'I'm lost without my best friend' - Conor (25) on his first Christmas without his mum and caring for his brother
'I wake up every day and think about how strong she was'
A young man who cares for his brother who has special needs said he has learned to live with the recent death of his mother in his own way.
Budding Irish taekwondo star Conor Grassick (25) cares for his younger brother Colin (21) since their mother Ann died six months ago.
Ann battled a type of Leukemia, MDS (Myelodysplastic syndromes) for over a year.
The young sports star from Drumcondra, Dublin was given a prestigious award last year after he gave up his sports career to look after his brother Colin full-time. Colin has Prader Willi syndrome and needs 24-hour care.
Six months on from the death of their mother, Conor said he has learned to cope by thinking of what his mother would do - and she would have lived her life "day by day".
"The way I’ve coped and got on so well is to take each day as it comes, that’s what my mam used to say to me. She didn’t want to talk about tomorrow, she just lived day by the day," Conor told Independent.ie.
"For me, just doing that helped me more. I wake up every day and think about my mam and how she was so strong and that’s why I have to be strong as well."
'Grief' is a word that Conor has had to get used to since June, but it’s a word that he says he doesn’t associate with, as he finds different ways to keep the memory of his late mother alive.
"People ask me if I’m grieving, but I don’t know what grieving means- if I googled it, I wouldn’t be able to explain it.
"All I know is that I’m lost without my best friend, but I know she’s looking down on us. I know she would be proud of how the two of us have tackled the last few months together, it wasn’t easy."
Conor paid tribute to his mother by organising a team to take part in the Great Pink Run in September, in aid of Breast Cancer Ireland.
- Read more: Mum with cancer pleads for support for son with special needs as brother (24) steps into carer role
"We had about 50 people on the day, from friends and family to members of the local community. Even though it was raining, it was a really good day," Conor said.
"One of my friends turned around during the day and he said; ‘I’m glad we liked your mam so much or else we wouldn’t be here in this weather’.
"Before mam even passed away, we had decided we were going to do it together, but that obviously didn’t happen. I told myself I was going to do it for her, and it really hit me going across the line.
"I got quite emotional, and I carried her picture throughout the run and over the finish line."
In the month’s leading up to his mother’s death, Conor gave up his Olympic taekwondo training to become his brother’s full-time carer.
Although he won the Champion’s International Open in Dublin in June, he has since taken a break from sporting life but hopes to restart in the new year.
Conor's brother Colin (21), who has autism alongside Prader Willi syndrome, has also overcome some personal battles in the last quarter of the year.
Prader Willi syndrome (PWS) is a genetic disorder due to loss of function of specific genes. Beginning in childhood the person becomes constantly hungry which often leads to obesity.
"He’s getting on really well, he’s actually dropped about two stone in weight. He’s in respite four days a week and he comes home to me for three days," Conor said.
"My mam said before she passed, 'will you please look after him'. She said her only worry was me, as she knew he would always have support. I will always want to look after him."
Overcoming Christmas will be another hurdle for the Grassick brothers, but Conor explains that he has tried not to think too much about it, focusing on the happiness of his brother instead.
"Christmas will be a big stepping stone. We’re going down to family on Christmas Day, and then to my girlfriend's on Stephen’s Day," he said.
"For me, with the year we had, the most important thing is how Colin has coped so well. I want him to be happy, he deserves it.
"If he’s happy on Christmas Day, I’ll be happy."
- Read more: 'She was one in a million'- Irish taekwondo star (24) pays tribute to late mother after 'unexpected' death