Mar 8, 2012

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A Letter From My Heart

The following is a letter written by Caroline and published in Take a Break Magazine, September 2011:

It was the worst pain a mother could feel and now it was happening again.

By Caroline Kennedy.

“Dear Aoife,

I opened the front door and as usual a little figure was jumping up and down, straining to see what I had in my arms.

She said: ‘What have you got today Mummy?’ I laughed and replied: ‘Be patient, all will be revealed.’

Saturday nights were family film nights and they were so precious to you Aoife. You couldn’t wait for me to come back from town so we could all sit down with crisps and sweets and watch films like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

You loved being a sister to Conor, Roisin and Aine. You doted on Aine from the moment she was born and whenever Conor wanted anything, you’d dash to go and get it for him.

I’d say to you: ‘Don’t let him boss you around!’ But you’d reply: ‘I don’t mind.’

I loved the fact that you were so innocent and all you wanted to do was help people.

Your teachers recognised this too. I remember one day you came running out the school gates.

You said: ‘Mummy, I won a merit award. Are you proud of me?’ ‘Of course,’ I replied. We were always proud of you.

I loved spending time with you. No matter what we did, we always had such fun.

We were shopping one day when I spotted a gorgeous coat. It was duck-egg blue and had fur on the cuffs and collar.

Your eyes shone as I tried it on. But when I looked at the price tag, I couldn’t buy it. It was expensive and the money could have been used elsewhere.

When we came home, you said to Daddy: ‘Mummy fell in love with a beautiful coat.’

Your daddy looked at me and said: ‘Why don’t you get it Caroline?’

‘I can’t Matthew,’ I said. ‘It’s too much.’

A few days passed and we were shopping again when you gave me a mischievous look.

You said: ‘We’ll just go back in and look at that coat again.’

I agreed and when I tried it on, I fell in love with it once more.

‘Give us a twirl,’ you said. ‘You look like a real princess.’

Calling someone a princess was your biggest compliment, Aoife. It was all you ever wanted to be. I bought the coat.

Two weeks passed and it was like any other Sunday. We went to church in the morning and later on you wanted to visit some friends of ours down the road.

That evening, the six of us walked to the chip shop. I had Conor and Aine with me as you went to cross the road.

I watched as you took one foot off the pavement, but suddenly a car swept past.

What happened next was horrifying. You flew into the air and was thrown a long way.

I screamed.

We ran towards you and somebody called an ambulance.

I said: ‘Please stay alive, my darling, please.’

Paramedics took you to hospital but you were pronounced dead on arrival.

It was one month before your sixth birthday and you had been taken from me.

We took your body back to our home in Carnew, County Wicklow, and we laid you down on your bed.

Other than the marks across your face, you looked as if you were sleeping.

I thought about picking you up and running away with you so that no one could ever take you away from me.

But I slowly started to realise. I said: ‘I can’t keep you.’

The day of your funeral arrived. It was a cold, wet morning. We took your white coffin to the church and then travelled with you to the graveside. It was the first time I’d worn my new coat.

As soon as we arrived at the grave, the sun came out. As we buried you, we released six white doves – one for each year of your life.

Conor looked up at me and said: ‘How are they going to get home, Mummy?’ I said: ‘They’ll find their way home.’

I knew you would too Aoife.

In the weeks after your funeral, I’d find little white feathers in your room. It was as if you were saying: ‘I’m still here.’

A year later I discovered I was pregnant and in time I gave birth to Grace. It felt as though she was a gift from you.

Other people would comment: ‘Now you’ve got another daughter to fill the gap.’ But I’d reply: ‘No, Aoife’s very much still here.’

While I was still on maternity leave with Grace, I started to notice changes in Aine’s behaviour. She’d been diagnosed with epilepsy as a baby but since then there had been other problems.

She was now three and still not talking. She would rock herself and it seemed as if she was in a world of her own.

Your daddy and I took her to the doctor. She was diagnosed with moderate autism.

We didn’t say a word to each other on the drive home. We were in shock.

But Aine’s health gave me the focus that I lacked after your death. I put everything I had into making sure she thrived.

I enrolled Aine in an autistic unit and she blossomed there. She loved the teaching staff and, with her big brown eyes, she soon had them wrapped round her little finger.

She had a huge appetite but she was so active. I used to pack her a three-course lunch and she’d still be hungry.

She was always smiling and I never saw her sad.

Her first word was ‘Mum’. My heart could have burst with pride.

Aine also loved her daddy’s music collection and was mad about Boyzone and Westlife. As her speech developed, she never seemed to stop singing.

One day I was watching her play on the trampoline in the garden with Roisin, Conor and Grace. She looked so happy. At that moment I wished you could have been there too.

But two days later I walked into Aine’s room and she was red and struggling to breathe.

I realised she’s had a seizure and your daddy and I took her to hospital.

The doctor explained: ‘Her blood isn’t clotting.’

She was put on a ventilator and her condition deteriorated. I couldn’t believe that the same little girl who had been bouncing on a trampoline just days before was now lying in a hospital bed.

Your daddy sang Aine’s favourite Westlife song, The Rose, to her. Although she had a tube in her mouth to help her breathe, she hummed the rest of the song back.

It seemed so cruel that just three years after losing you, I was praying to God not to take another daughter from me.

I willed Aine to fight and get better with every bone in my body. But hours later the doctor said: ‘Mr and Mrs Kennedy, I’m so sorry…’

I let out a cry.

She was so close to her sixth birthday, just like you.

Words couldn’t express the pain I felt. I knew you were looking after Aine in heaven, but it seemed so unfair.

I mourned for my own loss and also for Conor, Roisin and Grace. They’d had two sisters taken away from them.

I knew I had to carry on and in time I ploughed all my energy into setting up the Aoife and Aine Memorial Fund. Your daddy and I decided that we would raise funds for a variety of charities to help poorly children.

Over the following year we held many fundraisers. On the anniversary of Aine’s death, we held a musical evening and sang all her favourite songs.

Some 300 people attended and we raised €4,500. Aine would have been in her element if she had been there, and it was a very emotional night for us all.

We’ll continue to fundraise to help other children because that’s what you would’ve wanted.

You’re always here with us and we’ll never forget either of you.

All my love,