Zeminar Presents Niamh Fitzpatrick | What’s Out the Other Side of Awful?

Death visited my family in the middle of the night when we lay sleeping in our beds. My sister was captain Dara Fitzpatrick.
She’s the commander of Rescue 116, the helicopter that crashed on the 14th of
March 2017 killing all four members on board. These people had got out of their
beds on the night of the 13th of March and had flown across the country to go
to the rescue of somebody whose name they didn’t even know and the helicopter
in the dark of night crashed on the rock and lost all four lives. The first I knew
of this was the next morning, at 6 a.m. I got a knock at the door, I live four
doors from Dara, I got a knock at the door to say the helicopter was down and
we had a wait of about six hours, an agonizing wait until two men came to us
to tell us that the body that the RNLI had recovered from the water was
Dara and basically life just as I knew it life just stopped there. At the same
time my marriage was in trouble. Dara had introduced us and it was a good marriage
for an awful long time. There was a lot of sadness in it, we weren’t able to have
our own family and she had introduced us because he was a friend of hers and I
suppose my sadness of losing my sister and his sadness of losing his friend on top
of our own sadness of not having a family was just too much sadness to bear.
Some couples come through their sadness but we didn’t. My house as I said is four
doors down from Dara where she lived with her son, a little two and a half
year old boy when she died and myself and my two sisters became his Guardians
and I needed to stay in that house. So when the marriage ended I was lucky I
married a nice man so when things didn’t go well he was still a nice man and he
allowed me without fight by the house from him, but I spent a year
working really hard all hours, traveling doing everything I can, to make it so
that the bank would give me a favorable outcome on a mortgage application to buy
this house so I could stay near my sister and Dara’s son. I had made peace
with not being a mother myself in the previous few years but after Dara died I
found myself with a car seat in my car and doing creche runs and reading bedtime
stories and trying to get my head around the fact that I wasn’t a mother and
still not a mother but that I was a guardian figure, a mother figure in this
child’s life and I really struggled with that. Even my dog – I had this dog, this
cute gorgeous little dog a little Lhasa Apso dog, they look like a mix between
a teddy bear and an Ewok – he’s just this gorgeous dog and on the morning of the
crash I called one of my friends and she said I’ll come and get him and each week
I’d say to her I’ll take him back because you can imagine our lives we
just turned upside down, and each week I’d say to her I’ll take him back, I’ll
take him back next week, I’ll take him back next week, but life was so crazy
that I just, the dog was so far down the list of priorities it wouldn’t have been
fair to him so she has him now, so I didn’t even get to say goodbye to my dog – I see him on pictures but I’ve lost him. So the stress of all this – I’m a
psychologist, I did walk the walk, I’ve handled it well emotionally, I got
some help for myself from a psychologist but the stress of all this on my system
has been immense – my hair fell out, began to fall out in clumps with bald spots at
the back of my hair; my immune system was shot to pieces; I got colds and chest
infections and kidney infections; I ended up with pneumonia; I was hospitalized; I
spent a year on steroids and antibiotics. I’m about three sizes bigger than I’m
supposed to be – I saw a DM on Twitter from Eddie Murphy
from operation transformation and the first thought was “oh jesus, this guy is probably recruiting for the next batch of OT” – he wasn’t he was just
offering me some help but so I am not physically how I should be now and my
awful has been handling all of that, finding myself at 51 years of age, about
to be divorced, no children, I lost my sister, my whole life as I knew it just
changed and I can tell you when I was your age if I was sitting there that
would not have been the plan – what’s, how my life is now was not the plan. You’re
awful – that’s my awful – you’re awful might be that you have lost somebody; you’re
awful might be that you struggle with depression or anxiety; you’re awful might
be that your parents are fighting and arguing or theat you’ve a sibling who’s
causing trouble in the house and disruption in the house and you all have
to live with that. We all have all sorts of awful and it will visit us at some
stage in life although around the awful life is brilliant, it’s wonderful but
what I’m here to talk to you today about are those awful bits and I find now two
and a half years after Dara died that I’m coming out the other side of awful. I
don’t mean in regards to grief because grief isn’t something you come out of.
You don’t get over it – there’s no closure. What happens with grief is you learn to
live with it. I’ve described it as being like – having a bag of rocks thrown at you
and you have to carry those rocks up a hill and in the beginning the rocks are
so heavy that you fall and you stumble and you end up on the ground but over
time because you have to keep carrying the bag of rocks you build muscles; your
arms get stronger; your back gets stronger and you learn to live with your
loss. People say to me sometimes – oh you really loved your sister; No I didn’t – it’s not past tensed. I didn’t loved her – I love her…present
tense. Dara’s blood is in my veins; I see the curve of her face sometimes when I
look at my face; I hear the tone of her voice when I hear
my voice; she’s a part of me and I will love her and grieve for her until I
die. So my awful was learning to live with
all of this and two-and-a-half years later I found that way to do it. My marriage ended amicably – we can meet, we can have coffee. He was a nice man he’s
still a nice man – I think we’re both nice people who just never wanted to hate
somebody that we once loved, so that has ended okay. On the very first anniversary of Dara’s death I was in Mayo for the ceremonies to mark the crash and when I came back to my hotel afterwards
the bank had emailed to say that I got my mortgage, so I got to stay in my home
which is four doors away from Dara son and I can mind him with my sister and
I’ve made peace with everything else and I found my way into that space of a
guardian and I’m okay with that now. But grief is the gate crusher that brings
gifts to the party and what I found as I learned to live with loss is that some
things now are better and I’m going to talk to you about three things that are
better after what I’ve been through. The first thing is that I’ve had to become
the best version of myself in order to be able to survive; I had to grow; I had
to adapt; I had to be kind to myself; I had to ask for help; I had to accept that
I would fail and I would fall down; I had to get my head around the fact that I
felt like I was losing my mind but I wasn’t that this was just grief and so I
now am more tolerant; I’m more accepting; I’m more patient; I’m more capable and I’m
more fearless because of what I’ve done in terms of surviving awful. The next
thing that I noticed was clarity – when you come out the other side of awful you
have such clarity. You know who you are – I know who I am now. I know what I’m made of; I know what I’m capable of; I know who my friends are and the clarity around that brings such security
to your life. The other thing, the third thing that I found comes with coming out
the other side of awful is perspective. I now know what matters and what doesn’t.
I can sift through the noise in life – there’s an awful lot of noise in life, a
lot of stuff we’re supposed to care about but it really doesn’t matter. So
for example I mentioned earlier about how my body isn’t in a good state these
days. Well this is a public forum, so I know that there are going to be photos
online and there’ll be people through Twitter, because that’s what some people
do, there’ll be people scrolling through Twitter saying “gosh now hasn’t she put on a few
pounds”, but what happens with perspective when you come out the other side of
awful is that you realize what matters and what doesn’t and what I now think
when I look at my body now, which I will get healthy again, but at the moment I’m
not gonna haters until I do that what I now think when I look at my body is I
think of its function not its form. So my body may be bigger than I want it to be
but it’s the body that allows me to hug Dara’s son. He has this thing he does
with me when I have him that I stand in his hall, I have to get down on my knees,
he stands at the farthest part of the hall and he runs towards me, he’s only
five, with his little arms pumpin and his head down and then when he gets up near
to me he launches himself at me and we have the best hug ever which is what we
call it.This body may be bigger but it allows me to do that. This body may be
bigger but it allows me to read him bedtime stories; it allows me to cheer
him on on his first day at school when his mama wasn’t there; this body allows
me to listen to clients tell me their stories of anxiety or depression or
stress; this body allows me to train sports teams for Olympic preparation or
all-ireland preparation or competition down the road preparation;
this body allows me to stand here today and give you a message of hope, share a
message of hope of life after awful. So if anyone is scrolling through Twitter
and saying hasn’t your one packed on a few pounds, you can keep scrolling
because I’m not bothered, because I have handled so much stuff (applause) I have handled so much stuff over the
last couple of years that I can handle somebody telling me that my arse is
bigger than it should be – I’m well aware of the size of my arse. So what’s essentially, to summarise to
finish up, what’s essentially out the other side of awful is freedom. You have
clarity you know who you are, you know who your friends are – you become the best
version of yourself. You have perspective on the things that matter and now I
don’t need to be liked; I don’t need to please people; I can say no I’m not
afraid of failure – I laugh in the face of failure. I’ve had to live with the fact
and accept the fact that my sister who should have died when she was in her 90s
in a hospital bed with her family around her instead died on her own in the cold
dark sea in the dead of night – if I can handle that I can handle anything that
anybody ever says about me. It’s almost as if life now, it’s like it was I was
living it in black and white and now it’s in color so it’s like Dorothy in
The Wizard of Oz when the house landed in Oz and she arrives out from this
black and white life and she moves into this colour life with the yellow brick
road – I see things now much more in color than I ever did before, life is just more
vivid and that’s because I’ve come out the other side of awful. When we were
delayed if I was ever meeting Dara she had this expression. She would ring
me and she would say “I got a call out of work I’m gonna be delayed you go on
ahead, I’ll meet you there crack on – you crack on” and now two and a
half years after she died I can almost hear her whispering those words to me
saying to me “Niamh, you crack on – there is a life after awful, you crack on and you
live that life”, because Dara would give anything to have her life back but she
can’t and I have my life so I’m gonna honor her and I’m gonna live my best
life and what I want you to remember when you hit you’re awful times, is that there is life after awful. That you’re awful in life does not have to be
a full stop it can be a comma in your life. I want you to remember that
actually life can be wonderful because you have survived your awful and finally
I want you to remember the brave and beautiful Dara Fitz and I want you to
crack on with your life. Thank You.

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