To experience the death of any loved one is traumatic. There are few of us who haven't gone through this; the emotional turmoil and grief that comes with any such passing.


Losing a sibling or child presents a different type of grief; a mourning period that is complex, devastating and utterly heartbreaking. It's almost impossible to comprehend unless you've been in a similar situation yourself. 


One family that knows this devastation, in particular, is the O'Toole family from Ballintubber, now living in Roscommon. 


Over the past two decades, they have tragically lost three members of their beautiful family. For parents Helen and Frank, it's the loss of three children, for sisters Aishleen, Katie-Anne and Charlotte, two brothers and a sister and Sheridan the youngest, lost Jacinta and his brother Fintan.



In May of 1996, their brother, 7-year-old Declan, passed away with a malignant brain tumour just six months after his diagnosis. The children Aishleen, Fintan, Jacinta, Katie-Anne, Charlotte and Sheridan ranged from just thirteen years old at the time.


For Frank, he says it was something the family would never move on from, but that they tried to live with it. "It's very difficult for anyone losing their parents, but it's natural. But to actually see your seven-year-old child go into the ground, it's crazy," he said, speaking on Homespun on MidWest Radio.


In the hugely emotive, heart-wrenching interview, Frank eloquently and through tears recounted how he and his family tried to process the loss and grieving process.


"I remember bargaining with God, saying 'this is it now, give us a good life now and all that' but it didn't work out that way. On both sides of our family, there are 35-40 grandchildren - and we've lost three. It doesn't make any sense whatsoever. ...Everything changes when you live in a house after the death of a child, not just for us, for the siblings. Their life changes, and it's very difficult." 


"It never goes away. It's every day"


Tragedy was to strike again when in January 2016, the family were left devastated by the sudden passing of their 30-year-old daughter and sister Jacinta from a brain aneurysm. 


"Don't ask me how but we knew she was just gone."


This led the family to have to process another tragedy but out of all this, the three sisters Aishleen, Katie-Anne and Charlotte, who Frank says he's endlessly proud of, founded Jacinta's Smile, which aims to provide grief-stricken children with a support network as well as an outlet to celebrate their own personal achievements and triumphs. "The girls had nothing, no outlet to help them process what happened. After Declan, the kids went to school a week later, and they were the only ones who had lost a sibling."



It was then in April last year, devastatingly, their beloved son and brother, 32-year-old Fintan also passed away suddenly.


"Fintan never got over Declan's death. None of us did, but Fintan and Declan were so close."


This inspired Frank via his band Celtic Cru to write 'A Father's Grief,' a powerful, beautiful song dedicated to the memory of the three children he lost and to help other parents and siblings who have experienced the same.



Coming to the song, Frank said that he was asked, how, particularly after Fintan passed, what it was like for a father to deal with.


"I just started to write a poem about how I was feeling because people say things without realising. They don't know what to say. I mean, what can you say, you can't really say anything," he said of how the song came about. Frank's friends and Celtic Cru bandmates then decided to put the poem to music to preserve it.


"I've had people come up to me after hearing the song and say, 'that's me.' People don't know what to say. Someone told me they've had things said like, 'You have an angel now,' and they say, 'I don't want an angel.' And I can relate to that. It's not the people, they are fantastic."


"The song is for other people."


Frank was keen to end the interview on a happy note, despite the sadness of the family's story. "Yes, life is hard; it has thrown us curveballs that myself, my wife and family can't believe but I want to say congratulations to my daughter Katie-Anne and Cian on their son and a new grandson for the family. His name is Bobby-James and now we have two grandsons, Jacinta's son Ethan and Bobby-James."  


The song is available for download with 50% of proceeds going towards Jacinta's Smile-Sibling Bereavement Support: and if you know of a child or teenager who would like to take part in any of the groups' activities or simply benefit from the work being done by Jacinta's Smile, you can find out more information here



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