Sunday 21 July 2019

'She said that if she died she wanted lots of flowers and colour... a week later she was dead' - Brian Dowling on sudden death of his mother

Brian Dowling: ‘I have no regrets. And I can say that with a smile on my face because our mum to us was a queen.’ Photo: Fergal Phillips
Brian Dowling: ‘I have no regrets. And I can say that with a smile on my face because our mum to us was a queen.’ Photo: Fergal Phillips
Dowling presents: Brian will be joined by old pal Pippa O'Connor as he welcomes 100 guests to his 40th party
Brian Dowling and Pippa O'Connor Photo: Brian McEvoy
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

"We can't wake mammy up." They were the words that roused Brian Dowling from his slumber and threw his family into a nightmare.

Only hours before, he had been speaking to his mother Rosie, a sparkling 61-year-old in full health. Her final words to him were:"Goodnight son, we'll talk in the morning."

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Sudden Adult Death Syndrome (SADS) is so prevalent that at least one person under the age of 35 dies from it in Ireland every week. With no symptoms or prior warning, the only way you can prevent unnecessary death is through screening in clinics such as the Mater's Family Heart Clinic.

The shock of losing his mother and best friend left the TV presenter and former Big Brother star in a state of trauma. On his own in LA, he says: "For the next 24 hours I couldn't tell you what I did. At one point my lips started to turn blue, I was going into shock."

In a bittersweet coincidence, the week before, Brian and his mother had spoken about her last wishes. "She had just cooked the Sunday roast for us all and I was sitting with her in the kitchen at home in Rathangan.

"She said [if she died] she wanted lots of flowers and that she didn't want any of us to wear black - only colour. And a week later she was dead."

Describing his mother as "an amazing person" with "a wicked sense of humour", he says: "I am so lucky I have a great husband, great friends and a great family but it can be very hard.

"Grief can be very dangerous," he explains.

"It's tricky. And I think you have it forever. You just learn to live with it."

He goes on: "It can send you into a dark place where you just feel despair and you feel kind of lonely. I think it has changed me as a person. Whereas before I would have been quite patient, now I don't think I am as tolerant because I think maybe I am just p*ssed off. I am frustrated with what has happened. And that is why you have to be careful with who you become - because you're never going to be the same person."

He says: "You define yourself in how you deal with it and I have to deal with it the best way I can. I know Mum would never want - for any of us - for it to be so destroying that it would affect our lives. She would want us to get out there and get it together and live."

On dealing with her absence, he says: "I talk to her, which is the stupidest thing, and people are going to read this and go 'oh my god Brian Dowling is mad'," he laughs.

"But we have pictures of her on the wall, my sisters won't know this, but what I do is that I would go to the kitchen and walk up to the picture. The one question I ask is always 'why' and then I always say goodnight to her and I put my finger on my lips and I put it to her picture."

It took 10 months after her death for it to finally sink in: "Christmas was fine and then [my husband and I] went to New York and then on New Year's Eve I just woke up and it was almost like I had taken some kind of medication. I felt different. I didn't feel like me. And I just broke down and I cried, I mean proper shaking, sobbing, crying.

"It just hit me that she is not going to wish me happy new year, she is never going to remind me to put my clock back and forward like she always used to do. I am never going to get a message from her again. She will never call me when I am home again on my Irish phone. But once I let it out, I felt better."

Despite the loss, Brian says he and his six younger sisters shared such a special bond with their mum that it has left him with no remorse for the past.

"I have no regrets. Not one. And I can say that with a smile on my face because our mum to us was a queen. We would bring her to the cinema, we would bring her shopping for clothes for special occasions, she came everywhere with us, she was like our special buddy."

With the one year anniversary of his mother's death approaching, Brian and his family have organised ''A Run For Rosie'', which takes place in Rathangan on February 24 with proceeds going to funding the Family Heart Screening Clinic.

Since 2007, more than 11,000 people at risk have been screened, with 30pc of families tested found to have a potential inherited cardiac disease. However, the clinic receives limited government funding and is heavily reliant on public donations. Donations can be sent directly to The Mater Foundation, the official fundraising body of The Mater Hospital on www.materfoundation.ie

Deaths by SADS "are so needless," says Brian, "go and get yourself tested".

Sunday Independent

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