shattered, their son was dead? Gillian couldn’t even speak when Ronan came to see her. But she managed to make the letter C with her hand, and Ronan had to tell her that yes, what she suspected was true, when Ciaran had stopped screaming and crying and gone silent, his short life was ending.
How much then was Ronan given for having to bury his little boy, for having to see the headphones his son had used to listen to Let It Go from Frozen brought up as a gift at his funeral. What sum compensated him for seeing Ciaran’s Peppa Pig crèche bag and his toy of Olaf the Snowman, the accoutrements of childhood and innocence, being placed on his coffin? How much of the €10,000 was supposed to compensate Ronan for having to listen to Let It Go play as Ciaran’s white coffin was brought out of the church. Let It Go is one of those songs that is an occasion for joy in homes with small kids everywhere. And now it was his four-year-old’s requiem. Think of all those nights when Ciaran insisted on hearing Let It Go, probably singing along the way kids like to do. There were probably even times that Ronan, like all fathers, despaired of hearing that song again. Little did he think that one day he would give anything to sit through the three minutes and 45 seconds of that song with Ciaran.
Gillian Treacy got €10,000 too. How much of that sum do you think covered the trauma of waiting for help in the car after a drunken driver had ploughed into her and her kids? How much covered having to lie there, unable to get to her sons? How much for trying to calm them? How much was the moment worth when Ciaran went silent? How much was the hour she spent trying to read the faces of the rescue workers as they tried to free her from the car worth? How much of that money covered the hours ahead as, severely injured, she asked and asked about her sons. How much was it worth for her to have to have her dead son brought to her on a stretcher? What portion of the €10,000 covered that night she spent with her son’s body, making the most of their final hours together, talking to God about his favourite toys and food and colours, and telling God all the things that made Ciaran unique? How much for Gillian having to go to her son’s funeral in an ambulance on a trolley accompanied by an ICU nurse and two paramedics? And then back to hospital for another month or more. How much of the money covered that time when she was in hospital undergoing operation after operation, some of them up to 12 hours long, when she needed to be at home with her family, looking after them and grieving with her husband?
And what compensated these grieving parents for Ronan’s 40th birthday, for Halloween, for Christmas, for Ciaran’s birthday on January 3 having to watch their other two children blow out the candles for a boy who isn’t there anymore and will never be back, for the following Easter, the anniversary of his death? All occasions that should have been full of joy. And then on April 17 the family reached that point in bereavement when they could no longer say, “This time last year . . .” That is the point in grief when families face an awful crossroads, when people tell them they should start moving on, when they are told to start letting go, but they don’t want to let go.
In practical terms too, the Treacys have lost everything – the family business, Gillian’s hopes of going back to work. Gillian still faces more treatment and may yet lose her lower leg.
They also face a lifetime of trying to keep going despite Ciaran’s loss. They face the dawning realisation by Sean and Caoimhe that their brother is not coming back. They face trying to keep Ciaran’s memory alive in his two young siblings who will tend to forget a boy they only knew when they were small. They face a lifetime of being acutely aware all the time of all the things they are missing. And people will say to them now and again that thing we sometimes say in our powerlessness to help, “I don’t know how you cope”. And they will answer the way everyone answers that question: “We cope because we have to”.
Young Sean and Caoimhe were awarded €5,000 each for mental distress over the loss of their brother. Ciaran’s grandparents Marie, Vera, Noel and Pat got €1,250 each, which is presumably to make up for the fact that Ciaran will never ramble in the woods again with his grandparents, the way he did the day he died, on what his mother called a perfect day. Maybe the €1,250 is intended to go some way towards the fact that Ciaran’s grandparents will never proudly watch him make his communion or confirmation, that his Granddads will never take him for a sneaky first pint or to a match, that his Nans will never slip him a few quid or collect him after school or indulge him at Christmas or on his birthdays.
Finbarr O’Rourke, the drunken driver, says he put his head through a window at the Garda station when he heard Ciaran died. He says he never set out to hurt anyone. And of course he didn’t, and to be sure he must feel huge remorse for what he did. And you’d have to say that his life is ruined too. But he ruined his own life, and he ruined many other lives that day too. And really there is no excuse. There is no excuse for anyone getting in a car with drink taken, and the penalties should be the severest. For Ciaran Treacy’s family, their boy may as well have been murdered. And in a sense it is worse than a murder, because they will never be able to escape the memories of that day. Gillian still relives that trauma, and she will probably replay it forever. She is learning not to blame herself and to stop wondering what she could have done differently not to be in that place at that time. But she will never forget that moment when she lay there powerless as her little boy went silent.
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