Alan in hospital. He lived 22 months.
Alan in hospital. He lived 22 months.

Today is the toughest day of the year, made especially so as this is the 25th anniversary of our son Alan’s death on December 23, 1989. He never got to know his granddad, Paddy McKeown, whose anniversary occurred on December 8. But his other grandfather, whose seventh anniversary falls on January 1, knew Alan like he was his own son. Yeah, Pat Hickey loved the little guy, and was rooting for him throughout his 22 months of spina bifida, meningitis and countless other setbacks.

I have blogged before about Alan (here’s the link ) but today I’d like to tell you a few things about his life that have stayed with us. I never got to hear him call me “Dad”, nor did he ever utter “Mum”. In fact, he never said one word. I never heard his laughter. The only sound he ever made was when he cried, otherwise he was silent. Which didn’t diminish him in any way in our eyes, of course. We loved him with all our hearts.

When Alan died his sister Sarah Jane was just a baby of 6 months. Her brother Daire was 3 years and nine months, so caring for them while Alan was dying was far from easy. Daire was especially concerned about his little brother, and never threw a tantrum when we had to rush off to the hospital, or give Alan a bit more of our time and less for him. He understood in a way that was wise beyond his years. I remember during one summer we put Alan in his special seat outside the front door to get a bit of fresh air. Daire would be off around the estate, but every so often would come back to check on Alan. I found that love and affection especially touching. Daire would also visit him in hospital every so often, although you could see the sadness in his eyes when he saw his helpless brother. We knew how he felt because knowing we could do nothing to improve Alan’s quality of life, and protect him, was the saddest and most hurtful part of dealing with his illness.

They say time cures most things, and in Alan’s case that’s true – to an extent. The hurt is largely gone, though Trish and I miss him a lot. It helps that we know we did the best we could in the circumstances; that we gave him all our love and as much time and attention as he needed.

In the time Alan was alive, and for years afterwards, we would often wonder what was the point in his suffering? If there was a God, why did he allow an innocent child endure such pain? Gradually, the hurt eased and we realised we had two other children who needed us full time. It was time to move on with our lives and take care of Daire and Sarah Jane. Life was for living. We appreciated that we had two children who needed us to be involved in their daily routines and who needed to know they were loved. Money and ambition didn’t matter to me anymore, so we put the kids first. We were lucky to have them, so damned lucky. We watched them grow up into two bright kids who filled us with happiness and love. Our holidays together were very special, but then so were all the days they were with us.

Daire and Sarah Jane are living abroad now, and the empty nest syndrome has kicked in. But every year we mark Alan’s death by having a get-together on this day. As I write Sarah Jane is home from England and Daire is due home within the hour. We’ll share a meal at our local bar later this evening and drink a toast to Alan. No tears, no sadness, just a special love for our little boy.

Alan Hickey was born on February 10, 1988, and died on December 23, 1989. RIP.