Ireland prop Mike Ross has spoken for the first time about the suicide of his younger brother Andrew at the age of just 16 and how it devastated his close-knit family.
The Leinster star and father-of-two was nearly 18 when his younger brother Andrew died at the family farm in Ballyhooly, Co Cork.
“I lost my brother,” he says, “and I could see the impact it had on my parents and my siblings.”
“When a child dies, it affects everybody in the family.”
Andrew died on the family farm and his mother found him.
“It came out of the blue. There were no signs leading up to it, none whatsoever. There was no note. Nothing was ever the same again. My parents went through a tough time,” he says.
“They had four other kids who needed attention. I saw them struggling, and my siblings struggling... It happened in October and I did my Leaving Cert the following June. It was tough on all of us.
“Nothing was ever the same again,” says Mike. “You never get back to the way things were after something like that. It took my parents years to find their ‘new normal’.”
Mike is now an ambassador for Anam Cara, the support group for bereaved parents, and was speaking as he launched the #daddyandme campaign in the run up to Father’s Day on June 21.
The campaign aims to raise awareness of the difficulties facing bereaved dads, and raise funds for support services for parents who have lost a child.
“People treat bereaved fathers differently from mothers,” Ross said.
“They often ask men in the situation ‘How’s your wife coping?’ I think it’s great that with Father’s Day coming up, the #daddyandme campaign puts the focus back on fathers.”
The rugby player, who has been capped 49 times for his country, said he was speaking about his own loss to help others cope with bereavement.
“It can be a very powerful thing to listen to other people and share your own story,” he said. “That’s why I’m doing this, talking about my brother and how it affected our family.
“I’m passionate about the work of Anam Cara, because they organise open nights and a helpline and provide lots of outlets for men to engage and receive the support they need.
“I’d like to say to any man out there who has lost a child or a sibling, don’t bottle it up. You’re not alone,” he said.