From Crisis to Challenge: The birth of 'Fairy Footprints'

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The Two young girls, two young mothers and a story of inspiration and hope. That was the beginning of the movement which emerged as ‘Fairy Footprints’, an organisation which has become a lifeline and a stepping-stone to the future for grieving families, not only in Kilkenny, but nationwide.

Still in its infancy, ‘Fairy Footprints’ grew from the experiences of Carol Gorey and Lynda Redmond, two Kilkenny girls who, as young mothers, faced their own personal tragedies. Their stories, as indeed with all stories, are personal and unique. But the outcome of the events which unfolded in their lives, gave them a singularity of purpose with a specific focus.

To understand fully the vision behind ‘Fairy Footprints’, it is necessary to go back to the beginning.

Carol and Lynda were already firm friends by the time Carol’s little girl, Holly, was born in September 2008. Holly had a congenital heart defect. This necessitated long periods spent in Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin, where she underwent a heart transplant when she was two years old.

“The care and attention that we received in the hospital, was above and beyond anything that we could have expected. The medical staff, and indeed everyone there with whom we came in contact, became almost like a second family to us,” Carol says. She still has fond memories of their time there.

After her major surgery, the O’Neill Centre in Kilkenny became the next step in Holly’s rehabilitation. The unbelievable care she received there helped the little girl to lead a happy and full life. She became a fun-filled child who brought a smile to everyone’s face.

Carol had received much needed support from her very close friend Lynda, whose little girl Roisín was born in February 2012. During the next two years, Roisín and her older brother Killian formed a close bond with Holly.

Roisín was active and energetic, loved song and dance, was an avid fan of Walt Disney’s ‘Frozen’, and she loved being the centre of attention. The two girls, along with Killian, formed what seemed to be an inseparable bond and close friendship. Sadly, little Holly passed away after a cardiac rejection in February 2014. She was only five years old. Lynda was to face her own tragedy later on that year. Roisín’s life was tragically cut short in an accident in December 2014, at the tender age of two and a half.

At this stage, Carol and Lynda faced the greatest crises of their lives. Each had lost a child, a scenario which is every parent’s worst nightmare. Their stories could have ended there. But sometimes, from a crisis will emerge a new vision of hope.

Carol and Lynda’s friendship grew even closer because of their shared tragedies. They realised that they were not alone. Others had experienced similar calamities. If Carol and Lynda needed support and help during these difficult times, then so did others. From that moment of enlightenment, from that chrysalis of a need that cried for a solution, emerged ‘Fairy Footprints’.

But what exactly is ‘Fairy Footprints’? Carol and Lynda understand perfectly that unfortunately there is still the emptiness and the struggles of everyday life to contend with. Of course there are the memories of their children who have passed away, and the grieving parents have their own stories to tell.

From this, Carol and Lynda pondered the possibility of capturing these memories in a more solid form. As they knew, memories are fleeting and as soon as they are grasped, they seem to disappear and fade away like fairy dust. There had to be a way to preserve them and hold them so that they could be returned to for comfort again and again.

From that flash of insight the idea of a Memory Box emerged and ‘Fairy Footprints’ was born. Carol and Lynda conceived of the idea of a physical space in which memories could be held, a place where they could touch and feel and have a direct link to the memories of the child who had died.

Is there a child among us, or has there ever been a child, who has not had a box into which they put their ribbons, toy cars, dolls, toys and trinkets, hopes and dreams? And are we not all children at heart?

And so, the ‘Fairy Footprints’ box started as an idea, developed as a dream and fully emerged as a reality. But to just call it a Memory Box is too confining. The Memory Box contains a variety of items which the grieving parents can associate with the child which is now lost.

- Memory Book: this can be personalised with handprints, footprints, photos, lock of hair, personal recollections.

- Teddy for comfort

- Candle for light in dark moments

- Stained Glass Butterfly which expresses the delicacy of light and life

- Rose Quartz Crystal for healing in a time of grief

- Forget-Me-Not Seeds which represent new growth and new life

- Handkerchiefs, whose very ordinariness connect us with a child’s physical needs

- Information Pack: including a Support Book, offering advice and contact information.

What it all seems to tell us is that in the times when wisps of memory are not enough to comfort us in moments of grief, the Memory Box gives us something which is tangible and real. It is like a child’s comfort blanket, an object which becomes a link in an unbroken chain from us to the little one we miss so much.

In a perfect world, there would be no need for ‘Fairy Footprints’. But in a world where sickness may determine the length of life and an accident can change life in an instant, such organisations are of vital importance. Each of us has either been touched by life-changing events or knows of families whose future has been altered by unforeseen circumstances.

’Fairy Footprints’, which is a non-profit group, will ensure that the Memory Boxes will be available in all hospitals throughout the country as well as the Children’s Outreach Nurses Organisation which deals with Life Limiting Conditions. Financial assistance, which is so necessary to provide this vital service, will be raised through a variety of fund-raising events.

On Sunday 25th September you will have an opportunity to support ‘Fairy Footprints’ and the O’Neill Centre, Kilkenny. In the beautiful grounds of Kilkenny Castle, located in the centre of our mediaeval city, a Fun Run has been organised for the sole purpose of raising funds to support the great work of ‘Fairy Footprints’.

We all realise that even though we are only now beginning to emerge from a crippling recession, we are also an incredibly generous nation. It is inbuilt into the very fibre of our being to assist those who help others. It is what we do best. It is who we are. It is what we do with a willing heart.