On March 14, 2017, Ireland woke to the news that Irish Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 116 had crashed into the ocean off Mayo while supporting a rescue mission. As the whole country waited for news, it became clear that all four crew members - Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, Chief Pilot Mark Duffy, winch operator Paul Ormsby and winch man Ciarán Smith - had lost their lives. There was a nationwide outpouring of grief and support for the families and rescue services who had lost loved ones.
At about 6am, Captain Dara Fitzpatrick's sister Niamh had been woken by a phone call from another sister, Emer, with five words that would change their lives forever: "The heli has gone down."
Niamh had to phone her mother and her twin sister Orla, who phoned their brother Johnny. Initially, they couldn't contact their father, who was in the UK. Two of Dara's colleagues had called in person to tell Emer. They all gathered in the house Dara shared with Emer waiting for news, while Dara's two-year-old son Fionn slept unaware upstairs. The day is etched in their memories.
Three years later, Niamh, a psychologist, puts grief and loss under the microscope from the point of view of her training, but also in a deeply personal context. Having helped people over three decades through the toughest times of their lives, Niamh had to draw on what she had learned to survive and eventually to thrive.
She describes the numbness in the early days of grieving, the "to-do" list in the days leading to the very public funeral, the benefits of the rituals of an Irish wake, the kindness of community and strangers and how the Fitzpatricks worked as a family to celebrate Dara's life. Of how to tell a two-year-old that his mother is dead. How the bereaved clutch at anything to give them some meaning and solace, such as discovering from a friend's tweet on the morning of the funeral that the road number of the church where the funeral was held was R116. And how she was struck by the words of Snow Patrol's 'Run', one of Dara's favourites, which was played at the funeral.
Niamh was also coming to terms with other more private sorrows in her life. She had to let go of the dream of becoming a mother after years of IVF and trying the adoption road. At the time of Dara's death, Niamh's marriage was coming to an end and she thought she would lose her house. All the while, there were memorial ceremonies and media interest. The investigation into the crash added an extra layer of grief for the families. She was the one who dealt with the media, having some experience already with a weekly segment on Today FM with Neil Delamere.
The book is an insightful tribute to Dara, her colleagues and her legacy but also a testament to Niamh Fitzpatrick as she follows the Biblical proverb: "Physician, heal thyself". She takes us through the different stages of grief, the physical and emotional responses, the sadness of the "anniversary effect" and gently tells us how to face our feelings and be kind to ourselves.
We get to know Dara the loving mother and sister, but also Dara the great achiever. The very first female commercial helicopter pilot in Ireland, at least 800 people are alive to day because of her. Niamh's words will resonate with anyone who has suffered loss but ultimately she offers hope.