by Louise Doyle
A WOMAN who helped set up a support group for bereaved parents after tragically losing her own daughter, has called on families struggling with loss to attend a meeting in Letterkenny tonight.
Sharon Vard is the Chief Executive Officer of Anam Cara, which was founded in 2008 as a national organisation to support bereaved parents and families who have suffered the devastating loss of a child of any age and through any circumstance.
In 2004, Sharon’s world came crashing down when her youngest daughter, Rachel, aged five, died of a brain tumour.
Speaking to the Donegal News, Sharon told of her disbelief following her daughter’s terminal diagnosis.
“Rachel was a healthy child and out of nowhere she developed balancing issues so I brought her to our GP. She had been diagnosed with an ear-related condition and she was given a course of antibiotics. However, the problem didn’t go away, in fact it got worse, and a short while later she was diagnosed with a brain tumour.”
The devastation continued for Sharon, her husband, Aidan and other children, Joyce and Dylan, when medics told the family there was nothing they could do to save little Rachel.
“We had that journey to face, but the biggest journey was the one afterwards, when we lost Rachel. It was devastating and it still is. It was a very hard time for her two siblings as well.
“At the time Rachel passed away in 2004, there was very little in the way of support for parents, siblings and wider family circle in the way of support for the loss of a child.”
The lack of support in the wake of a bereavement from a child’s death was the driving force behind the setting up of Anam Cara.
“When your child has cancer or a related illness, you have the support from the hospital where thy are being cared for, but after the loss of your child, no matter what age they are, there is a gap in support. Parents are at home trying to make sense of the awfulness, and the never-ending void.
“That was the reason behind the setting up of Anam Cara. Everyone behind the move recognised the real need for it.”
The support group takes its name from the old Gaelic term for ‘soul friend’, Anam meaning soul and Cara meaning friend.
Anam Cara say every year some 2,100 families in Ireland experience the death of a child.
A national organisation, Anam Cara has branched out to help families in Ulster. Sharon has called on any parents or families in Donegal bereft from the loss of a child to come along to tonight’s meeting at 7.30pm to 9.30pm in the Mount Errigal Hotel.
The event will be addressed by Brid Carroll, Chair of the Irish Childhood Bereavement Network.
“Brid will talk for 45 minutes, and there will also be an opportunity for those who attend to talk to Brid as well as other parents.
“The event will be followed by sessions right up until June. These are open to parents and families who have not only lost children recently, but at any time. It’s also important to say that the age of the child when they passed away does not matter. The sessions are open to anyone who has lost a child, not matter how young or old they were.
“Anam Cara also work in partnership with other groups such as Northern Ireland Children’s Hospice in Northern Ireland and we run cross-border events.
“All events are free. We’re also very conscious there are other services available and we will do our best to signpost parents and families.”
Recognising the geographic region of Donegal, Sharon also made an appeal for potential outreach partners in Donegal to get in touch.
For more information telephone 085 2888888 or find Anam Cara on Facebook or Twitter.
Posted: 2:23 pm February 9, 2017