When Arabella Scanlan lost her nine-year-old daughter she was unprepared for the mental and financial strain. She found help and healing with Rosabel’s Room, a service set up by Dr Suzanne McClean and Gary Monroe who also lost their beloved daughter and wanted to help others in her memory
The death of a child is the most difficult experience any parent can face. It is the loss of their child and the loss of the dreams and hopes that they held for them. Sadly, many families have had to face into this, the cruellest of losses. But what they might not expect to have to navigate is financial uncertainty and the mental strain that comes with that in addition to their grief.
For people like Arabella Scanlan from Killaloe, Co Clare, whose beautiful daughter Brianna Lynch passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in November 2019 at just nine years old, these were exactly the worries she found herself facing. Arabella says, “When I talk about Brianna, I think of the laughter because she was a hoot. She was so happy. She had so many hurdles facing her but there are so many happy and fond memories too.”
Brianna had an underlying genetic disorder with her main diagnosis being epilepsy. She was non-verbal and had autism. Arabella and her partner Brian were told when Brianna was just a few months old that she would never walk. Arabella explains: “I remember every second with Brianna. Her life was just one education after another for us. She defied everything that was against her. She excelled. She went to her special needs school in Roscrea, she loved dogs and horse riding. She rode beautifully.
“A friend of mine gave Simbo to us 20 odd years ago and he got all my children riding. He adored Brianna and the minute we put her on him, she just felt at home. She almost became at one with the horse. She had the most beautiful riding position. Simbo picked up straight away that she had special needs and was so careful with her. She couldn’t walk awfully well but she could ride beautifully and she’d relax and she loved it.
“She was magical. In every photograph we have of her, she was smiling.”
The morning Brianna passed away while asleep in bed is one Arabella will never forget. “When I found her, in hindsight I knew that she was dead but I didn’t know it at the same time. The paramedics worked on her for over an hour and then they said, ‘She’s died’.”
It was the day of Brianna’s death, a living nightmare in itself, that a letter arrived for Arabella requesting she attend an appointment the following week to have her carer’s allowance reviewed. Arabella, who, at that time, had been a full-time carer for Brianna for nine years was still reeling from her death. She asked a friend to respond to the letter to let them know Brianna had died. She was assured that her allowance would continue for an additional three months to allow her time to get her affairs in order.
“That was when we first heard about Rosabel’s Rooms and its founders, Suzanne and Gary. We had to get a stamp from our doctor on a very-easy-to-fill-out form and within 48 hours, there was €2,000 in our bank account. And that just let us breathe and grieve.”
Once the carer’s allowance ceased, Arabella knew she needed to keep going. “When you are responsible for four other children and your daughter is dead, you’re in a fog but you also know that you still need to cook them dinner, and be able to put diesel in the car.
"I remember I had a moment where I thought ‘I can’t do this’. Rosabel’s rooms helped her through. Rosabel’s Rooms is a partner of Irish Hospice Foundation that supports bereaved parents and families across Ireland in the aftermath of the death of a child, from still birth to 21 years of age, no matter what the cause of death.
So far, Rosabel’s Room-to-Heal Fund has enabled bereaved parents to take time off work, and helped to cover funeral costs and ongoing living costs during this time. It has also helped cover the costs of headstones and other memorials for children. Parents can apply for funding of up to a maximum of €2,000. Arabella says that she struggles to put into words what the help Rosabel’s Rooms provided her and her family with meant.
“I don’t know if I will ever be able say just how much of a help Rosabel’s Rooms were to us. It’s money, yes, but it’s also care from someone who has been in your situation. They know how heartbroken you are and it’s like they’re giving you a big hug. We will never be able to thank them enough for what they did for us.”
Dr Suzanne McClean along with her husband Gary Monroe founded Rosabel’s Rooms following the loss of their beautiful daughter Rosabel Monroe in April 2017 at 16 months old. Suzanne says, “Rosabel’s life was short but important. There was something so special about her and everyone who knew her could see it. She was a very happy little girl, she was funny, a really bright little thing and the apple of our eye, the centre of our world. She never presented with any illness or anything and then in April 2017, she died suddenly and unexpectedly.”
And yet while many would crumble under the weight of their grief, Suzanne and Gary channelled theirs into helping others. Suzanne says, “In a way it was using our grief and our pain, to try and shape it into something purposeful. There’ll never be meaning to this, and it will never be OK that Rosabel is not here, but if there is a legacy that provides help and assistance to other people in her memory, then that’s the best that we can do.”
What started as an initiative to support hospitals in providing bereavement rooms for parents who have experienced child loss has evolved, explains Suzanne. “Originally we linked in with Irish Hospice Foundation and focused on establishing a bereavement suite in Galway Hospital and we did that. Since then our services have grown. Our main focus is helping people like Arabella who have lost a child.
"With my background as a psychologist, we recognised that when families lose a child, what they really need help with is having access to therapeutic support and/or financial support. We met other parents through our own grief journey who had to go back to work within a few weeks of losing a child because they needed to be able to pay their mortgage.
“Through Rosabel’s Room-to-Heal Fund, anyone can apply for one of our grants. Whatever it is, we step in and allow them to grieve with dignity and remember their child without having to worry about the financial aspects of grief. Our Rosabel’s Room-to-Talk Fund is about ensuring therapeutic supports are available to bereaved parents and their families to receive support in their home county.”
And Suzanne and Gary have not stopped on their mission to help other families. “Rosabel is at the heart of everything. It is very hard to put into words when you lose a child but they never leave your psyche. I almost feel like her identity is integrated into my own. I am living for both of us. And I am very conscious that I don’t want my two children to live for Rosabel but I want to live for her so she is absolutely at the heart of everything I do,” says Suzanne.
Music is something that has always played a big part in their family’s lives with Gary the owner of beloved Galway music venue Monroe’s. With the help of some friends such as Rosabel’s Rooms ambassador Sharon Shannon and Hothouse Flowers, Nathan Carter, Paddy Casey, Lucia Evans, The Waterboys, The Stunning and more, the recently released album Songs for Rosabel came to be. The tracks were chosen to give hope to families in a time of great sadness. Released in May, the album soared to No.1 in the iTunes Ireland charts with all proceeds going back into Rosabel’s Rooms.
Suzanne says: “I think in many ways one of the things about Rosabel’s Rooms is while it has helped families around the country, it has helped us more than any other family — in that it has been a healthy coping skill for us in trying to learn to live with her loss. But of course, the real heart of grief is very silent because there are no words. It doesn’t lessen Rosabel’s loss that we have this gorgeous legacy for her, but it is our driving force in terms of our own coping.”
Text Rosabel to 50300 to make a €4 donation. Texts cost €4. Irish Hospice Foundation will receive a minimum of €3.60. See hospicefoundation.ie for more information. ‘Songs for Rosabel’ is available on all platforms now