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‘This idea of a “new normal” doesn’t exist. Life has changed completely’ – Trying to cope after losing a child

There is no word to describe a bereaved parent, and their grief is similarly indescribable. We speak to those who have lost a child about the platitudes that deepen their pain, the external supports needed, and the simple gestures that keep the memory of their children alive

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"We’re still a family of four. There’s two of us here and the other two we carry around in our hearts.” Tony and Mary Heffernan pictured beside an apple tree planted in memory of their children. Picture by Don MacMonagle

"We’re still a family of four. There’s two of us here and the other two we carry around in our hearts.” Tony and Mary Heffernan pictured beside an apple tree planted in memory of their children. Picture by Don MacMonagle

Amy Dutil-Wall with daughter Estlin.

Amy Dutil-Wall with daughter Estlin.

Kathleen Chada holding a photograph of her sons Eoghan and Ruari Chada. Picture by Dylan Vaughan.

Kathleen Chada holding a photograph of her sons Eoghan and Ruari Chada. Picture by Dylan Vaughan.

Tony and Mary Heffernan, pictured in 2011 with their children Saoirse and Liam at their home in Kerry. The children, who suffered from Battens disease, have both since passed away. Picture by Don MacMonagle

Tony and Mary Heffernan, pictured in 2011 with their children Saoirse and Liam at their home in Kerry. The children, who suffered from Battens disease, have both since passed away. Picture by Don MacMonagle

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"We’re still a family of four. There’s two of us here and the other two we carry around in our hearts.” Tony and Mary Heffernan pictured beside an apple tree planted in memory of their children. Picture by Don MacMonagle

A year after five-year-old Saoirse Heffernan died, her mum and dad left their Co Kerry home for a few nights away in Galway. “My brother and sister-in-law brought us away for a couple of nights,” remembers Mary Heffernan. “I was at the bar and a lady recognised me and came up to me and she said, ‘Oh, I have a little girl. If my little girl died, there’s no way I’d be out.’”

She said it in a caring way,” adds Heffernan. “I think she felt it was complimentary, sort of ‘aren’t you brilliant that you’re out’, but I had to go to the bathroom to try and compose myself, and I couldn’t. When I went back to the table, I couldn’t hold back the tears. I told the others I was going back to the hotel and we all left.”


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