Meath parents who lost two sons tragically 'like zombies' after double cancer battle

Helena and Gerry O'Connor.

By Louise Walsh

Devastated Meath parents who lost two sons tragically in two years and have fought two cancer battles in recent months have described themselves as "zombies who are just ploughing on".

Gerry and Helena O'Connor from Kilmainhamwood have urged drivers not to take chances ahead of marking the fifth anniversary of their son Patrick's death with a roadside memorial.

Patrick (aged 33) was killed in a single vehicle collision, near Kilberry Cross, Navan on November 9, 2013, two years after his brother Gavin was murdered in Monaghan.

The couple who also have daughter Judith living in Australia lost Gavin (aged 22) when he was hit by rocks before being mowed down by a car in Carrickmacross in 2011.

Gavin O'Connor

Heartbroken Helena had to go through a further ordeal last summer as she battled not one but two separate cancer attacks - losing a breast and part of her lung in her courageous fight for survival.

As the family remembered Patrick, Helena said that after Gavin's death, she had told her bereavement counsellor that she was going to lose her other son tragically too.

"I knew Patrick was dead, just the same as I knew the night Gavan left that he wasn't coming back," she said.

"I prayed all night for Gavan to be kept safe and accident-free and I got the opposite and I knew in my heart and soul that Patrick was next. I told my bereavement counsellor that and he said I was grieving, but I knew Patrick was next for the grave."

Patrick O'Connor

Recalling the night Patrick died, she added: "The last conversation we had, I said to him as he was leaving the house to look after himself and that he was all we had left on Irish soil.

"He said you're stuck with me mam because only the good die young - they were his last words to me."

Just hours later, the couple got the call from gardaí that every parent dreads, telling them their son was in a road accident and had been taken to hospital.

"I said to Gerry, we're going to bury our second son and he said don't say that, but I knew it was true."

Still struggling to come to terms with his sons' deaths, Gerry said: "We lost more than Patrick that day - we lost our faith too. We're just two zombies now.

"We get up and keep ploughing on, just carrying an invisible pain forever that no-one can see.

"We're sick all the time. We have to pass the accident spot on our way to Navan to shop and who wants to shop when you're sick, so we come home again.

"We have each other and we have our daughter Judith and grandchildren in Australia as well as Patrick's daughter Laoise and her brother Ben.

"Helena had surgery for lung cancer three months ago and then had a breast taken off just a month later when she was diagnosed with a separate cancer.

"She's come through both now and is cancer free so she's not going anywhere, thank God."

Gerry urged drivers to be careful and take nothing for granted when on the road.

"No-one sets out to cause an accident but people can make a mistake or error of judgement in a split second.

"You can't afford to take your eyes off the road at all. Slow down and be more aware of what's happening and don't for a moment take chances."

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